Q & A with Dr. Warren Vanhetloo

Compiled from Dr. Warren VanHetloo’s “Cogitations” April 2010.

Question

I have a question involving church names in light of 1 Corinthians 1:10-13: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

While I agree with you that having a denominational name is certainly expedient in terms of resolving confusion, and to allow outsiders to have some idea of where a congregation is coming from, it would seem to be contrary to the spirit of what Paul is saying in this passage, because having a denominational name obviously sets forth the divisions among us, and that rather than minimize or heal them, we are actually defining them. Hopefully for a good purpose, but defining them nonetheless. Is there a solution? Is there any way that we can edify outsiders (or insiders) without being contrary to the spirit of Paul’s admonition? Or would you say that denominations are not contrary to what Paul has written? And if so, how?

Answer

My first thought is of the actions of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). There is no historical record of a Barnabas denomination or of dissension between them either of doctrine or polity. Further, I appreciate Paul’s attitude in Phil 1:15-18, “Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea and will rejoice.” Yet, he clearly opposed error: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom 16:17). Acts 20:29-31, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). So, he taught to put up with variations but oppose error.

Paul opposed those who would draw others after themselves, just as in 1 Cor 1:10-13 he opposed some causing divisions in claiming to follow certain ones. Dissention, not disagreement seems the crux. Differing on some things was no doubt common. Division was to be avoided (1 Cor 11:18-19). The ideal was unity and agreement. The context is a local congregation, a special spiritual body of Christ. Even among churches Paul guided there was no uniformity. The congregation in Corinth did things no other churches did (1 Cor 11:16).

Two illustrations: A man who rejected water baptism attended our church because there was none of his persuasion nearby. He obviously loved the Lord and lived the life he professed. When asked, he would explain his position, but he never promoted it. In another incident I heard of recently, a church planter had successfully started several churches. He was well along with another church when a five point Calvinist started coming and promoting his doctrine, disrupting the congregation. The one was an example of adjusting favorably to a congregation, the second an inexcusable disruption leading to division or disintegration. The problem is not what name is employed, but the individual appreciation of the importance of avoiding contentions.

Question

Dr. Van, Can you please cogitate on borrowing and lending. It seems like it can always get a person (or people) into trouble. The Bible says: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov 22:7). We’ve had some recent incidents in our family where people have different recollections on whether some objects were loaned or whether they were given. Now there are arguments about getting the “borrowed/loaned” item back. Also, several times, family members have asked for loans of money (like for a down payment on a house). My feeling is, either it should be given or not given. Loans of money among family members are usually the last to be paid back and can create hard feelings if they’re not paid back or not forgiven. Finally, about giving with no strings attached—if an item is given, should the recipient bear any responsibility to give it back rather than selling it or throwing it away? Thanks.

Answer

An attempt: It is certainly important to be clear whether an item is being loaned or given – prior to or at the time of giving or loaning. It is when a borrower is unable to pay back a loan that he is enslaved by a lender, even having a house repossessed. Family members will tend to take advantage of another and not be so diligent to repay as to a bank. That can lead to bad feelings. As for a gift with strings attached, such should be clearly understood when given/received; otherwise, a gift is a gift, not some special type of loan. Misunderstanding may not be completely eliminated, but we should attempt to keep such to a minimum.

Question

Could you possibly shed some light on your understanding of the reference to the redemption of Abraham in Isaiah 29:22? Are we to take this as Abraham’s removal from Ur and its pagan gods, similar to Israel’s redemption from Egypt (Ex 6:6)?

Answer

My understanding is that this portion is a prediction of the millennium. I take it that this is a reference to Abraham’s conversion. Redemption (spiritual) was a part of the “salvation package” prior to Pentecost. Abraham was saved and in that day he will see many of his children come to the Lord. His coming out of Ur was illustrative of leaving the old life and following the Lord. Israel’s redemption from Egypt was a picture portrayal of God’s deliverance from spiritual slavery. Not all who participated in the picture action were included in the spiritual reality. Abraham was.

Question

Dr. Van, I have been going to Bible Study Fellowship. This is an International Bible Study that is about fifty years old. In studying the Book of John, they have suggested that the “cockcrow” was a trumpet sound called “gallicinium,” which literally translated is “cockcrow.” They are saying that Jesus may have meant, before the trumpet sounds the cockcrow, you will deny me three times. Before 3:00 a.m., when this clarion call sounded throughout the courtyard and city. It checked Peter’s passionate outburst of denial (John 13:38). My question is this: Why haven’t I heard this before in my fifty-two years of being saved? They said that the Jews did not allow roosters to be kept in the Holy City. Also, one never knew exactly when the rooster would crow in the early morning. However, the Roman military practice was to mark the changing of the guard at 3 a.m. by a trumpet call. I believe that a rooster could get in just about wherever God wanted it to go, just like the great fish that swallowed Jonah and the fish with the coin. The rooster could get in there and fly to a high point and crow at just exactly the time God wanted it to crow. Please reply to my question: Is this what happened, and why don’t preachers preach it, and why haven’t I ever heard it before?

Answer

I have been saved more than a decade longer than you have, and this is also the first time I have heard what you have described. I think the simple answer is that the “suggestion” as you call it, is probably less than a decade old, probably invented by Jews to entertain American tourists visiting the Holy Land. These then come back with interesting insights to share with others—something fresh from the land of the Book. Much has been spread of similar nature in recent years. It is best to doubt it totally until we can see it well documented, not just as happening once among Jewish people or Roman troops, but as actually taking place at the time of the events recorded. Normally, I would not even repeat such things as “suggestions,” for some would be sure to consider that I was teaching it as truth.

Toward the end of the depression, we raised roosters for two years. They would begin their crowing at first early light, a couple of hours before dawn. Even if there was a period when they were not permitted in Jerusalem, sound carries much further there than here. And crowing on a hillside more than a mile away might at times be heard. Many mornings here I can hear traffic on the highway about a mile away. The Romans were reasonably accurate about time, especially when it involved troops being relieved from duty. I cannot imagine a Roman trumpet officially announcing a changing of the guard and then another doing so ten or fifteen minutes later (Mark 14:68, 72). Very clearly verse 72 says a second time a cock crowed (a clear noun and a historic verb).

As to why preachers don’t preach it, this is mainly because most endeavor to preach just what is in the Bible. What is said in the text may at times be understood better by some speculation, but there needs to be reasonable basis for any of that. I doubt that there is any basis for what you heard, but will be happy to share it if any readers can send me properly documented reason to consider it.

Question

Dr. Van, I know the story of the Prodigal Son is a parable, but as an earthly story, I empathize with the prodigal’s brother. I think I would have felt the same way. The son who took all the money, went away and squandered it, gets the rewards, whereas the loyal son who stayed with his father doesn’t receive anything. This seems like parental favoritism, which always seems to result in problems, whether in the Bible or our everyday lives. I think most children in this situation would share the feelings the prodigal’s brother felt, resentment, jealousy, hurt feelings.

Please cogitate. Thanks.

Answer

Make it a habit always to consider the context of a verse or passage. Jesus told three parables for the spiritual benefit of publicans and scribes who murmured about His eating with sinners (Luke 15:1-2). It seems clear that they were self righteous and did not consider themselves sinners. Of the lost sheep, He emphasizes rejoicing and applies His parable to joy in heaven (Luke 15:6-7). The emphasis of the second is the same, joy over one coin, with an even stronger explanation, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents” (Luke 15:10). His listeners would have mentally placed themselves among the 99 safe sheep or the 9 pieces of silver. The elder son portion is to convict them of sin.

This upset son does not know the mind of his father (as Pharisees and God). He is not sympathetic as angels are to the joy of his father. He is totally self-centered, not acknowledging the years his father has provided for his daily needs. He has not considered the abundance which was his, but complains over one banquet. Instead of rejoicing over the return of his own brother, he is pouting and angry. Surely the Holy Spirit was able to convict those self-righteous Pharisees of their sinful condition, but I suspect they did not yield to His drawing.

As for parental favoritism, remember that all have sinned. Pharisees thought themselves fully acceptable to God and enjoying His favors. They needed to learn that their condition, their attitude, their concern, was not acceptable to God. One who does not rejoice to see a sinner come to hear the Gospel may well be a hardened sinner himself. One who thinks that the world owes him a living is controlled by pride. Resentment, jealousy, and hurt feelings are evidences of a sinful heart. 


Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. Since the death of his wife a year ago, at the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it.

940 reads

There are 2 Comments

Del Ward's picture

On the first question the answer is found in context of the passage and what "you" refers to in verse 10. If one attempts to apply this to what is called the "Universal Church," then you have a problem. However, it seems clear that Paul is addressing relationships in the "Local Church." He is not saying that different churches have to have the same names or even say the same things. "You" is speaking to believers within the church of Corinth, not Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica,, etc. Though these churches could cooperate for something if they wanted, there was no necessity for it.

It seems to me that, unity within the local church is what Paul always stresses in his epistles, not unity among various churches. The only thing I see Paul asking the churches to join in is the offering to the Saints in Jerusalem. That was by the command of the Apostle. Every denominational organization or association brings with it compromise. You must sacrifice your own theology to have that kind of cooperation. The church I pastor is in a loose association. There is great theological difference in that association, to the point where I will not be a part of it anymore. To be in leadership means you must not speak of certain of your beliefs, you must give way to others beliefs, even if you consider them to be in error. It's nothing more than a "good old boys club."

All these people assume that by getting together we are going to be able to do more for the gospel. I don't think so. We need to concentrate on our local church accomplishing the mission. The Jerusalem church did great things for the gospel without any other church. There were no others. We, at times, choose to do things with churches of like faith and practice, but we have no obligation to do so. I'm not sure personally that associations, denominations, etc. really are needed at all. That what it means to be an independent church.

Del Ward

sbradley's picture

I recently had the rooster question asked of me too. It seems this idea originated from William Barclay and his commentary in Matthew, and was repeated and probably popularized by Charles Swindoll in his book, "Behold the Man." I found no basis at all for this view and lean heavily towards rejecting it.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.