Thursday, July 27, 2006

Biblical Separation: A Book Review

Biblical Separation: Doctrine of Church Purification and Preservation.
By Dr Jeffrey Khoo, the Academic Dean of Far Eastern Bible College.
ISBN 981-04-1671-7

As a Reformed, evangelical Christian who has left the Bible Presbyterian movement, coupled with an ongoing writing project which is, in fact, a critique of the Bible Presbyterian hermeneutical-theological system, one might ask why I would review a book by Dr Jeffrey Khoo. First and foremost, this book by Dr Khoo is an excellent treatise on the subject of biblical separation, and I would definitely commend it to every Christian who cares about the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, Dr Khoo is a godly theologian, and I have the utmost respect for him as a fellow brother-in-Christ. A Bible Presbyterian by training, he holds to the fundamentalist tenet of biblical separation. Although I have left Bible Presbyterianism due to certain doctrinal convictions, I must admit that I continue to see the Bible Presbyterian churches as a devout, Bible-centered movement in Singapore.

The pervasive problem with contemporary Evangelicalism is the overemphasis of ecumenicity, with the exclusion of doctrinal purity and truth (John 17:17). This is true for many professedly evangelical churches in Singapore. Errors are commonly tolerated, and merely referred to as differences in opinions or interpretations. The love for God’s truth is inundated, and frequently substituted, by the greater love for scholarly recognition, filthy lucre and ecumenical relations. I concur with Dr Khoo when he laments that “biblical separation (i.e., the separation of the church and its members from unbelief, apostasy, and compromise) is a much neglected doctrine today. It is disturbing to note that most of the major or popular theology textbooks written in this century fail to discuss it systematically. Those that do discuss it either treat it superficially or view it negatively (p. 11).” This book extends a clarion call to all the existing churches that claim to love the risen Lord and Savior.

In this book, Dr Khoo surveys the Bible as regards the biblical principle of holiness, and the necessity of separation from apostate organizations, false teachers and disobedient brethren. In the first three chapters, Dr Khoo points out that the mandate of separation is found clearly in both the Old and New Testament, and the responsibility of every believer is to obey this injunction of a thrice holy God. He provides ample examples, coupled with detailed discussions, of the requirement of separation in Holy Scripture. From the Torah, the historical books, the prophets, and the epistles of the Apostles, Dr Khoo argues ably that God’s holiness and the doctrine of separation are inseparable. Dr Khoo writes, “The essential element of holiness is that of separation. Separation is intrinsic to the doctrine of holiness. We separate from all forms of unbelief and apostasy because it is God’s nature to separate from such. The God of the Bible is a God who is holy. Being holy, He demands the same from His people. God said in both the OT and NT, “Ye shall be holy, for I the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:1, 1 Pet 1:16).” (pp. 69-70).

Chapter four discusses a crucial aspect of the doctrine of separation: the application of this doctrine within the church. He answers questions such as, “How do we identify error? How should we confront the perpetrators of error? What does the Bible teach regarding the process of excommunication?” These are undoubtedly difficult questions, but there comes a time when faithfulness to God’s Word takes precedence over the unity of the local church. Dr Khoo reminds us that “the practice of separation is an act of love because it seeks not to destroy but to restore. It is also an act of divine chastening. Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:19).” (p. 79)

In this book, Dr Khoo’s maturity as a theologian is revealed in his charity towards other brethren who differ in minor areas of doctrine. Nevertheless, he candidly expresses his disapproval with regard to fundamentalist extremes, “There are fundamentalists who go to an extreme in practising separation. They separate not only from liberal institutions, but also fundamental. The usual remark we hear from these extremists is, “they are not separate enough.” They exist very much on their own. Usually, the separation is due to some minor doctrinal differences like the mode of water baptism; should more or less water be used? We have to be very careful where we draw the line, lest instead of being separatists, we become isolationists.” (p. 72) In reality, Dr Khoo associates himself with certain dispensationalists and fundamental Baptists such as Dr Donald A. Waite. In this regard, we can truly say that he practices what he preaches.

In chapter four, Dr Khoo reserves his harshest criticisms for the New Evangelicals, and he unapologetically castigates their philosophy of ecclesiastical infiltration. Succinctly describing the irenic spirit of New Evangelicalism, he writes, “Neo-evangelicals have no qualms associating and cooperating with modernists, Roman Catholics, and charismatics in evangelistic campaigns. They say that as long as the gospel is preached and people get saved, it is alright to have joint political and religious activities. In other words, the end justifies the means. They do not believe that God’s work must be done God’s way.” (p.72)

Chapter five provides a brief, yet adequate, analysis of the predominant philosophies infecting Christendom today: Modernism, Ecumenism, New Evangelicalism, and Charismatism. Written from a Bible Presbyterian perspective, it is inevitable that most of the historical examples were taken from the annals of Bible Presbyterianism.

In conclusion, Dr Khoo reiterates to his readers that “biblical separation is not an option, but a command. Failure to obey this command will result in our churches being hurt and eventually destroyed. It will also bring dishonour to the name of Christ. Do we love the Lord? When Christ our Saviour is reviled, do we sit down and pretend nothing has happened? It is quite unnatural for a son not to defend or protect his parents when they are attacked. Are we not God’s children? Have we been filial?” (p. 103)

My fundamental disagreement with Dr Khoo in this book is with his endless claim that the Bible Presbyterian churches of Singapore are Reformed. Certain Bible Presbyterian churches may be Calvinistic, but none of them adhere to the theological-hermeneutical system of the Reformers. For example, Reformed theologians would not agree with Dispensationalists that Israel and the Church are distinct. This is the sine qua non of Dispensationalism. Yet, Bible Presbyterian hermeneutics is similar to that of Dispensationalism, that is, it sees a distinction between Israel and the Church. John F. MacArthur, Jr. of Master’s Seminary is likewise Calvinistic, but he is indubitably a dispensationalist.

In summary, Biblical Separation is an excellent book, which provides not only a survey of the doctrine of separation, but also serves as a convincing polemic against the philosophy of ecumenism and religious syncretism.

My Rating: 7/10

Note: This book is also available online.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pilgrim’s Regress

Another Rant from the "Sunny Island in the Sea"

Zealous Zionists, including Bible Presbyterians in Singapore, occasionally undertake pilgrimage to the Promised Land to retrace the footsteps of Jesus and the patriarchs. In fact, True Life Bible Presbyterian Church of Singapore has just completed their 12th pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2006.

Consistent with their dispensational theology, Christian Zionists believe that ethnic Israelites are the true heirs of the Promised Land. While the Reformers such as Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli understood the New Testament Church as the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists insist that ethnic Israel must remain distinct from the Church. Hence, the Church is not the beneficiary of the land promises to Israel found in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, warmhearted Christian Zionists would be most willing to assist their Judaistic brethren in Jerusalem, especially in matters concerning the tourism industry and politics.

Despite the threats of bullets and shrapnel, determined pilgrims to the Holy Land are ready to brave these dangers by faith. By faith, they will grit their teeth and endure hardship like a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3), so as to imbibe panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee, Cana, Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and the Shrine of the Book. But of course, according to Mrs Quek Siok Eng, “no visit is complete without touring Megiddo, the restored Templar Colony, the Bahai Shrine and Gardens, Elijah’s cave and the Carmelite monastery, the site of the struggle between the priests of Baal and Prophet Elijah.”

Ironically, in a recent article from Haaretz, “a group of 50 pro-Israel Christian tourists came under attack” during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “As they neared one of the squares, the local residents apparently identified them as Christians and began to hit them.”

Despite the fact that the pilgrims were “wearing orange T-shirts with the words “Love your neighbor as yourself” printed across them,” the local Jews decided to break the Old Testament law (Exodus 22:21, 23:9) and vex those “strangers” in their land. Fortuitously, none of those Christian tourists died as martyrs. They were not in the Promised Land as missionaries in the first place. What transpired seemed to be what politicians would call a misunderstanding; a harmless neighborly dispute between landlord and sojourners. After all, there was no promise of a risk-free trip to the Promised Land by the tour agency.

What could be the reason for the attack? Could it be a culture shock – a clash between the worldly and the otherworldly? According to the PCUSA, “The ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in the Mea Shearim enclave often resent non-religious people entering their neighborhood where residents live according to a strict interpretation of Jewish law. They wear modest clothes that cover them from head to toe. Signs in the neighborhood warn women visitors especially to dress modestly and in keeping with the practices of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

Worldly Christians have been warned; do remember to dress modestly before touring this part of the Holy Land. In retrospect, it is indeed peculiar that these “ultra-Orthodox Jews” who claim to interpret the Jewish law strictly or literally would misinterpret statements like, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).” Perhaps the teachings of John Nelson Darby have yet to reach this side of the world.

Missionaries and pilgrims from dispensational denominations should, in future pilgrimages, lecture these Jews regarding the “consistently literal hermeneutics” of Dispensationalism. But is it not true that, during the first advent of Christ, a wooden literalism has misled the Jewish rabbis into rejecting the true Messiah? Again, is it not true that a literalistic reading of Old Testament prophecies has prevented the Jews from understanding an essential spiritual truth – that Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of all prophecies? “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us (2 Cor. 1:20).”

The dispensational anticipation of regression into the Old Testament shadows of temple worship, bloody sacrifices, and priestly order in the earthly Millennium is similar to the Jewish expectation of an earthly, Messianic kingdom ruled by a descendent of David. According to Judaistic hermeneutics, Jerusalem will be the centre of millennial worship. This is the city where Gentiles, together with their Jewish brethren, will gather to worship the Messiah in the Millennium. Taken to its logical conclusion, a consistently literalistic hermeneutics might even allow Christian Zionists and Dispensationalists alike to revert to Old Testament Judaism and its pertinent ceremonial practices. Wearing orange T-shirts with the words “I am a citizen of Yahweh’s millennial kingdom, and I will worship in the temple with you guys” printed across them would probably be more appealing to Jews.

The New Testament teaches that, irrespective of racial or genealogical descent, elect Jews and Gentiles shall constitute the Church. While the nation of Israel was the type, the Church is the anti-type. Membership within the Church of Christ is dependent upon salvific faith, not genetic inheritance. However, Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians look forward to the day in the future when “all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).” They argue that God will accomplish a mass salvation of Israelites at his Parousia.

Salvation is by grace, through faith, in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel (Galatians 1:8),” that is, a message that says a person can be saved just because of his Jewish bloodline, genealogy, or citizenship, this message is tantamount to a false gospel. Following the logic of Dispensationalism, if a Gentile rejects the gospel today, would it not be sensible to urge him to convert to Judaism so that he can be part of that end-time phenomenon - the mass salvation of Israel? If, indeed, a Gentile can be saved by becoming a Jew, the way to God is no longer narrow.

According to the dispensational theory, there will be at least two ways to heaven. First and foremost, a Gentile must believe in Jesus by faith. This is Plan A. Nevertheless, if Plan A fails – that is, if the Gentile rejects the Gospel - there is always a contingency Plan B. The blueprint of Plan B reads: “Get the Gentile converted to Judaism, and he will be counted as a Jew. That way, if Christ returns soon, the gentile will be saved together with the rest of Israel.”

But the Bible only teaches one way to God: the narrow way. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).” Do not be deceived. The way to God is still narrow. Contrary to popular dispensational beliefs, we must not wait for God to deal with Israel during “the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7).” We must reach the Jews now.

Pilgrimage or no pilgrimage, Jewish sinners need to hear the Gospel as much as Gentiles. I would suggest this to all Christian pilgrims: if you truly love the Jews, endeavor to preach the Gospel of Christ to them. And that would definitely be better than wearing orange T-shirts.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Is the Bible Unscientific?

In his book Farewell to God: My reasons for rejecting the Christian faith, Canadian evangelist Charles Templeton elucidates that his apostasy began with a seed of doubt sown in his heart concerning the creation account in Genesis chapter one (Templeton, Farewell to God, p. 7). This led to his rejection of the entire gospel of Christ, and inevitably, Scripture itself.

Christian students in most developed countries, including Singapore, have to endure constant ridicule from lecturers of the pseudo-scientific theory called Neo Darwinism. Is it then true that, for us to be scientific, we should reject certain biblical teachings, particularly the creation account of Genesis 1?

A common allegation of the skeptics is “the Bible is unscientific.” Therefore, creation should be relegated to the realms of myths and fairy tales. The perennial mantra - “evolution is science but creation is religion” - is routinely chanted at debates and school boards. I once read a comment made by an atheist regarding the “mythical” Bible. He was absolutely indignant, perhaps paranoid, with the suggestion that creation could be taught in public schools as an alternative theory of origins. He commented that, “If a concept is part of Christianity, if it is taught in the Bible, it does not belong in public education.” I wonder if he had really given that statement a careful evaluation. I am convinced that if he had, he would immediately retract that remark.

There was this fictitious dispute between an atheist and a bible student regarding the veracity of the Bible. The atheist would not believe the Scriptures unless the student could prove beyond reasonable doubt that at least one verse in the Bible is scientifically accurate. All of a sudden, without prior warning, the student grabbed the atheist’s nose, and started to twist it back and forth with remarkable fervor. After a short while, the poor atheist’s nose started to bleed. The atheist vehemently demanded that the student explain his actions, especially the reason for wringing his nose.

In the same breath, the student answered, “You wanted me to prove a verse in the Bible. I have just proven Proverbs 30:33 to be scientifically accurate.” It is stated in Proverbs 30:33 that “the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood”. Anyone with a basic knowledge of anatomy will immediately realize that this “wringing” will result in epistaxis (nose bleed) secondary to trauma. This bringing “forth” of “blood” will occur beyond a certain intensity and strength. Depending on whether medical aid is provided, the duration of epistaxis varies. Even the atheist has to concede that Proverbs 30:33 is scientifically accurate.

Although the Bible is a religious text, it is absolutely precise when it touches on science, geography, archaeology, anthropology and history. If the Bible is indeed inspired, inerrant and infallible, it must not be erroneous whenever it expounds upon secular topics such as science. Skeptics and atheists have tried to discredit the Bible as the Word of God by attacking its scientific content. Nevertheless, scientists have never disproved the Bible. Far from being disproved, there are a growing number of scientists who are convinced that the creation account enunciated in the Bible, when compared to evolution, is better supported by secular science.

If skeptics insist on rejecting biblical statements as myths, they must also reject the following scientific statements in the Bible:

1. A spherical planet Earth mentioned in Isaiah 40:22, “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth”

2. Gravity mentioned in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”

3. The Hydrologic Cycle in Ecclesiastes 1:7, “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”

4. The unaccountable number of stars in Jeremiah 33:22, “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured”

5. The importance of blood to life in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Many doctors in the past practiced “blood letting”, which is the cutting of veins to release the “bad blood” of patients. This resulted in many unnecessary deaths through excessive blood loss and hypovolemic shock. In 1799, US President George Washington died by this erroneous “medical” procedure. Many deaths would have been prevented if only doctors had given heed to Leviticus 17:11.

6. The Earth is hanging in space, mentioned in Job 26:7, “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”

7. The presence of undersea currents in Psalm 8:8, “ … and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”

8. The atmosphere has weight in Job 28:25, “To make the weight for the winds”

9. The universe is running down, i.e. the Second Law of Thermodynamics in Psalm 102:25-26, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed.”

10. The expanding universe in Psalms 104:2, “Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain.” This fact is reiterated in many other verses of the Bible, such as Isaiah 42:5.

11. Underwater hydrothermal vents and fountains in Job 38:16, “Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?” Also mentioned in Proverbs 8:28, “When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep.”

12. Light can be parted (via prisms) in Job 38:24, “By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?”

13. Winds moving in circuits in Eccles. 1:6, “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.”

14. The existence of microbes and the importance of quarantine in Leviticus 13:46, “All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.” It is interesting to note that between AD 1347 and 1352, more than one third of the population of Europe died because of the bubonic plaque. If they had followed biblical instructions of quarantine and sanitation, many lives would have been saved.

The above listing is by no means exhaustive. The logical fallacy of the statement, “If it is in the Bible, it is not science but religion,” should be clear to all who think candidly. Each of the aforementioned examples is intricately linked to a Christian doctrine. Should we therefore repudiate all the above scientific facts just because they are part of Christian theology? Moreover, I believe that creation ex nihilo is a vital doctrine of the Christian religion. Does this automatically disqualify creation as a scientific hypothesis? Preposterous!

If scientists are able to dissociate themselves from an a priori commitment to the evolutionary paradigm, and examine all available evidence, I sincerely doubt they would come to the ‘empirical’ conclusion that molecules evolved to man.