The "Berean" Spirit

Acts 17
11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

Protestants honor Martin Luther for saying "Here I Stand." He put the Scriptures ahead of the words of men.

Luther insisted that Holy Mother the Church had made a fatal error concerning a central doctrine of the Christian Faith: Justification. This website is not as bold as Luther. We're not saying ours is a "central doctrine of the faith."  But we agree with the saying attributed to Luther:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
Where is the battle raging? Do you know what "little point" the world and the devil are at this moment attacking? Do you know how to fight that battle?
In your average Systematic Theology book of 1,000 pages, this "little point" might occupy only one or two pages. But this one "little point" might be the cause of millions of deaths, the enslavement of billions of people, and the theft of trillions of dollars, as the entire human race is taken captive by a false religion ("statism," "statolatry"), all the while the other 999 pages of orthodox Theology are "faithfully" preached from the pulpits.
Is this possible?

The Protestant Reformation resulted in reformation of both Church and State, 1517-1776

The decline of Reformed Theology led to "the separation of Church and State," 1776-2017

This website contends that global reformation and the revival of Reformed theology will result from the abolition of Church and State, which will only occur if there is widespread belief that

Jesus is the Christ Today

Certainly Jews do not agree that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), but the vast majority of professing Christians also deny that Jesus is the Christ Today. They believe He will not exercise His reign as Messiah until He leaves His throne in heaven and sits on a throne in Jerusalem, acting more like King David and Solomon than He does now. The next reformation will come with the recognition that God did not approve of Israel's demand for a King, God does not approve of kings today, and Jesus is not going to make that same mistake by coming again and setting up another Davidic kingdom. We call this nexus of politics and eschatology "Anarcho-Preterism."

You will not be persuaded of this doctrine, and you will not be confessing Christ against Satan and the world if you are not a "Berean."

The Bible alone is the Word of God. The words of no theologian, scholar or church council are the Word of God. This means we must be Bereans. We must search the Scriptures. We cannot simply say "I believe it because Dr. So-and-So says so." If Dr. So-and-So is worth listening to, he would say what we're saying: "Don't believe me -- search the Scriptures to see if it's so."

One of the most important doctrines of the Protestant Reformation is "the Priesthood of All Believers." We do not need priests as mediators between us and God. Nor should we be denied access to the Scriptures and be forced to rely on the pronouncements of the doctors of the church.

In fact, the Scripture declares that we have an obligation to search the Scriptures for ourselves.

This is hard work and unappealing to most Christians. Proverbs 27:17 says,

Just as iron sharpens iron,
friends sharpen the minds of each other.

Most Christians would rather toss out the accepted bumper-stickers of "the Party Line" than re-think the Scriptures and "exegete" them, that is, "pull out" the meaning of the verses, instead of imposing our own slogans on them.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) speaks of our duty to be like the Bereans:

4. The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God[i].

[i]. 2 Peter 1:19, 21. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.... For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
2 Timothy 3:16.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
1 John 5:9.
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
1 Thessalonians 2:13.
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverend esteem of the holy Scripture[k]. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts[l].

[k]. 1 Timothy 3:15. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
[l]. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. {10} But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.;
John 10:35; If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Romans 11:36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.;
(Psalms 19:7-11) The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. {8} The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. {9} The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. {10} More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. {11} Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: {5} That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
1 John 2:20,27 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. {27} But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
Isaiah 59:21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men[m].

[m]. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: {17} That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
Galatians 1:8-9 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. {9} As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all[p]: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them[q].

[p]. 2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
[q]. Psalm 119:105  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 30:10-14 If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. {11} For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. {12} It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? {13} Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? {14} But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

For centuries the Church leaders kept the Bible hidden from the laity. The Protestant reformers said that the Bible should be read and studied by laymen, and to that end should be translated into common languages.

8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical[r]; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them[s]. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them[t], therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come[u], that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner[w]; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope[x].

[r]. Matthew 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Psalm 119:89 For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
[s]. Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Matthew 15:3,6 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? {6} And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
Acts 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
2 Timothy 3:14-15 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; {15} And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
[t]. John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Revelation 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
[u]. Matthew 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: {20} Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
1 Corinthians 14:6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
[w]. Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Exodus 20:4-6 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: {5} Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; {6} And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Matthew 15:7-9 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, {8} This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. {9} But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
[x]. Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly[y].

[y]. Acts 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
John 5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me.
2 Peter 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. {21} For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

10. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be 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[z].

[z]. Matthew 22:29,31 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. {31} But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
Acts 28:25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
1 John 4:1-6 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. {2} Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: {3} And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. {4} Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. {5} They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. {6} We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

Those who believed the Popes and priests of their day were misled. They should have searched the Scriptures.

But the Reformed Churches must be semper reformanda: "always reforming." Anytime we trust the established theologians rather than the Scriptures, we have become the new catholics, and have made Dr. So-and-So the new pope. We must be  returning continually to the Scriptures.

The Role of Experts

Suppose all of the experts are agreed on the following proposition:

All men are mortal

Suppose all of the experts are agreed as well on this proposition:

Socrates was a man

You study the experts. You're a good student. You announce your conclusion on Facebook:

Socrates was mortal

You are vilified. The experts call you "unorthodox," "fringe," "extremist," "wacko." Yours is a "conspiracy theory." You can no longer be hired in respected institutions.

Experts can be helpful in lining up our premises. We need to pay close attention to experts to make sure we get our facts right.

But if the facts "by good and necessary consequence" lead to a conclusion which the "experts" are unwilling to embrace, we must follow logic and truth and leave the experts behind.

Certain questions are considered legitimate in any given academic guild at any given point in history. Certain approaches to the solution of these circumscribed questions are also considered the only ones acceptable. The guild polices itself rather well. The ways in which guilds enforce their world-and-life views are catalogued effectively in Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, [1962] 1970). Kuhn concludes from a study of the history of physical science that the major intellectual breakthroughs are all too often made by young innovators who are not well established within the guild and by skilled amateurs who are self-taught and completely outside the guild. Guild members are seldom convinced by these scientific breakthroughs; they simply grow old and retire, or die, while the younger men establish the new "paradigm." Then a new series of questions and answers becomes the reign in orthodoxy, waiting for yet another innovator to revamp the operating presuppositions.
Academic Compromise - Gary North

Can Individual Believers Question the Creeds?

Do Preterists have the right to judge Futurist creeds by the Scriptures
and to leave churches which are dogmatically Futurist?

All should agree that the creeds are not infallible. Some errors in the creeds are seen in this discussion of Ken Gentry's article on preterism

The following quotes are taken from Appendix G of The Covenanted Reformation Defended by Reg Barrow. No assumption should be made as to Barrow's views on prophecy. The reader is encouraged to peruse his fascinating web site. Barrow's arguments and historical quotations are valuable in the current controversy over whether believers have a right to question creeds which erroneously teach that Matthew 24 (and other passages) have yet to be fulfilled.

George Gillespie comments:

The subordinate judgment, which I call private, is the judgment of discretion whereby every Christian, for the certain information of his own mind, and the satisfaction of his own conscience, may and ought to try and examine, as well the decrees of councils as the doctrine of particular pastors, and in so far to receive and believe the same, as he understands them to agree with the Scriptures (George Gillespie, A Dispute Against The English Popish Ceremonies, pp. 364­365, emphases added).

The prelates did not allow men to examine, by the judgment of Christians and private discretion, their decrees and canons, so as to search the Scriptures and look at the warrants, but would needs have men think it enough to know the things to be commanded by them that are in places of power. Presbyterial government doth not lord it over men's consciences, but admitteth (yea commendeth) the searching of the Scriptures, whether these things that it holds forth be not so, and doth not press men's consciences with sic volo, sic jubeo, but desireth they may do in faith what they do (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, pp. 83, 84, emphases added).

Francis Turretin:

Rather we hold only that private believers gifted with the Holy Spirit are bound to examine according to the Word of God, whatever is proposed for their belief or practice by the rulers of the church; as much as by individuals separately as by many congregated in a synod. Also they are to believe that by the guidance of the Spirit, by pious prayers and diligent study of the Scriptures, they can better find out the meaning of Scripture in things necessary to salvation than whole synods receding from the Word of God and than a society which claims for itself (but falsely) the name of the true church. Therefore, the examination which they are bound to make is not made for the purpose of correcting the meaning of the true church and of finding out a better (as if they were wiser), but to investigate and follow it. Nor is the right of examination founded in this ­ that we ought to believe ourselves wiser and more sagacious than entire synods and the whole true church; but in this ­ that since the privilege of infallibility has been granted by God to no church or pastor, nor are we certain whether they who compose ecclesiastical assemblies are members of the true church and faithful servants of God, who are partakers of the Holy Spirit and follow his guidance; nay, it can happen (and it has too often happened) that such assemblies have erred in their decisions. Hence no other means is left for the believer to know the legitimate authority of these assemblies and the decisions made by them with the certainty of faith, than a comparison and examination of them with the Word of God, which he not only permits as possible and lawful, but commands a just and necessary. That cannot, therefore, be considered rashness or pride which belongs to the execution of an indispensable office imposed upon all believers. Nor under the pretext of avoiding pride ought believers to blind themselves and to divest themselves of their right in order that their consciences by a blind obedience may be reduced to bondage (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997, p. 84, emphases added).

Notice the language of Turretin. We are to believe that individual believers, "can better find out the meaning of Scripture in things necessary to salvation than whole synods receding from the Word of God and than a society which claims for itself (but falsely) the name of the true church... Hence no other means is left for the believer to know the legitimate authority of these assemblies and the decisions made by them with the certainty of faith, than a comparison and examination of them with the Word of God." It must not be considered, "rashness or pride which belongs to the execution of an indispensable office." Undeniably, Turretin is arguing that Protestants MUST APPEAL to a conscience that is submitted to the Scripture and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The last and highest court of the church is ultimately based upon the Spirit of God speaking through the Word of God, and not the opinions of corrupt assemblies. Truth is ultimate and that should never be forgotten.

Again, Turretin comments:

The obedience which he [i.e. Christ ­ GB] wishes to be rendered to teachers must always be understood with the condition ­ in as far as the teachers do not prescribe to us another thing than what Christ gave to us in his commands (which they do not do, who arrogate to themselves the right of making new laws) (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997, Vol. 3, p. 288, emphases added).

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13:7, AV).

For although no one denies that we ought to hold in great esteem the pastors and faithful ministers of God who watch for our souls and that we ought to obey them according to the direction of Paul (Heb.13:17); still it is certain that that obedience and dependency is not absolute and unlimited (which belongs to God and Christ alone), but circumscribed within certain limits (i.e., as far as it promotes the glory of God and our safety and as far as it can consist with the fidelity and obedience due to Christ) (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997, Vol. 3, p. 244, emphases added).

From Heb.13:17, nothing else can be gathered than that obedience is due to teachers, as long as they hear Christ themselves and speak the words of God. Otherwise if they lead us away from Christ, they ought to be anathema to us (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997, Vol. 3, p. 289, emphases added).

The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be 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. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:10).

But in affairs of conscience which have reference to faith, piety and the worship of God, no one can usurp dominion over the conscience; nor are we bound to obey anyone, because otherwise we would be bound to error and impiety and thus we would incur eternal punishment and our consciences would be stained with vices without criminality because we would be bound to obey superiors absolutely (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997, Vol. 3, p. 287, emphases added).

George Gillespie also responds:

Howbeit, even in such cases, when the consent of the church cannot be had to the execution of this discipline [i.e. excommunication ­ GB], faithful pastors and professors [i.e. professing Christians ­ GB] must, every one for his own part, take heed that he have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but even reprove them. Yea, they ought, in sensu negativo [in a negative sense], excommunicate those who should be (but are not) excommunicated positively, which negative excommunication is not an ecclesiastical censure, but either a bare punishment, or a cautel [caution ­ GB] and animadversion [warning ­ GB]. And so says the Archbishop of Spalato, not only one brother may refuse to communicate with another, but a people, also, may refuse to communicate with their pastor, which he confirms by certain examples. But the public censure of positive excommunication should not be inflicted without the church's consent, for the reasons foresaid (George Gillespie, A Dispute Against The English Popish Ceremonies, p. 382, emphases added).

If Futurists will not allow private individuals to search the Scripture and ultimately appeal to their own judgment of discretion, to whom does he turn to as a final court of appeal?

Mr. Bacon says,

But it is neither the duty nor the right of private Christians to make determinations of who is ignorant or scandalous. Christ has left this authority in His church ­ in the hands of church officers (The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness, p. 11).

Alas, is this not the teaching of Rome? Individuals do not have the duty nor the right to use the judgment of discretion? What did Turretin just say? What did Gillespie just say? While it is true that Christ has left a judicial authority in his church which is to be used by faithful and qualified officers (for edification, not destruction, 2 Cor. 10:8), that does not alter the fact that the people of God must use their private judgment of discretion to scripturally determine whether or not those officers are faithful or qualified. While private individuals have no ordinary power to authoritatively judge or determine matters of faith on behalf of the church, they are duty bound to examine whether the determinations and decisions of church courts are agreeable with Scripture. Even the Apostles themselves came under such scrutiny.

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:10­11, AV).

For Mr. Bacon to assert that, "it is neither the duty nor the right of private Christians to make determinations of who is ignorant or scandalous," is to leave that duty to the ministry alone. If the private Christian does not have the "right" to make such a determination, what is to be done when the greater part of the ministry is corrupt or when their determinations do not agree with the Word of God? Are private Christians to ignore the truth because, according to Mr. Bacon, they don't have the "right" to judge who is ignorant or scandalous? Mr. Bacon's teaching leads directly to the conclusion that the authority of the ministry is above the authority of the truth. Such a view is a Popish heresy and a denial that God alone is Lord of the conscience.

Mr. Bacon says,

Independents invariably elevate the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer to a sort of papacy of the believer (The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness, p. 15).

As seems to be his usual practice, Mr. Bacon accuses people of "papacy and independency" right before he presents his most serious errors. As we have seen, Turretin proves that examination of churches and synods by private individuals is an indispensable right afforded to Christians by God. This right is designed to protect a believer from blindly and implicitly following the dictates of a corrupt majority.

Noble martyr of God, James Renwick explains:

If this [the right of private judgment ­ GB] belongs not to the people they have nothing but blind implicit faith; and what better are they than Papists, who must believe as the church believes? Yea, hath not every Christian a judgment of discretion, even in reference to actions of others? seeing they are to do nothing doubting but to be fully persuaded in their own minds, Rom. 14:23. But some (I know) say, that withdrawing from a scandalous person is a censuring of a scandalous person, and to withdraw from a scandalous minister is to depose him, and make him no minister. But this I deny; for simple withdrawing is not the inflicting of a censure, but only the believers testifying their sense, that a censure should be inflicted (to wit) by such as are competent: and this is warranted by Scripture, Rom.14:17, Eph.11:2, 2 Thess.3:14, and many such like places. Also, Rutherford saith, in his Peaceable Plea, chap 4, p. 25, "that the law of nature will warrant a popular and private subtraction and separation from the ministry of a known wolf and seducer," and alloweth what Parker saith, from Saravia, Licet tetula inculpata uti si malus rector ab ecclesia deponi nequit, "it is lawful to use that blameless and just defense if the bad church­guide cannot be deposed. "Any private person may take that care for the safety of their souls, that they may do for the safety of their bodies. For a son may defend himself by flying from his distracted father coming to kill him; and none will call this an act judicial of authority, but only an act natural. Now, I say private separation from scandalous persons is not depriving of them, if they be pastors; nor excommunicating of them, if they be professors. For the latter is an act of authority, belonging to those to whom Christ hath given the keys; but the former is an act natural, belonging to every believer. Likewise, if withdrawing from a scandalous person be a censuring of scandalous persons, then the professors, who withdraw from the curates, do censure the curates, which I hope no sound presbyterian will say. Howbeit, I distinguish betwixt a person scandalous really, and a person scandalous judicially; and between a church in a settled state, and a church in a broken state. So, I say, when a church is in a settled state, a person really scandalous cannot be withdrawn from, until (at least) he be judicially, by two or three witnesses, convicted, before the church, Rutherford's Peaceable Plea, chap. ix. p. 171. seeing that the brethren offended have church judicatories to appeal unto, for taking order with offenders. But when the church is in a broken state, and "every man (as the children of Israel, when they wanted Governors) "doing that which is right in his own eyes," there may and should be withdrawing from a person scandalous really, though he be not scandalous judicially; because then ecclesiastic judicatories, for censuring of him, cannot be had. Otherwise, all must go into a mixed confusion together, the faithful must become partakers of other men's sins, private and popular means of reclaiming offending brethren shall be stopped, and the testimonies of the faithful shall fall to the ground (W. H. Carslaw, The Life and Letters of James Renwick, The Last Scottish Martyr, 1893, SWRB bound photocopy reprint, 1997, p. 139, emphases added).

According to Mr. Bacon, we as individual believers must not take our Bibles and prayerfully determine where we can worship with a clear conscience. Instead, we are told to accept the fact that churches (such as the Presbyterian Church in America, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America [pretended covenanters], and the Reformation Presbyterian Church), where error in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government is established by ecclesiastical law, cannot be privately judged as unfit to join. We are told to keep our families in these institutions for years while we "fight for reform" with church courts who have already made up their mind and historically ruled contrary to Scripture. During these years our children become used to false doctrine and practice. As we wait for reform, they learn by example how to bury the truth for the sake of unity. The hands of compromisers are strengthened, and while we wait for some sub­committee to admonish us on a technicality, we pour all our resources into their treasury. Compromised pastors are exalted and faithful ministers are pushed aside. When have such churches ever shown signs of reform? They have slid backwards for so long that they think they are going forward. Truly God has judged our land with blindness when the sentiments of The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness are accepted as truth! When such folly is well received by the general Christian population, it becomes a sad commentary upon the fact that the darkness is no longer only outside of the visible church. Undeniably, it has pervaded the interior as well. As Jim Dodson cleverly noted, the refutation of Mr. Bacon's book entitled, The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness, would be aptly entitled, The Visible Church and the Inner Darkness.

Why are the pulpits of our nation full of men who teach such hazardous error? It is because people who have fallen for this kind of Popish implicit faith are continually attending their services and giving them money.

Does not your attendance upon, and following of such a ministry, help to midwife and bring forth all those evils with which their ministry travails, and is in pain to be delivered of? Could they do any hurt, if they were generally declined and avoided? Their strength lieth in you: As the great commander once said to his soldiers, "That he flew upon their wings." ("Antipharmicun Saluberrimum," The Works of John Flavel, Vol. 4, p. 532, emphases added. Also reprinted by SWRB [1996] as "A Warning Against Backsliding, False Worship, and False Teachers).

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27, AV).

If these ministers of compromise can convince you to stay within the apostasy and fight for reform long after the issue has been decided; if you can be convinced that individuals don't have the right to judge false doctrine and superstitious practice; if they can train you to believe that separation from corrupt churches is wrong, even in the broken state of the church; then you will never leave their church and you will become like them. You will supply their error with the fuel it needs to burn up your posterity. Dear reader, do not be deceived! Their false teaching will become the substance of the thoughts which fill your children's minds ­ and the sound of your grandchildren's voices. He who teaches that individuals may not judge whether the church is in extraordinarily backslidden times is a man who is to be avoided and withdrawn from. Do not be fooled by Mr. Bacon or his quotes from George Gillespie and James Durham. He has taken their teaching entirely out of context (the settled state of a faithful church) and erroneously applied them to our contemporary context (the broken state of a corrupt church).

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17,18, AV).

Further, Mr. Bacon ignorantly says,

Even a minister of Christ, as the one who ministers the sacraments, is not free based on his own singular judgment to exclude any person from the Lord's Supper. George Gillespie, a contemporary of Ball [an English Minister ­ GB], agreed with him on this point in his "Assertion" (The Visible Church in the Outer Darkness, p. 21, emphases added).

Again, Mr. Bacon is impersonating someone who has actually read what George Gillespie wrote. George Gillespie believed so strongly in the individual's right to private judgment that he maintained the exact opposite of what Mr. Bacon has represented. In a case where a minister is certain that a man allowed to come to the Lord's table is obstinately scandalous, he must defy the order of an eldership, classis, or synod based upon his private judgment of discretion and not serve that man.

And if it should fall out that a scandalous unworthy person should find so much favour in the higher assemblies also as that they shall judge him fit to be admitted to the sacrament; yet if the minister know him certainly to be a scandalous abominable person, and to be clear in his conscience, that the matter of scandal is sufficiently proved, he must not do an unlawful act in obedience to men, but walk by that apostolical rule, 1 Tim. 5:22, "Be not partaker of other mens sins; keep thyself pure." In doing whereof he doth not make his conscience the rule of inflicting any censure, and particularly of suspending from the sacrament (which must be done by many), but yet his conscience, so far as it is informed and illuminate by the Word of God, is a rule to him of his own personal acting or not acting, notwithstanding of which the offender stands rectus in curia, and is not excluded by the sentence of any ecclesiastical court. I confess a minister ought to be very clear in his conscience and be persuaded (not upon suspicions, surmises, or such like slight motives), but upon very certain grounds, that the sentence of an eldership, classis, or synod, is contrary to the Word of God, before he refuses to do the thing (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 224, emphases added).

If, as Gillespie says, an individual minister may defy an eldership, classis or synod when he is certain that their ruling is contrary to the Word of God, then Mr. Bacon is clearly at odds with Gillespie's principles. Mr. Bacon maintains that such doctrine is the basis for a separatist policy that "elevates the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer to a sort of papacy of the believer." Does Mr. Bacon also call Mr. Gillespie a separatist? It appears so. The next time Mr. Bacon wishes to pretend that he believes the same thing as George Gillespie, perhaps he will remember to read his books first.

Next, grossly abusing the argument of Kevin Reed (Presbyterian Government in Extraordinary Times), and true Presbyterian principle, Mr. Bacon writes that using the right of private judgment to determine who is ignorant and scandalous is, in effect, to usurp the office of the eldership.

But it is neither the duty nor the right of private Christians to make determinations of who is ignorant or scandalous. Christ has left this authority in His church ­ in the hands of church officers (The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness, p. 11).

John Brown (of Wamphray) directly contradicts Mr. Bacon:

It is true private Christians may not set themselves up into the chair, and judge of the endowments and qualifications of ministers, and what nulleth their office and what not, yet every private Christian hath the use of the judgment of discretion, and that way may judge whether such an one appears qualified according to the rule of the word or not (John Brown of Wamphray, An Apologetical Relation of the Particular Sufferings of the Faithful Ministers and Professors of the Church of Scotland, 1660, 1845, SWRB reprint, 1996, p. 146).

Robert M'Ward adds,

What way can the practice of private persons toward others, in abstaining from some acts of church communion hic & nunc with them; because of scruple, founded upon true Presbyterian principles, be said to be, on the matter, a drawing forth of one of the highest censures... for what hath a Christians private censuring, by judgment of discretion, the practice of another, and carrying according to that other, to do with taking the government off its hinges (Robert McWard, Earnest Contendings for the Faith, 1723, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 121)?

George Gillespie comments,

1. Separation from churches is properly a renouncing of membership as unlawful.

2. The causes and motives of separation suppose either an unlawful constitution of churches, or an unlawful government of churches, or both, so far, that they who separate hold it unlawful to continue their membership in churches so constituted and governed, or so much as to communicate with such churches though they know no scandalous person admitted to the sacrament (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 201).

They, therefore, who give their will for a law, and their authority for a reason, and answer all the arguments of their opponents, by bearing down with the force of public constitution and the judgment of superiors, to which theirs must be conformed, do rule the Lord's flock "with force and with cruelty" (Ezek. 34:4); as "lords over God's heritage" (1 Pet. 5:3) Always, since men give us no leave to try their decrees and constitutions, that we may hold fast to no more than is good, God be thanked that we have a warrant to do it (without their leave) from his own word (1 Thess. 5:21). Non numeranda suffragis, sed appendenda [Opinions must not be counted up, but considered], says Augustine in Psalm 39. Our divines hold that all things which are proposed by the ministers of the church, yes, by ecumenical councils, should be proved and examined; and that when the guides of the church do institute any ceremonies as necessary for edification, "yet the church has the free power of judgment to give assent to or reject them"... The schoolmen also give liberty to a private man, of proving the statutes of the church, and neglecting the same, "if he see a cause for doing so, if a reason becomes evident, a man can, on his own, rightfully pass by the observance of a statute. "If any be not able to examine and try all such things, "everyone ought to be able, by the command of God: therefore they remove their own blame," says Paraeus. "If we rightly feel we are deprived of the faculty of questioning, it must be indicated by that same spirit who speaks through his prophets," says Calvin. We will not then call any man rabbi nor, "jurare in verba magistri" [to echo the sentiments of a teacher ], nor yet be Pathagorean disciples to the church herself, but we will believe her and obey her in so far only as she is the pillar and ground of the truth (George Gillespie, A Dispute Against The English Popish Ceremonies, Naphtali Press edition, pp. 29­30, emphases added).

Go back to Table of Contents of Covenanted Reformation Defended

Rite Reasons Newsletter
No. 15: What About the “Seventh Ecumenical Council”?
June, 1991

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 15
June 1991
Copyright (c) 1991 by Biblical Horizons

In Rite Reasons Nos. 9-12, I discussed the errors of Roman Catholicism, Anglo-Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. I have had several requests to comment further on the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council, held at Nicaea in A.D. 787. That Council ordered the excommunication of anyone who rejects the veneration of icons. (See the "Decree of the Holy, Great, Ecumenical Synod, the Second of Nice," in Henry Percival, ed., The Seven Ecumenical Councils [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans], p. 550. This is volume 14 of the Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers). Let me set down my comments as numbered points.

1. The Protestant faith has never accepted this Seventh Ecumenical Council as true. Protestantism has accepted the first four Councils, and the fifth and sixth insofar as they refine the formulations of the first four. The Protestant faith corrects the errors of Rome and Orthodoxy on this point, and after nearly 500 years the tradition of the Protestant faith has as much weight as any of these other traditions.

2. The occasion of the 787 Council was to refute the decision of the "Iconoclastic Conciliabulum," held in Constantinople in 754. That earlier Council decreed that because Christ is God and man in one Person, it is not possible to make a true picture of Him, and thus that all pictures of Christ are idolatrous, whether venerated or not. On this point, the 754 Council erred, since clearly if we had had a camera in A.D. 26, we could have photographed Jesus. The second commandment does not forbid drawing pictures but worshipping them. In the Old Testament, the people were forbidden to make any picture of God because they had not seen Him. After the incarnation, however, it can be argued that things have changed. Pictures are now possible. Thus, to the extent that the 787 Council corrected the 754 Council, it was right to do so.

3. I have dealt already with the unbiblical character of venerating icons, and why it is at best unwise to do so, in Rite Reasons 9-12. I see no need to repeat myself here.

4. The 787 Council was indeed ecumenical, since representatives of both the Western and Eastern churches were present, but now we have to ask: What authority does that fact convey? What is the nature of Church Councils? How much authority do they have?

4.1. Christianity is indeed conciliar. The New Testament makes it plain that all believers are joined in the Council of the Holy Trinity as junior partners, and that God guides the deliberations of the Church.

4.2. This does not mean that "ecumenical" councils have necessarily any greater weight than the council of a local church. Just as a local church council can err, so can an ecumenical one. The World Council of Churches is ecumenical, in that every branch of the church has some kind of say in it. Shall we take their decisions as wise for this reason?

4.3. The Bible teaches a kind of infallibility of the Church, which is that the Church can never finally fail in her mission. In this sense, the infallibility of the Church is the same as the perseverance of the Church. The progression of councils in Church history is part of the perseverance, part of that infallibility.

4.4. The Bible does not teach a doctrine of the inerrancy of the Church. The Church, as she grows, approaches inerrancy as she learns to think God’s thoughts after Him better and better. Thus, we can expect that creeds and councils will sometimes err, and we must always be open to correcting them in the light of the inerrant Word. The question concerning councils is not whether or not they are ecumenical, but whether or not they are correct.

4.6. Since the basis of conciliar theology is that man is woven into partnership with the Divine Triune Council, an earthly council is only true and valid to the extent that it agrees with the Divine Council. The counsel of that Divine Council is found in the Bible. God certainly does lead the Church into new applications of the Bible, but no earthly council that contradicts the decrees of the Divine Council (the Bible) can be correct.

4.7. Since the 787 Council contradicted the Holy Bible, the original decrees of the Divine Council, by authorizing (yea, mandating) the veneration of icons, we can be certain that the 787 Council erred on this point.

5. It is clear that the 787 Council did not represent the whole Church. There were plenty of churchmen who disagreed, starting with those who had participated in the 754 Council. Let us assume, though, that by the year 900 the entire Church was agreed that the 787 Council was correct. In fact, let us assume that icon veneration was ecumenically practised in every single Church in Christendom in the year 900. What shall we say?

5.1. First, we would have to say that every single Church in Christendom was wrong in this practice. That is no surprise, since the Church is not inerrant. Just as individuals lapse into sin, as David did, so that whole Church can lapse into sin and error, and sometimes into serious wickedness as Israel did before she went into Babylonian exile.

5.2. Second, we say that the Church continued to be God’s Church and that she did not fail. David did not lose his salvation when he fell into sin and error, nor did the Church cease to be God’s instrument of the means of grace just because she fell into sin and error.

5.3. Third, we say that the Church repented of her sin and error at the Reformation. It is those who stand in the tradition of the Reformation who represent the "Truth-Tradition" of the Church.

See also: Stevens' Response to Gentry: Creedal Failure

There are two areas in our day in which I believe we must return to the Scriptures. (There are many, of course, but there are two in particular that I believe are of great importance.) These two areas are (1) The Second Coming and (2) The State.

Theologians and scholars have largely been in agreement on these two issues, but the example of the Bereans is to search the Scriptures to see if what they say is true. And in these two areas the stakes are incredibly high. If the theologians are wrong, western civilization itself hangs in the balance.

Following the Fall of the Roman Empire, Christians began building Western Civilization. There is a rumor (started by atheists) that Greece and Rome were the architects of Western Civilization. This is false. Rome was a dictatorship and a depraved empire. It was men like Justinian and King Alfred who brought the world out of the truly dark ages of pre-Christian paganism, and began the creation of Western Civilization, basing laws on the Ten Commandments and ensuring human rights for all, not just for the philosopher-kings.

The ACLU doesn't want people to know this, but America's Founding Fathers were Bible-believing Christians, America was a Christian nation, our laws were based on the Bible, and Presidents, courts and legislatures acknowledged that

the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us.
(Isaiah 33:22)

Christianity is the basis of Liberty.

Great advances in science and technology were made by Christians like Isaac Newton (who wrote more books about the Bible than about science). Our prosperity and productivity were fueled by "the Protestant work ethic." Darwinism and other false "science" has led to genocide and Hitler.

But beginning around 1925 (the "Scopes Monkey trial" and the rise of "dispensational premillennialism"), Christian began retreating from life, waiting for the rapture, instead of working to create heaven on earth (Matthew 6:10). During the 1970's the number one book on the New York Times bestseller list was not a book on how to end abortion, bring an end to atheistic communism, or convert the Muslim world to Christianity, it was Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth, an almost wholly fictional account of how the world was going to end after Christians were raptured by 1981 (forty years after the formation of the State of Israel in 1848, but 7 years short of Armageddon and the Great Tribulation).

The brief rise of the Christian Reconstruction movement in the 1980's, with their goal of "exercising dominion" and Christianizing the nations, brought howls of protest from premillenarians like Dave Hunt, who asked Whatever Happened to Heaven? Hunt argued that the primary purpose of the Christian was to long for heaven, and convert others to Christianity so that they too would repudiate the world and long to be raptured out of it.

Because of this escapist mentality, atheists have gained political and cultural power in the 20th century. Darwinism, Islam, Marxism and other forms of paganism have enslaved billions of people, murdered hundreds of millions, and nearly brought us back to the state of affairs that existed in the debauched Roman Empire.

Jesus is not "coming soon." Jesus and the Apostles taught that Jesus was coming soon, and if Jesus did not come soon, then they were all mistaken. Begin your search of the Scriptures with these.

But even those who do not believe that the world is coming to an end tomorrow, and may even believe that Christianizing the nations is our "Great Commission," have still been rendered culturally impotent by their belief that there must always exist an institution which will advance paganism, secularism and anti-Christian morality. That institution is "The State."

The State must always advance anti-Christian ideas because it is contrary to Biblical Law. God nowhere commands human beings to form "the State." The State's essential function is to take vengeance, which is explicitly forbidden to us (Romans 12:19-21). It takes vengeance by murdering people, in violation of the 6th Commandment. It funds its activities by confiscating, extorting, or stealing the wealth of others, in violation of the 8th Commandment. It says it protects us against "anarchy," but Jesus said His followers were to be anarchists (that is, they are not to be "archists," the opposite of "anarchists." Politicians, dictators, and bureaucrats are all "archists" in violation of Christ's commandment.).*

Christians in the 19th century were abolishing slavery and guaranteeing human rights. Christians in the 20th century were waiting around for the rapture. As a result, more than 10,000 people on average were murdered by the pagan state each and every day. Nearly half a billion people murdered, while Christians were passive and silent, longing for heaven, despising God's creation. This figure of murder and enslavement is slated to increase on a vast scale in the 21st century if Darwinists have their way.

In the spirit of the Bereans, we urge Christians to search the Scriptures to see if Christ is really going to come again "at any moment," and to see if socialism is more Godly than capitalism.

* Violent resistance against the State is also prohibited, although those who defend the State also defend armed revolution at some point. In the passage which is usually used to buttress the moral legitimacy of the State, Paul speaks of the State as "the powers that be." That word "powers" is universally used to speak of demonic forces. Paul says (Ephesians 6:12) that we are to "wrestle against" the powers.

Study Romans 13

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology - Volume I, § 5. Perspicuity of the Scriptures. The Right of Private Judgment. - Christian Classics Ethereal Library