Thursday, August 28, 2008

How I Came to the Doctrines of Grace

I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church that taught the Holy Scriptures within the framework of the Baptist traditions of the day. Without being told, I was being taught the Holy Scriptures within a man-made framework called “Dispensationalism.” When it came to the Doctrine of Man, I was taught that while man was fallen in nature, he still had the capacity – yea, even the desire – to turn to Jesus Christ and be saved. When it came to the Doctrine of Salvation, I was taught that Jesus died for everyone – whoever was, is, or will be – and that man had a free will – unaffected by sin; consequently, while man had a fallen nature, he still could choose Christ – of his own free will. While hearing these teachings in sermons which were peppered with the mantra, “The Bible says,” I never questioned my pastor – for he was a good man. I never was taught to investigate the Scriptures for myself in order to discover what the “whole counsel of God” actually taught. Jesus had cast His vote for my salvation, Satan had cast his vote against my salvation, and that “I had to decide to follow Jesus” – I had to vote for my own salvation – with Jesus – in order to be saved. That is what I was taught.

My pastor never mentioned semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism. The positions which these two views held were foreign to me – neither did I ever hear of Calvinism. I knew nothing of the historical framework in which these views were taught. I just knew that I was a Baptist – and a Southern Baptist at that! While I was taught that the Bible had all the answers, I was never taught the importance of learning how to rightly divide the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15). If I wanted to know what Baptists believed, I was told to go to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message – the Southern Baptist Convention Confession of Faith. It was in this state of mind and with these “Baptistic attitudes” that I grew into manhood.

After returning from the Vietnam War (in 1972) and being honorably discharged in 1974, I entered Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas, Texas for my seminary training. It was in courses on Church History, History of the Reformation and Baptist History that I first learned about the men: Pelagius, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin, along with other men like Martin Luther, George Whitefield and Charles H. Spurgeon. I knew that I would like Charles Spurgeon when I discovered that he was a Baptist! It was when I began to take Systematic Theology that I learned what these men taught.

My professor for Systematic Theology I was a Briton by the name of John Pretlove. He was an excellent professor – but he was British! And I was an American! It was then that I discovered a latent prejudice against Britons that – because of history – I, along with a lot of Americans, have toward the British. When he began to introduce to the class the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism, I discovered that I had been raised by my pastor with one foot in the semi-Pelagian camp and the other foot in the Arminian camp. Each time the professor raised a Calvinistic point for discussion, I found myself rising in opposition to it – beginning my response to it with the phrase, “The Bible says!” Professor Pretlove listened patiently to my response and then would politely reply, “Brother Hopkins, where is your Scripture?” The following is one example of such a verbal exchange:

Professor Pretlove: “Calvinism teaches that Jesus came to save the Elect; that is, those sinners whom the Father gave to the Son before the foundation of the world.”

Me: “But the Bible says that Jesus came to save the world!”

Professor Pretlove: “Brother Hopkins, where is your Scripture?”

Me: “John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”

Professor Pretlove: “Brother Hopkins, what do you do with the following Scriptures:

KJV Matthew 1:21 “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”


KJV John 17:9 “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”


KJV Ephesians 1:4 “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

I would sit down totally frustrated. I knew a lot of what the Bible said, but I knew very few Scriptural addresses. And, since I did not have the Scriptural reference in my head, I could not adequately answer the professor. The resultant feelings ran deep inside me:
1. I greatly resented Professor Pretlove for embarrassing me in front of the class.
2. I did not dig into the Scriptures to find out what the whole counsel of God actually said on these issues. I was too busy being a full-time student.
3. I didn’t like Calvinism. It was different than what I had been taught, and it didn’t have the name Baptist connected to it. You can imagine my shock when I later discovered that Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist pastor, was a Calvinist!

I passed the course, but I maintained a distain for the professor until after I graduated from CCBS (in 1976).

In 1977, I was called by the Lord to pastor an SBC Church in Euless, Texas. I was delighted and entered into the pastorate with great zeal. Everything was going great for the first six months. One morning, as I entered my Study, I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of God’s Presence. I went to my knees in prayer as a tremendous heaviness came over me. For the first time, the gravity of preaching and teaching the Word of God to His people really hit me! As I was pondering this heaviness, the following Scripture came to my mind:

NKJ Hebrews 13:17 ¶ “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

The phrase ‘as those who must give account’ really hit me hard. The fact that I would have to give an account of what I preached and taught the people of God suddenly gripped me. I became scared. The thought of my teaching something not consistent with the whole counsel of God terrified me. While in school, God had given me a great love for the Biblical languages: Hebrew and Greek. Now, I found myself being led of the Lord to begin searching the Scriptures in the languages it was originally written in, so that I could find out what the Holy Scripture truly said.

Over the next three days, I prayed and fasted while I studied the Holy Scriptures. I felt impressed by the Lord to call Professor Pretlove and ask his recommendation on some books that would assist me in honestly looking at the Doctrines of Grace. To be honest with you, I did not enjoy making that call – because of my dislike for the man. I was still sinning in that area of my life. I must also admit to you that I went into the study with a determination to tear apart Calvinism. Why God would bring Calvinism to my mind, I didn’t have a clue. In my humanity, I didn’t like it. But the thought of the souls of God’s people haunted me. I knew that I could not preach or teach until the Lord and me resolved this issue.

I would read a statement, and then I would dig into the Scriptures. I would translate every verse – I didn’t trust the English. I wanted to be sure I had it right! For three nights and three days I poured over the Scriptures, and as the Spirit of the Lord began to illumine my mind, the tears began to flow down my cheeks. I discovered many things – truths that were always there in the Scriptures, but I had never seen them before. And by the end of that period of prayer and fasting, I found myself to be a thorough going Calvinist in the same camp of Charles H. Spurgeon.

That was thirty-one years ago, and I am still learning more of the precious Doctrines of Grace. I will continue to strive to teach the whole counsel of God – The Doctrines of Grace – as long as there is breath in me. The souls of God’s people are precious.

Monday, August 25, 2008

When Revival Comes

First, let me begin by defining what is Evangelism and what is Revival.

Evangelism is introducing Jesus Christ to the lost. It is as simple as that. While there are a myriad of methods used to present the Gospel (the Good News) of Jesus Christ, evangelism is, nevertheless, the presentation of Jesus Christ and His message of repentance to lost souls.

Revival, in its simplest terms, is both the reclaiming of the regenerate who have become hardened with sin, as well as inspiring the redeemed to greater depths of holiness before a thrice-holy God. Revival is not something that man works up, but that God pours down from heaven. The agent of revival is not the machinations of man, but God Himself. An evangelistic overflow is a consequence of spiritual revival.

When Revival comes, the following observations can be made:

1. There is an unmistakable divine visitation of God Himself! Planning committees cannot plan it, cottage prayer meetings cannot make it happen – God in His sovereignty elects to come down upon a meeting, whose heartfelt purpose is to glorify God. I am not talking about a three-day meeting, a week-long meeting, or even a two-week meeting. I am talking about a movement of God upon a group of people where the message is repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This kind of divine visitation is not – cannot be – controlled by man. God takes over the services. And the effect of God’s sovereign power is so strong that the affect is felt not only by the person in the pew or the stadium seat, but it also moves into the community itself. Lost people sense the presence of God in the community; and this evangelistic overflow results in lost people getting saved.

2. Sin is seen in all of its awfulness. Saved people who have been living hypocritical lives see the awfulness of their lives as they have been grieving the Holy Spirit within them. Lost people see the sins in their lives and come to realize that they are damned for all eternity unless they seek Jesus for mercy. The lost man comes to understand that he is living under the wrath of God, and that only the blood of Jesus Christ can save him from such wrath.

3. The whole counsel of God, as perceived in the Doctrines of Grace, is lovingly embraced by those who love the Scriptures. Gone are the me-centered sermons that lift up man, and in their place are messages that preach the sovereignty of God in all His love, all His justice and all His mercy. God-sent revivals will always center on a holy God Who hates sin, a God Who covenanted with His Son, Jesus Christ, to save a people that the Father gave to Jesus before the foundation of the world, and a God Who purposes to save sinners for whom Christ died!

4. As repentance runs deep, there is a great sensitivity to sin in a person’s life. Confession of sin is common in God-sent revivals – not only between believers who have held grudges against one another for years, but also a searching out of lost people in the community where wrong has been done, but has never been dealt with. In true God-sent revival, the gray of compromise and rationalism dissolves. And all that a person is left with is “I have sinned against God and man.” This new awareness leads to the reconciliation of relationships and the restoration of lives.

5. Illumination into the Word of God grows quickly as the person is sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is showing them in the Word of God. Hunger for the Word of God becomes immense and the thirst for the Living Waters of the Scriptures cannot be quenched. Sensitivity to the clock goes out the window as people seek “Thus saith the Lord.” The preaching of the Word of God becomes paramount. Meetings will often last for hours – with no complaint from the people.

6. Churches are called back to the pattern of the Biblical Church as shown in the Bible. Traditions made by man fall by the wayside, as churches seek the Scriptures for what it means to be the church of God. There are no sectarian biases, there are no denominational agendas in a God-sent revival. God calls his churches back to Him and His Word. This is why a truly God-sent revival transcends denominational lines as the Holy Spirit moves among the churches of a community to bring about revival in God’s people.

7. There is a distinct evangelistic overflow – the community feels the impact of a God-sent revival. Business practices are changed as God get a hold of the heart of the owner; worldliness ceases to be promoted as men get right with God. And the people of the community see the differences. Churches who have split off from one another forgive one another, and the people of the community – who have known of the splits and the hard feelings, take note of the changes. All of this leads to an openness on the part of the community to the revival, for it was the churches hypocrisy, bitterness toward one another, and an unforgiving spirit that kept so many lost people out of the churches.

8. Satan and his forces rise up against such a God-sent revival. Satan cannot tolerate the people of God repenting of their sins and getting right with God and with one another. The Evil One will do anything in his power to undermine, subvert, malign, and cripple the affects of a God-sent revival. He will use other disgruntled churches, who are jealous and envious over what is happening, to attack the preacher of the Gospel and the people who listen to what God is saying through His man. Plainly put, many churches don’t want a God-sent revival, and Satan knows this. He is all too willing to encourage them to stand against a God-sent revival.

This is the kind of Revival our community needs. This is what America needs. Oh, may God grant, in His boundless mercy, another great pouring out of His Spirit upon the churches in our land – and may Revival come!

Friday, August 22, 2008

We Need Revival!

You don’t need to read the newspapers to know that America is in trouble. Discipline in the schools continues to be a major issue, as the hands of the teachers are tied by the ropes of federal regulations. Illegal drug use continues to rise; the demons of drug trafficking are strong in Osage County. Marital problems plague our families as more and more physical and mental abuse in the home becomes the norm. Weak preaching of the Gospel from our pulpits is producing weak church members in the pews. Morals are lax, Christian ethics are thrown out of the schoolroom, and the average citizen knows not what they can do to change any of it.

We have tried throwing more money at our schools, mistakenly thinking that the problem with education is financial in nature. It is not! Preachers have filled the ears of their church members with sermons of love, goodness, prosperity and health – and still we have a continuing decline of attendance in our churches. Self-help courses and self-improvement classes are at an all time high, yet depression, despair and despondency rages on unhindered in the hearts of an ever increasing number of people. People are loosing hope in their churches, their schools and their government at the local, county, state and federal levels. Something must be done, but what? If we don’t change the status quo, we will lose our beloved America in a generation. If we are not careful, we will wake up one day in a Marxist regime that will strip us of our individual liberties for the sake of the State. Yet, we should not make the mistake of thinking that our problems are political in nature. They are not!

The problem we have in Osage County is the same problem we have in our Country as a whole – we have rebelled against the Sovereign God and have turned our backs on Him. Unless we repent of our sins, and cry out to God for mercy, God’s judgment on us and America will be strong and swift. God has told us in the Holy Scriptures what we need to do:

2 Chronicles 7:14 14 "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

This call to repentance is not to the lost, but to the people of God! Our churches have more of the world in them than they have Christ in them. Revival is only realized in the hearts of His people! And this is what we need – revival of the individual Christian and revival of the churches. Only when repentance is realized in the heart of the believer, will lost men see the difference and be drawn to Christ. We need to seek God’s face and cry out to God for His mercy. Only then will God forgive our sins and heal our land.