Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Israel

The following post is adapted from comments I made in a Facebook discussion, wherein I was interacting with a number of Dispensationalists.


If God has a people during the Old Testament dispensation that He calls the Church (Acts 7:38), and if He calls the Church the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), then–though proper covenantal distinctions need to be made–there is a biblical basis for calling the church "Israel" in a meaningful sense (showing the unity of God's elect people, all partaking in salvation bought by the blood of Christ, as His chosen bride). This is not eisegesis.

The saints are the body of Christ. He does not have two bodies. The saints are the bride of Christ. He is not a bigamist.

The Reformed view is that God fulfills His covenant promises to Israel in Jesus–the One who is both physically and spiritually qualified to receive His promises–and that ongoing fulfillment of the New Covenant promises takes place within the Church. Dispensationalists will sometimes object that if we do not believe that God’s promises will be fulfilled in ethnic Israel en masse (on the basis of their ethnicity), then we are presenting God as a liar. God did not lie to Israel. This is what Romans 9 is explaining: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." The Arminian who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God as unjust toward the non-elect has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:14ff. The Dispensationalist who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God's promise as broken has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:6ff. God is not unjust nor is He a liar. It is NOT by ethnicity that one lives and receives the promises of God, but in relation to faith we are united to Christ, in whom ALL of God's promises are "yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor 1:20).

In fulfilling His promises to Israel in Christ and in the body of Christ (united to Him by faith), God broke no covenant with Israel. "[I]t is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants" (Rom 9:8). The Pharisees thought that they had Abraham as their father: they thought to benefit from God's blessings due to their ethnicity. Christ corrected them, saying that they were of their father the devil (John 8). Those who are called the offspring of the devil can in no way presume upon the promises of God, whatever their biological pedigree.

From God’s dealings with Abraham onward, we see a focusing of His covenantal activity. It is not all of Abraham’s children who receive the promises concerning Abraham’s descendants; it is only Isaac’s line who are the chosen inheritors. Israel, as narrowed down from other descendants of Isaac (through Esau), are inheritors of the promise. But even within Israel there is a narrowing (through the line of Judah, to David and his descendants), which–under the New Covenant administration–finds tremendous expansion.

The New Covenant (a covenant made directly "with the house of Israel and the house of Judah") is applied directly to the Church, as seen in our use of the New Covenant [=New Testament, 1 Cor 11:25 KJV] Scriptures and in our partaking of the Lord's Supper, the wine of which represents the New Covenant in Christ's blood (Luke 22:20). All believers–not only ethnic Jews, nor any ethnic Jews apart from faith–benefit from the work of Christ on the basis of the divinely-established New Covenant. God ONLY grants the New Covenant blessings to those ethnic Israelites who trust in Christ, and He extends all of these blessings to believing Gentiles.

The New Covenant, secured in Christ, applies directly to both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Some Dispensationalists claim that to see the New Covenant as fulfilled within the Church is to cancel out the original intent of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the New Covenant, which (they say) would have only been understood by the original readers as applying to ethnic Israelites. But non-dispensationalists are NOT canceling out the original intent. The original intent is to focus attention on the seed of the woman, who is further revealed to be the seed of Abraham, who is further revealed to be the descendant of David. The original intent is to show how all the nations in Him will be blessed. The original intent is to show that those who break God's covenant will receive the curses of the covenant, and that those who keep God's covenant will receive the blessings of the covenant. The original intent is to show how we have all violated God's Law, written on the conscience, and then on tablets of stone. The original intent is to show that we all–Jews and Gentiles–are in need of a Savior: that we all need a sacrifice, that we all need a high priest. The original intent is to show that the people of God are made His people in connection with FAITH.

The Old Testament is characterized by mystery, types, and shadows, which are more fully and more clearly understood after the redemptive work of Christ is accomplished in history. As Nehemiah Coxe noted, "the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the new." If the New Testament tells us that the rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4), then it was Christ. If the New Testament tells us that the seed was Christ (Gal 3:16), then it was Christ. If the New Testament us that all those who belong to Christ are Abraham's offspring (Gal 3:29), then we do not get to define Abraham's offspring merely in reference to biology. (The New Testament also records Jesus telling some of Abraham's biological offspring, who had rejected Him, that they were NOT Abraham's children, but children of the devil, John 8:39-44.) If the New Testament applies the New Covenant blessings to all believers, then we do not get to define the recipients of the New Covenant merely in terms of biology. All those who trust in Christ are beneficiaries of the New Covenant blessings in Him. Those who do not trust in Christ–whatever their biological heritage–do not benefit from these New Covenant blessings. Those who reject the good news of the kingdom cannot presume upon their biological heritage, imagining that–on that basis–God is obligated to grant them His blessings (Matt 3:9). Both Jews who reject Christ and unbelieving Gentiles are condemned. Both believing Gentiles and Jews who accept Christ receive the blessings of the New Covenant. Neither of these realities makes God a liar. Neither of these realities–clearly proclaimed in Scripture–undermines the right exegesis of Scripture.

Scripture provides the context for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, where the types, shadows, patterns, and prophecies made to Israel terminate in Him and are then expanded to all of those who have been united to Him by faith. This is why there is now "neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." We cannot, in light of that and similar passages, continue to think that inheritance of the promises is a matter of biology. The Bible says that every believer, whether Semite or non-Semite, is a descendant of Abraham.

Obviously, even under the New Covenant administration, some national distinctions remain (Paul can write intelligibly of "my kinsmen according to the flesh"), but these distinctions are superceded by the spiritual unity that we have in Christ, so that Paul writes of current spiritual privileges: "there is neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." On the other hand, John calls unbelievers in general "Gentiles" in a passage that does not have cultural distinctions in view (3 Jn 1:7).

There was one who was the true seed of Abraham, the true Branch from David. One who was fully qualified: physically and spiritually qualified–in ways that certainly should have been understandable to anyone receiving the Scriptures–to be the Messiah. Rightfully, His were the blessings of the covenant. He shed His blood–the blood of the covenant–for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). United to Him, commemorating His sacrifice when we take the cup, which is the New Covenant in His blood (1 Cor 11:25), believers become recipients of the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Jesus Is the True Israel

The following two paragraphs are from Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 111.

 “When Jesus is a child, Joseph and Mary take him to Egypt to protect him from Herod’s persecution. Matthew comments: ‘So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet, out of Egypt I called my son’ (Matt 2:15). Some commentators suggest that this is an unprincipled use of Old Testament prophecy. The quotation is from Hosea 11:1, which is not a messianic promise referring to an individual. The original context makes it very clear that it refers to the exodus of the nation of Israel. But Matthew is neither naive nor unprincipled. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is deliberately identifying Jesus with Israel. But Jesus is different. He too is tempted, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, but–unlike them–He does not fall (Matt 4:1-11).

“He then calls his first disciples. His choice of twelve is no coincidence; it is a deliberate statement. He is calling together a new Israel, with twelve disciples as a foundation, rather than twelve tribes (4:18-22). The old Israel rejects Jesus and will, in turn, be rejected by God. Jesus says, ‘…the kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a people who will produce its fruit’ (Matt 21:43). He foretells the destruction of Jerusalem as the awful expression of that judgment (Luke 19:43-44). It is carried out by the Romans in AD 70. From now on the true Israel is not focused on the land of Palestine and does not consist of those who are physically descended from Abraham. It rather consists of his spiritual descendants: those, both Jew and Gentile, who follow his example and place their trust in God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus: ‘…the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only those who are of the law [i.e. Jews] but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all’ (Rom 4:16).”

Monday, December 22, 2014

"An Homily or Sermon Concerning the Nativity and Birth of Our Saviour Jesus Christ"

The following text is from the Second Book of Homilies of the Church of England, published in 1571. The author of the sermon is John Jewel, who was a disciple of Peter Martyr Vermigli. My Sunday school teacher, Tim Scott, had our class read from this sermon a couple of weeks ago at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. The following words are definitely a clear expression of the common Reformed Protestant [=biblical] understanding of Man's fallen condition and God's provision of a Savior.

John Jewel
Among all creatures that God made in the beginning of the world most excellent and wonderful in their kind, there was none, as Scripture beareth witness, to be compared almost in any point unto Man; who, as well in body and in soul, exceeded all other no less than the sun in brightness and light exceedeth every small and little star in the firmament. He was made according to the image and similitude of God; he was indued with all kind of heavenly gifts; he had no spot of uncleanness in him; he was sound and perfect in all parts, both outwardly and inwardly; his reason was uncorrupt; his understanding was pure and good; his will was obedient and godly; he was made altogether like unto God in righteousness, in holiness, in wisdom, in truth, to be short, in all kind of perfection. When he was thus created and made, Almighty God, in a token of His great love towards him, chose out a special place of the earth for him, namely, Paradise; where he lived in all tranquility and pleasure, having great abundance of worldly goods, and lacking nothing that he might justly require or desire to have. For, as it is said, "God made him lord and ruler over all the works of his hands, that he should have under his feet all sheep and oxen, all beasts of the field, all fowls of the air, all fishes of the sea" (Psa 8:6-8), and use them always at his own pleasure, according as he should have need...

But, as the common nature of all men is in time of prosperity and wealth to forget not only themselves but also God, even so did the first man Adam: who, having but one commandment at God's hand, namely, that he should not eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and ill, did not-withstanding most unmindfully (or rather most willfully) break it, in forgetting the strait charge of his Maker, and giving ear to the crafty suggestion of that wicked serpent, the devil. Whereby it came to pass that, as before he was blessed, so now he was accursed; as before he was loved, so now he was abhorred; as before he was most beautiful and precious, so now he was most vile and wretched, in the sight of his Lord and Maker... insomuch that now he seemed to be nothing else but a lump of sin, and therefore by the just judgment of God was condemned to everlasting death.

This so great and miserable a plague, if it had rested on Adam, who first offended, it had been so much the easier, and might the better have been borne. But it fell not only on him, but also on his posterity and children forever; so that the whole brood of Adam's flesh should sustain the selfsame fall and punishment which their forefather by his offense most justly had deserved. St. Paul in the fifth chapter to the Romans saith, "By the offense of only Adam the fault came upon all men to condemnation, and by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom 5:18-19). By which words we are taught that, as in Adam all men universally sinned, so in Adam all men universally received the reward of sin, that is to say, became mortal and subject unto death, having in themselves nothing but everlasting damnation of both body and soul. "They became," as David saith, "Corrupt and abominable; they went all out of the way; there was none that did good, no not one" (Psa 14:1,3). O what a miserable and woful state was this, that the sin of one man should destroy and condemn all men, that nothing in all the world might be looked for but only pangs of death and pangs of Hell! Had it been any marvel if mankind had been utterly driven to desperation, being thus fallen from life to death, from salvation to destruction, from Heaven to Hell?

But behold the great goodness and tender mercy of God in this behalf. Albeit Man's wickedness and sinful behavior was such that it deserved not in any part to be forgiven, yet-to the intent he might not be clean destitute of all hope and comfort in time to come-He ordained a new covenant, and made a sure promise thereof; namely, that He would send a Messiah or Mediator into the world, which should make intercession, and put himself as a stay between both parties, to pacify the wrath and indignation conceived against sin, and to deliver Man out of the miserable curse and cursed misery whereinto he was fallen headlong by disobeying the will and commandment of his only Lord and Maker. This covenant and promise was first made unto Adam himself immediately after his Fall, as we read in the third of Genesis, what God said to the serpent on this wise: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; he shall break thine head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15).

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Glory of God in Romans 3:23, Explained and Applied

One of the very first Bible verses that I ever memorized was Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The reason that I memorized this verse was for the first part: that ALL have sinned. This verse is properly a proof that ALL are in need of a Savior.

I did not realize until tonight, however, that I have given woefully inadequate attention to the second half of the verse: "come short of the glory of God." What does it mean to have fallen short of God's glory? IF someone had pressed me on this point, I THINK that I would have responded with some vague idea of our sins making us less than God, who is perfect. But aren't we less than God regardless of sin? Even if a person could somehow refrain from sin throughout his or her entire life, wouldn't that person still be less than God?

I believe that Richard Barcellos' words from the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors' Conference are extremely helpful on this point:

Barcellos explains that the "glory of God"in Romans 3:23 refers to "the state of existence in God's special presence" (contrasted with His general omnipresence), which Man "did not possess via creation." Man was created in a blessed state, but not in a state of glory. Adam failed the test God had placed before him, eating from the forbidden fruit-thereafter being barred from eating from the tree of life (Gen 3:6, 22-24)-therefore Adam never entered into "the glory of God" that he would have attained if he had passed the test. Being "in Adam" (1 Cor 15:22), we were all "by nature children under wrath" (Eph 2:3). Adam came short of God's glory; in him, we ALL come short of the glory of God. We live out our fallenness as we choose to sin against God.

Barcellos goes on to proclaim:

"But here is the good news: another came-the last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ-who suffered, and entered into glory in His resurrection, and will bring many sons to glory. [Believers] will also gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess 2:14)."

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ransom

The following is from Walt Chantry's final sermon as pastor of Grace Baptist Church, June 9, 2002, as printed in Tom Chantry and David Dykstra's Holding Communion Together:

Walt Chantry
"I'll tell you what you will not find in any other religion of the world, and that's a ransom. That's a sacrifice, given to satisfy divine justice, and to lift the curse of God against sin. There is no other Lamb. There is no other blood that can save. What menial service this was for our Lord Jesus Christ, to come under the rod of God's curse for us.

"Do you thank him enough for that? Have you trembled enough about the curse that comes to you when you break the law, so that you will say to the Lord Jesus-and I hope you will say it tonight: 'If that curse came upon me I would perish-I would be destroyed forever. Thank you Lord Jesus for giving your life a ransom for many. Thank you for including me in that many.'

"He came intentionally to undertake that mission. And if you stay away from this Savior, your heart is hard. And you count yourself unworthy of salvation, because nowhere else will you find anything like the Lord Jesus Christ, who volunteered to give his life as a ransom."

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Does a meaningful study of the ancient Church "Fathers" necessarily lead a person away from Protestantism?

I have a friend whose religious journey took him from the Assemblies of God, through the Vineyard movement to Anglicanism, and now he is affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy. Somewhere along the line, my friend picked up an antipathy toward Protestantism. Recently, in a somewhat typical comment, my friend proclaimed on Facebook: "You can't read the fathers in any meaningful way and remain protestant"

I was especially interested in this comment, because-through the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-I've become acquainted with several scholars who have done a great deal of study in the "fathers"(the influential pastors and theologians from the earliest centuries of Christianity) and these scholars remain committed to Protestantism. So I posed this question to a group of Protestant scholars of patristics: how would you respond to someone who claims, "You can't read the fathers in any meaningful way and remain protestant"?

The following post details the responses I received.

Luke Stamps
The first respondent was Dr. Luke Stamps, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. Luke wrote his dissertation as a defense of dyothelitism, and this work required him to do extensive research in early Church "fathers" leading up to Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-13 August 662). More recently, Luke co-wrote and presented a paper on "Baptists and the Catholicity of the Church" for the Evangelical Theological Society. This paper was focused on better situating "Baptist faith and practice within the historic Christian tradition". Luke's response was short and sweet: "Read Calvin."

Luke's appeal to Calvin was echoed and expanded by another response that I received, that from Dr. Gregg Allison, Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among other works, Dr. Allison is the author of Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine and Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment. Dr. Allison wrote:

Gregg Allison
My first response is that the Protestant Reformers read the fathers in a meaningful way, and that patristic legacy became fuel for the Reformation. While those Reformers recognized that they could not embrace the patristic fathers as authoritative tradition in a Catholic sense (that is, of equal authority with Scripture), they embraced many of their writings and the early creeds (e.g., Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Chalcedonian, Apostles’). To take one example, when defending the doctrine of the Trinity against anti-trinitarians (like Michael Servetus), the Reformers concurred with the early church’s trinitarian formulations. A second example: in the Lord’s Supper debates between Zwingli and Luther, each man accused the other of being guilty of an early church heresy (Nestorianism, Eutychianism), and each denied the other’s charge and claimed accord with the Chalcedonian consensus.

My second response is to point to the growing number of Protestant scholars who are patristic experts and convinced Protestants. If you want my own perspective on this issue, please see my chapter in the recently released Revisioning, Renewing, Rediscovering the Triune Center: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. Grenz (chapter 16 is mine).

My friend and co-worker Shawn Wilhite (who is a co-founder of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies) also appealed to the Reformers, while expressing concern that current Protestants are too quick to become anxious over or even dismiss the early Church "fathers". Shawn wrote:

Shawn Wilhite
First, I'd point to Luther, Calvin, and Bucer for the insistence on reading the Fathers. Calvin critiques those who have fallen into unorthodox readings from the result of not reading the Fathers. Carl Trueman overly simplifies the Reformation by saying it boiled down to which party has the more correct reading of Augustine.

Second, much of "Christianeese" is from early Fathers. For example, the Trinity is a Latin term from Tertullian.

Third, read with a discerning open ear. They are right in a lot of places (Didache, Hilary of Poitier, Tertullian, even Cyprian). Why are we dependent upon their theology, especially orthodox creeds and essential theology, but then panic once we read them? I would suggest it is our modernism. Also, because they are closer to the apostolic era, I'm more inclined to want to listen to them quicker than dismissal.

Michael A.G. Haykin
Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin has written an entire book on the Church "fathers" and so (understandably) his response to the question "how would you respond to someone who claims, 'You can't read the fathers in any meaningful way and remain protestant'?" was an appeal to that book:  "Tell them to read my Rediscovering the Church Fathers, and then we can talk. In essence, I would say how can you read the Fathers and be a Roman Catholic!"

Coleman Ford, the other co-founder of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies,
Coleman Ford
wrote most helpfully:

I would ask what does "meaningful" mean in this question? I feel like sometime people are looking for things in the fathers that simply aren't there. Too often people come to the fathers with their own questions/positions without letting them speak on their own terms.

That being said, the fathers certainly challenge me in my reading of Scripture and help me to think deeply about my theological commitments. The fathers don't belong to any one group, they belong to the Catholic Church, that is, those who hold to classic orthodox Christian commitments. I don't understand why some feel they should become RC or EO once they read the fathers. All the Protestant reformers were intimately conversant with the fathers, and they all came to the same conclusion—the fathers are on the side of the reformation.

Certainly I don't read the fathers uncritically. They were fallible men seeking to understand infallible scripture and the infinite nature of our triune God. We owe much to them in establishing many of our theological categories, but we also have the benefit of 1500 years of church history following them. We can't simply approach the fathers without appreciating this fact. With that in mind, we are able to reflect on the trajectory of their thought, learning from their strengths and flaws. I see no reason why one needs to jettison Protestant (and evangelical) commitments when reading the fathers. In fact, my evangelical Protestantism is thoroughly strengthened by my reading and interaction with the fathers.


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