John Macarthur vs. the Reformed Confessions

After purchasing a new book on Reformed Theology, one pastor friend looked at me warily and said, “Brod, be careful ha.” He was a John Macarthur follower. In fact, when I say that he is a Macarthur follower, I think I’m understating.  We call him actually, Pastor Perry Macarthur (not his real name of course).  To him, the measure of truth is John Macarthur and his teachings.  Whatever John Macarthur believes and teaches, he believes and teaches. He even translates Macarthur sermons in Filipino and preaches them regularly in his church.  His devotion to John Macarthur is to that extent. (And yes, and I have not even started yet.)

Now let me be clear: I have great respects for Pastor John F. Macarthur, Jr. In fact, a long-term agnostic like me was called back to the faith by the Lord thru the radio ministry of Grace To You. God used that radio ministry to call me from my disillusionment while I was a student in UP. Last 2000, I had the opportunity to go to California and one of the first things that I prioritized was visiting Grace Community Church.  I shook John’s hand personally and thanked him because his program was used by God to convert me to Christ.

I told him about this and it was my impression he held a sob in his throat as I was relating my story. Maybe I was in a emotional fit too. I was perhaps overreading but nonetheless, I was incredibly blessed to have met such a humble man.

And then because of the path that John Macarthur has helped carve in my life, I was led to Calvinistic doctrines (which I didn’t know are Calvinistic because John does not really cite Calvin that frequently as I remember).  And when you’re a Calvinist, one of the addictions you develop is the love for theology books.

I guess I could say I have read some. Not that many, I must admit. But let me say that I have gathered a library with at least 5,000 titles of Calvinistic books and commentaries. There are too many books and too little time. Most of the time, I just skim thru them, so please don’t quiz me. I’m just an armchair Calvinist.

But I guess that too has led me to part ways with Pastor Perry. I didn’t part with him. He parted from me. When a John Macarthurite (his term, not mine) like him meets someone who reads the Westminster Confession of Faith, somewhere there would be an explosion of sorts. And I could say, he was not just contented to forget about our friendship. He even resorted to tell others of my warts and all (idiomatically speaking). For example, he was even angry with me for believing that a divorce is at times necessary and biblical as the WCF says. In Section 24 of the WCF, it states:

Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. (Matt. 1:18–20) In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce. (Matt. 5:31–32) and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead. (Matt. 19:9, Rom. 7:2–3)⁠1

He did not agree with this. According to him and (of course, originally I suppose) according to the speakers of the sessions of the Shepherds’ Conference (which Pastor Perry supplied me before the age of gty.org downloads), there would be no divorce if there is forgiveness from the offended party.  “The book of Malachi says, God hates divorce, so it’s not allowable.” At one time, he added, “Only the hard-hearted do divorce! That’s according to Matthew.”

Of course he did not listen when I told him that in the case of adultery, the guilty party is the only one hard-hearted and not the innocent one. He counters, “When the innocent party decides to divorce, he/she in turn becomes hard-hearted, that’s why he/she seeks divorce.”

If there is genuine forgiveness, there would be no divorce. Tough.

Very Roman Catholic. To my opinion, very much unlike the Lord Jesus Christ’s exception on adultery as an OPTIONAL (but not necessarily an automatic) grounds of divorce. For Christians to forgive their spouses is expected. But just like the WCF says, I believe that the act of adultery gives the option to the innocent party to seek divorce. We must forgive because we have been forgiven. But forgiveness is not sine qua non to keeping the marriage.

I think what really angered Pastor Perry was when I cited R.C. Sproul’s line: “God hates divorce, sure! But God hates adultery all the more, that’s why He allowed divorce.” In biblical times, if you committed adultery, you would be stoned to death, which frankly is worse than being divorced. On answering a query about the forgiveness issue, RC even has a better example: “If you are a Church Treasurer and you stole the Church money, I will forgive you but please don’t expect me if I would not help you be Church Treasurer again.” I agree. Adultery is a breach of trust more sacred than a Church fund.

After a number of disagreements, Pastor Perry chose to part ways with me. That was almost five years ago. I didn’t want to but I guess for him, there is too much at stake when you are friends with someone who does not really agree with all the interpretations he makes on Macarthur’s teachings. I say his interpretations because I am not even entirely sure Macarthur is as angry as he is about this issue of divorce that he would leave his friendships with his fellow pastors like RC Sproul if they disagreed with him.

I think we call this ugly thing, fanaticism.  Some can go to that extent and it’s sad. I pray for Pastor Perry. I love him and sometimes I must admit, I miss him. But, he would not just forgive me for disagreeing with John Macarthur (IF John Macarthur’s stand is really that there should absolutely be no divorce, which I don’t think is, to be honest about it). Divorce is an absolute no. Pastor Perry believes that. And for him, that is also the never-changing infallible teaching of God: NO DIVORCE, NO EXCEPTIONS.

Now, please don’t make the mistake that I’m espousing divorce, period. I believe that there are exceptions though that makes divorce valid. (And besides, I’m happily married.) I’m sad for Pastor Perry though. I think he has gone to the extent where it is unhealthy spiritually speaking. I don’t think he even gets Macarthur on this issue. Nonetheless, he would die on every hill, especially if he believes that hill was stepped on by John Macarthur.

Now, what reminded me of him recently was because of a discussion I had in a group. I’m a member of a Reformed Forum in which one thread of discussion went like this: John Macarthur belongs to a false church because his church does not satisfy the ‘marks of the true Church’ in the Belgic Confession. According to some in this forum, one of the marks that makes John Macarthur’s church false is that it does not practice infant baptism. The Belgic Confession in Article 29 states:

The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.⁠2

Now, I can accept that John Macarthur’s church is not a true Reformed church given the leanings of the Reformed confessions. But to say that John Mac’s church is a false church all in one-go, is too much. Even for the sake of discussion, if hypothetically I agree that infants should be baptized, I could not say to a Credobaptist that he belongs to a false church just because he does not baptize infants. And in fairness, the Belgic Confession does not say, “If a church does not practice infant baptism, it is a false church.” Granted, that the Belgic Confession says that the true church, “maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ” as opposed to the false church, the Credobaptist can just as much the same say, “It is the Paedobaptists that do not maintain the sacraments as instituted by Christ.” This has been the debate for centuries.  And mind you, the debate has not been resolved by having the Reformed people calling the Credobaptists, belonging to the ‘false church’ because they do not baptize infants.

Instead, I am elated when parties on the opposite sides of the fence, agree to celebrate what the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is, in spite of their differences. (Please tune the www.whitehorseinn.org, where they do not forget what their confessions say but they do exchange their differences winsomely without cruel talk, without calling themselves belonging to the true and the false. One is a Lutheran, one is a Baptist, and two are Reformed Professors.) It’s one of the rare places on earth where the great King is the Lord Jesus Christ in spite of their confessional differences. They do disagree, and I believe they must, but they don’t call each other belonging to the ‘false church’ because they differ.

Should we also say, "If it's not Belgic, it ain't Church?"

It’s one thing to use and even believe that the King James Version is the only Bible translation inspired by the Almighty Lord God, but it’s another thing to denigrate and call all others as ‘false translations’ publicly and openly just because they don’t fit your learned criteria.

In the same note, I believe that to be generalizing and to be jingoistic of those who do not share John Macarthur’s teachings is wrong. Pastor Perry does no ‘fellowship’ with the Reformed folks. I think if we reach the point where Pastor Perry has went, that’s already fanaticism. But I think I could say that too for some in the Reformed Confessions. To be jingoistic and generalizing about those who do not share the Reformed teachings to the extent that you say John Macarthur’s church is a false church is wrong too.  It’s very much like Pastor’s Perry’s fanaticism. It’s ugly. It’s sad but true: there are Pastor Perrys on every side of the fench. Yes, even on the side that calls itself Reformed.

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1 The Westminster confession of faith. 1996 (Chapter XXIV, 5). Oak Harbor, WA:

2 Historic Creeds and Confessions. 1997  (Article 12). Oak Harbor:

Hannah’s Prayer 02

Continuing the interest triggered by Hannah’s prayer, I read some commentaries on it and here are interesting insights.

We start with Charles Spurgeon:

Her deliverance seemed to her to be a type and symbol of the way in which God delivers all his people, so she rejoiced in that great salvation which he works out for his people as a whole.

Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 57, Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 57, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).

The theme of reversal is also emphasized in Hannah’s prayer.

The birth stories of John and Jesus belong to the long tradition of birth stories in the OT and in Jewish literature… Prominent among these stories is the motif of barrenness. This appears in the stories of Sarah (Gen. 18), Rebekah (Gen. 25), Rachel (Gen. 30), the mother of Samson (Judg. 13), and Hannah (1 Sam. 1–2). Not only are these stories concerned with the reversal of the fortune of the individual barren women, but also the births of the heroes are linked with the fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises to Israel. The presence of God for his people is therefore the underlying theme behind these narratives.

G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 255 (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).

Davis in his commentary on Samuel gave this insight.

What Yahweh has done for Hannah simply reflects the tendency of his ways. When John Calvin had suffered the death of his wife Idelette, he wrote his friend William Farel: “May the Lord Jesus … support me … under this heavy affliction, which would certainly have overcome me, had not He, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary, stretched forth His hand from heaven to me.” Calvin was saying he would surely have been crushed but he knew a Lord who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary—and that Lord had again acted in character in Calvin’s grief. That is what Hannah is saying here. I was ready to fall and Yahweh gave me strength; I was barren and he made me fruitful; I was poor and he made me rich. But that is not really surprising, for that is just the way Yahweh is (vv. 4–8)!

Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, Focus on the Bible Commentary, 23 (Scotland: Christian Focus

Publications, 2000).

And finally, the Lutheran study Bible brings this to the fore:
Hannah exults that God has fulfilled His Word. Her prayer stands as a warning to us when we are tempted to trust in our own strength, beauty, wealth, or intelligence. Her prayer also gives us encouragement to look to God for every good thing that we need in life, confident that He will fulfill our deepest desires in eternity through His Anointed One, Jesus Christ.

CCP, Obscenity, and Modern Idolatry

The cross with an exposed sex organ? Obscene, isn’t it? But if we would rely on historical sources, the truth of crucifixion was more obscene that those pictures. Have you ever pictured Jesus naked on the cross, with exposed genitals and all?

Perhaps we can accept a gross depiction of a big wound near the lower ribs but can we accept a Jesus naked? If not it is probably because we have been used to pictures of Jesus Christ on a cross with some underclothes.

But historical sources would even indicate to us that the Roman crucifixion was done to publicly humiliate the one crucified, thus there are sources that depict the actual historical Christ exposed. Michaelangelo for one, made a sculpture of such a naked crucified man he depicted as Jesus.

Crucifix, sculpture by Michelangelo, Santo Spirito Church, Florence, Italy (ca. 1494), a depiction of naked crucifixion with the genitals of the condemned exposed

Michaelangelo is truly an artist par excellence. In fact many of his sculptures and images are naked. Nakedness as he might believe, is a sign of innocence.  And truly understandably, that is why his sculpture of David is also naked.

Why then is there such a fuss when an artist puts forth installation arts on CCP?  It has torn the whole Philippine nation in a debating mode once again. The Catholic Church has spoken, then the Senate, then the President of the Phlippines.

So, am I endorsing Mideo Cruz? Make no mistake, I do not condone any such depictions. I would even consider the art of Cruz as rubbish and cowardly. Rubbish because art should highlight beauty and truth. I sound like Imelda Marcos but in the rare times, I think she is correct with this one.

But you counter, there is such a thing as ‘ugly truth.’ Yes I agree. But you don’t publicly exhibit those most of the time. If Mideo Cruz publicly exposes his sex organ on the street, you would not call that ‘art.’ You call that indecency. Artists can call that freedom of expression but my golly, if your freedoms offend me as well as tens and thousands of people, that’s not art, that’s perversion.

I also think it’s cowardly. Why? Because Mideo Cruz only insulted the Catholic side of the equation. I haven’t heard of his installation containing the Muslim Allah or Quran, or any other faith. His was just an expression of polytheism using Catholic images and sacred pieces. If this is really ‘polytheism’ why did he not include images of other faiths? I tell you what, it’s because people like Mideo Cruz are afraid of offending the Muslims. His neck would surely be on the line if he does. There is a line as far as his artistic expression is concerned. It’s what you call the fear of death. Isn’t this true, Mideo Cruz?

But for Catholics, he will have his heyday. He knows those who make vigils to the Black Nazarene are supposed to be kind. If you slap them on the left cheek, they would give their right. So never mind if you put an image of a penis on a venerated picture of what some believe as a picture of Jesus Christ. They would be kind, they might become angry, but injure the artist? “No!” Artists like Mideo Cruz would probably answer. Christians are Mickey Mouse kind.

And so here is my two-cents as far as those images are concerned: I think this is not art. It’s what you call the act of insult. Insult is not art, though I have to admit, some people can do it artistically. But outright insult is not art. It’s offensive. Insult can be done artistically but not this way. At least not in Mideo Cruz’s way.

But you know after the fire has died down, perhaps there is some good on all this indecency. It can make us think and ponder things beside the pictures.

What if it’s true that God went to such indecency to accomplish a purpose? What if He did that for you. I don’t mean him, or her. I mean you. You who are reading this. 

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame….

(Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

But you’d probably would not believe that. That is something art cannot really portray. Only truth can, and only if you are made to believe it.

Suddenly, I am reminded of the commandment in Exodus 20. What if, even the best of our sculptures are an abomination to the Lord? As far as the Bible is concerned, every picture venerated has an X-rated thing to it. Yes, including the ones you put in those altars.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…

(Exodus 20:4-5 ESV)

If the above is true, every venerated image is obscene, no different from Mideo Cruz’s art. Maybe Mideo Cruz’s art is Mickey Mouse if that is true.

If the Bible is true, here’s what its New Testament part says.

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed…”

(Acts 17:29-31 ESV)

And that Man, by implication, is an enemy of idols.