Saturday, November 19, 2011

No Semi-Pelagian Repentance

Yes, let us mourn our sins and the poverty of our repentance. But, much more than we mourn, let us rest in the Savior who gives new repentance.

Do not wait to rest fully in Christ the Savior when you doubt your repentance, for you will never be satisfied. Rest first in Him who delivers us by himself from the bondage which so easily besets us.

We simply ought always to trust in Him who saves his people from sin's penalty -- and presence!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Good Creation (Revised)

It ought to be considered by those tempted to "make peace" with evolution by professing "theistic evolution," that positing such an origin of the cosmos brings up the question of the origin of evil.

For one thing, any kind of evolution calls into question what was meant when God said that what he had made was "good" at every step, and even "very good" when finished.  Did what was good, even very good, arise through mutations and the survival of the "fittest," or any other process that we would consider "natural," even if guided by the providence of God?  Is death normal -- or good?  Doesn't the creation groan in bondage, until its own resurrection?  Was it created in bondage?

Furthermore, evolutionary beliefs lead in the direction of Gnosticism or Manichaeism, since the origin and development of the universe, and the moral condition implied by the process of evolution, also implies that matter and energy, and the laws of the same as presently constituted, are not free from evil -- or else that that evil is good.

Once all this is seen, namely, that theistic evolution is an ancient heresy, then it should be rejected yet one more time, as it has had to be by the believers since time immemorial.

None of this was unknown to the writers of the Scripture, especially the New Testament.  Creation (not something else; there were plenty of options known to the Greeks) is the first article of faith (Heb 11).  Theistic evolution is just Epicurus redivivus with a little "theistic" icing.

PS:  Theistic evolution, in the manner described above, also justifies the main argument of the "new atheists," namely, that "How can there be a God, when the presence of evil is so obvious?"  In other words, the Manichaeism is evident in that the real God, if he exists, cannot cope with or do without the death-dealing evil present with matter and energy, and the laws of nature as they are currently known, and as they came into play during the process of evolution creating the universe -- or else he does not wish to have it any other way, and his "providence" is therefore corrupt.  The universe ceases to be the testimony to the goodness of God that it really is and was intended to be, though it is now fallen.

There had to be a good creation -- and then a Fall. If the "Fall" came first -- is just Nature, as science sees it, howsoever it is guided by God's providence, then the Biblical worldview cannot be maintained.  Death is then "natural."  Therefore, it must be the case that the Fall followed the finished Creation, and there must yet be an End of this fallen Creation and a Beginning of the New Heavens and the New Earth.  We did not "evolve" our way to this point, naturally or morally, and we will not "evolve" our way to the resurrection.

The inherent logic of Paul's arguments in Rom 1 and Acts 17 (on Mars Hill) is that all men know that God exists, is creator, and is good, and they also know that both they and the world are broken, that is, that there has been a Fall.  Theistic evolution militates against these evangelical arguments by teaching that what amounts to the Fall was inherent in the creation and the creating process, by God's design, from the very beginning.  Theistic evolution is thereby an anti-apologetic for Christianity.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

With Christ at the Table (Revised)

The sects wrangle about how the Lord is present at his Table -- or if he is.

But, there is only one question to answer:

Is our Lord present to us because we believe, that is, as a result of our faith?  Do we make him present with us?  Inconceivable!

We believe in Christ because he is first present, offering himself to us as the God-man through bread and wine, to be received by faith!

Faith can only receive what is already present and truly offered!

Glory be to God!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Puritans and the Federal Vision

As I was reading the story of the acquital of Peter Leithart today in the Aquila Report, a thought suddenly sprung to mind.  It is a question -- a question to which I do not have an answer, but I think a question worth investigating.

The question is this:  What is the correlation between the "parallel soteriology" of the Federal Vision (FV) and the "parallel soteriology" of William Perkins (WP) and his "map" of the spiritual paths of the elect and the non-elect professing Christians?

I'm not saying that FV is modeled on WP.  I'm saying that it is probably the case that both are struggling with the problem of apostasy -- a circumstance of immense Scriptural reality, and intense Scriptural warning.

For WP, the non-elect, when subjected to "common" operations of the Spirit in the Christian context may profess faith, seem to be seriously converted, become ministers of the Word, endure for a while, perhaps a long while, and then apostatize incurably, and end up in damnable heresy or disobedience.  The consequence of this teaching was an immense emphasis in "Puritanism" on self-examination, whereby a professing Christian could -- God willing -- discern his own case, whether or not he was truly converted, and, if not, "close with Christ" in a saving manner.  The result of this doctrinal approach was various, as can be seen in various Puritan writers, some of whom (Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth) are more "gracious and pastoral" toward their readers or hearers, and some (Alleine, Alarm to the Unconverted) are more harsh.  In any case, the effect of this doctrinal approach was to spread doubt among everyone (including the elect!).  Coupled with this was the belief that there were no grounds for assurance that one was in the faith, except those grounds within oneself, which were placed there by the Spirit -- that is, visible elements of sanctification.  Now, visibility of the Lord's Work within ourselves is valuable, says Calvin, but, contrary to these Puritans, Calvin would place this source of assurance last in order, faith alone being first, in accordance with Luther's teaching.  But, by early Puritan time (and Westminster time 100 years later) this item given last in importance by Calvin has become first in importance.  Therefore, the Puritans commonly questioned everyone's conversion, this being thought to be the safest for all.  Here, also, is the sore point for many who advocate some form of the FV.

Part of the approach of the FV, as I see it, is to deal the with question of apostasy just as much as William Perkins and his followers among the Puritans.  However, an antithetical affection characterizes the movement.  Rather than causing everyone to doubt, the approach is taken to bolster any potential spark of faith in all who profess faith in good behavior, and in their children.  In some way, this has the look and feel of Lutheranism, with which I'm extremely familiar.  If the approach is taken to bless all professions, believing that this approach to pastoral work and doctrine is more in line with Scripture teaching than that approach which spreads doubt, it is certainly conceivable that the teaching in these churches would seem to savor of "baptismal regeneration" (because every child is considered to be a Christian until he proves otherwise), "sacramental efficacy," etc., coupled, necessarily, with a doctrine of "apostasy," which may seem to teach that an actual Scriptural, doctrinal, true conversion can be lost.

Both the Puritan "doubters" and the FV "blessers" of professions of faith are attempting to deal with the Scriptural and experiential fact of real apostasy.  (I do not say that this is the only driving force for both parties.)  This observation, in my opinion, exposes a weakness within the kind of orthodox, American, Reformed evangelicalism which might oppose both FV and the WP tactics:  There is no serious handling of the doctrine of apostasy.

Let's not drop the ball on an opportunity for further reformation!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meeting Christ in the Apostolic Word

 1 What was (1)from the beginning, what we have (2)heard, what we have (3)seen with our eyes, what we (4)have looked at and (5)touched with our hands, concerning the (6)Word of Life— 2 and (7)the life was manifested, and we have (8)seen and (9)testify and proclaim to you (10)the eternal life, which was (11)with the Father and was (12)manifested to us— 3 what we have (13)seen and (14)heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our (15)fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 (16)These things we write, so that our (17)joy may be made complete. 

(1) John 1:1f; 1 John 2:13, 14
(2) Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:3
(3) John 19:35; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 1:2
(4) John 1:14; 1 John 4:14
(5) Luke 24:39; John 20:27
(6) John 1:1, 4
(7) John 1:4; 1 John 3:5, 8; 5:20
(8) John 19:35; 1 John 1:1
(9) John 15:27; 1 John 4:14
(10) John 10:28; 17:3; 1 John 2:25; 5:11, 13, 20
(11) John 1:1
(12) John 1:4; 1 John 3:5, 8; 5:20
(13) John 19:35; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 1:1
(14) Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:1
(15) John 17:3, 21; 1 Cor 1:9
(16) 1 John 2:1
(17) John 3:29

      An amazing point of the teaching in this paragraph of I John is that the personal familiarity, to the point of tangible, tactile fellowship with the God/Man, the Creator of the Universe, was not only had by those apostles, and could be described by them to us, but that it is also a fellowship that can be spiritually communicated to us by the Word of those Apostles!

      We are accustomed to hearing the Word as the Word of truth.  We also know that this Word, in its truth, is spiritually perceived.  But, do we always understand that the communication that is instituted through spiritual perception of this Word mediates the Real Presence of Christ to our souls?

      This ought to give us a hint why the forces of evil always work in our lives to draw our attention away from this Word.

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      Luther on God's Glory, Justification, and the Covenent of Works

      I providentially opened one of my books, The Theology of Martin Luther, by Paul Althaus, a “standard” work often referenced by others, to the midst of Chapter 10, “God is God,” and found the following material.
      Here are some excerpts, with my comments. Remember that Althaus is a secondary source. All his comments and quotations need to be verified from the readings of Luther that he notices in his footnotes.
      Beginning of Quotes from Althaus
      The quotes, in alternate typeface, also contain quotes from Luther in quotation marks.
      The Creator Works All in All [p 105]
      For Luther, being God and creating are identical.  God is God because he and only he creates.
      God creates and preserves everything. Nothing is and nothing continues to be without his activity.  “All things must be God’s, since nothing can be or become, if he would not bring it into existence; and when he stops, nothing can continue to exist.”  [p 105]
      This living omnipresent working of God is the mystery of all reality.  God who causes all things is also the only causal agent.  For the agent who really works in all things is God, and not the personal and impersonal powers of the world which we think of as causes.  God is the first or principal cause; all others are only secondary or instrumental causes.”  [p 107]
      The knowledge that God and God alone works everything has immediate significance for faith.  The unchangeableness and the constancy of God’s purpose as well as the trustworthiness of his promises (and threats) depends on his being alone the one who works all in all.  Since he determines everything with his almighty working, I know that nothing and nobody can resist his will, change his mind, or restrict his activity.  There is therefore no doubt that God is able to achieve the eternal purposes of his love as they are made known to me in his promises. [p 110]
      This inescapable living presence of God in all that exists is either the most blessed or the most terrible reality for a man, depending on what he knows God’s relationship to himself to be. It is never neutral but is always either saving or damning.  We are here confronted with the twofold character of God’s dealing with men in the law and the gospel.  The man who has peace with God through believing the gospel can be confident in the midst of the most terrible reality; for God is present even in such a situation and holds it in his omnipotent hand – whether it be death, hell, or hostile earthly powers. … We should therefore fear and trust only in God and most certainly believe that nothing can destroy us; for God is Lord of all the powers that threaten us.  We are in his gracious hand, no matter what happens.  This is the believer’s royal freedom and joy. Ultimately, he is always dealing with God himself and not with the creature: and he knows how he stands with God. [p 111]
      Giving Love [p 115]
      Viewed in relationship to men, God’s creative activity is pure giving and helping.  He thus demonstrates not only his divine ability but also that he is goodness and love, constantly engaged in giving.  Whoever wishes to describe God as God, in terms of his “nature,” cannot speak of him merely as the only and constant creator, but must also speak of him as love.  God in the depths of his being is nothing else than love; and love is divine, for it is God himself.  “It is God’s nature to do only ‘good.’”  This is his glory: not receiving, but constantly giving, freely without hope of gratitude, independently of man’s attitude toward him, that is, in a completely different way than natural men do good. Thus God’s goodness is “genuinely natural goodness.” It “gladly loses its good deed on the unthankful.”  [p 115]
      … In addition to all these temporal gifts God gives men eternal goods, his Son, and therewith himself.  “He has poured out upon us both temporal and eternal goods and with them his own being; and he has poured himself out with everything he is and does for us who were sinners, undeserving enemies, and servants of the devil.  He can neither do any more than this for us nor give us anything else.”  Thus Christ and the fact that he is “for us” is the greatest gift of God’s love.  In this gift, God gives himself.  [p 116]

      Justification Means that God is God [p 118]
      At this point two elements of God’s creative activity are to be emphasized.  First, creating means creating out of nothing. … For Luther this is more than an assertion about the origin of the world. It is an all-inclusive characteristic of God’s creating and working. As such, it manifests itself also in the way in which God works men’s salvation.  In this too God creates everything out of nothing.  He takes the man who is nothing before Him and clothes him with the worth of the righteous man. [p 119]
      As a second characteristic of God’s creative activity, Luther emphasizes that God makes what he makes under the veil or form of its opposite, and therefore also out of its opposite.  He creates life under the form of death, yes, by way of death.  When he intends to exalt a man, he first humbles him.  When he intends to give his gifts to us, he first of all destroys us and what we have and thereby creates room for his gift. … “You exalt us when you humble us. You make us righteous when you make us sinners.  You lead us to heaven when you cast us into hell. You grant us the victory when you cause us to be defeated.  You give us life, when you permit us to be killed.” … Thereby God demonstrates that he is God and shows the majesty of his creating activity which cannot be compared with any human work.  [p 119]
      Luther’s doctrine of justification must be viewed in the context of these characteristics of God’s creativity. … [p 120]
      Why is a man not righteous before God through his “works,” that is, through fulfilling the law of God?  The first answer to that question is certainly this: because no individual from the beginning of the world to its end, and not even a Christian, perfectly fulfills God’s law.  Man’s obedience is always imperfect and blemish.[1]
      But this is not Luther’s complete and final answer, as is evident from a whole series of statements, many of which derive from the years 1531 to 1533.[2] … Even though a man had fulfilled the basic commandments of the law by fulfilling the double commandment of love, he still would not thereby be righteous before God. For God simply does not recognize the fulfilling of the law as the way to righteousness.[3]  Whether a man attempts to fulfill God’s law with his own powers or whether he achieves the righteousness of the law with the aid of God’s power is not of decisive significance.  Luther expresses this even more sharply than he did in the Galatians commentary in a conversational comment made about the same time in the fall of 1531.  Here he comes to terms with Augustine’s opinion that although man’s attempt to fulfill the law with his own natural powers would not lead to justification, fulfilling the law with the help of the Holy Spirit would.  Luther explains that what is at issue is really the validity of this latter righteousness.  Luther denies its validity. “If a man were completely and absolutely to fulfill the law through the power of the Holy Spirit, he would still have to appeal for God’s mercy; for God has determined that he will save men through Christ and not through the law.”  Whatever significance the law continues to have, it is not intended to be used as a means to justification and salvation.  This means that God wills that under no circumstances is the relationship between himself and men to be determined by the law but solely and absolutely by his free grace received through faith.  Man is not only unable to gain merit before God in fact, but he is also unable to do so in principle.  In every case, he is dependent on God’s unspeakable mercy for his salvation.
      Any doctrine of grace or of the Holy Spirit therefore which sees the meaning of the grace of the Holy Spirit in the fact that it creates a supernatural capability of fulfilling the law and thus of earning merit completely misses the meaning of God’s will. For this doctrine of grace still turns man’s attention to the value of his works and ethical achievement, even though these things are carried out with the help of grace.  The fact that there is justification only through Christ, that is, freely and through faith alone, is true independently of the fact that sinful man cannot fulfill the law.  It is therefore also valid for someone who might be able to fulfill it with supernatural powers of grace, that is, for the Christian.  Fulfilling the law avails as little for justification before God as the failure to fulfill it.  God simply does not wish to deal with men in this way [underline mine, Boyd].
      This will of God is rooted in his very nature and in the primal relationship which, as God, he bears to men.  God’s very deity consists in the fact that he is the creator and giver.  The desire to bring “works” as achievements before God is the equivalent of a lie that dishonors God as the giver and creator. …… Whenever man seeks to live before God on some basis other than forgiveness, no true fear of God remains.  God, however, says “I will remain God; I will be loved, honored, and feared!”  And so that he may both remain God and be feared, he forgives man and orders him to live solely by this forgiveness.  For this is what it means to fear God as God: to recognize him as the one who both gives us and wants to give us everything for nothing and who desires nothing else from us than that we allow him to do this giving.  Whoever will not accept the gifts of God’s free grace for nothing takes away the glory of God’s being God.
      Luther’s criticism of moralism is therefore characterized by its theocentricity.  Its standard is the fact that God is really God.  Moralism is regarded as idolatry and blasphemy.  “Works righteousness is actually and essentially idolatry.” … Moralism and true fear of God thus exclude each other.  “Desire for the righteousness of the law, and having a God, cannot possibly be combined.  There is a greater contradiction between fearing or honoring God and wanting to be righteous according to the law than there is between fire and water or between Satan and God.”
      As moralism is idolatry, so faith in God’s promise in Jesus Christ is the true worship of God.  Faith is the proper way of relating to God, not simply in the present because man necessarily breaks down along the way of works, but from the very beginning, because of what God is. … We are to believe not only because nothing else remains for sinners but because God is God and man cannot honor him as God in any other way than by believing – because faith is the fulfillment of the First Commandment.[4]  Faith is the only attitude of man which corresponds to God’s nature, God’s deity.  God’s true godliness consists in the fact that he is the creator and that he creates out of nothing and even out of its opposite.[5]  Faith corresponds exactly to this.  Faith expects something from God where nothing can be seen; it waits expectantly against all appearance.
      End of Quotations from Althaus
      It’s clear that Althaus portrays Luther as having a different doctrine of God and doctrine of Salvation than what we are used to hearing. That is, a doctrine much less “legal” than what we are used to hearing, even in our own evangelical circles. By the way, this, in no way, makes Luther less an advocate of substitutionary atonement (to meet the demands of God’s Law). It is not as if God’s Law doesn’t exist because of God’s Grace, but rather that Free Grace is not a mere instrument to restore the hegemony of the Law, and thus a relationship to God partly based in our own “legality.”  Rather, the Law is the instrument to bring death, against the background of which the grace of Christ brings a whole new life.
      I believe that all this is worth investigation in the original Luther materials. The strange thing is that when I familiarize myself with the Lutheran views on things, I begin to see these things in Calvin, too, in a way that most Calvin commentators don’t.

      [1] I fully recognize here that Luther taught that Adam was created very good (not a sinner at all), and therefore don’t know what to make of Althaus’ allegation about Luther’s teaching, as it would apply to Adam. Perhaps the secondary source (Althaus, a man of the modern era) has unwittingly imported his own idea here, concerning the historicity of the Fall.
      [2] This was when Luther was giving his Galatians lecture.
      [3] Though Althaus is not discussing Luther’s doctrine of Eden and the Fall, if his allegation of Luther’s doctrine is correct (one should check his references to Luther’s works), then Luther would be no fan of the “Covenant of Works.”
      [4] It was quite noticeable in the early part of Book 3 of Calvin’s Institutes that unbelief was clearly the prototypical sin for Calvin – the “original” sin.  You will see other commentators on Calvin say that Calvin thought pride was the original sin (the traditional view, and about the only other orthodox choice), but it seemed clear to me that Calvin (at least in the part we covered) clearly implied that unfaith was the original sin.
      [5] I.e., from sinners creates saints.

      Saturday, September 3, 2011

      The "Rule of Faith"

      In the early church, at the time of the Apostles, the Scripture was what we now call the "Old Testament."  The New Testament teaching was embodied in the oral teaching of the apostles and their representatives (people like Timothy or Titus).  As circumstances required, letters, histories, and gospels were written by the apostles or their representatives (such as Mark and Luke).  These writings, some of which only went to certain church assemblies at first, spread through the church in process of time, and were regarded as inspired, just like the Old Testament.  As the apostles passed from the scene, their immediate heirs taught the church through a combination of the memory of the oral teaching of the apostles and the written works by the apostles or their representatives.  In time, the written record of the Old and New Testaments became the repository of truth for the whole church.

      In the early period, before the fading of the direct, personal witness of the apostles, the memory of the nature of the apostolic teaching came to be called the "Rule of Faith."  The Rule of Faith, with slight variations in each region of the Roman Empire, guided the interpretation of the (Old Testament) Scripture, and set the standard for the New Testament teaching, even in those churches which at that time did not yet possess the entire New Testament. 

      Several consequences flow from the nature of this historical process:

      1)  We ought to be curious about the "Rule of Faith" in the early, post-apostolic church.  Though their deeper intellectual understanding of theology required considerable time for full development, their use and interpretation of the apostolically authorized writings and and their memory of the oral apostolic teaching is of value to us.

      2)  Regarding the development of Christian "denominations" we see a similar phenomenon.  Each denomination has a "Rule of Faith," which is supposedly derived accurately from Scripture by the founders, which then guides further interpretation of Scripture, often for generations.  When persons are "catechized" (even if it's not called that), they are taught the denominational Rule of Faith by which they afterward then interpret the Scripture.  As a starting point, this is not wrong, because it is wrong to teach people to approach the Bible from "square one," as if they do not need the fellowship of their brothers in Christ or any preexisting system to interpret it.

      Sadly, in many cases, the Rule of Faith is taught by non-contextual proof-texting from Scripture, so that those being taught are not aware of the existence of any Rule of Faith, though an unacknowledged Rule is nevertheless being used to  govern their understanding of Scripture.  The Scripture and their Rule cannot be distinguished, because the unacknowledged Rule by which they are being taught appears in their own eyes to be Scripture.

      It seems to me that several consequences follow from the phenomenon of the "Rule of Faith."

      A)  The learned in any denomination of Christian believers have a duty to discern what their own transcendent Rule of Faith really is, and to always be prepared to test their Rule against Scripture.

      B)  This process is beset by two dangers:  1)  Questioning the Rule of Faith may be regarded as dangerous and unorthodox among strongly confessional churches, because it threatens changes in the Confession of Faith.  These churches may put the Confession (Rule of Faith) above the Bible.  2)  Questioning the Rule of Faith, as is done in more liberal churches, may become quite the fad (especially in an academic context), with the result that the historic faith and the truth of Scripture is dissipated with human philosophy and doubts.  As a consequence of these two temptations those who critically question Rules of Faith and compare them to Scripture must walk a fine line.

      I suggest (these suggestions are not all mine):

      A)  Rather than abandoning all Rules of Faith, and attempting to start over from the Bible ("reinventing the wheel"), one should start by discerning one's own Rule of Faith, which must be studied and compared with other versions of the Rule of Faith in other denominations, including that Rule of the early church.  As it is claimed in the Reformed branch: "We must always be Reforming." 

      B)  Hopefully, through concerted study on the part of all fellowships and denominations, a Scripturally based convergence may ensue over centuries, leading to increase of fellowship.  After all, there is only one church.

      As a consequence of these thoughts, we see that we must study how to interpret the Bible.  This is called "hermeneutics."  Presuppositions set in place at seminary may "program" future Bible teachers to interpret the Bible a certain way.  But, any such presuppositions always need to be uncovered, investigated, and critiqued believingly.

      Sunday, August 21, 2011

      Covenants and Eschatology

      The Covenants of Works and Grace, taken individually, illustrate the question discussed in previous posts, whether grace came to support the establishment of justice, or whether justice came to support the establishment of grace.  I have provisionally identified much later, "orthodox" Reformed Theology as tending to be based in the former (grace comes to establish justice), and the earlier "orthodox" Reformed Theology (Calvin) as tending to be based in the latter (justice comes to support the establishment of grace and mercy).

      When grace comes to establish justice, then the Covenant of Works is the lead covenant, and the Covenant of Grace comes to repair the Fall by the work of Christ, and then, by grace, to make possible the fruition of the Covenant of Works established at the Creation.  On the other hand, when justice comes to support the establishment of grace and mercy, then the Covenant of Grace is the primary covenant, and the Covenant of Works is instrumental in establishing the reign of grace, in a just manner.  In this case, eschatology is taken up with the eternally planned fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace, not the Covenant of Works.  And, since the Covenant of Grace has eternally been based in the work of Christ, the fruition of this Covenant cannot be the Covenant of Works established with Adam, but can only be the fruition of the Covenant of Grace established and administered through Christ.  This means that the fruition is not something that takes place in this age, but takes place in the age of resurrection.

      Now those who believe that fruition comes through the Covenant of Works believe in the resurrection also, and in the eternal state resulting from it.  But, the main outworking of the Covenant is the outworking of that covenant that was intended to be carried unto fruition in Adam and his offspring, which is a covenant that is carried out under the auspices of the present age.  The fruition of the Covenant of Grace, being a covenant of union with the resurrected Christ, is a covenant which reaches its fruition in the age to come, not the present age.

      This is a major difference in eschatology, with, in my opinion, major differences in its effect on practical ecclesiology.  Do we see ourselves primarily as engaged in carrying out a vision which conquers the present age?  Or, do we see ourselves primarily as engaged in carrying out a vision which conquers through resurrection at the return of Christ for judgment and rewards?

      One would be hard-pressed to make the New Testament, which is the eschatological hermeneutic for all Scripture, say anything but the latter!

      Friday, August 19, 2011

      Righteous by Forgiveness

      When I was in the Plymouth Brethren, one of my fellow church-members said to me that Adam was created "neither good nor evil."  This conclusion was reached because in the text of Genesis, God says that Adam, in his Fall, will become like God, "knowing good and evil."  The implication is that Adam, as created, did not "know good and evil."

      This friend's sentiment bothered me a great deal, because it was always my conclusion from the Scripture text that Adam was created good, which implied a created righteousness.  If he were not good (righteous in some sense), then how could he fall?  What would the Fall mean?

      I believe that I've now come to realize the source of the sentiment expressed by my friend.  I think it is embedded within the later history of Reformed Theology, with the development of the doctrine of the Covenant of Works.

      Before getting into this, however, let me explain concepts about the relationship between righteousness and sin.  There are two paradigms:

      1)  Righteousness is a positive good, and sin is a negative evil.  One can have ones sins cancelled, but this leaves him with no positive good.  Something else must happen to create the positive good.  To use a physical analogy, good and evil are separate substances, each handled differently, though they do affect one another.  One can eliminate the evil, but this does not create the good.  Or,

      2)  Righteousness is the absence of sin.  To have a sin forgiven is to be put in the position of never having done it.  If that sin is the omission of an act of righteousness, then forgiveness makes it exactly as if that act of righteousness were done.  Therefore, forgiving all a person's sins is exactly the same as reckoning that person to be entirely righteous!  All the positive evil is reckoned as if never done.  All the failed good works are reckoned as if they were done.  The process by which this is done is identically the same in both cases.  The forgiveness of sin is the reckoning of righteousness.  They cannot be separated.

      I believe it to be the case that the two paradigms shown above imply major differences in the resulting theologies of salvation.

      Now back to Reformed Theology.

      It is commonly said that Adam and his elect offspring need both the de-imputation of their sins (forgiveness), and the imputation of righteousness from God.  Simply by its mode of expression, this is based in paradigm #1 above.  The need for forgiveness and the need for righteousness are regarded as separate issues.  These are commonly tied to the passive and active obedience of Christ.  In the passive obedience (the endurance of punishment) Christ bore the punishment of our sin and exhausted that punishment.  Therefore, the liability is removed and the sins are canceled.  Furthermore, the active obedience of his life is a righteousness that is put to our account.  This is a separate issue.  But, in any case, having both forgiveness and a positive righteousness, we have full acceptance before God.

      Note, however, according to paradigm #1, Adam, put in the Garden at the beginning of his trial of perseverance, had no sin, but this did not mean that he was as fully developed in righteousness as God required for eternal life (Westminster Confession).  Adam obeys the Covenant of Works by persevering in it.  Similarly, in the analogy between Adam and Christ, this would imply that Christ needs to develop his righteousness, because in his human nature even he would be sinless but without developed righteousness at his human birth.  Therefore, in order to carry out the job that Adam failed at, Christ would need to fully create his active righteousness, and that, first, for himself.  Without this, it could not be imputed to our account.

      But, contrarily, we are faced with Calvin's (and Augustine's) conviction that Christ in his human nature was entirely and completely righteous from the first instant of his human conception.  This is based in paradigm #2 above.  Reasoning back to Adam, this would imply that Adam was originally righteous, too.  But, if Adam is originally righteous, in the same way as Christ conceived as a man is originally righteous, then the process of perseverance in the state in which each was made does not create the righteousness that each already has by creation or conception.  Perseverance illustrates and confirms the righteousness, but does not create it.  This view of the relationship between righteousness and sin shows that each is the obverse of the other.  Adam, newly created, and Jesus, newly conceived, are each righteous, though they have done nothing.  In other words, sinlessness equals righteousness.  The absence of sins exactly is the presence of righteousness.  The forgiveness of sins which we receive through Christ exactly is the imputation of righteousness.  The imputation of righteousness is therefore not a separate imputation.  There is no distinction between the de-imputation of sins and the imputation of righteousness.  They are the same thing.

      Following out the argument, then, there would be no distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ.  His life and his death, but principally his death, all have the same effect upon us, taken together.  There are not two separate and independent imputations.  He was made sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.  But the "dual imputation," or two-way imputation is not an imputation of sins separately from an imputation of righteousness.  In the dual imputation, our sins going to Christ and his righteousness coming to us is not merely simultaneous, but two sides of the same coin.

      This is why Calvin says somewhere that justfication by faith alone (ie, the imputation of righteousness to us) is defined as the cancellation of our sins.  That is, by cancellation of our sins we are righteous.  Or, he says in another place, that Christ by his righteousness (which he had from conception) caused the cancellation of our sins.  Or, that Christ's "merit" is that he created the Christian life in us.  Calvin vehemently denies that Christ's righteousness was obtained for himself first (as the Covenant of Works requires).  All that Christ did was not at all for himself, but all for us.

      This needs a lot of thought.  The proper definition and explanation of the Covenants of Works and Grace, the definition of the purpose of the Creation, the real doctrine of Sanctification, and the real focus of Eschatology are all knotted together here.

      I think it likely to be the case that the two paradigms of the relationship between sin and righteousness imply different theologies in all these realms.

      Thursday, August 18, 2011

      Covenant of Works; Covenant of Grace

      This post must be read in light of the previous post:

      It being true that Calvin and others see mercy as the reigning motivation within the Godhead vis-a-vis the salvation of sinners, it is now important to understand how this impacts the doctrine of the Covenants of Works and Grace.

      If mercy justly triumphs over curse, in principle, then it would seem to be illogical to make the Covenant of Works the reigning paradigm.  Making the Covenant of Works the reigning paradigm is to make justice preeminent over mercy.  Mercy would be a side-effect of justice, rather than justice being the means of mercy.

      We understand, of course, that both justice and mercy are satisfied, when all aspects of Christ's atonement are considered.  He was given, when he did not have to be given.  He was given in mercy to sinners.  And, the reigning motivation of mercy is also just, by this atonement.  However, the function of justice is to support the ministry of grace.  Therefore, we should not "turn over" the relationship of these factors, such that justice becomes the reigning aspect, rather than mercy.

      So, the question then becomes how we can see the Covenant of Works being subordinate to the Covenant of Grace.  It's worth noting, from the history of our Reformed theology, that:

      1)  The Covenant of Redemption, if there was one, is clearly on the side of the preeminence of the Covenant of Grace.  If there hadn't been a need for grace, then why would anyone think about any Covenant of Redemption.

      2)  The Covenant of Works was the specification of a type of relationship between God and Adam which made no provision for sin, other than death.  And, yet that Covenant of Works, from which Adam fell by his own will, according to the ordination of God, is embedded within the history governed by the Covenant of Grace.

      3)  When Adam fell, he "fell into" the Covenant of Grace, already prepared, containing the promise of the Christ to come.

      4)  The Covenant of Grace is Plan A.  Putting the Covenant of Works in charge of history, and interpreting the Covenant of Grace as a side-effect of the full expression of the Covenant of Works makes the Covenant of Works Plan A, and redemption a side-effect, that is, Plan B.

      Wednesday, August 17, 2011

      Grace and Mercy, vs. Justice

      The opponents of penal substitutionary atonement always complain that this view of the atonement makes the principles of the Christian life be based on justice rather than mercy.  The grace of Christ showered upon us isn't grace, because it has been paid for by the atonement.  It was earned.  It is not mercy.  Therefore, they allege, mercy simply disappears.  The notion of God's pure mercy evaporates from Christianity.

      We might laugh at the distortion implicit in this threat, but Calvin and others took it seriously.  Calvin goes over this several times in the Institutes, because this serious threat was issued by the Socinians (Arians, non-Trinitarians) of his day, some of whom he knew personally, because they had passed through Geneva.

      Calvin resolved the issue in his own teaching by definitely placing Grace and Mercy above Justice (Institutes, Book II, Chapter 17).  He does not deny justice.  But the satisfaction of justice is subordinate to the manifestation of God's grace and mercy.  This is clearly seen in the main "proof text" for this view, John 3:16.  God sent his only Son to perform the sacrificial death because he, God, loved the world of sinners.  It is does not say that God loved what his Son's work would make of those sinners, though, of course, he did.  The verse says that God loved the world as it was, and therefore, because of his love to a fallen world, out of a desire to show mercy, sent his Son to pay the penalty for their sin.

      The fact that mercy is the reigning paradigm in the mind of God should affect quite a few things in our own religion and theology.  For one thing, we must be people of mercy expressed to the unworthy, knowing that the legal issues have been settled by the death of Christ.  This is freeing, because the efforts to express mercy to the unworthy can be quenched by legal scruples.

      Another application of the primacy of mercy has to do with our understanding and presentation of the gospel.  We are accustomed to presenting the death of Christ and the gospel in legal terms, as satisfaction for sin, which it is.  But, the divine reason for providing the satisfaction is so that mercy may have free course.  Somehow this should change the way we present the gospel.  Christ died for our sins, because by this means God could show us the mercy he desired to give us.  I think this makes a difference!

      In the witness to the world, the divine mercy should be "on top."

      This post is continued here:

      Sunday, August 14, 2011

      Incarnation: A Catechism of Awe

      We must not forget that, according to our orthodox understanding, the Person of the Incarnate Savior is the self-same divine Second Person of the Trinity who has always existed forever and ever, and who took on flesh for our salvation.

      When Jesus Christ was on earth, one never conversed with a "Mr. Jesus" who was at times only vaguely conscious of his divine mission.  One only conversed with the divine Second Person, God himself.

      He is that Person through whom the world was made;
      He is that Person who took on flesh and was conceived in the womb of Mary;
      He is that Person who was born in the stable;
      He is that Person who grew up as a child;
      He is the "Lamb of God" pointed out by John the Baptist;
      He is that Person who was tempted just as we are, yet without sin;
      He is that Person who hungered and thirsted;
      He is that Person who raised the dead;
      He is that Person who is the heir of David the King;
      He is that Person who died for our sins and was raised again;
      He is the Second Man;
      He is that Person who sits at the right hand of God;
      He is that Person who says,
              "He who has seen me has seen the Father";
      He is that Person who is the Word of Life;

      To trust in Him means eternal life.

      Saturday, August 13, 2011

      Church Planting

      The following post is a compendium of personal ideas about church planting that have seemed to come together in my mind over decades.

      These are just my views, but they are based on real life experiences of at least 3 large, successful church plants, plus several small ones, some of which have failed and some of which have succeeded, plus the fruit of observations and conclusions drawn as to why churches often cannot bring themselves to plant.

      Here are my views:

      1)  Churches (congregations) do not routinely plant churches.

      I think this rule holds true among both the independents and in the denominations.  It is not only a truism, but perhaps is the way things ought to be, as I will explain below.  Church planting is better done in other ways than as a routine policy of individual congregations.

      It's true that plenty of counterexamples to observation 1) could be provided.  However, I suspect that congregations that are successful, repeat planters of other congregations have special properties about them which are not typical of the usual congregation, and perhaps should not be typical.  I'm not saying by this that churches should never try to plant churches.  I'm just saying that as a rule this is not the way things work. 

      I think the basic reason for churches not being able to plant churches is that individual congregations are usually strapped for support, considering all that they need to do in their own ministries.  They are therefore substantially unwilling to part with either their money or their staff time or any of their members, which is what it will take to start another church.  So, attempts which are made to start other churches as a matter of policy often fail, because the "pull" is toward the center and not out toward the periphery.

      Even if the alleged "selfishness" of individual congregations were overcome, such that planting could occur as a matter of policy, one has to ask whether an individual congregation ought to truly do more along these lines, or whether first precedence ought to go toward properly maintaining the local ministries to which it is known that the Lord has already called them.

      2)  New congregations are planted by individuals, or by interested bodies, at the call of the Spirit, and not by the routine policy actions of existing congregations.

      a)  An "interested body" can be a significant portion of one congregation which wants to split off from an existing church and form a new one.  Or, it could be a body in a more remote location that wishes to "clone" another church which is looked upon as a model or ideal.  In all cases, this is an exceptional process and not a typical situation.  Such "splants" (split+plant) are often done in bitterness, though in my experience of certain real "splants" of decades past, this is actually a great way for a single congregation to plant a new church, if done willingly!  There is high motivation to succeed among the "splanters," and if this is accompanied by the willing support of the originating church, it can and has resulted in successful and friendly plants of new congregations.  This requires submission to the sovereignty of God.

      b)  Another way in which new congregations can be planted is by intentional action of denominational policy through the organs of the "regional church."  The fellowship or presbytery can make its own plans using its own resources and personnel (including church planters) to start new works.  This approach demands sufficient resources (and authority) at the level of the regional church.  Not all regional church governments have the authority or resources (or motivation) to make this happen.  This can partly be due to the relative independence of the congregations that form a part of the regional church, a thing often seen among the newer presbyterian denominations which suffered bitterly in the old days from presbyterial authority that was too strong.

      In any case, it is not possible for anyone to "plant a church" anywhere without a call from the Spirit.  There is no way that simple "authority" can make it happen.

      c)  The model illustrated by the "Apostle Paul Evangelistic Association."  This kind of individual work needs supervision, since none of us is that kind of apostle any more, and therefore this approach fits pretty much under part b) above.  The reason for mentioning this at all is that Paul's procedure is so plainly written in the New Testament.  Though the churches Paul founded supplied money and some personnel to support his evangelistic efforts by their direct involvement, what he did does not illustrate church planting by the intentional efforts of local congregations to routinely plant new ones.  I would suggest that in the unwritten history of the New Testament age, that individuals who were called by the Spirit emulated the Apostle (but under the control of the churches, and not individualistically.)

      These ideas are only a small part of the picture.  However, I think that thinking this through can help avoid the guilt feelings or sense of failure that can occur in churches when planting of new congregations seems inordinately difficult or delayed.  Perhaps the wrong tactics or strategy is being followed.  Therefore, I think that a Scriptural and realistic "political science" has its place in understanding how to succeed.

      We must discern the practical Scriptural reasons for planting churches.  I think that "we ought to, as a church" is overplayed in today's active church-planting climate.  As I illustrated in point 2) above, interested individuals (under authority), and interested bodies who wish to move out, are a more typical source of new plants.  These are probably more reflective of the call of the Spirit, rather than individual congregations just feeling a burden to "do something."

      It would help a lot to understand the historic and Scriptural ways that churches have been planted, to culturally "translate" those ways and means into today's conditions, and then to place the responsibility for church planting upon the shoulders of individuals, authorities and institutions that we believe are really tasked by the Spirit to do it.

      Sunday, August 7, 2011

      Scripture vs. Theology

      It's an old argument -- the Bible vs. "theology."

      After 50 years of personal Christianity, a good deal of that time to the present spent reading theology and church history, I find that the "Bible vs. theology" issue is still very much alive.  And, I'm not talking about arguments with folks who are against "theology."  I'm talking about how Protestant theology, supposedly based in Scripture, can run amok on its own trajectory, regardless of what the Scripture plainly teaches.

      Just to give concrete context, I've lately been reading some of the arguments about "neo-Calvinism."  But, regardless of the issue of neo-Calvinism, it's clear to me that the broad spectrum of theology in the Reformed "camp" contains many strains, from "neo-Calvinism" to "pietism," which definitely have a life of their own apart from the well-balanced interpretation of Scripture.

      We have to see that our difficulty sticking with the Scripture is part and parcel of the spiritual warfare.  In that war, submission to God's Word is not optional.  Therefore, we must pay attention to the study of the Scripture, the history of the interpretation of Scripture (there has been 2000 years of it, since Christ), and, as a consequence of all this, we must understand the theology of Scripture.  We must give divine wisdom and instruction precedence over the Word of Man that passes for "theology" in our circles every day.

      Wednesday, August 3, 2011

      Covenant of Works Runs Amok!

      I'm studying Herman Bavinck, preparing to teach a little class about the Covenant of Grace.  In process of writing his chapter on the Covenant of Grace, Bavinck(*) begins to wax eloquent about the significance of the Covenant of Works.  Before it's all over he falls into a common Reformed trap of making works, obedience, demands, laws and justice the primary theme of salvation history, rather than making the grace of the Triune God be that theme.  He doesn't mean to be "legalistic," and I do heartily recommend Bavinck's work, but we must always be careful.  In particular, we cannot do without Calvin.  I will quote from them both.  [my highlights and underlines; funny symbols in parentheses are "footnotes"]

      Calvin(#) :

      Christ [is] Rightly and properly Said to Have Merited God's Grace and Salvation for Us
      By way of addition this question also should be explained.  There are certain perversely subtle men who -- even though they confess that we receive salvation through Christ -- cannot bear to hear the word "merit," for they think that it obscures God's grace.  Hence, they would have Christ as a mere instrument or minister, not as the Author or leader and prince of life, as Peter calls him [Acts 3:15].  Indeed, I admit, if anyone would simply set Christ by himself over against God's judgment, there will be no place for merit.  For no worthiness will be found in man to deserve God's favor.  Indeed, as Augustine very truly writes: "The clearest light of predestination and grace is the Man Christ Jesus, the Savior, who brought this to pass by the human nature that was in him, through no preceding merits of works or of faith.  Answer me, I beg of you, whence did that man deserve to be the only-begotten Son of God, and to be assumed into unity of person by the Word co-eternal with the Father?  We must therefore recognize our Head as the very foundation of grace -- a grace that is diffused from him through all his members according to the measure of each.  Everyone is made a Christian from the beginning of his faith by the same grace whereby that Man from his beginning became the Christ."  Likewise, in another passage: "There is no more illustrious example of predestination than the Mediator himself.  For he who made righteous this man of the seed of David, never to be unrighteous, without any merit of his will preceding, of unrighteous makes righteous those who are members of that Head," etc.
      In this passage Calvin clearly teaches (in his and Augustine's opinion) that Christ was instantaneously perfect from the instant of the Incarnation.  There is nothing here about his having to obey a Covenant of Works in order to achieve active righteousness, so that he would be able to give the same to his saints.  Is Christ tempted and tested?  Of course.  Does he need to persevere in his human nature?  Absolutely.  Does he learn obedience through suffering?  Yes, yes.  But, is he "acquiring" active obedience which he otherwise did not have from the moment of the Incarnation?  Absolutely not.  The grace of the Incarnation, the grace inherent in the God-man, and which he gives to us, was perfect from the first instant of the existence of his human nature.  It is by this grace, and being crammed full of this grace, that he blots out our transgressions by his obedience (not by "acquiring merit" through his obedience, to put to our account).

      The main point I'm making here, however, is not to argue principally about the covenant of works.  It is to argue that Bavinck, compared to Calvin, legalizes the grace of God in some of his concepts and language, in a way shared by many Reformed of his era.

      Calvin goes on:

      Hence it is absurd to set Christ's merit against God's mercy.  For it is a common rule that a thing subordinate to another is not in conflict with it($).  For this reason nothing hinders us from asserting that men are freely justified by God's mercy alone, and at the same time that Christ's merit, subordinate to God's mercy, also intervenes on our behalf.  Both God's free favor and Christ's obedience, each in its degree, are fitly opposed to our works.  Apart from God's good pleasure Christ could not merit anything; but did so because he had been appointed to appease God's wrath with his sacrifice, and to blot out our transgressions with his obedience.  To sum up: inasmuch as Christ's merit depends upon God's grace alone, which has ordained this manner of salvation for us, it is just as properly opposed to all human righteousness as God's grace is.
      As a consequence, one sees that Calvin places God's grace "on top."  And, since there is a need for the sacrifice to meet the terms of justice, that is provided, too, but subordinately.  There is nothing here to interfere in any sense with the preeminence of grace.  Even the justice of God, which is met by the Mediatorial death on the Cross, is subordinate to the divine intention to display grace from all conceptual angles.


      ...  The doctrine of the covenant of grace first emerged for the purpose of maintaining the essential unity of the Old and the New Testaments.  In keeping with this, also the relation between God and humans before the fall was portrayed as a covenant, specifically a covenant of works.  Reflection on the similarity and difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace then led to the insight that the covenant of grace, insofar as it was made with Christ, was a covenant of works. ... 
      What Bavinck is saying here is that justice is "on top" in the picture of God's saving operations, not mercy.  Mercy is a secondary benefit for us.  Whereas Calvin brought in justice and the sacrifice of Christ as subordinate to God's mercy, Bavinck has described this saving transaction as entirely a matter of justice, with mercy as a side-effect (for us).  The fact that grace comes to us through Christ then becomes strange, in view of the fact that all the internal "mechanism" of salvation is presented in the covenant of works as a matter of obedience, works, law and justice.  But, if the legal side, and not the merciful side, is the preeminent thought, then in spite of all the assertions that there is mercy for us, things are going to ultimately turn around and become legal for us, too.  Bavinck does not personally intend this, but it still happens.

      There is a lot more of this in Bavinck than I can quote here.  But, this doesn't mean that Bavinck is an ungracious person.  The rationalistic and justicial passion has just captured him in this connection and he is running "amok" with it, along with most of his fellow 19th century Reformed theologians, I suppose. 


      ...  In Scripture there are only two covenants, two ways to heaven for human beings, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace.  The covenant of works is the way to heaven for the unfallen, the covenant of grace that for the fallen humans.  The covenant of works was made with humankind in Adam, the covenant of grace was made with humankind in Christ.  He, and he alone, is the substitutionary and representative head of humankind.  ...  Just as the Father had ordained the kingdom for him, so he ordains it for those who have been given to him.  He distributes the benefits he has acquired(@) as an inheritance. ... In both cases [the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace] it is the mystical Christ, Christ as the second Adam, who acts as the negotiating party (%). ... And, since (as is evident from 1 Cor 15:45ff) Adam was a type of Christ even before the fall, so the covenant of grace was prepared, not first by Noah and Abraham nor first by the covenant of grace with Adam, but already in and by the covenant of works.  God, who knows and determines all things and included also the breach of the covenant of works in his counsel when creating Adam and instituting the covenant of works, already counted on the Christ and his covenant of grace(&).
      The exhortation I leave you with is to begin to see and perceive whether squeezing soteriology through the mold of the Law, while making grace subordinate, truly comports with the tenor of the teaching of Scripture, or Reformation theology.  Isn't it rather the case that mercy and grace triumph, and that justice must be satisfied so that mercy and grace may triumph?

      For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

      The "giving" of the Son (for the satisfaction of justice) was motivated by love for the world, which is the preeminent motive in the mind of God.  As a consequence we are delivered from legalism in our Christian lives.

      (*) Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, v 3, ch 5, p 227-8 and elsewhere, Baker Edition.
      (#) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 2, ch 17, McNeil Edition.
      ($) Calvin is reconciling mercy and grace by subordinating one to the other instead of leaving them parallel with one another, which causes the conflict he describes.
      (@) He didn't have them by nature, because he had to earn them by obedience to the covenant of works.  Compare with Calvin and Augustine discussed previously.  There is both an anthropological and Christological distinction between these two views, and therefore the distinction between Calvin and Bavinck is likely not a minor matter, but may have ramifications as yet unsounded.
      (%) I.e., negotiating with God the Father.  Are "negotiations" required?
      (&) He means the "covenant of grace" towards us, but as far as Christ himself was concerned it was all covenant of works.

      Sunday, July 31, 2011

      The Capable Counselor

      The Capable Counselor is, of course, Our Lord Jesus.  But, one might ask, how can he be the sympathetic High Priest that he is, when he never knew sin?  Not being susceptible to temptation means not feeling the pull of sin like I do.  How can he sympathize with me, a sinner?

      There are many problems and questions with this approach.  I think that the answers to these questions lie here:

      The Word of God, the One who was in the beginning and who was with God and who was God, took on flesh and became a man.  When he did so he gave up nothing of his deity, but he did take upon himself our nature, yet without sin.  When this happened, the Person who took on flesh did not become a different person.  The Divine Logos, the Lord, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, took on a full human nature, while remaining the same Person that he was and is forever and ever.  He was, is, and ever shall be full deity -- for the Son exercises all the powers of deity and is worshiped.  He took on, is, and ever shall be a man, in all the fullness of all humanity.  And in this manhood he was tempted by the direct, personal ministry of Satan -- a true temptation, but he did not fall.  As he was tempted in all parts of his manhood, and yet resisted that temptation successfully, he then became the sympathetic high priest who can come to the aid and comfort of the tempted in all their temptations.

      We see, then, that it is not the case that those who fell are those who felt the temptation more strongly, and therefore that they are those who can sympathize more with the fallen.  Rather, it is the case that their weakness could not preserve them.  Therefore, those who fall, until recovered spiritually from their fall, are poor counselors for those faced by temptation. 

      The One who never fell, but who did feel the whole strength of all temptations, is the best counselor.  He knows all, sees all, feels all, and having made the first creation, he is competent to make the second and greater re-creation.  He is able to make sinners whole, by Himself.  He said, No one who trusts in me shall be put to shame.

      Friday, July 29, 2011

      Love One Another (Revised 07/29/2011)

      Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15ff
      Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!  Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  1 John 3:1-3
      Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  1 John 3:13-15
      By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  1 John 3:16
      ... whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing to His sight.  And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.  1 John 3:22-23
      ... every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.  And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.  You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  They are of the world.  Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.  We are of God.  He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  1 John 4:3-6
      Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  1 John 4:7-11
      Little children, keep yourselves from idols...  1 John 5:21

      It probably seems simple-minded to many nowadays that the New Commandment, and virtually the Final Admonition to the Christians from Our Lord himself (and John) is to "Love One Another."  We take it for granted that we do, but don't understand the context in which this is said.

      Close examination of the contexts of John and 1 John shows that the context of "loving one another" is the evil context of the "world."  The unremitting and lethal envy of the world, now more hidden, and then again exposing itself, is obviously one main reason for this exhortation.  The experience of Our Lord in the world is and will be our experience in the world, until the Day of Glory when we are revealed to the cosmos as the Sons of God.  This is a good reason to "hang together, lest we hang separately."

      This comment may seem to you to be extreme in our current situation.  After all, we are going forth into the world, boldly by our influence and quality activities increasing the Lord's dominion over all his enemies.  But, let me put forth a caution.  Even though it seems so plain to us that we are not deceived by the world's evil, we need to look more closely at this question.

      We are exhorted by Our Lord to love one another.  So, think about what will it look like to love.  Remember Jesus' description of eternal life -- it is to know the Father and the one whom he has sent (Jesus Christ).  This knowledge, of course, is not a bare external knowledge, but an intimate knowledge.  In fact, it is hard to discern the qualitative difference between knowledge and love.  In a relationship these two go hand-in-hand.  So, we might say that for us to "love one another" is much the same as for us also to "know one another."

      But, knowing and loving one another cannot be based on mere acquaintance.  It takes time spent with one another in all the vicissitudes of life -- the pains and joys, ups and downs, sins and graces.  We must see our fellow believers as the true spiritual friends and family members that we can rely on in the midst of our enemies.  We must know and love one another, and help and pray for one another, in order to reap the fruit of Our Lord's commandment!

      You have to see that institutional, routine acquaintance, and friendship by "Sunday-howdy's" and slaps on the back does not manifest the degree or kind of love which is the fulfillment of Our Lord's New Commandment.  We all have our friends, to one degree or another, but how much time and effort is expended on becoming acquainted with and actually coming to know our fellow believers with whom we are bound together in this church?

      Nor is fulfillment of Our Lord's commandment found in the vision of the church as a smoothly running institution, maintaining membership lists, listing prayer requests, working the mercy ministry, and tending the budget.  The necessary formal side of institutional life is not the inner life of the church.  Without that inner life with one another, developed in corporate worship and private spiritual fellowship, the best run church institution is a mere husk.  One can be caught up participating in the institutional life of the church and have no time left to experience the spiritual fellowship called for in the New Commandment to love one another.

      Do we even have a desire for the real thing?  Is there even any kind of cognizance of what the real thing is in the souls of many?  It's hard to say.  The eternal, time-kept business of our lives truly belies the Christian profession that we hold.  The Word may be in us, as the parable says, but the thistles and thorns of worldly busy-ness are choking out its fruit.  There is no time for spiritual fellowship!

      Why do we think that the "cares of the world" which strangle the Word are bad things!  Bad things would drive us to God!  The "cares of the world" in that parable, at least the kind of "cares" that can infect us, are likely to be "good things," such as the business of the world, making a living, getting educated, traveling, being excellent in our professions, being good citizens, training our children, engaging in acts of charity, etc.  But, these things become idols when the fruit of the Spirit and the spiritual intimacy of our relationship to one another as believers are sacrificed to them.

      Is it even possible that we could change?  It will obviously take a miracle.  But, all I know to do is to pray, and not give up.

      Paraphrasing John: "Little children, love one another -- and keep yourselves from idols"!  These two thoughts are intimately related in John's thought, and ought to be in ours! It is precisely the idolatry of "good things" that seduces us and subverts our love for one another!  Moloch sometimes wears a pretty face, and he is then all the more dangerous!

      Participation in all the "good things" takes away from us the short time we have to spend on the thing that really counts -- to love one another (sacrificially) as Our Lord loved us.  Only then, seeing this in us, can the world know that Christ has come (John 17:20-23.

      Sunday, July 24, 2011

      Holy Catholic Church

      It's important, especially in the Reformed theological context, to think about the origins of the Covenant of Grace, especially as it is revealed in the Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17, 22).  We find that this covenant, with its prophesied innumerable offspring and great Seed (Christ), is the prototype and model for the New Covenant, based in the work of Christ.  As such, the prototype made with Abraham is a pattern for certain elements of the New Covenant.

      We find that the Abrahamic Covenant requires the circumcision of Abraham and his (male) offspring, and that this circumcision is made in hope of the Seed (Christ) to come.  We also find that this circumcision is the sign and seal of justification by faith alone (Rom 4).  Therefore, the model of the application of circumcision is the model of the application of Baptism in the New Covenant (Col 2:11-12).

      Now the Covenant with Abraham created the People of God.  That People was created on the basis of Abraham's faith.  It is a family of old and young, sustained by God down through the generations.  But, not all the heirs of Abraham had the faith that Abraham had (Rom 9:6ff).  Nevertheless that People was all marked off from the world by the Covenant of Circumcision, circumcision representing the conversion of heart associated with faith like Abraham's.  Therefore, the People of God are holy as a body, but not always all holy as individuals, having the circumcision of the heart (male and female).  As a consequence there was frequent judgment during times of disobedience and apostasy, ultimately even exile from the Land.  But, the Covenant remained and still remains for God's People, even in view of the judgment.  There will be both judgment and restoration.  This all happens in Christ.

      Just as the People of God in old times were a people separate from the world, professing the True God, so are the People of God in our day.  God the Father has special care over this people, the catholic and apostolic church of believers, which is found in all churches which preach the Word and administer the Sacraments in a Scriptural and godly way.

      We conclude then that God's Power to redeem will be shown in this worldwide People, regardless of the depths to which they sink, and that the families of the earth will be blessed, in accordance with the promise made to Abraham, all by the power of God.

      So, who are Christians?  They are the People of God, identified with the profession of his Name in Baptism.  Are they every one individually converted, that is, spiritually born again in such a way that they show forth the fruit of the Spirit of Christ in them?  They are not.  However, they are the people of God, over whom he rules in both judgment and grace.  Judgment begins at the house of God, and the disobedient and apostate are weeded out.  Yet, also, in that self-same household and family we find the salvation of our souls in true and living faith.

      Pay attention to the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.  They all say that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and we believe the Catholic and Apostolic church!  This Holy Catholic Church, the People of God, is a Body important enough to be mentioned in the essential creeds of the church along with the Holy Trinity!

      This church is the Household and Family of God, built by God, affirmed in the Creeds, and is no optional fellowship created by mere associations of believers.

      May God grant that we pay proper respect to the wonder and glory of our participation in this Body!

      Saturday, July 16, 2011

      The Testimony of Glory

      Our Lord Jesus prays for us in the Upper Room:

      "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You -- that they also may be one in Us, in order that the world may believe that You sent Me.
      And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, in order that they may be one just as We are one -- I in them, and You in Me -- in order that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.   John 17:20-23.
      In this prayer, we see that our destiny, as a result of our Savior's prayer and sacrifice, is that we shall be and now are one in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, just as the Father and the Son are one in each other.  Furthermore, this unity is created by the same glory now given to us which was first shared by the Father and the Son before all worlds.  This union in glory, visible to the world, effectually converts the world.

      In the unity and glory being revealed in us, things ordinarily considered incommunicable to the creature have become ours, such as having God the Father of the Eternal Son also be our Father, a present sharing in the blessings of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), and present participation in his glory (Rom 8:30).

      Contemplation of these astounding facts ought to lead to boundless spiritual astonishment and love for the Father and his unique Son who think of us this way. Wherever we see Christ speak of the love and glory between the Father and the Son we ought to recognize that this love and glory is meant for us, too.

      And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

      As the Son was full of grace and truth, so are we, by his grace.

      No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.  John 1:18

      No one has seen God at any time -- but we have seen him in Christ, and the world will see him in us.

      The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  John 3:35
      For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  John 5:20
      Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do itJohn 14:12-14
      By Christ's authority, from his works and signs, comes to us a testimony of like kind.  Built upon this foundation we glory in his Name, and shed forth his glory before the world, and do signs in his name and power which continue the witness to his glory and majesty through us, that the world may believe that Christ is the Savior.