back to bible basics - a review of "beyond bible basics" (2)

 

“LIMITING GOD”

In our earlier article, we cited the teaching of BBB speaking of the Almighty, that “He will insult his own nature to show us the extend of His forgiveness. He can even limit his own omniscience”. This latter aspect of things – the claim that God “limits” Himself is a recurrent theme in the book. Consider these words from the Chapter headed “Christadelphians Unlimited”, under the subheading: “Limiting God”: “The Almighty allows His unlimited Power to become limited by our degrees of spirituality … In a sense God requires not help from man; and yet in another sense, he has delegated His work to us, and limits His achievements according to what we are willing to do”. Again, it is written, “God is willing to totally forgive the repentant sinner. He could just forgive men; it is within His power to do this. But He doesn’t. He allows His Power to do this to be limited by the extent of our repentance.” The concept that we are being presented with then, is that the Almighty permits His infinite Power to become limited by the failure of His Creation – that their degree of repentance and spirituality become determinants of the extent to which He can achieve His ends.

But this is simply not true! The Almighty God’s achievements are not limited by sinful -20- man! No Bible verse states this – but many contradict it. Scripture only once uses the word “limit” with reference to Yahweh; and that in reference to Israel limiting God in their perception of him, by disbelieving His Power to provide: “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy” (Ps 78:40-42). Here, the context plainly indicates that Israel disbelieved the Power of Yahweh to provide: “they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation” (v 22). Their conception of God was not of an Eternal Deity, whose ability to provide is limitless; but of a God whose power was limited to the extent that He could not Save, or provide for their needs, particularly in providing food in the wilderness (v 18-29). Yet as the Psalm shows, rather than their disbelief actually limiting God’s power (as BBB teaches), it provided opportunity for His Power to be made manifest, for His direct response was: “He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea … so they did eat, and were well filled …” (v 27-29).

Bro Heaster claims that God allows His Power to forgive to “be limited by the extent of our repentance”. By contrast, Scripture teaches that God chooses not to forgive the unrepentant guilty – not because His power becomes limited, rather because it is not pleasing to Him to do so. Part of His Divine Character is that He “will by no means clear the guilty …”, for it is not His Purpose so to do (Ex 34:7). God does not allow his power to forgive to be limited by man’s unrepentant failure; rather it is simply not His Desire to exercise power in this way!

But this conception of the Eternal Spirit limiting His Power in this way is more serious when Bro Heaster comes to apply it to the means whereby we are forgiven. The basis of the principle of forgiveness, he claims, is the Lord’s willingness to limit his Omniscience: “If we can accept that God allows His power (i.e. His omnipotence) to be limited, it becomes easier to accept that He may allow His omniscience (i.e. His knowledge) to be limited. Thus the God who by nature cannot forget, for whom time is nothing, can therefore have the capacity to not remember our sins (Is. 63:25)”. And again, in speaking of forgiveness: “The very existence of genuine freewill and the concept of obedience means that God has to voluntarily limit His omnipotence to enable it”. This is a contradiction in itself; that God has to voluntarily do something! But Scripture never speaks of God so limiting Himself – it is not a Scriptural concept, and so it’s very expression requires the use of phraseology spoken not “as the oracles of God”. Forgiveness does not preclude the Lords awareness of our sins. Neither does lack of forgiveness imply the limitation of Divine Power. Nowhere in Scripture does the Spirit speak like this (Note: Is 63:25, which Bro Heaster cites does not exist. In my Bible, there are only 19 verses in Is 63. We assume this is a typing error?). The Lord is always aware of our iniquities, but does not impute them in the case of the faithful. The Truth, as expressed in Scriptural terms, is that for Christ’s sake, the Lord “will not impute sin” (Rom 4:8), to those who share the faith of Abraham – their faith is counted as righteousness (Rom 4:3), and so their sins are discounted. The Lord is still aware of them – but in the abundance of His Mercy, He forgives them. The notion that God “has to” limit Himself in order to extend loving forgiveness is void of Sanction from His own Testimony.

DOES GOD ALLOW HIMSELF TO BE BEATEN?

In harmony with this teaching, BBB, in Study 9:2, “The Limitation Of God” states, “His infinite Power becomes limited by our spirituality”. But it goes even further, to claim: “the way in a sense God allows himself to be beaten, His purpose apparently frustrated, His power to save limited by the weakness of man shows His greatness” (8:5 – The Humility of God). Whilst we recognise that humanly speaking, there is an apparent sense of the Divine Purpose being frustrated by man, given the abundance of iniquity in the earth – it is wrong to claim that “in a sense God allows Himself to be beaten”. In no “sense” has the Almighty been beaten by Man. Even the present failure of His Creation to give Him glory (for the most part) has actually become part of His Purpose, providing the environment for the faithful to be tried and refined in. Significantly, there is no passage of Scripture which uses the word “beaten” as applied to the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Such grandiose claims are again utterly void of sanction from the Inspired Word – who is mortal man to claim to have “in a sense” “beaten” his Maker!

WAS THE FATHER PHYSICALLY ON THE CROSS?

In his review of Beyond Bible Basics, Bro Paul Moore states: “The following declaration appears to verge on Trinitarianism: “The Lord’s references to ‘going to the Father’ referred to His coming crucifixion. That was where the Father was, on the cross … Moses seeing the back parts of God can … Only really mean that God Himself came down to earth. If He did this at the institution of the Old Covenant: how much more at the death of His very own Son? I submit that He was there, physically at the cross … Hereby perceive we the love of God because that He (God) laid down His life for us (1Jno 3:16 AV) … Beyond the concept of God manifestation, God Himself came down to behold and be witness at the death of His Son” (pp. 262, 264).”

Despite what Bro Heaster claims, Bro Moore does not charge him with being a Trinitarian; but does state that the above statements do verge on it. And with this, we agree. Bro Heaster evidently does not believe the Trinity, yet paradoxically speaks in terms with which the average Trinitarian would agree. To see this, just present these passages to a Trinitarian, and ask what he/she understands by them. God Himself, personally “was there, physically at the cross?” “He (God) laid down His life for us”? “That was where the Father was, on the Cross”? These words are not framed as “the oracles of God”! It was the Lord Jesus – the Son – who “was there, physically at the cross”. He was the personage being crucified. Yet Bro Heaster claims it was “God Himself” – “the Father”, whilst neglecting to show this from the holy writ. If we did not know better, we might well conclude from this language, that Bro Heaster believes the Father to be the same Personage as the Son. The logical outcome of what he teaches is that Jesus is God. His words evidently cannot be explained in terms of God Manifestation – that God was there only in as much as Christ, who Manifested God (as in 2Cor 5:19) was there, for Bro Heaster claims that the Father hung upon the Cross “beyond the concept of God Manifestation” – he was there in actuality, “physically”. This is truly a bizarre concept, which we invite Bro Heaster to elaborate further upon, that his beliefs may be clarified. We would ask him, In what possible sense can it be said the Eternal Father actually died on the Cross – that the Almighty, who is “from everlasting to everlasting” actually laid down His (Immortal!) Life for us?

Whether Bro Heaster actually believes aspects of the Trinitarian myth or not – the language he uses is Trinitarian in it’s nature. The God that he teaches, is a God that died upon the Cross. The Perceptive reader will note that the only scripture that Bro Heaster cites in support of this notion is 1Jno 3:16, according to the AV, which by the use of italics indicates that certain words are the translators own addition “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down His life for us …”. The words “of God” are not in the Greek – hence it is not God, but Christ that laid down his life for us (Jno 15:13). The God proclaimed in Scripture, is a Father whose Son laid down his life for his friends. Bro Heaster teaches that the Father Himself “physically” died for us on the Cross. His teachings then, are a major departure from the Father’s revealed Truth.

DID CHRIST “PANIC” AND EXPERIENCE “INTELLECTUAL FAILURE”?

Again, in keeping with the bizarre concept of the Atonement BBB presents us with, it teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ actually experienced failure on the cross. In speaking of our Lord’s cry, identifying himself with Ps 22 “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” Bro Heaster states the following: “My God, why hast thou forsaken / entangled me?”, His request for the cup to pass… these are proofs enough that the Lord hadn’t got it all neatly sorted out in His mind when it actually came to the crisis of impending death, even though beforehand He had it clearly worked out.”

“Recall how He foresaw that moment of handing over to death. And yet still He asked for the cup to pass, still He panicked and felt forsaken.”

“We are going to suggest that these words indicate a crisis in the mind of the Lord Jesus. We would wish to write in almost every sentence of this study that the Lord Jesus was utterly sinless. Yet as one tempted to the limit, He must have come close to the edge … in these words we have Him perhaps nearer to such a breakdown of composure than anywhere else. Another example of His being ‘close to the edge’ was when He was in the Garden, asking for the cup to be taken away from Him. Compare those words with His clear understanding that He would have to die on a cross and later be resurrected. The clarity of His understanding is to be marvelled at … But compare all this with His plea for another way to be found in Gethsemane, and also the cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?”. There is only one realistic conclusion from this comparison: those words indicate a faltering in the Lord Jesus, a blip on the screen, a wavering in purpose. One marvels that there were not more such occasions recorded.”

“The conclusion is that at the very last moment our Lord faltered. It was 11:59, and He faltered. Enter, please, into the sense of crisis and intensity. For He was your Lord and your Saviour hanging there, it was your salvation which hung in the balance”

“Yet it must have been only a few minutes before the ninth hour when Christ faltered; hence Matthew says that it was “about the ninth hour”. What is a few minutes? Only a few hundred seconds, only moments. Only moments before the sweetness of the final victory, “It is finished” or accomplished, the Son of God was faltering. The more we appreciate this wavering at the last minute, the more fully we will appreciate the power and sense of victory behind Christ’s final two sayings on the cross, uttered only moments later.”

“But why did our Lord falter like this, at 11:59, one minute to twelve, at this agonising last moment? Seeing the Father did not forsake the Son, there seems to have been some kind of intellectual failure in the Lord’s reasoning. In the terrible circumstances in which He was, this is hardly surprising. Yet such genuine intellectual failure, a real, unpretended failure to correctly understand something, usually has a psychological basis.”

“It would seem that the Lord had the highest conceivable level of unresignation to death, to the point of being almost paranoid about it- even though He knew He must die.”

“There is more evidence than we sometimes care to consider that Christ’s understanding was indeed limited; He was capable of misunderstanding Scripture, especially under the stress of the cross. Earlier, in the garden, He had panicked; He was “sore amazed” (Mk. 14:33, s.w. “greatly wondering”, Acts 3:11).”

“Why (oh why) hast Thou forsaken me?” is surely the Lord Jesus searching His conscience with desperate intensity, finding nothing wrong, and crying to God to show Him where He had failed, why the Father had forsaken Him. It may be that initially He assumed He had sinned (Ps. 69:5)”

“In Ps. 22:1, our Lord was doubting His previous thoughts, as prophesied in Ps. 16:10. He now feared that God had forsaken Him, when previously He had been full of confidence that God would not do so, on account of His perfect character. Because Christ felt such a sinner deep within Him, He even doubted if He really was the Messiah.”

This then, is the claim – that at the time of our Lord’s victory over Sin, he “doubted if he really was the Messiah”, he “faltered”, experiencing a “genuine intellectual failure, he “panicked”, assuming that “he had sinned”, and had a “real, unpretended failure to correctly understand” the reason for what was taking place. All this failure, yet he was “utterly sinless”! To state the absurdity of the case is to disprove it. Such a slight against the Son of the Most High, charging him with failure during the climax of his sufferings for us is abhorrent to all who love the ways of Truth. Once again, this is not the testimony of Scripture – the inspired Word never speaks in the terms of Bro Heaster.

In contrast to presenting the Cross as an occasion when our Lord “faltered”, Scripture presents the willing offering up of himself as the supreme act of love and victory for the Lord. Consider the apostolic testimony: “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). The picture which the Spirit presents to us here, is not of a man suffering “intellectual failure”, doubting that he was the Messiah, who “panicked”. Rather, it is on One who which gentle resignation to his Father’s Will, in full understanding of what he was doing, yielding himself as a Sacrifice for the sins of his brethren. Scripture never uses the words, “failure”, “falter”, “panic”, “doubt”, “paranoid”, or “waver” in connection with our Lord upon the Cross. Once again, in order to present concepts which contradict Scripture, Bro Heaster finds it necessary to frame his ideas in terms foreign to Scripture. Space precludes an exposition of why it was that the Lord cited the Psalm, “My God, my God, why hast thou Forsaken me”, but if the Lord Will, this will be considered in more detail in the next (October) issue of The Christadelphian Waymark, which we will forward to any brother or sister on request.

CONCLUSION

There are those who insist that both Bro Paul Moore, and myself should “regret” writing the words we have, in considering the teaching of Beyond Bible Basics in the Light of the Holy Oracles of God. This, not because the points we raise are demonstrably incorrect, but because the writer is in a position of high standing in our community, and allegedly, a zealous preacher for the Word. But we have demonstrated the seriousness of the nature of things promulgated in BBB. It teaches that the Eternal Creator allows his power to be limited by sinful man. It teaches that the Eternal Father Himself was upon the Cross, and laid down His life for us. And it teaches that the Lord Jesus, at the climax of his life of obedience, when he lovingly submitted himself in full understanding and faith, to the will of his Father – that at that time – he assumed himself to be a sinner, believing that he was not actually the Messiah – that he experienced an “intellectual failure”, and “wavered” in faith. The seriousness of such claims cannot be denied. And this being the case, it is out of love out of the flock of God – and out of a sincere care and concern that they might be led astray from the plain precepts of Scripture, both Bro Paul and myself have sought to bring these things to the brotherhood’s attention. Do either of us have any “regret” for loving our brethren and sisters to the extent that we are willing to be openly castigated for standing against those who would lead them astray? We have none, and can have none.

Again, the seriousness of these issues, is that this book is specifically written for the benefit of the newly baptised. We submit that in the light of the erroneous exposition it contains, the book is wholly unsuitable for such. Certainly, such fables ought not be presented as Christadelphian teaching – which it manifestly is not.

Christopher Maddocks