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A Response to Heresy PDF Print E-mail
Written by C. Dwayne Shafer   


How Shall They Hear Without a Preacher?, or, The Rich Man’s Brothers Denied

Dear Brother,

I have received your recent post seeking comment on your article, entitled, “How shall they hear without a preacher?”  You state,

Brethren, I would like to hear your response to this article. Please interact with the exegesis of the text and the theological implications of the overall argument.

Let me first say that I have approached this with all the trepidation and respect that I have for the Word of GOD, and the blood of our dear LORD.  That being affirmed let me proceed with my concerns for what you phrase, “the theological implications of the overall argument.”  The theological implications are clearly known by both of us.  I have doubted for several days whether or not I would reply to your article, and I must say it was finally, as you say, “theological implications of the overall argument” that have provoked me to give my response. You will have to decide if I have “interact[ed] with the exegesis of the text.”  (I do know what those words mean.)

I know that you understand the difference in exegesis and isogesis.  Isogesis is a danger that is often underestimated, and I would propose that failure to interpret scripture by scripture is, indeed, an isogetical fallacy.

In the following, I want to remind you of what the Holy Scriptures say about hearing.  To quote our LORD, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

I have taken the liberty of quoting the following passage quoting Jesus at length.  (You have quoted many great authors, and have expressed your high opinion of them.  I have all those books, and, frankly, thousands of books more: in a battle of quotations you cannot beat me.  One of the authors you have quoted is John R.W. Stott, who is an annihilationist, has a twisted, desperate view of the following passage, by the way.)

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flam. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.  And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. The he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.  And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16:16-31)

This passage is particularly clear on two points: first, as illuminating as the Pentateuch and Prophets are in pointing to the Messiah, they are inadequate of themselves alone to convince the unregenerate man of the Lordship of Christ; and, second, the witness of a resurrected Christ is also inadequate to change the mind, or heart, of an unregenerate man.

Let me divide the discussion of this passage into the following heads:

  • This passage refers specifically to unbelievers in Israel
  • This passage refers to a literal, eternal hell of unquenchable fire
  • Jesus denied them a preacher
  • The gospel alone is inadequate to save anyone 

Now let me expound a little on these points,

            1.  This passage refers specifically to unbelievers in Israel;  You have pointed out that the passage you presented in Romans 9:30-10:21 is written about unbelieving Israel.  I will not get into the arguments of “Spiritual Israel or Natural Israel” in-depth, (the so-called arguments of Continuity and Discontinuity), but it seems that your arguments tend toward a “natural Israel” being the context of the Romans passage, and I will primarily argue to this position.  I do believe that this is the primary address of Paul’s letter, but he brings the Jews and Gentiles onto even ground in Romans 10: 12, when he writes, For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.

Let me emphasize, Any legitimate interpretation of Romans 10 (or any portion of scripture) must be made in the light of the clear teaching of the remainder of Holy Writ: there is no dissonance, only harmony in God’s Word.

For point 2, This passage refers to a literal, eternal hell of unquenchable fire; This inability to hear the gospel was not a temporary deafness that the LORD put upon Israel: Hell itself was the stake in the argument.  This was no short-term blindness, no temporary inability to understand.  This is the Hell of eternal judgment, the Hell of Revelation, the Hell of eternal torment, and Jesus denied them a preacher, a messenger.  At least for these five, there was no hope.  The “good news” of the gospel, that Jesus Christ had died, and that the Heavenly Father had accepted that sacrifice as witnessed in the resurrection was denied them.  This resurrection, which signaled God’s acceptance, was inadequate to sway the hearts of men who have Hell to fear.  Imagine the judgment that will fall upon men, when they reject that which God clearly accepted!

Jesus denied them a preacher (3); The arguments of those who stand opposed to the doctrine of Limited Atonement frequently fly to the argument that God choosing some and denying others would be unfair.  I am glad that they understand that I do believe that God chose some, and Christ died for them, but the remainder were not chosen, were not called, will not hear, and will not be resurrected to the LORD’s eternity.  (My only disagreement with them is regarding the understanding of fairness.  Surely you know that I agree with Paul, when he wrote, Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid!)

If preaching is the “means,” as you say, why would Christ deny this means of salvation to the brothers of the rich man?  If you respond, “It is because they are not elect,” then I respond by asking, “So, ust what is your point?”  You claim the necessity of ‘means’, but if God ordains that the individual (elected by God), must hear the gospel by the preacher’s voice, I remind you that the antecedents are the election by God, and the regeneration is by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, and the intervention of the preacher is only to “bring life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  To Light, brother, not being.  Hear the words of Paul to young Timothy,

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.  For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless, I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.  Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.  (2 Timothy 1:8-13)

This brings me to point #4, The gospel alone is inadequate to save anyone;

            There is no guessing what Paul here states as the purpose of the gospel: it is a reporter.  Paul was not ashamed of this gospel, and wrote to persuade Timothy to not be ashamed of it, either.  Paul knew that there was a line that could be crossed between preaching a “means” gospel and a gospel that preaches the “power of God.”  He emphasized that He had, saved and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.  Paul was saying, “Timothy, this doctrine is enough, and you owe no apologies for standing upon this truth, but you will be persecuted for it, and will bear the afflictions that I have born.”

Some of those afflictions were physical in nature, without a doubt, but I believe that the abuses included the people who taunted, “Your God is not fair; You are ignorant men; God needs me” and the disappointment I feel every time the gospel is jeered.

Our LORD repeatedly exhorted, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.”  He never underestimated the importance of hearing, but He only spoke to those who “had an ear to hear.”  Again, I point out that this ability to hear is antecedent to hearing.  The overwhelming content of Scripture emphasizes this.

If you argue that the LORD only elected and regenerates those who are within the range of physical hearing, I have to dismiss that as ridiculous. Only the example of Cornelius should be sufficient to show that the Holy Spirit acts effectually in regeneration.  Jesus himself said, The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8) Even if I were to succumb to the argument that the example of Cornelius is the exception, rather than the rule (which argument I do not agree with), then you have to admit the Spirit of God is capable of working its own means, without a preacher.  If you resort to this complaint, and acknowledge that at least some will be regenerated without the gospel, then I ask, Why do you insist on this being the exception rather than the rule?  Where does scripture break these statistics down for us?  I will insist that you explain Romans 10 in light of the remainder of the Scriptures.

A look at Romans 10: 18 must be quite disappointing to the man who sees Romans 10 as requiring that you and I act as mid-wife on behalf of God.  After discussing the apparent virtues of having a preacher handy, Paul writes,

But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.  (Romans 10:18)

While pursuing my lower education at college, the question was often asked, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”   The answers, and the uncertainty of the philosophers among us, is laughable, but while the philosopher doubted, the physicist could say, “No, it does not make a sound.”  The physicist understood that in order for the vibrations of the tree falling to be a “sound,” there must be a device capable of receiving and interpreting those signals.  Another way to respond would be, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.”  The man without the ability to hear is not aware of the vibrations, but make no doubt about it, that tree will crush him when it falls, and the argument, “No one told me,” will never be sufficient argument to scrape him up from the forest floor.

I am sure that you are familiar with the straw-man fallacy in logic, but let me give one definition: The straw-man fallacy is engaged when a rare trait is set-up as typical of the whole, and then is attacked.

What is my point?  Well, some have taken the example of individual preachers, or the isolated statements of some Primitive Baptist preachers, as derogating the importance of the gospel, but these are straw-man arguments.  I have seen these same men, who have been caricatured, leave their families and the comforts of home in order to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to places that will never make the circuit of the rich and famous preachers that are out there today proclaiming an impotent Holy Spirit, bound by the limits of the preacher’s itinerary.

I have known men who have been shamefully berated for not believing in the instrumentality (means) of the gospel, who were not home long enough to respond, because they were out preaching the gospel.

How do you explain men who have forsaken the wealth and comforts of this world, in order to be “partakers of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God”?  Name one man who has become advantaged by being a Primitive Baptist preacher?

How many famous evangelists came to Muleshoe, Texas to preach to us when we were young?  I don’t remember a Billy Graham who would come without a stadium, or a John Piper who would come without a book signing, but I do remember a Dickie Daniels who left a family and a business to come to Muleshoe to tell me about my LORD; I remember a Hulan Bass who could have been on Wall Street, but he chose the poor and rejected;  I remember a Sonny Pyles who left a wife and three children to spend six months a year living out of a suitcase to preach the Sovereignty of God in Salvation;  Afton Richards who drove more miles than a trucker and died flat-broke, but joyful; farmers who took up the Cross of Jesus and left crops in the field; men who died driving to preach to a flock that might not be able to cover his gas expense at twenty-four cents/gallon; Primitive Baptist ministers who are at this very moment risking their lives on foreign soils; lawyers, doctors, salesmen and teachers who gave up their salaries and reputations among men to preach with Paul,

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

Before my closing statement, please indulge me the pleasure of quoting a few scriptures on hearing, and let me be so bold as to dare anyone to call them impertinent.  We both know the extent of the appropriate context and exegesis, but I like the sweetness of the words:

The Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.  Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood no; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.  Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.  I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6)

Behold the days come, saith the LORD GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.  In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.  They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, the manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.  (Amos 8:11-13)

Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.  (James 1:21-24)

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:   (Matt 7:24)

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  (Matt 11:15)

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?  He answered and said unto the, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not giveth. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.  For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (Matt 13:9-17)

He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.  (Mark 7: 37b)

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?  And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, “Hear, O Israel; The LORD our GOD is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy GOD with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  (Mark 12:28-30)
Don’t ever accuse a man who will drive 500 miles to preach to five people for a bologny sandwich of not believing in the importance of the gospel message; it just won’t hold water.

Before dismissing my arguments, let me point out that I am probably the most over-educated man you know.  I have come to be ashamed that I own some 5,000 books on theology, and, unfortunately, I have wasted my time reading most of them.  I have attained every milestone I have ever set my covetous heart upon, but the LORD has shown me that everything that I have that He did not give me is dung.  I have corresponded and set in the homes of the best known apologists, philosophers and preachers that crowd the airwaves and bookstores today.  I can probably tell you what at least five different commentators say about any verse in the Bible.  I can read the New Testament tolerably-well in Greek and Latin, the Septuagint, and I know quite a bit of Hebrew; but I am most proud of my ability to read, “All that the Father giveth me, shall come unto me, and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out,” and then understand what it means.

The good news for you is that there are untold thousands of people (who already “believe” the gospel, by the way) who are interested in hearing what you have to say about the gospel, but I can’t tell you the name of a single Primitive Baptist who would have that doctrine.

So, there you have it: there is a doctrine which you believe, and we don’t (and, in all the kindness that I can muster, please, make no mistake about it), and there is a people who like to hear what you believe, and we don’t (and, again, make no mistake about it).

I have been accused of believing what you believe, and perhaps this is even why you sent me your article, but let me share this with you in the most emphatic and clear terms that I know: the doctrine of gospel regeneration, or gospel means, or whatever else it might be called, is Dung.  Fertilizer. Unfit for God’s children to play upon.  Paul might slip into the vernacular, but I will refrain.

 And, so, we part ways.  Leave now.  Don’t look back.  Hasten far away with this doctrine.  When the people ask, “Who is this who troubleth Israel?” may your name be forgotten among us.

Dagon finally bowed before the Ark of the Covenant.  Not a single Israelite was there to push it over, but it fell.  The truth of God’s Word will weather both of our graves.  More able men than you have attacked us for believing what we believe, and wiser men than me have defended our belief, and you and I are not the last to dispute the matter.  When the people of England tried to crown Charles Spurgeon as “Defender of the Faith,” he dismissed them, saying, “The Truth is like a lion: let it go, and it will defend itself.”

I have been called to preach the Gospel of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ among this people called Primitive Baptists, and, LORD willing, I will die here. 

As you implied in your request for comment, this doctrine of yours has theological implications, and you will find them both bitter and far-reaching.  You will end up among a people that believe in an impotent resurrection, a dependent Holy Spirit, and preaching a chimera of salvation by works and a mutated, deformed gospel.

I hope that you can find some peace, and I pray that your pride will not keep you from returning after you add up your failures, and find that if it is not all of Christ, then there is no Christ.

Nil Desperadum, Christo Duce
C. Dwayne Shafer, Elder
Pastor: Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church, Stephenville, TX


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