The churches of America have, by and large, entered a second childhood. Adult education classes are packaged in small bites to accommodate modern attention spans. Class content, often of an introductory nature, is taught to everyone without distinction, whether they’ve been believers for half an hour or half a century. Under this kind of teaching regime, is it any wonder that growth is redefined in numerical terms or in regard to a vague sense of spirituality, rather than the kind of growth Paul had in mind?
It is even more disconcerting to consider that many churchgoers are getting what they want, namely, Christianity with low mental impact: bunny slope faith for life.
If “knowledge puffs up,” modern evangelicalism is a safely shriveled prune. But it has achieved this false harbor1 by promoting the ideal of the theological slacker. But the failure to grow in knowledge is treated as a sin in Scripture: the sin of slothfulness. One cannot understand the danger inherent in winking at this sin until one grasps the import of Hebrews 5:11–6:3. I won’t cover all six of the cardinal principles of the faith enumerated in that passage, just the first two. That alone will suffice to show that most Christians haven’t even properly grasped the basics. Small wonder, then, that moving on to maturity is rendered inaccessible: the system provides for other results entirely.
Metaphorically speaking, the one-room schoolhouse of the church should cover grades kindergarten through twelve. Too many of our churches only cover grades kindergarten through kindergarten. Everyone is automatically reenrolled in kindergarten Sunday after Sunday, while the illusion of progress and growth is tenuously maintained. “I’ve been a Christian for thirty years” may mean very little when one has attended a perpetual kindergarten.
Christ asks the church’s leaders to “feed my lambs.” But Christ also wants them to “feed my sheep.” If lambs never grow into sheep, something is manifestly wrong with the diet they’re being fed. But if churches also fail to feed mature believers (letting them fend for themselves or having the feeding of lambs delegated to them), the problem is compounded. The one-size-fits-all approach to feeding/teaching may ease the pastoral workload, but the implicit rewrite of Christ’s pastoral commission concerning this sacred delegated duty has no scriptural support.
Disclaimer: I am heavily indebted to John Owen, Rousas John Rushdoony, and other commentators for much of what follows. Their words are so completely interlaced with mine that to footnote everything would have easily doubled the length of this article. Also, the extensive use of italics is intentional throughout this article.
Terms of Endurance
Doctrine is something that takes character to endure. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3). This passage implies that a distinguishing attribute of sound doctrine is that it is something that needs to be endured: that it takes some mental effort to grasp, understand, and apply it. It’s part and parcel of the narrow path that leads to life, in contrast to the wide and easy path that leads to destruction. We must not merely criticize easy-believism: we must better equip the people to embrace hard-believism.2
Some Scripture is admittedly hard to understand, and it takes effort to grasp it properly. “As also in all his [Paul’s] 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” (2 Pet. 3:16). Jacob wrestled an angel all night long to receive a blessing: do we wrestle with difficult portions of the Word in order to receive a like blessing?
Hebrews 5:11 states (concerning Melchisedec), “[W]e have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.” The term hard to be understood (“uttered,” KJV) is dyshermeneutos—one could loosely speak of a dysfunctional hermeneutic, or interpretation. But the reason given here for the difficulty in understanding is explicitly given: the blame rests with the hearers, who have become slothful in hearing.
The Ten-Toed Sloth
The Greek term noothroi is used only in Hebrews 5:11 (dull of hearing) and Hebrews 6:12 (slothful). The term points to a deep moral culpability: slothfulness is a sin. Dictionaries inform us that a slothful person is one who is not easily stirred or moved; heavy, inactive in his constitution and his inclinations.
There is no greater reproach to be laid on a steward than that of slothfulness: “Thou wicked and slothful servant” (Matt. 25:26). In this light, shouldn’t the prospect of being charged with slothfulness by Christ Himself galvanize us to immediate, consistent action to remedy so serious a fault?
The author of Hebrews3 charges his readers with culpable neglect. He condemns the depraved affections that cast us into a neglect of duty. Too many modern churches turn a blind eye to what they see as benign neglect (given the higher weight they place on fellowship, etc., as if one could safely pit one Biblical imperative against another).
It is the duty of ministers to carry us on to perfection (full maturity): [L]et us go on unto perfection (Heb. 6:1). This is because the ministry was instituted [f]or the perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:12–13). In too many churches, this process has been all but fully arrested. Worse, it appears to have been arrested by design.
The Bible’s Chief Competition Is Alive and Well—in our Own Hearts
Preparation is required to seek God’s will in His Word. Maturing as a Christian can be impeded by many things, all of which reflect on our sinfulness. A primary example would be the cares of this world—a heart directed to the love of this world, the business of this world, and the cares of this world. [C]ovetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). When we sit in church and think about earthly things, we elevate our idols over God inside God’s own house. If we don’t cast these things out, even well before church starts, by way of preparation, we become noothroi tais akoas (slothful in hearing—akoas, from which acoustic derives). Hebrews doesn’t hold such people guiltless.
Scripture exhorts us to desire God’s Word. [D]esire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby
(1 Pet. 2:2). How strong is the modern Christian’s desire for the Word? Does he even recognize how nourishing it is? Do modern believers esteem it of higher value than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Ps. 119:72)? Evidently not.
Some hear the Word of God to satisfy their convictions, some hear to satisfy their curiosity, some to please themselves, some out of custom, some for company, and many don’t know why, or have no reason at all. Small wonder such persons are slothful in hearing.
We need to consider our stature in Christ and how short we come of that measure in faith, knowledge, light, and love, which we ought and hope to attain to.
We will thrive on the Word if we set this purpose in our hearts.
[L]ay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the ingrafted4 word (James 1:21). If you don’t do the first, you can’t do the second. The reception of the Word is rendered impossible when we fail to lay aside those things that war against it.
God shows Ezekiel (Ezek. 8:5–12) that His people were experts in external conformity, yet were internal frauds. God instructs Ezekiel to “dig now in the wall” to see what was going on under the surface of Israel’s religious exercise (v. 8), letting Ezekiel see what was on the inner walls of the religious leaders’ minds and souls (v. 10). [H]ast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? (v. 12). God looks upon the heart and bade Ezekiel to see Israel through God’s own eyes.
God’s Word is choked out by the cares of this world, which always leads to dull, formal attendance upon God’s witness to His people. See Ezekiel 33:30–33, especially verse 31: And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
God’s Word—every syllable of it—is so important that David affirms, [T]hou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (Ps. 138:2). The denigration and neglect of the totality of God’s Word is serious, sinful business!
[W]hen ye received the word [logos akoas, literally the word of hearing] 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 (1 Thess. 2:13). This is the appropriate way to treat the preaching of God’s Word—namely, AS God’s Word.
This attitude is exemplified by Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:33, when he declares, Now therefore are we all here present … to hear all things that are commanded thee of God. Without this attentive attitude, we’ll be slothful, unprofitable hearers of the Word. God’s Word is a word of command and carries the greatest moral imperative.
Doctrine doesn’t speak exclusively to the mind, but to the heart as well, and to fail to grasp this is to fail totally. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17).
Before, During, and After
It isn’t enough just to prepare ourselves for hearing the Word beforehand and then to hear it with a right attitude while it is being taught. What we do after hearing it is equally important: we can still fall into the sin of slothfulness after hearing the Word of God. Our duty goes further than dutifully warming a pew.
We must examine everything that is new or doubtful. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21). [T]ry the spirits (1 John 4:1). These are skills that need to be acquired and honed (Heb. 5:14), skills that mark maturity in a believer.
Note that the critical gadfly is not commended here. The kind of super-critical person who continually takes exception to, and disputes, the proclamation of the Word—thinking he could have delivered it better and more suited to his sentiments and preconceptions—is the worst sort of unprofitable hearer. These people are light years away from subjecting their consciences to the authority of God.
Moreover, don’t call a minister’s doctrine into question lightly. You need manifest evidence of some failing or mistake. Don’t major in the minors. “Doubtful disputations” make us unprofitable, slothful hearers.
We need to actually learn what we are being taught. If the Word isn’t ingrafted, we will find ourselves [e]ver learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).5
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip (Heb. 2:1). The standard for New Testament Christians is higher than that for Old Testament Israel. Without earnest, diligent heed, we stand in danger of letting the Word of God slip. If a vessel has holes, the only way to fill it is to pour more into it than is lost through the holes. So it is with our souls and God’s Word. There is no “standing still”—there can be only growth or decay. We either press toward the mark by running the good race, or we backslide.
Total (not partial, pick-and-choose) obedience is critical. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law (Mal. 2:9).
Sadly, ministers can profit from people’s sinfulness, and some are tempted not to correct the people’s waywardness in order to feather their own nests. They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity (Hos. 4:8). God here indicates that the ministers are enriched by the people’s sin and are disinclined to correct it. They rather look forward to cashing in on it. It is a tragic circumstance when people are compelled to ask themselves if this might be true in their own churches.
You Might Be a Slothful Hearer of God’s Word If …
Sinful and willful carelessness about their own condition marks the slothful hearers of God’s Word. Where lack of due growth and progress in the faith are, there you will find sinful slothfulness.
Hebrews 5:12 begins with the words, “For when …” The following point is the condemning evidence for the charge lodged against the slothful—the presence of this evidence makes it easy to identify a slothful man or woman. What follows is a crystal clear description of the smoking gun and how to recognize it easily.
The milk drinker who should already be a teacher is BOTH unskilled in the Word of righteousness AND slothful in hearing. The two go together.
Our calling is to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Because this is true, the time that has elapsed since our conversion is a talent to be accounted for. For too many in modern Christendom, it is a buried talent.
When the writer to the Hebrews says his readers ought to be teachers, he does not mean that they might have been able to be teachers. He actually expected them to assume this duty!
Far too many people are content merely to hear the sermon and go home to resume their worldly pursuits quite unchanged. In contrast to this, appropriate attendance upon God’s Word yields some amazing fruit. I have more understanding than all my teachers (Ps. 119:99). The goal of all instruction is that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them (Num. 11:29).
Hebrews 5:12 points out that ye have need that one teach you again. This is the highest evidence of their dullness and unprofitable hearing of the Word. It is a great fall, from the top to the bottom. God is saying, in effect, “You have to repeat a grade. Too many Fs, you’ll have to be held back a grade.” In fact, the “first principles” He sends them back to is the Greek term stoicheia, which suggests the alphabet (the basics, the elementary building blocks of something). As R. J. Rushdoony has well said, one learns the alphabet in order to be able to read and write, and not to earn a doctorate in alphabet.
God has a “No Believer Left Behind” educational policy, but we wrongly think He supports “social promotion” and will give us school credit for merely warming the pews. This mindset only compounds the moral failure of slothfulness that leads to atrophy in Biblical knowledge and wisdom.
Stuck in the Starting Gate
You need more than first principles. For example, if you stop building a house after only laying the foundation, it will be a sorry shelter from the storm.
The first principles are FIRST and not LAST principles. They’re designed to be built upon further. They are to be learned as a precondition for further growth and improvement in holiness and righteousness. (See 1 Corinthians 3:1–2 and Ephesians 4:13.) The former discusses a different aspect of the milk/meat issue, while the latter exhorts us to come up to the full measure of the stature of Christ.
Babes in Christ need first principles, not eschatology! Eschatology is the last thing one should study, once all other aspects of our understanding of Scripture are well in place and on a solid footing. Teaching eschatology to new Christians is like putting beer in a baby’s bottle. Eschatology (the study of last things, or end-time prophecy) is strong meat, not milk! A babe cannot consume strong meat, only milk! The “eschatology for babes” trend can produce distorted and misshapen theologies among its “students.” We must take care not to put the cart before the horse—each doctrine in its own season (Mark 4:28)!
Brethren, be not children in understanding (1 Cor. 14:20). We are forbidden to remain babes. See also Ephesians 4:14–15. Children are apt to be struck with novelty and strange appearances. Children find toys attractive; they want dessert while skipping dinner. [I]n understanding be men (1 Cor. 14:20). Be like children only in having an innocent and inoffensive disposition, and in acknowledging total dependence upon God. It cannot be repeated often enough: in understanding be men.
We are to grow, to abound more and more (1 Thess. 4:1). The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger (Job 17:9). We are to go from strength to strength, not weakness to weakness. We are to reach unto those things which are before (Phil. 3:13). Men and women are designed to stretch and reach, to aspire, to rise above our present circumstances, and to turn five talents into ten.
We are to be workmen approved, not ashamed, in our handling of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15). What greater cause of shame in a workman than abiding ignorance of his own toolkit and the materials he must work with?
Christ is our example in all this. Rest assured: He knew His Scripture. Our efforts to emulate Him will always fall short (Phil. 3:11–14, [N]ot as though I had already attained, either were already perfect [v. 12]), but we must nonetheless strive to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (v. 14).
Selective obedience can lead to grievous sin. Jesus confronted men who justified abandoning care of their parents with the cavalier attitude, “It is Corban,” i.e., I’m busy giving God a gift, which means I can set aside the law (Mark 7:11). Matthew 5:19 is clear: Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Someone who disparages the least of God’s commandments may still be a Christian, but his standing in God’s Kingdom is surely affected by his reckless attitude toward God’s law.
Selective obedience finally means no obedience at all—because whether we obey God or not, in either case it is our will that is done because we insist on being in the driver’s seat. We pass judgment on God’s requirements and pick and choose what suits us, i.e., “We’ll obey the laws that seem right in our own eyes.” Jesus draws attention to this lawless mindset when He asks, [W]hy call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:46).
Faith is not opposed to the law. Faith is a key part of the law, as Jesus points out in Matthew 23:23, where He identifies the weightier matters of the law as judgment, mercy, and faith.
The kind of faith Christ requires is depicted in Luke 18:1–8, in the story of the importunate widow. As R. J. Rushdoony pointed out, the widow did not despair. She kept persevering until her petition was answered. The widow’s faith was triumphant, for she was finally avenged. This parable is a stinging indictment of all weak faith that does not work for, and expect, victory.6 Too many churchmen turn this parable into a defeatist story.
Repentance from Dead Works
Let’s examine two of the six cardinal principles that are designated as the doctrinal foundation that Christians are to build on to see how well even the basics are understood. We will examine repentance from dead works, and faith toward God. Note that much of what follows can be found in R. J. Rushdoony’s landmark Systematic Theology and his commentary on Hebrews.
Repentance is future-oriented. Remorse is past-oriented. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).
There is a distinction in the Greek terms as well. In the case of Judas Iscariot, the term was metamelomai. But true repentance is termed metanoia/metanoeo. Today, too many preachers try to induce remorse for the past rather than actual repentance. To equate repentance with misery and suffering is dead wrong. It is not without justification that John A. Broadus held that the English words repent and repentance are “the worst translations in the entire New Testament.”
The true meaning of repentance is a complete change in mental outlook and of life design.
Repentance, as Lactantius taught, is a return to right understanding. He cited the case of the prodigal son—he came to himself (Luke 15:17)—in support of this definition.
We too often require remorse, not repentance. Examine John the Baptist’s approach in Luke 3:4, Luke 3:7–14, and Matthew 3:7–12. Not once did he counsel remorse for past deeds: rather, he demands new works to replace the old dead ones.
Study the story of the rich man and Lazarus, particularly Luke 16:24 and Luke 16:27–28. The rich man (legend gives him the name Dives) is not in the least repentant, though many preachers have painted him as such. In point of fact, Dives indicts both Lazarus and Abraham. As Rushdoony points out, Dives in effect makes the following arguments: (1) “I did nothing for Lazarus while he lived. If he does nothing for me now, how is he any better than I, or any more deserving of heaven than I?” The extremely modest request (a single drop of water) is calculated to make Abraham’s refusal seem wickedly malicious. (2) “I went to hell because God did not conclusively prove to me that my course of action would lead here. God should have warned me: I am suffering needlessly, and, being truly noble at heart, I want to spare my five brothers the same suffering.” Dives wants to indict God by showing that he is more concerned with soul-saving than God is. God should spare no means to convince people into heaven, even to the point of sending them someone from the dead. [T]hey will repent, he argues. Dives actually uses the technically correct term for repentance, metanoeo, at Luke 16:30. Although Dives uses the right word, he is past-bound because he wants to justify himself and his past, thereby indicting God. False repentance seeks to change the past, while true repentance works to change the future.
When the church stresses remorse rather than repentance, this entails a past-bound, not future-bound, view. Ungodly repentance is like the weeping and wailing over the past, which is one of the distinctive marks of hell. But ask yourself: prior to exposure to Rushdoony’s exposition above, did you think the rich man exhibited repentance? How strong is our basic foundation if we weren’t able to answer this question correctly?7
Dead Works and Sin
We must distinguish between individual sins (hamartia) and the principle of sin (anomia, literally lawlessness). The two are contrasted in 1 John 3:4. In the modern church, new converts are instructed to repent from particular sins, but are never forced to confront their essential core lawlessness. The convert becomes disgusted with particular sins but never comes to grips with his desire to be his own god—which is the principle of sin (Gen. 3:5).
Consider Luke 1:51: “[H]e hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” The word dianoia (translated imagination here) means a thinking over; it means reasoning that is independent of God, or more concisely, reasoning without God.
The principle of sin, of reasoning outside of God’s parameters, is condemned by Paul, even when it is indulged in by Christians themselves. Notice the form it takes as Paul reproves it. “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do” (1 Tim. 1:4). “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). “He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words” (1 Tim. 6:4). Why is Genesis 3:5 the most quoted verse in Rushdoony’s works? It receives that attention because it truly is the verse that is most universally neglected despite being so universally applicable. Evangelicalism’s piecemeal approach to repentance only worsens that neglect.
Faith toward God
Faith toward God is linked with repentance from dead works in Hebrews 6:1. These are the first two so-called cardinal doctrines in a list of six that represent the foundation that the writer forbids us from “laying again.” This foundation is to be laid once and for all, and then built upon. Hebrews 6:1 uses an interesting term in its opening clause, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” Let us go on is better rendered Let us be carried on, as a ship is driven by the wind. The picture is like a ship that has been loitering near the shore for far too long; it’s time to hoist the sails and journey on the open sea—it was designed for this! The image is a vivid one. To leave the first principles means to move from kindergarten to the next grade, not forgetting what was learned in kindergarten!
Hebrews 11:13 makes it clear that faith is not blind. In fact, as Rushdoony observed, faith is actually a more intense form of vision. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them.” Faith has the truer vision, and the more penetrating one, because it sees beyond the moment and beyond the visible.
Faith is a confident trust and reliance on God. Abraham “staggered not” at God’s promises, no matter how improbable their fulfillment (Rom. 4:20). He understood that God properly operates in the sphere of the humanly impossible. “He considered not his own body” (Rom. 4:19), that is, he refused to walk by sight. His example is rarely followed, even by Christians. We often insist on walking by sight, excusing this as “prudence” and “common sense realism.”
Faith and repentance are both gifts from God—we do not bring them to the table at all. As William Temple noted, “The only thing of my very own which I can contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.”
Reexamine Hebrews 6:1–2. If we fail to move past the starting gate, how can we claim to be contestants in the Christian race? Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us to run with patience the race that is set before us. First Corinthians 9:24 exhorts us to outdo one another, for all to seek the prize: So run, that ye may obtain. (“Ye” is a plural pronoun: in this race, more than one can win. Hence Paul invites us all to a noble emulation of himself.)
The actual term dead works occurs only in Hebrews 6:1 and 9:14 (although the general idea can be found in other places). Hebrews 9:14 helps explain the purpose of repentance (or purging) from dead works. It is not an end in itself, but in order to serve the living God.
Calvin says, “We are not cleansed by Christ so that we can immerse ourselves continually in fresh dirt, but in order that our purity may serve the glory of God.” Accordingly, dead works are incompatible with the living God, which is why they are directly contrasted in Hebrews 9:14.
“And This Will We Do, If God Permit”
The conclusion of this passage (Heb. 6:3) rests all future growth of the readers on God Himself. Since God is the author of all such growth, prayer to Him to grant this growth is quite appropriate. In fact, the author does go on and spend several chapters discussing the matter of Melchizedek, not letting the slothfulness of far too many of his readers stop him. He expects them to repent of their slothfulness and become attentive hearers. He expects the perpetual kindergarten to stop because he sees the church of God as a teacher’s college, one that prepares everyone to be able to understand and teach doctrines as complex as the priesthood of Melchizedek. (Sadly, we hear more about this doctrine from Mormons than from Christians, which is doubly culpable, since the Mormon doctrine is quite faulty.)
Why, then, does slothfulness persist? Slothfulness can only persist when it is indulged. If it is indulged enough, it becomes the norm (a statistical norm, not an absolute ethical norm). What happened to the culture-transforming power of the Bible seen during the Reformation? The double-edged sword has been blunted by our own corporate slothfulness. For what end did William Tyndale die? To give the Word of God to people who’ve become a spiritually indolent welfare class?
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). The next time someone smugly wags the finger at you and says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” ask him this: “What about love for God’s Word and a love of knowledge of God’s Word? Do they puff up, or build up?” Pitting knowledge against love is an abuse of 1 Corinthians 8:1, which would pit it against 2 Corinthians 8:7: “Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” In fact, without knowledge, love can’t properly abound at all, as we read in Philippians 1:9: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.”
Lack of knowledge destroys. Ignorance is not bliss. Treating slothfulness lightly by lowering the bar far below where Scripture sets it is a culpable act, whether done by the laity or by pastors.
The perpetual kindergarten offers plenty of candy and naps. To cling to it and indulge our corporate laziness is to partake of the spirit of those who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. To label the result “a healthy church” is one of the most dangerous fictions of our time. Both the human enemies of God, as well as Satan, gain their easiest victories when we forfeit our responsibilities. So long as the church is content to suck its thumb and play on the merry-go-round, or waste energy in doubtful disputations in internecine conflicts, there can be no meaningful victory. The first victory must be the one over our own slothfulness. This will be the hardest battle because it is a battle within ourselves, a battle against our comfort zones, a battle against the tempting seduction of the perpetual kindergarten. Thankfully, there are some notable grassroots antidotes at hand. The works of R. J. Rushdoony, in particular, are an excellent ticket out of that perpetual kindergarten onto the road toward Christian maturity.
We’ve essentially turned the church into something alarmingly close to Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island. God raised the church up to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Those two conflicting visions cannot help but be at war, and there can be no doubt whose vision will prevail.
Pleasure Island or Pillar and Ground—whose vision will you adopt as your own?
1 In this connection, this article should be seen as doing no more than merely extending the program R. J. Rushdoony laid out for all theological studies on the first page of his 1973 book, The Flight from Humanity (currently being typeset for reprinting by Chalcedon): “A theological study is thus also an act of intellectual exorcism, an attempt to cast out the evil spirits of some kind of heretical, debilitating thought which is enfeebling and crippling the life of man and our understanding of the word of God.”
2 Some things in Scripture are complicated on purpose, for the exercise of our faith, humility, due subjection of our mind to the authority of the Holy Ghost speaking in the Scriptures, diligence, and dependence on Him for instruction. Nonetheless, the Scriptures are not a source of darkness, but the very opposite. The entrance of thy words giveth light (Ps. 119:130).
3 John Owen’s monumental seven-volume commentary makes the strongest case for Paul being the author of Hebrews. R. J. Rushdoony believes Paul and the apostolic fellowship jointly authored the Epistle. However, if the analogy of Scripture were followed, the strongest evidence points to Jude’s composition of the book. Although the fact is obscured in some translations, Hebrews 13:22 makes reference to a shorter letter of exhortation that was sent out by the author. The Epistle of Jude appears to be that letter of exhortation. Jude 1:3 reports that Jude was in the middle of writing a larger Epistle concerning their common salvation— a project large enough to require all diligence, as he says— that needed to be interrupted to write a much-needed word of exhortation. The two Epistles refer to each other by this link. Moreover, Jude utilizes some of the Old Testament imagery of Hebrews in the sequence they appear in Hebrews. These being fresh in Jude’s mind during the composition of Hebrews, and also being relevant to the situation that necessitated the composition of Jude, they are naturally cited. It is interesting that the conventional view is that the short “word of exhortation” written by the author of Hebrews is lost, while the larger Epistle Jude mentions is also regarded as lost. After writing and lecturing on this solution to the question, I later discovered only a single scholar (writing in the nineteenth century) who mentions the possibility of Jude’s authorship.
4 The term ingrafted is essentially equivalent to implanted.
5 True, Paul is speaking of women, but Puritan commentator John Owen has fully demonstrated the justice in generalizing the principle. If the shoe fits, wear it.
6 The purpose of the parable of the importunate widow is explained at the outset at Luke 18:1—it is an exhortation to pray without fainting. In verse 8 the word faith has the Greek article in front of it, best rendered here thus: “Will the Son of Man find this faith—the faith that prays without ceasing, the faith exemplified by this widow—on the earth when He comes?” As Warfield pointed out, the question is a probing ethical exhortation, not a prophetic prediction.
7 Rushdoony’s exposition was a surprise to me as well, so I’m fully aware of the beam in my own eye when I pose this question of our readership.
- Martin G. Selbrede
Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.