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.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Progressive Covenantalism: A Reformed Baptist Reflection

This Saturday, May 15, I finished reading Progressive Covenantalism, a new collection of essays edited by Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker. (Thanks to my brother in Christ, Daniel Scheiderer, who let me borrow his copy.) There was much that I appreciated about this work, though I also have a few concerns. What follows in not a formal review, but some initial thoughts as I evaluate the book from the position of 1689 Federalism.

Positives:

1. Abraham as the father of Jews and Gentiles. I appreciated Jason DeRouchie's discussion of Abraham's "seed" in Chapter 1. I believe that much of what he wrote is exactly what Reformed Baptists have been saying on this subject. I think it would be profitable to compare his discussion on this Abraham's "seed" with Reformed Baptist works on the same topic (for example, in Jeff Johnson's The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism). I believe that, starting from a point of basic agreement, discussions about Abraham's "seed" between Reformed Baptists and Progressive Covenantalists could lead both groups toward an even more precise articulation of the biblical teaching on this topic.

2. Typology. The most helpful feature of this book was its discussion and application of biblical typology. Brent Parker's chapter on the Israel-Christ-Church relationship was especially insightful. I do think that Reformed Baptists could benefit from Parker's work in this regard. Some language I've heard from fellow Reformed Baptists tends to follow our paedobaptist brethren in too readily equating Israel with the Church; we have not always consistently considered the typological development of Israel as fulfilled in Christ. The Church partakes in the promises made to Israel only as we are united to Christ, who is the true Israelite. (I doubt that any of my fellow Reformed Baptists would disagree with this statement, but Parker points out the typological relationships in a particularly clear manner.)

3. Warning Passages. I believe that Ardel Caneday's chapter on the "warning passages" in Hebrews is well-thought-out and biblical. Caneday's position is that the warning passages are effective means by which God prompts His people to perseverance. This is the only chapter that gives any positive attention to Historical Theology. Caneday mentions several Reformed pastors/teachers (I believe John Owen and Charles Spurgeon are mentioned) who have held his view.

4. Land Promises. The final chapter of the book, focused on the Old Testament land promises, is another specific example of applied biblical typology. Consideration of how God fulfills the land promises is crucial to a right understanding of a major scriptural theme. This chapter, written by Oren Martin, is useful in answering a key claim of Dispensationalists. Understanding how Scripture presents the fulfillment of land promises helps us in our worship, as we see how God is faithful to His Word and how He will magnify His glory throughout creation.

Negatives:

1. False Advertising. In both on the cover of the book and several times within the book, the authors/editors claim that they are "charting a course between dispensational and covenant theologies". There is even a diagram in the book depicting Progressive Covenantalism in the center of a line, with Dispensationalism on one side and Covenant Theology on the other. It is obvious that the authors/editors want an audience both from those who identify as Dispensationalists and those who identify as Covenantal.

HOWEVER, I'm certain that, both through a careful examination of what the authors write (in this book and its precursor Kingdom Through Covenant) as well as personal conversations I've had with a couple of the authors, the contributors to the book owe much more to Covenant Theology than to Dispensationalism. Along with Covenant Theology, Progressive Covenantalism believes that there is one way of salvation in Scripture and that Scripture is structured by covenants. Dr. Wellum believes that it is proper to speak of the Covenant of Redemption and a covenant with Adam.

When it comes to Dispensationalism, Progressive Covenantalism is at odds with the foundational Dispensational claim that Israel and the Church are everlastingly distinct groups. In its typological reflections, Progressive Covenantalism runs counter to the Dispensationalists' overly literalistic hermeneutic. The single point of overlap between Progressive Covenantalism and Dispensationalism is that both hold to more discontinuity between the old and new covenants than what is recognized in [paedobaptist] Covenant Theology. It is deceptive, therefore, to suggest that Progressive Covenantalism is equally close to Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. In my view, Progressive Covenantalism is both an attempt to modify [paedobaptist] Covenant Theology and an outright rejection of Dispensationalism.

2. Lack of Historical Theology. Progressive Covenantalists view themselves as articulating a framework of how the covenants fit together that is more consistent with Baptist faith and practice than either Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology. (This is one reason that Progressive Covenantalism was published by Broadman and Holman Academic, an imprint of LifeWay, which is directly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.) In this regard, it would seem that those holding to Progressive Covenantalism would want to make a diligent study into how previous generations of Particular/Reformed Baptists have understood the relationship of God's covenants. Sadly, this book lacks any interaction with Historical Theology within Baptist life AT ALL. With the exception of the chapter on the warning passages of Hebrews, the authors of Progressive Covenantalism seem startlingly unaware that previous generations of Baptists have wrestled through the same questions and have come to some of the same conclusions. Progressive Covenantalists could benefit from the insights of their Baptist forbears and possibly avoid some errors. At worst, this neglect of Historical Theology among Progressive Covenantalists may be seen as violating the spirit of the fifth commandment.

3. The Law. Speaking of the ten commandments, the great systematic theological weakness of Progressive Covenantalism is in its view of the Law. There is an almost flippant rejection of the three-fold distinction of the Law. Important works on this subject (for example: From the Finger of God by Philip Ross and In Defense of the Decalogue by Richard Barcellos) are entirely unmentioned. Also unmentioned: the foundational distinction between moral law (law that is everlasting, flowing from the character of God) and positive law (law that God institutes at specific times for specific purposes). The authors of Progressive Covenantalism would have us believe that the original audience to the Books of Moses couldn't have possibly recognized the prohibition against murder, the institution of the Levitical priesthood, and the injunction to build a parapet around the roof of one's house as three distinct categories of laws. Furthermore, the authors of Progressive Covenantalism give inadequate systematic reflection to why the New Testament authors apply different laws in radically different ways (compare: Gal 5:3, 1 Cor 9:9-10, and Eph 6:1-3).

Conclusion:

I think that Progressive Covenantalism is a valuable book and that Progressive Covenantalists are valuable conversation partners with whom Reformed Baptists should engage. I hope that those holding to Progressive Covenantalism will begin to learn from their Particular/Reformed Baptist forbears, that they will not continue to ignore the writings of contemporary Reformed Baptists, and that they will reconsider their view of the Law. I pray that Reformed Baptists and Progressive Covenantalists can attain greater unity in the truth.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Three Resources Reflecting on Close Communion

Within Baptist life, there are three major positions on who should be invited to the Lord's Supper. Some congregations practice open communion, inviting anyone who is a believer to the table. (I've heard that some liberal churches invite all people to the table regardless of faith, but according to Dr. Greg Wills, all Baptist congregations have historically seen faith as a prerequisite to the table.) Some congregations practice close communion, inviting any baptized believer to the table. A few congregations (including the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle in London) practice closed [or strict] communion, only inviting their own members to the table.

I was raised in the close communion tradition, and I believe that this tradition is best reflective of biblical teaching. As an adult, my convictions in this regard have been reinforced by the training that I received at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Here are two resources in this regard:

The Baptism Panel Discussion from April 18, 2007.

"Should the Water Divide Us? Baptism, Church Membership, and the Glory of Christ" from April 25, 2007.

As a third resource, with sustained scriptural argument, I would also commend J.L. Dagg's Manual of Church Order on this subject. (View HERE: Section IV, "Open Communion".)




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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Lord's Supper and the Lord's Day in Redemptive-Historical Context


In Revelation 1:10, the phrase “the Lord’s Day” is a hapax legomenon: a phrase only occurring only once in the Greek New Testament. The particular word for “Lord” used in Revelation 1:10 is not the general root of “Lord” that is the common way of referring to Jesus Christ in the New Testament;[1] the term for “Lord” here, while it's not the general word κύριος, is the derivative possessive κυριακ, and the word is not a hapax legomenon in the New Testament: it's the whole phrase that's a hapax. Therefore, as a phrase, “the Lord’s Day” must be examined as a hapax legomenon, but the root for the word κυριακ (i.e., kuriakos) is used in one other place in the New Testament: in reference to the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20). Now this parallel usage of terminology regarding “the Lord's Supper” and “the Lord's Day” suggests that, like the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Day is a Christian ordinance of some kind; as Christians partake in a particular Supper that belongs to the Lord in a special way, so Christians recognize a particular day that belongs to the Lord in a special way.[2] This line of reasoning leads John Murray to conclude:

The two pivotal events in this accomplishment [of redemption] are the death and resurrection of Christ and the two memorial ordinances of the New Testament institution are the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day, the one memorializing Jesus’ death and the other his resurrection.[3]

In addition to the grammatical connection, there are significant thematic similarities between both the background and the intentions for the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper. Both are rooted in creation realities. Both find their fulfillment in the New Creation to be manifested at Christ’s return.

Man was originally created to enjoy everlasting life in fellowship with God. In the Creation Covenant, God offered Man life on the condition of perfect obedience, as signified in the tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22-23). Upon breaking the Creation Covenant, Man earned death (Gen 2:16-17; 3:19). The sentence of death was delayed, however, as Man—who had become ashamed of nakedness (Gen 2:25; 3:7)—was clothed by God in the skins of an animal (Gen 3:21). Instead of Adam and Eve immediately dying, an animal died to cover their shame. Following the example of God sacrificing the animal, righteous Abel sacrificed the first-born from his flocks (Gen 4:4). Thereafter followed a host of occasional sacrifices during the time of the patriarchs. These sacrifices indicated that the way for sinners to enjoy fellowship with God was through the death of a substitute. Under the Mosaic Covenant, the sacrificial system was codified. The sacrificial system in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the perfect work of Christ (Heb 10:1-14). Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of His perfect sacrifice (1 Cor 11:25). The Lord’s Supper will be celebrated by Christ’s followers until He comes again (1 Cor 11:26), at which time it will give way to the ultimate fellowship with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Luke 22:15-18; Rev 19:7-9).

Man was originally created to enjoy the fellowship of everlasting rest in God. At Creation, God gave Man the ordinances of marriage, work, and rest. The ordinance of rest was attached to a specific day—originally the seventh day—which God sanctified (Gen 2:3). At Creation, God made the Sabbath for Man (Mark 2:27). Under the Mosaic Covenant, the Sabbath was codified, and it became the sign of the Old Covenant (Exo 31:13, 17). Having offered a complete and sufficient work through His death, burial, and resurrection, Christ was ultimately able to rest from His work (Heb 10:12). Through being raised from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19), appearing to His disciples on the first day (John 20:26), and sending the Holy Spirit on the first day (Acts 2:1-4; 32-33), Jesus established the first day of the week as the day that His disciples would commemorate His rest from His completed work. The earliest disciples began meeting together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2) and referring to it as the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10). This, in part, helps to define the “Sabbath-keeping” found in Hebrews 4:9-10 (rightly translated), which will give way to an everlasting rest when Jesus returns and establishes the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:4).

Brothers and sisters, let us glorify the Lord. Let us make the most of every opportunity to meet together on the Lord’s Day, taking the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. In the Lord’s Supper, let us truly remember His sacrifice, enjoying fellowship with one another, looking forward to everlasting fellowship with Him. In the Lord’s Day, let us remember His completed work, resting in Him now, and looking forward to complete and everlasting rest in Him.
 ---
[1] It's clear in the context that “Lord” refers to Jesus Christ.
[2]Waldron, “’Saturday or Sunday (Part 4).”
[3] Murray, Romans, 258. Concerning the phrase κυριακ μέρ [in Rev 1:10] BDAG 576 s.v. κυριακός states: “pert. to belonging to the Lord, the Lord’s… κ. μέρ the Lord’s Day (Kephal. I 192, 1; 193, 31…) i.e., certainly Sunday (so in Mod. Gk…) Rv 1:10 (WStott, NTS 12, ’65, 70-75).” Cited from The NET Bible [on-line]; accessed 14 July 2010; available from http://net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Rev&chapter=1; Internet.

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Are prayers directed to Jesus biblically appropriate?

This post was originally published on 6/30/08. This issue came up again this past Lord's Day while teaching about prayer in my Sunday school class at Kosmosdale Baptist Church.

On my team-blog, Strange BaptistFire, a commenter calling himself "Christian Brother" posted the following question:

In prayer, should we pray only to God the Father? Or are we permitted to pray to Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, as well?

I am inclined, thus far, to agree with the former because nowhere in Scripture is there a commandment to pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but there is plenty of commandments to pray to the Father. And, as much as my knowledge admits, there is not a single example of any Christian in the New Testament making a prayer to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are to give thanks in the Spirit or in Jesus, but we are always commanded to direct that thanks to the Father.

But I am very concerned about this because the heart of the question is this: What is an acceptable prayer? We would all hate to pray in a certain way, only to later find that we have been offering unacceptable prayers.

But on the other hand, if I have concluded that we should only pray to the Father, and the Bible permits us to pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, then I have been deprived of a fuller relationship with the Trinity.

What are your thoughts on this matter?

My response follows:

I believe that as followers of Christ we are regularly to direct our prayers to the Father (Matthew 6:9) in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14) by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 6:18). This normal model of how prayer is to be conducted is especially important in the local congregation, as in praying this way we teach one another about God through exploring the roles taken by the distinct Persons of the Trinity.

I do believe that Christians have the freedom to pray to Jesus, however, as I will explain below:

Though there are no commands to pray to Jesus Christ in the New Testament, there are, I believe, some clear examples of prayer to Jesus; many of these are indicated by David Peterson in his book Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (148-149):

Prayer to Jesus as Lord was offered by Stephen (Acts 7:59-60), in a way that is striking when compared and contrasted with the prayers of Jesus to the Father (Lk. 23:34, 46). Ananias also prayed to Jesus as Lord (9:10-17, where v. 17 shows that the ‘Lord’ addressed was Jesus) and designated the followers of Jesus as those who call on his name (9:14; cf. 22:16). Again, it is most likely that Jesus is the Lord addressed in prayer by the disciples in 1:24. Paul is represented as calling upon him as Lord on the Damascus road (9:5; 22:10; 26:15-18) and in a subsequent vision in the temple (22:17-21). In this connection it is interesting to note that Paul habitually associated the name of the Lord Jesus Christ with that of God the Father in his prayers (e.g. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 1 Thes. 3:11-13; and 2 Thes. 2:16-17, addressed first to ‘our Lord Jesus Christ himself’). Christians could also be defined by Paul as those who ‘call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1:2, cf. Rom. 10:9-13), adapting an Old Testament expression to indicate that Jesus Christ was the one in whom they put their trust for salvation and to whom they prayed (e.g. Gn. 12:8; Pss. 50:15; 105:1; Je. 10:25; Joel 2:32).

It is also important to note that the second-to-last verse of the Bible contains a brief prayer to Jesus: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b). The church in the immediate sub-apostolic era apparently continued the practice of praying to Jesus, as their activities were described by Pliny the Younger (who was himself a pagan) as follows: “...it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god…” [Pliny, Epistle 97].

So, in conclusion, I do think that Christians today are biblically justified in heartfelt prayers to our Lord Jesus, although the more normal pattern is to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name.

As far as I know, there is indeed no command or example of prayer to the Holy Spirit, and I believe His role is to convey and sanctify our prayers rather than to receive prayer as directed to Him.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Lord's Prayer in Latin, Marked for Translation

I have the privilege of teaching Latin at Sayers Classical Academy and also teaching Sunday school at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. In God's providence, I am currently able to begin teaching about the Lord's Prayer in both of these settings. For my Latin class, it is necessary for me to be able to fully identify each word of the Lord's Prayer in the Latin text. I pray that this close examination of our Lord's words (I'm looking at the Greek text also) will help in my exegesis and explanation of the prayer in Sunday school as well.

Looking online for helps regarding the Latin text of the Lord's prayer, I could not find any page that had the prayer fully marked for translation. Therefore, I've created my own marked text, seen below. I've marked it in the way that is most useful to me. I certainly welcome any questions/corrections.


VMS^           
Pater noster,

pron.       2sPAI   (in+AblNP)       
qui          es          in caelis,          

 3s PPS          AccNS ^
sanctificetur nomen tuum.
                                                       
3s PAS     AccNS ^                      
Adveniat regnum tuum. 

                 PN
3s PPS      NFS      ^
Fiat          voluntas tua,

adv.  (in+AblNS)     conj.     (in+AblSF)
sicut in caelo          et          in terra.

AccMS ^              ^                  2s PAV         
Panem nostrum quotidianum da               

1pDat  adv
nobis hodie,

conj      2s PAV  1pDat AccNP^               
et          dimitte nobis debita nostra

adv. conj. 1pNom   
sicut et    nos         

1p PAI         DMP          ^
dimittimus debitoribus nostris.

conj.      adv.         1pAcc             
Et          ne             nos                 

2s PAS  (in+AccFS)
inducas in tentationem,

conj.        2s PAV       1pAcc.         (a +       AblMS)
sed          libera          nos               a          malo.


Amen.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Impassibility and the Single Divine Decree


The following is a consideration of an area of systematic theology. I believe that it is spiritually profitable for believers to consider such things. This type of consideration keeps us from forming idols of God according to our own imaginations. For those who love God, this type of consideration is profitable in allowing us to grow in knowledge concerning the One we love.

According to classical orthodoxy—the belief of the church through the ages—God is impassible. “Impassible” indicates “unchanging in one’s emotional state”. God—who is eternal, immutable (meaning: unchangeable), and perfect in His affections—does not change in regard to His emotions. Without exception, this was the univocal view of the Church until quite recently, as Samuel Renihan demonstrates in God Without Passions: A Reader.

If a Christian has not thought through the doctrine of divine impassibility, then an immediate objection may come to his mind.

OBJECTION: Since believers used to be children of wrath, and are not children of wrath as believers, this necessarily implies that God has changed His affectional posture toward believers and gone from a God of wrath from a God of peace in relation to believers. [The position in this objection is sometimes referred to as “relational mutability”.]

The following answers to this objection are from James Dolezal and Samuel Renihan, two contributors to Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, and Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. At the end of this post, you can view the video from which these answers came.

James Dolezal

God is infinitely perfect in His hatred of my sin. That’s not a state of feeling that comes upon God. God is not a little more angry with sin than He was before. In other words, these are not states of emotion through which God is passing. God is not a little more or a little less angry with sin. It is His nature to detest it. It’s an insult to God’s holiness to say His wrath against sin rises and falls. It is His nature to detest sin.

It is also His nature to love. He is a God full of compassion. When He passes by Moses, He says, “The LORD God, full of compassion, showing mercy to generations and generations.”

Love is His nature. Holiness and justice are His nature. With respect to time, though, God does not manifest Himself or deal with me according to the fullness of His wrath or the fullness of His grace at one and the same moment. He can disclose Himself or administrate His dealings with me according to His wrath at one moment and according to His grace at another. It’s not that something changes in God… God has eternally and unchangeably decreed to deal with me in space and in time….

The change is on the side of revelation/manifestation, not on the side of being and perfection in God. But God is the one who wills that alteration. God wills to frown upon me—that is to say, to deal with me as One who is frowning upon my sin—and in the same act of will, to alter that manifestation—not alter His being, but alter that manifestation—by subsequently smiling upon me as I am united to His Son by faith through the work of His Spirit.

Samuel Renihan 


As God is simple [meaning: “without parts”], so His decree is simple. And His decree is of His will, which is one with His essence. So you have a simple, unchangeable decree with an unfathomable multitude of effects in time and space. So you can’t take those multitude of effects and assume some kind of complexity in the decree, when—in fact—it was simple in a simple God, whose will is one with His essence.

And so this question [the objection that God must undergo changing emotions when people are saved] assumes that:
  1. God has affectional postures;
  2. God is on the roller coaster of time and can change.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"That Man of Sin"


In the Summer 2005 edition of Founders Journal, Dr. Sam Waldron published an article arguing that churches should use the 1689 Baptist Confession as their statement of faith. Dr. Waldron argues that the 1689 Baptist Confession is the “best available local church confession.” In making his arguments, Waldron is clear in stating that Scripture alone is infallible, and that—as with all lengthy confessions—some revisions should be considered. One area of the 1689 Baptist Confession that needs “a slight revision,” Waldron argues, is Chapter 26, Paragraph 4: that the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist; the end-times “Man of Sin,” who will be destroyed at Christ’s return. Waldron writes:


[T]his statement ought not to have been made or be part of our confession today. This is one of those places where a slight revision of the 1689 Confession is necessary. In my experience (having become a Reformed Baptist pastor in 1977 and having shepherded two Reformed Baptist churches during that time), Reformed Baptist churches today, when they express their allegiance to the Confession in their constitutions, commonly make an exception of this statement.

Whereas it seems wise to forego identifying the Pope or papacy with a single end-times Antichrist, it is important to note that there are definite reasons that the Particular Baptists who originally adopted the 1689 Confession came to the conclusion that they did. Whether or not the “man of sin” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 will hold the Roman Catholic office of “pope,” the papacy is certainly anti-Christ in the broad sense (1 John 2:18). In fact, the papacy is diametrically opposed to all three persons of the trinity. Consider some of the titles that the Pope claims for himself: “Holy Father,” “Pontiff,” and “Vicar of Christ:”
 
¨    God alone should be called “Holy Father,” as Jesus directly commanded His disciples in Matthew 23:9.
¨    Jesus Christ is the only pontiff. “Pontiff” means “bridge,” or—in religious settings—the high priest mediating between God and Man. Jesus is the only mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5); in the New Covenant era, He is the only High Priest  (Heb 8:1; 10:14).
¨    The Holy Spirit is the only vicar of Christ. (“Vicar” means “substitute.”) See: John 14:16, 26.

[The above observations are adapted from points made by Phillip Jensen at the 2016 Together for the Gospel Conference.]

Conclusion: Confessional Subscription

In light of the Pope’s blasphemous claims, along with Waldron’s concession about the particular wording found in the 26.4, how should churches that subscribe to the 1689 Confession view its statements concerning the papacy? Tom Chantry, in some personal correspondence I had with him a couple of years ago, gave a number of helpful thoughts concerning this matter. Here is part of what he wrote to me. [The following material is consistent with specific statements Chantry has made on his own blog, so I don’t think he’ll mind my sharing these thoughts here.] 

[N]ote that the primary doctrine expressed in 26:4 is the exclusive headship of Christ over the church.  As a secondary doctrine, the confession condemns as blasphemy the pope’s usurpation of Christ’s title.

So what does it mean to subscribe to this doctrine? 

1. A strict subscriptionist [one who seriously takes the doctrines expressed in the 1689 Confession as an accurate summary of biblical teaching] must agree that Christ is the only Head of the Church, and that no man may usurp that title. 

2. A strict subscriptionist must agree that the system of papacy is a manifestation of the spirit of antichrist, and that part of the purpose of God the Holy Spirit in revealing antichrist to us was to prepare us to reject the papacy.  He must agree that God has rejected the papacy, and that Christ will utterly destroy it at the Judgment.

3. A strict subscriptionist must recognize that the papacy was the primary manifestation of the spirit of antichrist - at least during the age and location of the authors of our confession. 

It is important to take Reformed confessions seriously and to understand why they make specific claims concerning the papacy. It is important to resist—and not compromise in resisting—the spirit of the anti-Christ, wherever it might be found. Finally, it is vitally important to glorify Christ alone as the Head of the Church, “in whom—by the appointment of the Father—all power for the calling, institution, order, or government of the Church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner.”

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Suffrage Within the Church in Electing Elders


3 points about the above video:

1. Yes, it may have been made with sexist intention, and sexism is wrong.
2. It is, however, genuinely ironic and funny.
3. The real point is that most people have not been educated or prompted to consider their right to vote, and that definitions matter. (This is why I used to show this video when teaching Political Science; I think that someone could have just as easily gotten a bunch of guys to thoughtlessly sign a petition against men's suffrage.)

With that goofy introduction out of the way: this post is not about women's suffrage, or suffrage in general. This post is about suffrage within the church, specifically in regard to the election of elders. I believe that, just as people in society at large have not adequately thought through issues related to voting, we within the church have not adequately thought through the role that voting plays in our congregations.

Concerning suffrage within the church, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 declares: "Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes." In line with this statement, I was brought up under a tradition of regular church business meetings, wherein the congregation would vote on various issues facing the church. Though, at times, the business meetings were viewed as alternately either boring or contentious, no one questioned whether they should be occurring.

In college, I lived in a different town, and I became involved in an independent church, the pastor of which was very strong on the elder-rule model of church government. He basically believed that the congregation did not need to vote on anything. Whereas I remained convinced that the New Testament gives warrant for the congregation electing deacons, I followed my then-pastor's conviction that elders should be appointed by other elders, and that the elders should make virtually all of the decisions for the congregation as a whole; I did not see that the need for any church vote regarding the installation of elders. I believed that my conclusions on this matter were warranted from Titus 1:5, in which Paul instructed Titus (who was a pastor), "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you." This passage seemed to indicate the Titus himself, and not the various congregations, was in charge of installing elders for the congregations.

When I became a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my thinking on elders unilaterally appointing other elders was challenged. Surprisingly, the decisive challenge (moving me back into a more historically Baptist direction) did not come from a Baptist, but from a Presbyterian. For a Missions class, I was required to read Robert Reymond's Paul, Missionary Theologian. In discussing aspects of church government seen in Paul's missionary activity, with specific reference to Acts 14:23, Reymond notes:


The verb xειροτονέw literally means ‘choose, elect by raising hands’. The action described here probably means that Paul as an apostle simply appointed elders when he first planted a church, just as missionaries often do today when they first plant a church. This ‘appointing’ did not preclude, however, his seeking the church’s will in the matter by asking the congregation for a show of hands. (502n10)

The idea seems to be that elders will initiate the choosing of other elders, but that the congregation will play an important role in confirming the calling of those elders. Practically speaking, this makes sense in at least two ways:

1. Men who may be considered for the role of elder might tend to put on more of a pious manner when around the already-appointed elders than when around others.  Members of the congregation who are not elders may have insight into ways that a man's character does not line up with the qualifications of an elder.

2. In general, if the congregation does not respect a certain man (perhaps not through specific moral fault in the man, but rather through his not having labored among them for an adequate time), then-if that man is installed as an elder with no formal congregational input-it might be hard for the congregation to accept the new elder's pastoral authority.

John Calvin made a similar point as Reymond, in an even more expansive way, when he considered the question, 'Should a minister be chosen by the whole church, or only by colleagues and elders, or by the authority of a single pastor?' Calvin answered:


Those who attribute this right to one individual quote the words of Paul to Titus “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Tit. 1:5); and also to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (l Tim. 5:22). But they are mistaken if they suppose that Timothy so reigned at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, as to dispose of all things at their own pleasure. They only presided by previously giving good and salutary counsels to the people, not by doing alone whatever pleased them, while all others were excluded. Lest this should seem to be a fiction of mine, I will make it plain by a similar example. Luke relates that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders throughout the churches, but he at the same time marks the plan or mode when he says that it was done by suffrage. The words are, Χειροτονήσαντες πρεσβυτέρους κατ εκκλησίαν (Acts 14:23). They therefore selected (creabant) two; but the whole body, as was the custom of the Greeks in elections, declared by a show of hands which of the two they wished to have. Thus it is not uncommon for Roman historians to say, that the consul who held the comitia elected the new magistrates, for no other reason but because he received the suffrages, and presided over the people at the election. Certainly it is not credible that Paul conceded more to Timothy and Titus than he assumed to himself. Now we see that his custom was to appoint bishops by the suffrages of the people. We must therefore interpret the above passages, so as not to infringe on the common right and liberty of the Church. Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. 1 Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. (Institutes 4.3.15)

After the above statement on suffrage within the church in electing elders, Calvin then gives the following important word: Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult. (Ibid.)


With all of this in mind, I  believe that when it comes to electing elders, the already-appointed elders should take a lead role in both bringing new candidates for eldership before the congregation and in presiding over the election of new elders. HOWEVER, candidates for eldership must be confirmed by the whole congregation. The biblical warrant for the congregation both electing officers and exercising church discipline (Matt 18:17) means that there is definitely a congregational aspect to church government.

I will say that I am still a bit uncomfortable with the Baptist Faith and Message declaration about "democratic processes," simply because the term "democratic" has such philosophical and historic baggage. HOWEVER, I fully concur with the statement in the Reformed Baptist Confession (1689):

The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands. 
( Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6 )
 (26.9, emphasis added)


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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"so help me God"

Stomach virus afflicted my family at the end of last week. Sunday, instead of taking part in the Resurrection Day activities with my church family, I was at home with recovering children. I decided to redeem the time by going back over my notes from the Gospel of Matthew; using SermonAudio, I was listening to various sermons from my pastor on passages that I missed due to travel, nursery duty, etc.

Late Sunday night, I was finishing taking notes from Matthew 5:33-37. I had Facebook open on my browser, and was surprised to see an article/interview come across the screen from John Piper, in which he was answering a question from the passage I was considering. John Piper was addressing the question, "Should Christians Swear on the Bible?" Piper was arguing that based on Matthew 5:33-37, Christians should not swear to tell the truth in a court of law. My own pastor (Mitch Chase) took a different view from Piper in his sermon, and I believe that Mitch's view is supported by sound exegesis. (You can hear his entire sermon HERE.)

New Testament Evidence

In arguing that Matthew 5:33-37 is NOT meant to prevent every kind of oath whatsoever (provided the oath is honestly given), Mitch pointed to certain passages from later Scriptures in which oath-taking is indicated in a positive manner. Piper notes the New Testament evidence in passing:

"God himself took an oath in Hebrews 6:13–18. And angels take oaths (Revelation 10:5–7). And Paul at least five times heightened his seriousness in telling this truth by saying he was speaking in the presence of God or Christ (see, for example,Romans 9:1–2)."

Without any engagement with these passages, Piper treats them as irrelevant. But if you look at each of these passages, they provide weighty evidence indeed. Notice the way in which Paul communicates to the churches in Corinth and in Galatia, from which he was experiencing some opposition. In these contexts, in which people might doubt his word due to no fault of his own, Paul confirms his testimony with words like, "I call God as witness to my soul" (2 Cor 1:23), or, "I assure you before God that I am not lying" (Gal 1:20). There is not a hairsbreadth of difference between this language and the "so help me God" of an oath in court. There is, in fact, no way of understanding the Holy Spirit-inspired Apostle's language as anything other than an oath.

Old Testament Evidence

Whereas the New Testament evidence may be especially telling, in that it demonstrates oath-taking occurring even after Christ gives His instruction, the Old Testament also has bearing upon this question. In Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20, God commands His people to take oaths in His name. The Old Testament is full of people taking oaths, and doing so-when the oath is taken honestly-is not always portrayed as a bad thing. These Old Testament commands and examples are not just for people in ancient times; they are for US who trust in Christ (see Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:6-11; 2 Tim 3:16-17). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was not contradicting the earlier words of God; He was rightly interpreting them.

Confessional Evidence

I would also like to submit that Piper's biblical reasoning on this issue could benefit from an examination of the Reformed/Baptist confessional heritage. Today, there are many who distrust confessions of faith (and works of systematic theology in general), believing that they necessarily force an interpretive grid upon Scripture. But as I read  Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, I see Owen (the architect of the Savoy Declaration) and Coxe (the architect of the Second London Baptist Confesion) drawing their arguments by careful exegesis of specific passages. And on this issue as well, it is better to take our older brothers' words into consideration than to have each generation pretend as if they are thinking through disputed issues for the first time. So, for example, we should consider Chapter 23 of the Second London Confession, "Of Lawful Oaths," where it declares:
In matter of weight and moment, for confirmation of truth, and ending all strife, an oath is warranted by the word of God; so a lawful oath being imposed by lawful authority in such matters, ought to be taken. (Heb 6:16; 2 Cor 1:23; Neh 13:25)
We should look at the reasoning of the Confession and the Scripture proofs it cites to see if there is wisdom from our elders that will benefit us.

Conclusion

John Piper, in his advice against oaths in court, is trying to be faithful to the command of His Lord. In this, he is to be commended. However, I am convinced that he is wrong on the question at hand, and that his error-however honest-has the potential for serious consequences.

Piper envisions himself, if in court, refusing to give an oath. Instead, he believes he would give a miniature sermon: something like Stephen before the Sanhedrin. But, though United States judges and justices have made wicked decisions at times, our court system is not the Sanhedrin. It is, however, an environment in which many witnesses have a reason to lie, and the judge and jury need a formal mechanism by which people are either bound to tell the truth, or else they face legal repercussions. It is not a place where each witness can establish a reputation whereby everyone can know that his "yes" is "yes" and his "no," "no." It is not a place where each witness can give a theological dissertation based on private opinion. Introducing unusual language into the proceeding just confuses the matter at hand. Instead of providing the opportunity for witness that Piper imagines, failure to give a simple answer may make the Christian seem unnecessarily obnoxious, and place him-again, unnecessarily-in danger of contempt.

Finally, apart from the specific example at hand-the question of a Christian who is a witness at trial-the approach that Piper takes to this question introduces a detrimental method of biblical interpretation. People have used this method-taking a single phrase from the Sermon on the Mount out of context, not interpreting Bible verses by the light of Scripture as a whole-and they have argued for absolute pacifism  (based on "love your enemies"), they have argued against proper Christian discernment (based on "judge not"), and they have promoted even worse errors.

Several of Piper's works have been a great blessing in my own life. He is greatly influential with many in our churches. But I would urge anyone reading this to re-consider his exegesis concerning oath-taking; in general, I would hope that we will all strive to interpret every Scripture in context.

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Monday, March 07, 2016

Covenants of Redemption: Major Movements in Redemptive History

Over the past year, I was privileged with the opportunity to teach at several of the Wednesday evening prayer services at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. On these occasions, I taught through the covenants of Scripture. I did not have all of my lessons on the covenants recorded, but I did record those which I believe to be most foundational to the covenant structure of Scripture. These sermons are as follows:


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