Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are Baptists Reformed?


We are in a day when peace between the denominations is in high esteem -- and I'm for that, as long as our theological discussions continue, in order to elucidate the exact nature of our important differences, toward the end of spiritual growth and spiritual and doctrinal union with one another.  It is in the light of this that I say to my Reformed or Sovereign Grace Baptist friends that they are not Reformed.  They are certainly Reformational, but they are not "Reformed."  It's important to say this, in the interest of doctrinal integrity, since there's a massive rush on nowadays, in Reformed circles to deny much interest in the distinction between "Reformed" and "Baptist."

First, one is not historically Reformed because one accepts the Five Points of Calvinism (the TULIP).  Lots of Calvinists, Thomists, and Augustinians accept the Five Points in principal, but it doesn't necessarily make them Presbyterian or Baptist, or even Reformational!  But, in our day, any Bible Church, Presbyterian or Baptist person who accepts the Five Points is commonly said to be Reformed.

It has to be said that to be Reformed entails a view of the Covenant(s) which is distinctively not Baptist.  The doctrine of infant baptism is based in the covenantal understanding of the Reformed.  The Baptist understanding of the covenant is different:  The Church is not Israel, though it is some kind of successor (or replacement) to Israel.  So, not only is the doctrine of the Covenant fundamentally different between the Reformed and the Baptists, so too is the ecclesiology, which is based on the Covenant.  In Baptist ecclesiology the (visible) church is a body of ("guaranteed") converted people.  I put the word "guaranteed," of course, as a joke, but that's the theoretical basis for Baptist ecclesiology.  The Reformed basis for ecclesiology is that the Church is a visible People of God, individuals, families (and their children) containing members in all sorts of spiritual condition, but who profess the faith.

As an example, consider the human family.  I know it's playing hardball to say this to a Baptist friend, but Baptist ecclesiology does not include the human family.  Reformed ecclesiology does.  Baptist churches are formed from converted people.  Reformed ecclesiology converts people.

One could go on, but enough has been said.

Calvinistic Baptists are certainly not Reformed, and should not call themselves that, nor be called that, because it misrepresents their understanding of Covenant and ecclesiology.

It seems true to me to even say that the American "Reformed" churches have given over so much to "Baptist" ideas and ecclesiological principles that they aren't Reformed any more either.  We are ecclesiological "Baptists" with a tradition of sprinkling babies! 

I've said enough.

God bless us all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This World, or the Next?


It's worth making it a primary consideration in one's Christianity, whether the emphasis is going to be on this world (age), or the next world (age).  Is the Kingdom coming in this age in such a manner that our focus can be on its progress in this age, that is, do we believe that the Kingdom of God will be manifest in this age so strongly that the Final End is more or less the "icing on the cake," rather than a catastrophic revolution bringing in the resurrection state?

If the Kingdom comes gradually and fully, then our hope, though sourced in heaven, certainly lies in the progress of this age.  If the Kingdom comes catastrophically, then our hope is both sourced in heaven, and lies in heaven.  In other words, does heaven come to earth gradually, so that we focus on its coming in this age?  Or, does heaven come to earth catastrophically, so that we focus on the age to come?

It easy to see that I've phrased this question in terms that speak straight from the New Testament about catastrophe.  It's vital that we view the New Testament revelation as the reigning Kingdom Hermeneutic, or we will not have the proper focus on the nature of the Church and our relationship to the World.

If the Kingdom fully comes gradually in this age, then our focus IS on the world.  The ultimate correspondence of the Church and the World is expected.  However, if the Kingdom comes catastrophically, then our focus is on the Age to Come.  Then, a spiritual "separation" is maintained between the Body of Christ and the current Age (world).

The path of union with the world, even the neo-Kuyperian concept of the Organism of the Church permeating the world, while the Institution of the Church is limited to its own sphere, is contrary to the eschatology (as well as the ecclesiology) of the New Testament.  Common grace displaces special grace.  We will be "orthodox" liberals, will lose our "separation" from the world, will lose our spiritual fellowship with one another, will lose our morals, and will finally lose our doctrine. 

But, the Scriptures are plain.  All men are either sons of the devil or sons of God (1 John).  Light and darkness do not comport with one another.  God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  There is a harvest, in which the wheat come to fruition is kept as the King's Harvest, but the chaff and tares are thrown into the unquenchable fire!  Therefore, the spiritual antithesis between the Body of Christ and the "world" cannot end until the Day of Judgment.

To lose our "separation" from the world by a wrong eschatology will be (and has been, in history) the ruin of the church.  The wrong kind of postmillennialism can be heresy!  We must not go there!

Monday, June 27, 2011

"New Measures"


The term "New Measures" originated as a reference to new techniques of Christian persuasion that were developed during the so-called Second Great Awakening, beginning in about 1800.  The main figure in the development of the New Measures came to be Charles Grandison Finney.  His techniques involved the use of the "altar call," and the "anxious bench," which, along with the nature of the preaching, were used to stimulate supposedly spiritual responses to the preaching of the gospel.  The New Measures were seen as pragmatically usable by Finney and his disciples in all generations, and were practices that, if used, would not leave the church to a passive submission to divine sovereignty.  "Conversions" could essentially be manufactured.

The whole controversy introduced by Finney has never gone away, and in one form or another "new measures" have always been with us ever since.  There are even new "new measures" invented all the time.

One example of such new measures may be seen in the "seeker sensitive" church movement.  The idea here is that making the church like the world will attract the world.  Attracting the world will allow the gospel to be "snuck in," without causing too much offense.  People are seemingly told that to be a Christian is to be no different from the world - except for faith in Christ.  But, this cannot be in any way reconciled to Christ's call for total commitment to a life-style that is hated by the world.  The Incense of Prayer and the Holy Odor of Obedience are not seen.

We see the same thing in teen evangelistic ministry, if that ministry basically consists of a teen-sensitive "party," to which a little gospel exhortation is discreetly attached.

All these, and all things like them, are "new measures."

But, the gospel is not to be "snuck in" in the middle of social activities under cover of which it masquerades.  The gospel is preached straightforwardly:  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again on the Third Day, according to the Scriptures, and was seen by hundreds of witnesses, including the authorized apostles who have preached his word in the founding of his church, and whose writings speak this gospel to us today.  This same Jesus is coming again to judge the world in righteousness.  All who trust in him shall be forgiven, and cleansed from all their sins and will never be put to shame. 

Glory be to God!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Divine Mysteries and Worship


Good systematic theology of the Great Mysteries of the Faith (Trinity, Incarnation, and others) teaches us not only about the essential dimensions of these mysteries which we must know, but also how to understand that these are mysteries which we must contemplate in worship with awe and wonder.

In other words, a mystery is not a "wall," shutting out our thoughts with intellectual complexity.  Rather, it is a revelation of the unfathomable depth of the greatness, glory and goodness of God.  A divine mystery is, therefore, a well of life, by which we contemplate God's glory.

The mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of the Incarnation are things about which we must speak, according to the terms of Scripture.  We must know these facts, insofar as they are revealed.   This is part of accepting the gospel.  We need to get the revealed dimensions right.  But, do not think that a mystery of the Divine Nature and Divine Works is simply an intellectual thing that only experts might understand, neither let it only function as an object of rote memorization.  Rather, understand such a mystery as leading to the worship of God, where we peer into Him and His works with ever-increasing joy and wonder for all eternity.  The more "expert" we become in the contemplation of such mysteries, the less we have intellectual complacency in our knowledge, and the more we appreciate the unfathomable depth of the great glory of God.

The function of good systematic theology, therefore, is to bring these awesome mysteries before us to stimulate our worship, by which we are moved by God's Glory, in our mind, emotion, and will to serve Him as our God.

In this way, the theological discipline is at the root of all liturgical art and thought. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Authority: From the Larger Catechism


To the Men of the Church:

To struggle with issues of authority is so much the common struggle of life.  Husbands and wives struggle with each other, parents struggle with children, and adults struggle with managers and employees in the workplace, and sometimes with the civil government, and church officers struggle with the church members.
We know that the Scripture teaches us to respect all legitimate authority, and also that all legitimate authority also ought to behave respectably.  We know these principles, but often don’t know how to apply them.  This takes much wisdom, which is to be sought in God’s Word, as it applies itself in the midst of life’s experiences.
This little paper on Christian Ethics will attempt to address some concerns that I have heard expressed among us.  Now, there is nothing in this paper that you have not already read in God’s Word – nothing that you do not already know in principle.  But, there is much wisdom and advice for us on the subject of authority and its uses given in that portion of the Westminster Larger Catechism discussing the Fifth Commandment (“Honor your Father and Mother”, Question 123).  This remarkable elaboration of a full and inner meaning to the fifth commandment needs to be pondered by us men, because the tendency of our flesh is to rule our wives, children and subordinates, however unwittingly, with a spirit of self-centered neglect, or in some cases domination, and at the same time to look upon our superiors in a spirit of rebellion, however hidden.   The Catechism teaches us how to diagnose these sins.
What follows in the next section is Law.  By it we are instructed.  We learn the way to behave to live a good life.  By it we also see the untruth that lies within all human beings, and most-so within our own selves.   So, holding before our eyes the picture of Our Lord and Servant Jesus Christ, we call upon our Father in Heaven to make these commands live in our souls, not by human power, but by divine power, through the grace of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, with humble dependence upon God, and wishing and praying for the best for us all, I submit this paper to you. 
May God help us be men! 
An Excerpt from the Westminster Larger Catechism
“Honor Your Father and Your Mother …” (Exodus 20:12)

Perhaps it is not often thought that the Fifth Commandment has ramifications that affect more than family life.  But, if you recognize that the human family, under God, is the original authority among men created by God, then it’s easy to see that the authority structure God calls for within the human family must also illustrate a principle of authority that affects all of life.
The Catechism uses the terms “superiors,” “inferiors,” and “equals.”  This is the language of authority and status in 17th century England, and the Christian West in general, at that time.  We shouldn’t take offense against this language, but we do need to understand it:  The terms “superior,” “inferior” and “equal” are relative terms.  For example, your manager at work has the right to give you direction concerning your work.  You have given him this right by taking employment from him.  At the same time your manager has given a similar right to his own manager.  Your manager is your “superior” as long as the employment relationship lasts.  At the same time, your manager is an “inferior” to his manager.  Now, life is littered with hierarchical relationships of many kinds (work, marriage, family, government).  The language of “superior,” “inferior,” and “equal” is used in the Catechism to speak in a simple manner to all such relationships in general terms, in order to teach the common principles that apply to all of them. 
The authors of the Westminster Larger Catechism therefore expand the Fifth Commandment, based on the analogy of family life, in a number of questions, most of which are reproduced here:
Q 124.  Who are meant by “Father” and “Mother” in the fifth commandment?
A.  By “Father” and “Mother” in the fifth Commandment, are meant not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts, and especially such as by God’s ordinance are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or common-wealth.
The term “common-wealth” refers to civil life:  work, education, government, etc.
Q 125.  Why are superiors styled “Father” and “Mother”?
A.  Superiors are styled Father and Mother, both to teach them in all duties towards their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations: and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents.
For men, “superiors” are: fathers to their children, husbands to their wives, church officers to their church members, managers to their employees, government officials to their citizens, etc.
Likewise, for men, “inferiors” are: grown men to their fathers and mothers, church members to their church officers, employees to their managers, citizens to their government officials, etc.
The Fifth Commandment teaches men, in their positions of leadership, to express an appropriate family-like love and tenderness to all subordinates in their own families, in the church, in business, in education or in government.  This is a love and tenderness which is wisely tempered appropriately to the situation, according to the nature and type of the relationship.
Likewise, where men are subordinates, we are exhorted to a greater willingness and cheerfulness to perform the duties our superiors request, with a kind of “parental” respect, which is again wisely adjusted to the situation.
The vision given here is that God-ordained hierarchical authority partakes of a family-like relationship of respect and love between superiors and inferiors, which is adjusted appropriately to the nature of the various situations in which we find ourselves.
The rest of the questions more explicitly illustrate the meaning of this.
Q 127.  What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?
A.  The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is all due reverence in heart, word and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities and covering them in love; that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.
The primary duty enjoined upon us in this answer is that we must support and protect those above us in authority, that is, our parents, our work supervisors, our church officers, or our civil government, so that their authoritative position and government is more honored.  Their authority has been established by God, and to disrespect this is to disrespect the government of God.
One should notice the nuances in the answer:  We should obey our superiors’ lawful commands and counsels.  We should pray for them, and give thanks for them (even when they do wrong!).  We should imitate their virtues and graces.  We should defend their status, and bear with their infirmities in love, in order that we may honor them and their position.
There’s a lot said here about attitude, but nothing about slavery.  Nevertheless, the authors of the Catechism see Scripture teaching that authority is an honorable and worthy necessity within the body of the family, church and common-wealth, and that maintenance of honorable authority is most necessary for the well-being of all these institutions.
Q 128.  What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A.  The sins of inferiors against their superiors, are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against their persons and places in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.
Here again, in the conclusion of the answer, we see again the importance that the authors of the Catechism attach to the Scriptural mandate to respect authority.  The rebelliousness of inferiors may bring shame upon the inferiors, but the real concern is that it brings shame upon those in the position of authority, and by attacking authority subverts the well-being of the institutions of family, church and nation.
We Americans tend to think that freedom and equality govern everything, but the freedom and equality that we enjoy are very definitely sustained by authority, operating in its proper and most appropriate spheres. 
Q 129.  What is required of superiors toward their inferiors?
A.  It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel and admonish them; countenancing, commending and rewarding such as do well; discountenancing, reproving and chastising such as do ill; protecting and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body; and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honor to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.
This paragraph describes how we ought to treat our wives, children, church members, employees and fellow citizens when operating from a position of authority.  We are to be conscious of the power we have received from God to bless our wives, children, fellow church members, employees and fellow citizens – the power we have to love, pray for, instruct, counsel, admonish, commend and reward those who do good.  (Likely we won’t forget to somehow reprove those whom we think disobey or do evil.)  That is, we must make sure that we exercise the benevolent functions toward all our subordinates, while protecting and providing for them in all things necessary for soul and body, and illustrating grave, wise, holy and exemplary behavior before them, as an example. 
All this procures glory to God and honor to ourselves as leaders, and so preserves the authority that God has given us.  In other words, our authority can be diminished or finally lost by bad or negligent behavior, in the family, at work, in the church, and in the government!  It is not an authority that inheres in us, willy-nilly, whether we behave or not, because it is possible to lose the office which has given us the authority.
Q 130.  What are the sins of superiors?
A.  The sins of superiors are, beside the neglect of the duties required of them, an inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging or favoring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing or leaving them to wrong, temptation and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonoring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous or remiss behavior.
Important sins to ponder in this answer are:  neglect, self-centeredness, commanding our subordinates to do unlawful things, things against their consciences, or things they cannot do, not rewarding them for doing good, correcting them unduly, not protecting them from temptation to do wrong, or from danger, provoking them to wrath! 
The exercise of improper authority dishonors the one mis-using it, and lessens his authority.
Q 131.  What are the duties of equals?
A.  The duties of equals are to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honor to go one before another, and to rejoice in each others gifts and advancement, as in their own.
Q 132.  What are the sins of equals?
A.  The sins of equals are, beside the neglect of the duties required, the undervaluing of the worth, envying the gifts, grieving at the advancement or prosperity one of another, and usurping preeminence one over another.
Q 133.  What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to envorce it?
A.  The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words, That your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God gives you, is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment.
The bold face typeface giving the reason for obedience, as shown in this answer, is in the original transcript of the Catechism.  This promise is given in two places in the Bible, in the Old Testament and in the New.

Application

The way to wisely apply the rules for men is not to place the most emphasis on enforcing upon our subordinates the rules that apply to them.  We must first apply our own rules to ourselves.  We must remove the beams in our own eyes before attempting to remove the specks in the eyes of our subordinates.
Also, the “great commandment” applies here.  Our Lord said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  He washes our feet.  According to his Word, the one to be the greatest among us must be the greatest servant.  He was, and is, Lord and Servant to his church.  We must follow his lead, in order to be both “lord and servant” to our wives, children, fellow church members, employees, and fellow citizens.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Brief Illustration of the Means of Grace


The term “Means of Grace” refers to God-ordained religious practices (hearing the Word preached; receiving the Sacraments) which are used as instruments by the Lord in converting and edifying his people.

Since these religious exercises are physical, mental and spiritual in nature, some understanding ought to be sought from the Word concerning the relationship between these activities and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Let me introduce a physical model which might help explain what I mean: Think of the physical activity of hearing the Word preached, coupled with God’s work in making the Word spiritually understood by us.

Consider the following figure #1:

                                             The Holy Spirit Works
                                                          |
                                                          |
                                                          V
The Word Preached --------------->    Hearer


The idea being portrayed here is that the preaching of the Word and the actual work of the Spirit to sovereignly prepare hearers are independent activities that may even take place at different times. There is a “right angle” between the effects of the ministry of the Word preached and the ministry of the Spirit giving understanding of the Word. Word and Spirit come at the hearer in different ways and at different times, according to the sovereignty of the Spirit.

Now consider the following figure #2:

            Holy Spirit ->Word preached -> Hearer 

In this image the work of the Spirit is pictured as happening in intimate conjunction with the preaching (without intending to imply that the Spirit never works independently).

These two figures convey two different impressions of the function and significance of the “Means of Grace.” 

In Figure #1, the “means,” which in the example is the preaching and hearing of the Word, is decoupled from the Spirit in some measure (without in any sense denying the profound necessity for the Spirit’s ministry). The Spirit works independently from the “Means of Grace,” and we have no sure connection between the exercise of the “Means of Grace” and the work of the Spirit.

In Figure #2, a peculiar supernatural significance is attached to the preaching. There will be times when the dead will be command to live – and they will. The preaching takes on a significance beyond the conveyance of information to hearers who have been prepared by other means, independently of the preaching. There is real supernatural power in the preaching, which from time to time may even become visible to us, just as Jesus raised Lazarus, not by supernaturally waking him from the dead so that he could hear his name being shouted, but simply by the shouting of his name:  Just as “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Now the same approach can be used with respect to the Sacraments. They preach. In a sense, they do nothing more than preach, since there is no Sacrament without the Word. A Sacrament is the gospel in Word, and in seen and felt Images (taste, etc.). Figure #1, illustrating the “uncoupled,” or “distant” connection between Sacrament and Spirit leads to one conception of the “Means of Grace” in the sacraments, namely, that they are not means by which grace is received at all, but are testimonies to grace already given by the Spirit in another way, and perhaps at another time. On the other hand, Figure #2 intends to show the strong correlation between the Spirit’s work and the preaching of the Gospel, and also the Spirit’s work and the administration of the Sacraments. There is real supernatural power there.

Significance of the Two Figures

When the angle between the religious exercise and the work of the Spirit is large (independent), then we have a “low church” view of the “Means of Grace,” if they are granted at all to be “means.” When the theological angle between the religious exercise and the work of the Spirit is small (parallel), then we have a “high church” view of the “Means of Grace.” This extends not only to Word and Sacrament, but even to liturgy, etc., which takes on a kind of quasi-sacramental character. Indeed, it extends to the spiritual fellowship of the church herself.

In the “low church” view, there is no chance that the “means of grace” will be substituted for Christ. But, the full understanding and usage of “means,” and the respect that goes with them, will be lacking except for the preaching. The exclusive emphasis on preaching can then change the church into a school, where information is mainly conveyed, along with a few rudiments of worship. A high view of sacraments, or of the real character of preaching, of liturgy, and of the real nature of the church herself, will probably be lacking – though the fellowship in the Lord among the people is certainly enjoyed. The “high church” way of life will be rejected, because “the Spirit doesn’t work that way.” He doesn’t work through means like that, or to that extent. They believe fully in the works of the Spirit, but that independency between the religious exercises and the work of the Spirit dominates the thought.

In the “high church” view, there is more respect for the “Means of Grace,” and more edification through them, according to the terms of Scripture. However, it is also possible for the “means” to be exalted unduly, or for Pharisaism to set in as people pride themselves on mechanically operating the liturgical machinery. The centrality of evangelical preaching again comes to the fore here, as the salvation of the spiritual “highness” which is accorded to the Means of Grace.

How do we characterize the relationship between Means of Grace and the Holy Spirit?

With a high view of the Means of Grace, we have to have a Scriptural balance on what we think of these Means.  For example, in Romanism, the elements of the Supper are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. That is, Christ is himself “incarnate” in the sacrament. (I realize this is a misuse of the word “incarnate,” but please bear with me). Since Christ himself is really there in the elements of the Sacrament, he should be worshiped there. But, we see no evidence of this in Scripture. Christ is not “incarnate” in the elements of the Supper. So, how is he present? I suggest that we may speak of the elements being used as “instruments” or “mediators” of Christ’s bodily presence. Likewise, Baptism is an instrument of Christ’s presence, and preeminently preaching is an instrument of Christ’s presence. There is a high degree of “parallelism” between the use of the Means of Grace and the ministry of the Trinity through the Spirit. But, by maintaining the “instrumentality,” we are preserved from an unscriptural reverence for bread, wine, water, Bibles, or the persons of preachers. They are real mediators of the real thing, but they are not the real thing in themselves.

Now, we don’t have any idea how the Spirit works. We do not understand the spiritual “engineering.” It is helpful to take Calvin’s approach here, and say that the Scripture revelation is “accommodated” to our babyish understandings.

Therefore, when we read

1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
we must admit that the bread and cup are a (real) participation in the body and blood of Christ through the elements as instruments or “mediators” in the hand of God. We do not make them instruments of grace to ourselves by the force of our own faith, but they are real instruments in the hands of the Spirit for grace which we receive by faith.

When we eat and drink, we may rest in the true and living faith of the gospel, that by receiving this sacrament I do receive the forgiveness of sins, and participation in all the virtues of Christ, as well as commit myself to him and his body, the church.

Boyd Murrah
23 October 2008 
revised 14 Dec 2009
revised 3 June 2011 for the blog