Thursday, March 22, 2018


Preface (to my wee eBook Why I'm Not an Atheist)

My father and mother were Marxists like their parents before them. The area where I grew up (Alexandria, Dunbartonshire) even had streets named after Marxists (such as Engels Street, named after Frederick Engels who with Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto). I started my working life in the early 70s in a shipyard on the “Red Clydeside” (i.e., “red” as in a Socialist/Communist area of) Glasgow.

It was during my study of the teachings of Marx that I discovered that he had no answer for the question regarding the origin of humanity. It seemed to me that if he was successfully to influence (manipulate?) the minds of men to his way of thinking (i.e., to think his thoughts after him) he needed to base his model of social engineering on something more solid than the vague musings of Charles Darwin. Marxist Socialism is Social Darwinism. You cannot have one without the other. The World Socialist Website writes,

The two great historical theories of the 19th century, of Darwin and Marx … have fundamentally changed our understanding of the world. They were part of the development of science in its broadest form – the desire to comprehend the natural and social worlds in order to change them for the benefit of mankind.[1]

If Darwin got it wrong then that which is based upon Darwinism must be wrong. From the tearing down of the Berlin Wall to the collapse of the Soviet Union Socialism has been proven to be wrong. Examples of this truth could be multiplied. Cuba, North Korea, and China garner no envy from those who love the freedoms we (used to) enjoy in the various Western democracies. Hitler’s form of government, like today’s China, was National Socialism. However, we are now not permitted by the Politically Correct Movement to connect Hitler to Socialism!!! (nor the Ku Klux Klan for that matter!) These are portrayed as right-wingers by the Social-Engineers of the “Department of Revisionist History”! Join in the fun and do a scientific social experiment: Ask your friends if Hitler (and the Ku Klux Klan) were Socialist.

It matters not to me whether Hitler or Ku Klux Klan members[1] or any other Socialists are called “far right” (Wikipedia) or even “far left”. What worries me is that these were violent Progressives. Socialism gave birth to Progressivism in which the umbilical cord is still very much attached!

In the West we have reached a point in history where our freedoms as law-abiding individuals are shrinking at an alarming rate as governments apply the Socialist theory of Political Correctness to attain their utopian classless society. Freedom of Speech is curtailed. Sodomy and buggery are accommodated, endorsed and even promoted by the State redefining marriage. This is Socialism socially engineering man in its own image and likeness. Progressives, whether Left or Right, remain Socialists regardless of their political parties by virtue of their desire to have government redistribute the wealth of the individual in order to attain their vision for society. Adolf Hitler was as much a Socialist as Stalin. In Socialism all must agree with the collective vision or be ostracised, demonised, imprisoned and… (take, for example, the carnage of the French Revolution). This is not God’s way, which is, in my humble opinion, a far better way.

It became clear to me through my studies of Marx and Marxism that he did not believe in God. Otherwise he would not have come up with his social theories. Marx was a Materialist like Hegel before him. Dialectical Materialism. Thus I put down my copy of “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” (Robert Tressell) and picked up a copy of the Bible, the true inspiration for any philanthropic endeavour. Therein I discovered a better way – a better way to love my neighbour as myself.

What Socialism pretends to be, Biblical Christianity really is! Biblical Christianity is the reality of a caring society – a society in which justice is blind. First off, Christianity answers the question of origins, i.e., the: Who we are as individuals and What we are supposed to be as a society. And secondly, unlike Socialism which has been proven to fail over and over, Biblical Christianity really works when put into practice: democratic government, the rule of law, justice for all, individual rights (in line with the rule of law), Capitalism, schools, hospitals, public sanitation, the abolition of slavery, etc., etc., etc. One only has to study what John Calvin did for Geneva with Biblical Christianity.

In the (Biblical) Westminster system of government and public meetings there are those who speak for a motion (i.e., an issue) and those who speak against it. A moderator (or referee) ensures that the issue is sufficiently discussed before it is put to a vote. This is democracy! However, Socialism seeks to silence all dissenters from its collective Socialist thought. Thus today’s Political Correctness Movement. In this the very foundations of the West presently are being destroyed by Socialism in its various forms. Socialism is Atheistic. Because it is rooted in the Atheism of Marx et al, Socialism is a blight on the fruit of Western freedom.

"It is when a people forget God, that tyrants forge their chains." - Patrick Henry

That “The pen is mightier than the sword” may be true but some use that mighty instrument to write vitriolic ad-hominem arguments instead of speaking directly to the issue at hand! I have no personal axe-to-grind with anyone. I desire only to state my own personal hang-ups with Atheism as a contemporary movement. Readers are free to agree/disagree with my take on it! However, please allow me freedom of thought and also the freedom to express that thought in written form.

There is life after Marx. I am not an Atheist because of the grace of God. My father and mother also became Christians after Marx. Yes, it is hard to be a consistently Biblical Christian, especially for those having been previously heavily influenced by Socialism, and with so much of it permeating the society in which we currently live. Therefore, as Christians we need to keep on “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” Hebrews 12:2a.

It is with the following gracious teaching of Jesus in mind that I have written my little book called, “Why I am Not an Atheist”. Note the profound depth of grace contained in what Jesus says,

When His disciples James and John saw [that people were not receiving and believing in Jesus] they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.[2]

May my manner herein and hereafter be of the Spirit of Christ!

[1] To be sure, a Democrat does not necessarily a (full blown) Socialist make. However, the point is that Democrats are Progressives, which, whether Left or the Right, is Socialistic. It is Socialism by another name.
“Most prominent in counties where the races were relatively balanced, the KKK engaged in terrorist raids against African Americans and white Republicans at night, employing intimidation, destruction of property, assault, and murder to achieve its aims and influence upcoming elections. In a few Southern states, Republicans organized militia units to break up the Klan.” -

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Early Settlers

The life of the early settlers must have been rough and tough – all horses and carts, no running water or electricity, and sitting on chairs that would give you splinters! However, there’s something romantic about the days of the Afrikaner trekkers, and those American wagon trains, not to mention the free settlers in Australia. Yes, surely everyone has to stop at some time and put down roots. People must settle somewhere even if you’ve just disembarked a convict ship from Britain to the Australian penal colony. One version of The Wild Colonial Boy contains the words, ‘At the early age of sixteen years, Jack left his native home, and to Australia’s sunny shores he was inclined to roam.’ One can only imagine that if he had been an early settler and not a bushranger we might be singing a different song about him. Outlaws are nomads and nomadism began with Cain. However, it ends with Christ.

Is it a good thing to settle down in far flung places and to colonise empty spaces? It’s true that Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’ Matthew 8:20b. And it’s true that our father Abraham ‘went out, not knowing where he was going… dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God’ Hebrews 11:8b&9b. And didn’t Jesus speak of that same city with foundations, where He went on to say to His people, ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would not have told you. I go to prepare a place for you’? John 14:2. That word ‘mansions,’ though sometimes translated ‘rooms,’ means dwellings. Wouldn’t you like to be an early settler in this place? If you think we live in luxury compared to the early settlers, then you cannot imagine what it’s going to be like in the city of God! ‘But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ 1 Corinthians 2:9. This residence is not some single room in a block of council flats in some social housing scheme. Therefore, doesn’t ‘mansion’ fit better here than any idea of a frugal pioneering homestead? And what about the ‘pioneering spirit’ of the early settlers, still seen today when whole communities pull together in fire or flood? ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Thus the early settlers by necessity.

But back to Abraham. Abraham wasn’t promised a seat upon a cloud up in the sky somewhere. God promised him the earth! ‘God promised Abraham and his descendants that He would give them the world’ Roman 4:13 (CEV).  Says Albert Barnes, ‘In this passage the world, or the entire earth, is regarded as the estate to which reference is made.’ Thus, Abraham, father of the faithful, was the ‘early settler’ for Christians. He staked his claim in the Christ to come, the One who said, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:5). And, just as your body will be renewed in the Resurrection, so will this earth. ‘The creation itself will also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’ Romans 8:21. And, ‘Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells’ 2 Peter 3:13. Therefore, stake your claim in Christ so that you can be an early settler on the new earth. ‘For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come’ Hebrews 13:14.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


This is the final instalment from my eBook "Holding Fast Our Confession" which is an exposition of the entire Westminster Confession of Faith. Purchase eBook at Amazon:

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 33)


One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is knowing that you will be acquitted at the Last Judgment on account of the wonderful works of your Saviour Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul comforts the Christian with the words: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” Romans 8:1.

To escape condemnation is to have been elected by the Father in eternity past. It is to have been redeemed by the Son some two thousand years ago. And it’s to have been regenerated by the Spirit at some point in your life between conception and your very last breath. Thus to have no condemnation is to be saved only by the grace of the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Think about it, every single human being who ever has been or ever will be has an appointment to keep with Christ the Judge. It’s as the writer to the Hebrews says: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…” Hebrews 9:27.

There’s no escaping the judgment of the Last Day. But, as we’ve already mentioned, God has provided an escape from condemnation. This escape is found only in His Son Jesus Christ. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12. This is why the heart of the message of the Bible is the command to keep on repenting of your sins and keep on believing on the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Day of Judgment

The Last Judgment or the Day of Judgment has been guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s declaration that He is satisfied with the works Jesus Christ did as a Man on earth.  In other words, the raising of Jesus from the dead was the raising of the Judge of all mankind. For all mankind will be judged by and against Jesus Christ the perfect Man.

Jesus Christ is the measuring stick by which and against which we will all be measured. And just as a child has to be a certain height before he can go on a ride at the fair, so every human being has to measure up to the Man Jesus Christ before he can enter into glory. But the Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. But for the believer the Bible also says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2 Corinthians 5:21. So, hear again the good news: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1a.

The Day of Judgment has been appointed by God. For we see these words in Acts 17:30&31, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

So we see that the Last Judgment will be based on righteousness. Or to put it another way, the judgment will be based upon how right we are with God. How much in the right do you think you are with God? The Last Judgment is the time when you will find out for certain. But don’t wait till then, for then it will be too late. For Scripture says, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Corinthians 6:2b. Thus the Day of Judgment is up ahead. But today is the Day of Salvation. Therefore repent and believe in the Gospel.

The heart of the Gospel message is that salvation has been provided by God to sinners through Jesus Christ. Indeed God’s Son Jesus Christ is the One who saves and He is also the One who judges. Thus both mercy and justice meet in Jesus Christ. It’s as Jesus says in the Gospel according to John, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son … and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man” John 5:22&27. So the idea is that in order to escape condemnation on Judgment Day we should seek to get right with God through Jesus Christ – now.

Now, the judgment itself embraces angels as well as men. And somehow those who are free from condemnation will be involved in the judging of angels. For Paul the Apostle says, “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” 1 Corinthians 6:3a. Now, what this entails exactly, we’re not sure. But these angels who didn’t “keep their proper domain, but left their own abode” God has reserved for judgment. Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4. So not only is the Last Judgment about judging everyone who has ever lived, it is also about judging apostate angels. But that is why we call it the Last Judgment. For there will be one great Day of Judgment.

Now, how shall everyone who has ever lived be judged? Well, our judgment will be based on our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. As the Apostle says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” 2 Corinthians 5:10. As Jesus says, “But for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” Matt. 12:36.

So we all shall stand, then, before the judgment seat of Christ. And we have to give account of our lives. But again, hear the good news, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Those who are in Christ Jesus acknowledge that they have sinned in thought, in word, and in deed. And they, by God’s grace, keep on repenting of their sins and keep on trusting Jesus Christ to save them.

The Deed of Judgment

What is the Last Judgment all about? What happens? If there are already people in Heaven and in Hell (as, e.g., the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus clearly teaches), why would we need to be judged again? For surely if people are experiencing torments in Hell as we speak, then surely they have been judged already? How do we answer this? Well, we’ve already noted that the Father has elected a people for salvation from before the foundation of the world. The Son has redeemed this chosen people some two thousand years ago. And the Spirit applies the benefits of this redemption to them in their own lifetime.

The Scriptures are crystal clear about this triune salvation. The Apostle Peter in his first Epistle writes of God’s people as being “…Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…” 1 Peter 1:2.

The Father, the Spirit, and the Son are all mentioned in this one verse of Peter regarding salvation. Therefore salvation is a triune activity. And if it is the activity of the Triune God to save then this means that whoever is going to be saved is going to be saved before the Day of Judgment. For the Day of Judgment, as we’ve already noted, is the day when we all give account of all our deeds done while in our body. And not one person who has ever lived can truly say that he has never sinned. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. Therefore those who die outside of Christ Jesus die in an already condemned state, which is to say, that they die with the wrath of God remaining on them, John 3:36.

So, the Last Judgment is designed to show two things: a) The glory of God’s mercy. And b) God’s justice. In the Last Judgment God will manifest the glory of His mercy in the everlasting salvation of His elect. And He will demonstrate His justice in the damnation of the reprobate, i.e., those who are wicked and disobedient.

Those who are shown mercy will be saved solely because of the grace of God. And those who are shown justice will be damned solely because of their own sins. None will be able to say that God showed them mercy because they deserved it. And none will be able to say that they didn’t deserve to be damned by God.

The Apostle Paul speaks of what God will do on Judgment Day, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honour, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” Romans 2:5-10.

So, Christ’s work of judgment or Christ’s deed on Judgment Day is that He “will render to each one according to his deeds.” Therefore what we think, say, and do in this life has eternal consequences. However, the Bible labours hard to show us that all of us think, say, and do evil. Therefore, the Bible is far from teaching us that we are saved by our doing good deeds. Rather, it teaches us to obey the truth and flee to Jesus Christ to escape the wrath to come!

That this is the teaching of the Older Testament too is found, e.g., in the words of Psalm 62:12, where David says, “Also to You, O LORD, belongs mercy; for you render to each one according to his work.” Hell-deserving sinners must look to God for mercy, not for justice! Therefore seeking the mercy that God has provided in Jesus Christ is the good that we must do. This we do in response to in response to the salvation wrought in us by the Holy Spirit.

And we must not forget to tell others where the mercy of God may be found, for we read the following words in Proverbs 24:11&12, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps the soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?”

Therefore we who know about the mercy and justice of God in the Last Judgment are obligated to tell those who are heading toward death and being drawn to the slaughter about what lies ahead. In other words, Christians are those who practice what Jesus teaches in the Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” Matthew 5:7.

Are your deeds the deeds of one who is merciful? Do you care about the lost, those who are on their way to Hell? – those drawn toward death, those stumbling to the slaughter? Do you care enough to point them to Jesus Christ? Well, invite them to a Bible-believing Presbyterian church where they will keep on hearing about the mercy of God in the Gospel as it keeps on being proclaimed and taught.

The Apostle Peter sums up what it’s all about when he says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began” Acts 3:19-21.

The Lord is calling His people to repent, i.e., to turn from their sins, and to be converted, i.e., to have a change of mind, a renewed way of thinking. This repenting and believing in the Gospel brings with it times of refreshing, a token of which the Christian experiences now, but will experience in its fullness at Christ’s physical return. For Jesus has risen bodily from the grave and has ascended physically into heaven until the time all things will be restored.

That time of restoration will be on the same day as the Last Judgment. That day will be the day when Christ returns to earth to judge the living and the dead. On that day those who have been justified, i.e., those who have been declared righteous by the grace of God on account of Christ’s shed blood on the cross, will go into everlasting life. They will receive the fullness of joy and refreshing that shall come from the presence of the Lord on the consummated creation, i.e., the new heavens and new earth. But the wicked, i.e., those who do not know God, those who do not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast body and soul into eternal torments. And they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

If this all sounds like so much fire and brimstone then you have got the message! Who would wish to suffer the torments of Hell? Only those who would refuse to repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, only those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. But let us continue to seek the Lord while He may be found! Again, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” And again, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, God’s mercy will be manifested to those who are in Christ Jesus. But God’s justice will be shown to those who are outside of Christ Jesus. These will enter into a Christless eternity.

The Doctrine of Judgment

What is the Lord teaching us with the doctrine of the Last Judgment? Well, the doctrine of the Last Judgment teaches us at least three things: a) It is to deter all men from all sin. b) It is to comfort the godly in times of trial. And c) It is to encourage a holy walk with the Lord.

It is alleged by many today that the threat of punishment does not deter people from committing crime. For example, we hear all kinds of convoluted unbiblical and anti-biblical diatribe from Secular Humanists that the death penalty for convicted murderers is no deterrent. But surely anyone about to commit a murder would ask himself: What have I got to lose?

Surely anyone involving himself in premeditated murder would ask himself the question: What have I got to lose if I get caught? And when they consider that the Secular Humanists have all but made the death penalty obsolete, the person planning the murder will answer that question: Nothing much really! Oh sure, the murderer might lose a bit of freedom for a few years. But they know they’ll be out sooner than later for good behaviour. But that’s not the way it is with God. “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has ordained” Acts 17:31a. So, the point I make is that though the Secular Humanist might virtually let convicted murderers away with murder, God won’t let anyone away even with the least of his or her sins. There is a day of reckoning.

Peter says that that day will come upon us suddenly, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up [or laid bare]. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” 2 Peter 3:10&11.

Clearly the Lord believes that the threat of judgment is a deterrent! Clearly He believes that sin will be restrained somewhat when people consider eternity, i.e., when they consider the Last Judgment. But alas, as the Secular Humanists gain more control in the Western nations, we see punishment for capital crime being replaced more and more by rehabilitation. And people think this is a good thing! And so they release murderers, rapists, paedophiles back onto our streets.

But unlike our streets today, the streets of the consummated New Earth will be free from this kind of thing, for the Lord says to His prophet John, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death” Revelation 21:8. The Christian trembles at this bad news! But the Christian rejoices in the Good News that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16.

If even the vilest of sinners was to repent of his sins and believe in the Good News he will not be condemned on the Last Day. The Apostle Paul was involved in the murder of Stephen, Acts 7:58; 8:1. Saul/Paul went about breathing murderous threats to Christians, Acts 9:1. But the Lord by His grace granted the Apostle repentance and belief in His only begotten. Therefore, God’s mercy is still available even for murderers before they die.

Knowledge of the Last Judgment is also there to comfort the godly in their trials. For, Christians look forward to the Last Day. For that is the day they will be delivered from all sin and corruption. The Apostle Paul puts it like this, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” Romans 8:20-25.

The Christian therefore is comforted by the knowledge that this tired and worn out heavens and earth will give birth to the new heavens and the new earth. And the Christian knows that the date for the birth of the New Heavens and the New Earth is the day the Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. That’s the day when all the wrongs of man will be made right by Jesus Christ the Judge. For that’s the day of justice and mercy.

Now, no one knows when that day will be, Mark 13:32. Scripture has left the date of the birth of the New Heavens and the New Earth unsaid. This is to encourage a holy walk in Christians. The Lord says in Mark 13:35-37, “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming – in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning – lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.”

So we see then that if we knew exactly when the Lord was coming we might slacken off beforehand. We might slacken off warning people to flee from the wrath to come. We might slacken off from telling people to flee to God in Jesus Christ for mercy. We might slacken off from doing good.


It’s my hope, as we all look forward to the day of His appearing that we will be diligent as Christians to live godly lives. After Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes had considered what life was all about he concluded with the following words: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” Ecclesiastes 12:13&14.

And, as John the Apostle says in Revelation 22:20&21 at the conclusion of the whole Bible: “He who testifies to these things, says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018


(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 32)


One of the wonderful things about having everlasting life is the comfort of the knowledge that even though you may die you shall live! For Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” John 11:25&26a.

Jesus said those words just before he raised Lazarus from the dead. And in raising Lazarus, Jesus was demonstrating that He was indeed who He said He was. Notice that Jesus is the resurrection AND He is the life. He’s not just the resurrection only. He is the resurrection in that He has the power to raise the dead. And He is the life in that He has the power to grant life to people before they die. Therefore, like Lazarus, the physical death of the believer is not the end of their life. For, as Jesus says, “…whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” In other words, if you die believing in Jesus for everlasting life, you don’t lose that everlasting life.

Physical death just means that you have lost the use of your physical body for a period. It doesn’t mean the end of your existence, which means then that there is far more to man that just a physical body. For Jesus says elsewhere, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” Matthew 10:28.

So, we see then that the killing of the body is not the killing of the soul. Therefore the soul survives the death of the body. Thus there is a period between the death of the body and its resurrection. We call this period the Intermediate State.

The Intermediate State is different for believers than for unbelievers. As believers await the resurrection of their bodies the Intermediate State is a state of bliss for them. But unbelievers await their resurrection in order to be cast body and soul into Hell where they remain forever in a state of torment – just as the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus attests.

The Dead

In Genesis 2:7 we read the following good news, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” But in Genesis 3:19 we read the following bad news, which was spoken by God to man after Adam had broken the covenant, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And, speaking of death, Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”

So we see then that the penalty for Adam sinning against God by eating the forbidden fruit is death. We might say then that after death the bodies of human beings return to dust and see corruption. But their souls, (which neither die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.

Now, what happens to the soul upon the death of the body? Well, there are only two places disembodied souls can go. One is a place of bliss. And the other is a place of torments. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus was in a place of bliss, while the rich man was in a place of torments.

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came licking his sores.

“So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house. For I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” Luke 16:19-31.

Notice that neither the Rich Man nor Lazarus was unconscious. Notice that neither was asleep. And notice that neither was in Roman Catholic Purgatory, or any state of Limbo! For none of these states of the soul or places for disembodied souls are found in Scripture. Therefore there is no such thing as soul sleep, Purgatory, Limbus Patrum, or Limbus Infantum.

To be sure, there are verses of Scripture that liken the dead body to that of a person asleep – which would seem to be an apt description! But, upon the death of their bodies the souls of the righteous, which neither die nor sleep, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens. There they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. But the bad news is that the souls of the wicked are cast into Hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved for the judgment of the great day.

The Bible tells us far more about the Intermediate State for Christians than it does for that intervening state for non-Christians. The repentant thief on the cross died the same day as Jesus Christ. The thief must have been fortified very much as he was dying by the words Jesus spoke to him. “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” Luke 23:43. Thus we see that the repentant thief was not expecting soul-sleep or Purgatory, but was expecting to go directly to Heaven and be awake enough to see Jesus there.

The Apostle Paul refers to Paradise as the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:3b. If Paul is speaking of himself he says “…he was caught up to Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which is not lawful for a man to utter” 2 Corinthians 12:4. The first heaven is the place where birds fly up in the sky. The second heaven is the place where rockets and spaceships fly up in space. The third heaven is the place where God dwells and where Christ sits upon His throne. As the psalmist says, “The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven…” Psalm 11:4.

The Apostle Paul seems to be referring to himself being transported to Heaven, to Paradise (though he’s not sure whether he was in his body or out of it at the time!) But when he was there he didn’t see anyone sleeping or hear anyone snoring! Rather he heard inexpressible words, which is not lawful for a man to utter. And we know that what he saw and heard in Paradise was a blissful experience for him. For he says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” 1 Corinthians 12:7. Thus we conclude that the Paradise the thief on the cross was going to be with Jesus the very day he died, is a place of conscious bliss.

Indeed the Apostle Paul taught that for the Christian to depart from the body is to be present with the Lord. For he says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” And in Philippians he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” Philippians 1:21-23.

So clearly the Apostle Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit is teaching that when he dies he immediately goes to be with the Lord in Paradise, just as it was with the thief on the cross. Therefore all Christians say along with Paul, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” 2 Corinthians 5:8.

Notice that he says that we will be present with the Lord. Notice that this concurs with what the Lord said to the repentant thief of the cross. “Today, you will be with me, [i.e., will be present with Me] in Paradise.” Therefore we refute the opinion of those such as the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and Seventh Day Adventists and others who allege that the soul sleeps upon the death of the body.

To be sure the dead body sees corruption, but the souls of believers go to Paradise where they behold the face of God in light and glory while waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. For as the writer to the Hebrews says to all true Christians, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” Hebrews 12:22-24. So, at death the Christian’s spirit is made perfect, and he sees God in heaven.

But what about the non-Christian? Well, the non-Christian too has, or better, is, an immortal soul. However, the non-Christian, like the Rich Man in the Parable, goes to a place of torments. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus we’re told that there is a great gulf fixed between the two places, i.e., the place of bliss, Heaven, and the place of torments, Hell, (Luke 16:26).

The Apostle Peter speaks of “spirits in prison”. Now, we acknowledge that all kinds of weird interpretations have been put on 1 Peter 3:19: “…by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison…” But there’s no getting away from the fact that here Peter is at least speaking of the spirits of dead people being held in prison, “…who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared…” 1 Peter 3:20a. Therefore the text is speaking of people who were disobedient to God in Noah’s day and are now in prison.

And Luke speaks of “…Judas [who] by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” Acts 1:25b. And Jude speaks of the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, “…being reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day, as Sodom and Gomorra, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” Jude 6&7. The NIV makes it explicit when it says, “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” Jude 7b. So, the Rich Man is in Hell as an example of one of those suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

Now, whether the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a picture of the Final State or the Intermediate State makes no great difference to what we’re looking at for the moment. However, it’s clear the Parable is teaching us about the Intermediate State. For, the Rich Man wanted his five brothers testified to “…lest they also come to this place of torment” Luke 16:28. Thus his five brothers hadn’t even entered into the Intermediate State, never mind the Final State. The picture does present the urgency for people to repent and believe in the Gospel before they die.

So, we’ve seen then that all true Christians immediately go to be with the Lord upon the death of the body, where they experience conscious bliss in Heaven. And the non-Christian goes to a place of conscious torment called Hell upon the death of the body.

The Resurrection of the Dead

The resurrection has always been the belief of the Church since the Fall of Man. There’s a statement about the resurrection of the body incorporated into the so-called Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

When we speak of the resurrection of the dead we are speaking of the general resurrection. The general resurrection takes place on the last day, i.e., the day Christ returns to earth bodily. Therefore, the resurrection of the dead has to do with the Last Judgment, Judgment Day.

But the question necessarily arises: What of those who are still alive on earth when Jesus returns? The Apostle Paul answers this question in a couple of places. He says in First Corinthians, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, be we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” 1 Corinthians 15:50-52. And he says much the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:16&17, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

To be sure, these two passages are speaking of Christians who are alive at the time of Christ’s physical return being changed in the twinkling of an eye. But before Christians are instantly changed, we are told that the dead rise up first. And together, those who are resurrected and those who are changed in the twinkling of an eye, meet the Lord. So, it’s all happening almost at the same time – dead raised, then those living instantly changed. Then they meet the descending or returning Lord together.

It’s with the raising of the dead first that the general resurrection takes place. For Jesus says, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” John 5:26-30.

The so-called ‘Second Coming’ is when Jesus is coming to as Judge to judge. Therefore, He will call all the dead out of their graves, just as He called Lazarus out of his grave. Thus, there are only two types of resurrection, viz, the resurrection of life, and the resurrection of condemnation. The prophet Daniel speaks of this day, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” Daniel 12:2. So, at the general resurrection of all mankind, i.e., of everyone who has ever lived, all will be consigned, body and soul, to their final destination.

Now, on the great resurrection day everyone will given back their selfsame bodies. To be sure, our resurrection bodies will have different qualities, for they need to be fitted for either a heavenly or a hellish eternity. Nevertheless it will be the body we started life with that will be changed. Therefore, those who are alive when Christ returns will also have their bodies fitted for eternity.

Job, who lived way back somewhere around the time of Abraham, says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” Job 19:26&27a. Job believed that even after his flesh was destroyed or “Though after my skin worms destroy my body, (KJV) yet in his flesh he shall see God. Thus, Job believed that his selfsame body would be resurrected. He held that it was he himself who would behold God with his own eyes. And didn’t Jesus go to some lengths to prove to His disciples that He had been raised with the selfsame body – the body that had previously been nailed to the cross?

To be sure, the Bible gives us more information about the qualities of the resurrected bodies of believers than it does of the resurrected bodies of unbelievers. But we take it that all, whether believer or unbeliever, will be raised with adult or mature bodies, like Adam and Eve upon their creation. Therefore those who died in infancy or at a hundred or nine hundred years of age, will be resurrected with the selfsame body they would have had had there been no sin in the world.

Now again, we’re not given much information at all about the resurrected bodies of unbelievers. But since we know that unbelievers will be resurrected too, and knowing that like us Christians, they too are human beings, we might presume that some of what applies to believers applies also to them. But the main difference will be our final destination. Believers will be fitted body and soul for Heaven, and unbelievers will be fitted body and soul for Hell.

But referring to believers the apostle John says, “Beloved, now we are children of God: and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” 1 John 3:2.

So, as Jesus, Elijah, and Moses were in the transfiguration, so believers will be transfigured when they are resurrected. But we’ll have to wait till that time to find out all about transfigured bodies! We do know, however, that whereas the bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour, the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, shall be raised unto honour, and shall be made conformable to His own body.


In the Bible, Jesus spoke about the torments of Hell more than any other. Mark records Jesus graphically illustrating the seriousness of sin with this warning, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hellfire – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” Mark 9:43-48.

Jesus isn’t necessarily telling us to mutilate ourselves! But He is telling us to take drastic measures so that we don’t find ourselves being cast into Hell for our sins. Therefore, always remember these words of Jesus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 31)


The Bible teaches that there ought to be a plurality of church-officers or elders in each local congregation. For example, we read that Paul and Barnabas “…appointed elders in every church…” Acts 14:23. And the Apostle Paul instructed Titus to “…appoint elders in every city…” Titus 1:5. Thus the churches were to be ruled by a plurality of persons, and not by any individual.

This plurality of elders is traced all the way back to the Triune God. There is a real sense in which the Trinity is a Presbytery. For, there is a plurality of Persons in the Godhead, viz. the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three Persons are one God. Thus though God is many Persons, He is yet one God.

The Church on earth reflects the Godhead. For, there are many churches, but there is one church. Likewise there are many church-officers or elders in the local church, but they are one ruling authority. At the local level we call the ruling authority the Session. At the district level we call the ruling authority the Presbytery. And at a regional level, (in Australia), we call the ruling authority the General or State Assembly of the particular State. Then there is a national Assembly, or General Assembly (of Australia). But each one of these synods and councils is made of church-officers or Presbyters.

Now, in Proverbs 11:14 we read, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Presbyterianism seeks safety in the multitude of counsellors. The various church synods and councils are Presbyterianism’s Biblical system of checks and balances.

In the following we’re looking at Synods and Councils. Whereas the word ‘synod’ refers to the meeting or forming of the ecclesiastical or church council, the word ‘council’ refers to the function of the ecclesiastical or church council. A Synod assembles, and a Council deliberates.

The Forming of Church Assemblies

For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called Synods or Councils, which is to say that Synods and Councils are for the better ruling and further building up of the church.

In the transitional period when the Older Testament Church was becoming the Newer Testament Church there were, as you would expect, some teething troubles. One of the things plaguing the Church-in-transition was the teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1b. Thus we see an example of such a Synod or Council or Assembly in Acts 15 where the elders met in Jerusalem to deal with this question.

Now, keep in mind that the Apostles were also elders. For example, the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 5:1, “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder…” Therefore it was a group of presbyters or elders, including apostle-elders, who met at Jerusalem to discuss the issue of circumcision and salvation.

We read in Acts 15:2&3, “Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissention and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question, so being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.”

Thus far we see that the church at Antioch in Syria, (not to be confused with the church at Antioch in Pisidia), sent Paul, Barnabas and others, to the General Assembly at Jerusalem. They were sent with a specific task, viz., to hear what the ‘multitude of counsellors’ as a body had to say about the issue of Gentile converts and their keeping of the Mosaic Law.

Then we read in Acts 15:4-6, “And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and the reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’ Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.”

So we see then that the purpose of the Synod at Jerusalem was for the Council to deliberate on the question of Gentile circumcision and their keeping the whole of the Mosaic Law. Peter addressed the General Assembly at Jerusalem and demonstrated that there is no distinction between Gentile and Jewish converts. For there is no difference in the way people are saved; which is by the Holy Spirit working grace in the heart through faith (Acts 15:8&9).

Peter says that since neither they, nor the Gentiles, nor the early fathers such as Abraham, were saved by their own keeping the Law, why should they yoke the Gentiles with the Mosaic Law? He puts it like this, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we are able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:10&11.

So, after the members of the General Assembly had their say and had become silent, James, who we today would call the General Assembly’s Moderator, spoke. After concurring with Peter, and after summing up the proceedings as they had gone thus far, he then said, “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” Acts 15:19&20. Then up ahead we read these words regarding Paul and Silas, and also Timothy, “And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.” Acts 16:4.

So, in summary, we’ve seen that there has been a Synod at Jerusalem. This Council of elders from different places met to deliberate on a particular doctrinal issue. The General Assembly issued a letter of instruction for the various churches. This letter was delivered to the various churches by Paul, Silas and others.

Thus we should note that the Assembly has authority to issue decrees to the churches in line with the Word of God. Therefore the churches to which the letter was sent were not autonomous entities. Rather, the many churches are part of the one church, i.e., the holy catholic or universal church. Presbyterianism seeks to hold this Biblical balance in its form of church administration. So we see from Scripture then that our statement is correct that for the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called Synods or Councils.

Now, we ask the question: Who may lawfully call a synod? In light of the Jerusalem Assembly, we’ve seen that the church herself may lawfully call an Assembly. However, this is not to say that the Civil Magistrate or the Civil Authorities may not call a Synod of ministers and other fit persons, to consult and advise with about matters of religion. Indeed, the Westminster Assembly, from which we get the great Confession of Presbyterianism, the Westminster Confession of Faith, was called by the Parliament. When it was completed the Confession was then presented to the Houses of Parliament with the title, “The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster.”

So, the Westminster Confession of Faith was given at the request of the Civil Authorities for advice on matters of religion. We see Biblical precedent for this. In 2 Chronicles 19:8f. Jehoshaphat called a religious synod in Jerusalem, “Moreover in Jerusalem, for the judgment of the LORD and for controversies, Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the chief fathers of Israel, when they returned to Jerusalem. And he commanded them saying, ‘Thus you shall act in the fear of the LORD, faithfully and with a loyal heart’…”

Likewise King Herod called a synod, “And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” Matthew 2:4. Indeed, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” 1 Timothy 2:1&2.

So, unless the Civil Authorities prove themselves to be open enemies to the church, it is lawful for them to call synods and councils to consult and advise about matters of religion.

The Function of Church Assemblies

Regarding the Church, one of the functions of Assemblies is to ministerially decide controversial matters and cases of conscience. This we’ve seen illustrated by the General Assembly at Jerusalem.  Can a man remain uncircumcised and yet be saved? That was the big controversial matter and conscience case in the period of the church’s transition.  Well, the experts in theological doctrine declared that the way of salvation since the fall was salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Therefore, the Gentile Christians at that time were advised simply to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.

The letter sent to the Gentile Christians ends with the words, “If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” Acts 15:29b. It ought to be well noted that it doesn’t say, do these things and you will be saved. For the Assembly met to counter the false doctrine of salvation by works of righteousness.

So, the Assembly functioned ministerially – it sent out a letter of advice. But this isn’t to say that its advice is not binding if it is in accordance with God’s Word. For synods and councils may also meet to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of public worship and organising the church.

We’ve already noted that the Jerusalem Assembly expected the churches to keep its decisions. Therefore the decisions of the Session, Presbytery, State or National Assemblies are binding on those under their respective jurisdictions. To be sure, decisions may be appealed to the various church courts, if the appeal is not frivolous. For the synods and councils also meet to receive complaints in cases of bad administrations.

Let’s say the Session (i.e., the plurality of Elders) of your local church changed the Sunday worship times to 4AM and 11PM. First off, the Session itself has the authority to change worship times. However, it may very well be a bad case of administration to have such strange worship service times. So, the safety of a multitude of counsellors at the next level could be appealed to, if the Session won’t listen to reason. Without the checks and balances of the various church courts elders could quite easily lord it over the people. But the Presbyterial system (when working as it should) helps protect against individual popes and despotic groups.

Now, to be sure, it might be difficult (but not impossible), to find in Scripture where a Session may not make a ruling to have Sunday worship at 4AM and 11PM. But it would certainly not be edifying for a congregation to have these unorthodox worship times forced upon them. But the point is that all lawfully called synods and councils may authoritatively determine complaints of cases of maladministration with authority. And if their rulings are in line with Word of God they ought to be received with reverence and submission. But not just because they are agreeable to the Word of God, but because God has given authority in His Word for synods and councils so to act. Therefore we should note very well that the Assembly functions authoritatively.

Notice in Acts 16:4 that Paul and Silas delivered to the churches “…the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.” These decrees or decisions weren’t just suggestions. The churches were expected to keep the rulings.  However, the fallibility of synods and councils should be noted. (We’ll consider this in a moment).

But one of the reasons that the Congregationalist and Baptistic Denominations, i.e., the Independents, don’t hold to the Presbyterian system of synods and councils is a fear of rulership. The Independents believe that each little church is independent from the rest. But we believe the church, though many, is one Church. And we believe that there are things that confront the church which need to be handled by the greater body. Again, in the words of Proverbs 11: 14, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” The problem that faced the church when they called the Jerusalem Assembly was greater that any individual congregation could have dealt with. The question of the way of salvation was at stake.

It stands to reason that the reason that there is so much false teaching among the different denominations today is because of the lack of spiritual oversight. Where there are no checks and balances from the wider church, each congregation operates as an entity autonomous from the rest.

Indeed, there are many Independents, i.e., autonomous churches such as Congregational and Baptist, Pentecostal etc., who do not necessarily have a plurality of elders ruling over them. For many of them have only one elder in charge; and this by choice! But is this not just popery on another level? Small scale popery? For whether you have one single man rule the collective or universal Church, or whether you have one single man rule one autonomous church, the end result is the same – you have a pope! But let me again remind you of the wisdom of God, “[I]n the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”

This ‘multitude of counsellors’ is a safety factor at the local church level. It is a safety factor at the district or Presbytery level. And it is a safety factor at the State and National Assembly level. The General Assembly at Jerusalem attests to this.

Now, to be sure, and church history will attest to this, but all synods and councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred.

The Fallibility of Church Assemblies

The main reason for the Reformation, which began in 1517, was on account of many papal errors. Indeed the subsequent decree that declared the doctrine of papal infallibility was a blatant error! So is the Romish decree that published the doctrine of Transubstantiation. The list goes on and on of errors made by synods and councils over the centuries.

However, it is not hard to see that these errors (just listed) are errors because they don’t line up with the clear teaching of God’s Word. Therefore synods and councils are not to be the rule of faith and practice. They are simply to be an aid to both faith and practice. And the only way synods and councils can be an aid to faith and practice is when they themselves adhere to the clear teaching of Scripture. As it says in the Westminster Confession of Faith in chapter one paragraph ten, “The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”

The General Assembly at Jerusalem searched the Scriptures for the answer to their problem regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles to the church at that time. Hear what the Moderator of the Assembly had to say, “And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does these things.” Known to God from eternity are all His works.’” Acts 15:13-18.

So, the Lord always had it in mind to include the Gentiles or the nations in His Church. Therefore, they must be treated as part of His Church, now that it the Church is no longer national, being confined to Israel, but has become universal. The point for us at the moment is that the Scriptures clearly testify to this. Therefore as it was at the Jerusalem Assembly, so it ought to be at all our synods and councils. Thus the Scriptures are to be consulted and applied to the situation at hand.

Now, synods and councils assemble to handle ecclesiastical or church matters. Which is to say that the meetings have to do with matters of Church government, not Civil government. We’ve already noted that, though the Church and State are distinct, the Church may give advice to civil authorities when requested. Therefore an Assembly may be called for that very purpose.

However, the church may also humbly petition the civil government. Now, this petition may not necessarily be for advice on some civil matter, but may also include comment when, for example, the civil authorities overstep their sphere of power. Or the Church may need to comment when the civil authority is derelict in its duty. But if the Church should pass political comment, she must do so coherently and humbly. She must not intermeddle with civil government like some medieval pope!

The Church must remember that the civil authority is God’s minister to the people for the good of the people, (Romans 13:4). Thus the Church must remember that the Church and State, though both accountable to God, are distinct spheres of government. For the Church has been given the power of the keys, whilst the State has been given the power of the sword. But, because we live in a fallen world, there will no doubt be times when the Church must speak up against the misuse of civil government.

One only has to think of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany before the WW2. But in more peaceful times, in the words of Robert Shaw, “Church and State may cooperate in the advancement of objects common to both; but each of them must be careful to act within its own proper sphere – the one never intermeddling with the affairs which properly belong to the province of the other.” (An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 370).


We’ve noted that church synods and councils are for the better government and edification of the Church. The Church on earth is, for those with eyes to see, the visibilisation of Christ’s spiritual and invisible kingdom. For Jesus says in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Therefore, if we are going to honour the sole Head of the Church, Christ our King, we would do well to strive to do all things according to our Master’s will as revealed in Scripture.

Church synods and councils are one of the ways that Christ assists us to do His will on earth. And Church synods and councils are one of the ways that Christ fulfils some of the petitions we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.”