Thursday, March 23, 2017

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Thus far in our series Engaging the Homosexual Movement we have looked at arguments/objections from nature and morality that are raised in favor of the normalization of the practice of homosexuality. The argument from nature might be phrased in terms of “This is just who I am” or, as we phrased it, “God made me this way.” We’ve learned that such an argument is fundamentally an appeal to the doctrine of creation, so we went back to Genesis 1 and 2 as well as other biblical texts and arrived at these answers:
  1. From the perspective of humanity’s creation as male and female: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. In God’s finished good creation there was no homosexuality. Therefore, it must be a result of humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery. It is an unnatural and sinful perversion of what God made, including you.
  2. From the perspective of the image of God and the one flesh union: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. The image of God in which humanity was created was expressed through the smaller husband and wife marriage community which was commanded to propagate a community of offspring. Homosexuality runs contrary to this expression. Therefore it must be part of the defacing of the image of God that occurred after the fall.
  3. From the perspective of God’s intended end for his creation: If homosexuality runs contrary to this end, then it cannot be true that God made anyone homosexual. By appealing to Eph. 5 and Rev. 19 we see that homosexuality denies this end in at least three ways: (1) It denies the headship of Christ over his church, both in the sense of his deity and his covenantal authority, (2) It denies the one-body union of Christ with his church, and (3) Because of (1) and (2) it denies Jesus’ ability to save sinners unto the renewal of the expression of the image of God in being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth. 
The argument from morality might be phrased in terms of “Jesus never condemned it!” Last time we developed this answer to that argument: “No. Jesus did condemn it when he appealed to Gen. 2 in order to define God’s design for marriage and sexuality and when he spoke favorably of God’s destruction of Sodom. Besides these texts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we should also receive the rest of the Bible as God’s authoritative word. In numerous other places the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sin.”

In this lesson we’ll look at an objection from authority. This objection typically takes the form of Jesus’ teaching in his sermon on the mount. Matt. 7:1 and Luke 6:37 say in the KJV, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” This objection is essentially an appeal to authority. The basic idea is that no one has the right to judge anyone else’s behavior as good or bad. The reasons behind this objection vary. Some would say no one has the right to judge another because all people do bad things. This actually comes closest to what Jesus meant by “Judge not.” Others would say that no one has the right to judge another because such “religious” judgments are not based in fact but in personal, individual preferences. So what are we to make of such an objection?

We should begin with what Jesus actually meant by “Judge not.” Did he intend for this command to be taken in an absolute sense? In other words, did he mean to forbid all kinds of judging or a particular kind of judging? In John 7:24, Jesus teaches the crowd saying, “Judge not by appearances but judge with right judgment.” So in one passage he says, "Judge," and in another, "Judge not." What are we to make of this? If we believe that John’s gospel is just as authoritative as Matthew’s and Luke’s, we must conclude that Jesus’ command to “Judge not” cannot be meant in an absolute sense. Jesus must be forbidding a wrong kind of judgment. But what kind? Let’s look at Jesus’ teaching in context.

Luke 6:37-42: “‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”

Jesus is forbidding an ungracious judgmental attitude that would cause one to hypocritically "look down his nose" at others. He is rejecting any spirit that would exalt itself as morally superior to another based on one’s own supposed righteousness. This was the spirit imbibed by Jesus’ chief antagonists, the Pharisees. This is the unrighteous judgment he is forbidding. The Apostle Paul rightly judges this same kind of judgment in Rom. 2:1 which says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” Later he even uses the same illustration of spiritual blindness that Jesus uses in his sermon on the mount, writing in vv. 17-24, “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”

If as Christians we ever hear the objection, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” we should first examine ourselves to make sure we are not approaching the subject in a self-righteous manner. To do so is to blaspheme God (i.e. the third commandment) by denying his law and gospel. It is a denial of the law in the sense that it requires one to exalt himself over the very law he purports to believe. If we are not judged and found guilty by the same law with which we judge, then we are not judging in a Christian manner. It is also a denial of the gospel. That person who judges in a self-righteous manner functionally rejects the need for the grace of God extended to him in Jesus Christ. Recently a popular politician was asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness. He responded negatively, saying in effect that he had never done anything so bad that he felt he needed to be forgiven for it. That’s called self-righteousness. That’s what Jesus is forbidding in the sermon on the mount. Christian judgment is always soaked in grace and rendered NOT for the purpose of condemnation but repentance and reconciliation with God. In other words, the only legitimate manner in which a Christian should ever pass such a judgment is gently with grace and love. And the only reason for passing such a judgment is to call a person to repentance and reconciliation with God.

So how should we respond to the person who objects to the Christian teaching that homosexuality is sinful by saying, “Judge not lest ye be judged”? We should say we agree with Jesus. Jesus did not mean to forbid all kinds of judging. He meant to forbid a particular kind of unrighteous judging, namely self-righteousness. We should explain that the same law by which we judge homosexuality as sinful condemns us as well. We are not the authority. God is the authority. His word is our only infallible rule for such judgments. And we should share the good news of forgiveness, the imputation of righteousness, and the transformation into a new creation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Jesus Never Condemned It!

Thus far in our series "Engaging the Homosexual Movement" we have looked at the argument from nature or identity. This argument might be phrased in terms of “This is just who I am” or, as we phrased it, “God made me this way.” We learned that such an argument is fundamentally an appeal to the doctrine of creation, so we went back to Genesis 1 and 2 as well as other biblical texts and arrived at these conclusions:
  1. From the perspective of humanity’s creation as male and female we might answer: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. In God’s finished good creation there was no homosexuality. Therefore, it must be a result of humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery. It is an unnatural and sinful perversion of what God made, including you.
  2. From the perspective of the image of God and the one flesh union we might answer: It’s not true that God made anyone homosexual. The image of God in which humanity was created was expressed through the smaller husband and wife marriage community which was commanded to propagate a community of offspring. Homosexuality runs contrary to this expression. Therefore it must be part of the defacing of the image of God that occurred after the fall.
  3. From the perspective of God’s intended end for his creation we might answer: If homosexuality runs contrary to this end, then it cannot be true that God made anyone homosexual. By appealing to Eph. 5 and Rev. 19 we see that homosexuality denies this end in at least three ways: (1) It denies the headship of Christ over his church, both in the sense of his deity and his covenantal authority, (2) It denies the one-body union of Christ with his church, and (3) Because of (1) and (2) it denies Jesus’ ability to save sinners unto the renewal of the expression of the image of God in being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth.
In this lesson we will look at another common objection raised in favor of the normalization of homosexuality. It is an argument from morality, which is typically phrased as “Jesus never condemned it.” First, we’ll look at what Jesus said about human sexuality. Second, we’ll evaluate the legitimacy of those who might attempt to pick and choose which texts of Scripture they will accept as authoritative. Third, we’ll look at what the Scriptures have to say about homosexuality.

First, what did Jesus say about homosexuality? Only one of Jesus’ teachings deals with marriage and sexuality directly. This teaching is found in Matt. 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12. It is occasioned by a question. The Pharisees, in order to test Jesus, ask him, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” In Matt. 19:4-6, he responds, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10:6-9 puts it like this: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus appeals to the creation account in Genesis. God instituted marriage in the beginning. It is a creation ordinance and the only proper context for human sexuality (i.e. an aspect of the one flesh union). And who are the proper subjects of such activity? Jesus is clear. “God made them male and female.” One man and one woman may be joined together in the bonds of marriage, not one man and another man or one woman and another woman or any other possible combination. The subjects of the God-ordained institution of marriage and sexuality are one man and one woman. It is understood that any other arrangement is contrary to God’s design and law and, therefore, sin.

Jesus addresses homosexuality in an indirect way on three other occasions. On each of these occasions he references God’s destruction of Sodom favorably. Now, as we saw in our first lesson, when we compare Gen. 19:5, Ezek. 16:49-50, and Lev. 18:22 we come away understanding that the particular sin associated with Sodom was homosexuality. (This is where we get the term “sodomy.”) In Matt. 10:14-15 Jesus instructs his Apostles before sending them out, saying, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” In Matt. 11:24 and Luke 10:12, Jesus pronounces woes upon cities that reject him, saying, “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” In Luke 17:28-30 Jesus prophesies about his Second Coming, saying, “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” In all of these examples Jesus speaks favorably of God’s judgment against Sodom and compares it to the final judgment.

So, even if we limit our testimony to the words Jesus spoke at his First Coming we have ample evidence that he viewed homosexuality as sinful. But why limit ourselves in this way? Isn’t all Scripture, including the passages we’ve read from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, equally authoritative. Isn’t every word of the 66 books of the Old and New testaments the inspired word of God? Yes. Jesus himself clearly believed all 39 books of the OT were the inspired and authoritative word of God. And the same Spirit that inspired those texts inspired the Apostles and their associates to write the 27 books of the NT. When we look at all those texts we find many clear statements about the sin of homosexuality.

We’ve already mentioned the sin of Sodom as well as Lev. 18:22, which was part of Israel’s civil law under the Mosaic covenant. Besides these, the seventh commandment (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) assumes that the only righteous context for human sexuality is marriage between one man and one woman. And when we fast forward to the NT we find the same teaching in Rom. 1:26-27, which describes human depravity saying, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” 1 Cor. 6:9 also says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.” And Jude 7 says, “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Finally, 1 Tim. 1:8-10a says, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality.” The biblical evidence for the sinfulness of homosexuality is clear and undeniable. One might claim otherwise, but he cannot have the Bible as his authority and claim otherwise.

Therefore, our answer to the objection “Jesus never condemned it” is, “No. Jesus did condemn it when he appealed to Gen. 2 in order to define God’s design for marriage and sexuality and when he spoke favorably of God’s destruction of Sodom. Besides these texts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we should also receive the rest of the Bible as God’s authoritative word. In numerous other places the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sin.”

Now it should be noted, as we'll see in the next few weeks, that this isn’t where our answer ultimately ends. There is hope for those who struggle with same-sex attraction in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we’ve seen in 1 Cor. 6:9, God clearly condemns homosexuality, saying that those who practice it “will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.” However, in v. 11 he continues, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

God Made Me This Way! (Part 2)

Last time we considered this objection from the perspective of God’s original created design under two headings: (1) “Man’s Creation Male and Female” and (2) “The Image of God and the One Flesh Union.” Under the first heading we concluded that the Bible’s answer to the objection “God made me this way!” is to say, “No, that’s not true. In God’s finished good creation there was no homosexuality. Therefore, it must be a result of humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery. It is an unnatural and sinful perversion of what God made, including you.” Under the second we concluded that the Bible’s answer is to say, “No, that’s not true. The image of God in which humanity was created was expressed through the smaller husband and wife marriage community which was commanded to propagate an increasing community of offspring. Homosexuality runs contrary to this expression. Therefore it must be part of the perversion of the image of God that occurred in the fall.”
        
In this lesson, rather than thinking about the objection from the perspective of protology (i.e. doctrine of first things), we’ll think about it from the perspective of eschatology (i.e. doctrine of last things). In the eternal decree of God there is a parallel relationship between first things and last things. As Jonathan Edwards taught in his masterpiece The End for Which God Created the World, whatever God aims to achieve must be his highest reason for creating. In other words, the creation as originally designed (i.e. protology) must have God’s end goal (i.e. eschatology) embedded within it. Thus the claim "This is just who I am!" or "God made me this way!" is more than simply an appeal to God’s original design for his creation. It’s also an appeal to his goal for it.

As we saw last time, God created man male and female after his own image, and the two were united together as one flesh in a marriage covenant as husband and wife. These were their God-given identities. After the fall God determined to send a redeemer. “The seed of the woman” would come to “crush the head of the serpent" (Gen. 3:15). This redeemer would serve as a second Adam (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15), undoing what the first Adam did and doing what he failed to do. But how would the elect receive these benefits? SC 30 asks, “How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ? A. The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.” The redemption we have is in Christ. It is ours through faith-union with him. And what is the nature of this union? LC 66 asks, “What is that union which the elect have with Christ? A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Our union with Christ is described as that of a wife to her husband.

Just as God originally created a wife for the first Adam, so he is creating a wife for the second. We read about the connection between marriage and God’s work of redemption in Eph. 5:22-33, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

We see two defining characteristics of marriage in this text: (1) The husband’s headship over his wife, and (2) The one flesh (or body) union between one man and one woman. These characteristics of the marriage relationship between husband and wife correspond to Christ’s relationship to his church. Just as Adam was the head of his wife, so Christ is the head of his church, and just as Adam and Eve were joined together in a covenant bond as one flesh, so Christ and his church are joined together in a covenant bond as one body. It is through this relationship of headship and union that sinners are saved.

As we think about this analogy in terms of the renewal of the image of God, we might also say, just as the image of God was expressed in the smaller marriage community of Adam and Eve propagating an increasing community of offspring, so it is being renewed through the marriage community of Christ and his church, which is propagating an increasing community of offspring by making disciples of all nations. Christ, in union with his church, is working to fulfill the original goal of being fruitful, multiplying, filling, subduing, and having dominion over the earth. We read about the consummation of this renewal in Rev. 19:6-9. The text says, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’” This is the final sanctifying act that Christ performs for his bride.

We may, therefore, evaluate homosexuality by testing its conformity to the headship and union that characterizes Christ's redemptive relationship with and goal for his church. When we overlay this biblical paradigm with the homosexual paradigm what do we see?

First, we see that homosexuality cannot achieve the headship that a husband should have relative to his wife, since homosexual partners can only be relational equals. This fails to conform to the analogy Paul draws to Christ’s headship over his church. That headship has two senses. First, as the Son of God, Christ is our natural head by virtue of his deity. The homosexual paradigm, therefore, effectively denies Jesus’ deity, which is blasphemy. Second, as the incarnate Mediator, Christ is our covenantal head. The homosexual paradigm, therefore, effectively denies Jesus’ covenantal authority over us. Both denials, paradigmatically speaking, deprive him of his ability to save, specifically with respect to his power, thus undermining the gospel.

Second, we see that homosexuality cannot achieve the one flesh union of husband and wife. Try as they may homosexual partners can only be two distinct individuals. This has massive implications for love. The Apostle clearly bases the love a husband should have for his wife on the fact that she is his body. While homosexual partners may love one another as individuals, they can never share the kind of love that is associated with the one flesh union. This fails to conform to the analogy Paul draws to Christ’s love for his church. Being unable to achieve the one flesh union, the homosexual paradigm effectively denies the same union between Christ and his church and therefore the basis of his love for her, viz. himself (she is his body). This, again, paradigmatically speaking, deprives Jesus of his ability to save, specifically with respect to his willingness (or love), thus undermining the gospel. 
Because the homosexual paradigm effectively denies Christ’s headship over and union with his church, it denies Jesus’ ability to save sinners both in terms of his power and willingness (or love), respectively. And because Jesus’ salvation of sinners is unto the renewal of the expression of the image of God in being fruitful, multiplying, filling, subduing, and having dominion over the earth, homosexuality also effectively denies this goal.

So, in answer to the objection, "God made me this way!” the Christian may also appeal to God’s goal for what he made. If homosexuality effectively denies that goal, then it cannot be true that God made anyone homosexual. Homosexuality effectively denies God’s goal for his creation by: (1) denying the headship of Christ over his church, both naturally and covenantally, thus depriving him of his power to save, (2) denying the one body union of Christ with his church, thus depriving him of his willingness (or love) to save. In other words, homosexuality effectively denies Jesus’ ability to renew the expression of the image of God in being fruitful, multiplying, filling, subduing, and having dominion over the earth.    

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

God Made Me This Way! (Part 1)

The Creation of Man and Woman
One of the most common beliefs put forward in the interest of the normalization of homosexuality has to do with nature or identity. We see this belief expressed whenever a proponent within the homosexual movement says, “This is just who I am!" How should Christians evaluate and answer such a belief?

First we need to understand that human identity is rooted in God’s work of creation. To say, “This is just who I am!" is the theological equivalent of saying, “God made me this way!” We must, therefore, begin with the biblical doctrine of creation when addressing such a belief.

When we look at the creation account in Genesis 1-2, what do we see? We don’t see God creating humanity as a self-identifying blank slate. We see him creating a man and a woman. He determines identity as he creates. Moreover, we don’t see God creating man for man or woman for woman. We see God creating one man and one woman for each other. When he finishes (2:1) his good (1:31) creation all the basic elements of human society are present but homosexuality is absent. Homosexuality doesn’t appear until after humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery.

The first explicit biblical reference to homosexuality is found in Gen. 19:5 as the men of the city of Sodom try to rape two angels who appear as men. This is why homosexuality is sometimes referred to as sodomy. Ezekiel 16:49-50 comments on Sodom’s sin, saying, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” The Hebrew word that is translated abomination, means “morally disgusting.” It’s the same word used to describe homosexuality in Lev. 18:22. That text says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Jude 7 describes Sodom's condemnation to that of hell saying, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” The Bible describes homosexuality as sinful, unnatural, and deserving God's condemnation. Rather than conforming to God’s original good design for his creation, it is a result of the fall.   

One might object: “There’s no sex whatsoever prior to the fall. Does that mean heterosexual sex is bad too?” But this objection fails to account for the command of God in Gen. 1:28 to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Such a command implies the conception of children. We see the same in Gen. 2:24, which says “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The one flesh union includes sexual intercourse.

Therefore, our first answer to the objection, “God made me this way!” is to say: “No, that’s not true. In God’s finished good creation there was no homosexuality. In fact, the first explicit reference to homosexuality is condemned by God. Therefore, it must be a result of humanity’s fall into the estate of sin and misery. Homosexuality is a sinful and unnatural perversion of what God made, including you.”       

The Image of God and the One Flesh Union
One key aspect of the creation of humanity is the imago dei (i.e. the image of God). The image of God is what sets humanity apart from the beasts of the earth. It’s what makes us unique. Gen. 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” But what is this image?

The Apostle Paul teaches in Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24 that God is renewing the image of God in believers according to three different aspects. Col. 3:10 says, “And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Eph. 4:24 says, “And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Therefore we confess in The Westminster Confession of Faith 4.2a, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image.” Interestingly, these three aspects of the image of God correspond to the three mediatorial offices of Christ. Knowledge corresponds to his prophetic office; holiness (1st table of the moral law) corresponds to his priestly office; righteousness (2nd table of the moral law) corresponds to his kingly office.

Reformed theologians have historically distinguished between two senses of the image of God. In a broad sense, it is simply the intellectual (i.e. knowledge) and moral (i.e. holiness and righteousness) faculties that make us human. Even after the fall humanity retained these faculties, although in a totally depraved condition. We see this sense of the image in Gen. 9:6. The text says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This is what gives humanity, even in its fallen condition, dignity and worth.

In a narrow sense, however, the image is humanity's originally righteous condition, which was, of course, completely destroyed in the fall. Humanity is no longer characterized by original righteousness but by original sin. Rather than being innocent and pure, we are guilty and corrupt in our whole nature. This is the sense in which the Apostle speaks of the image as being renewed in Christians in Col. 3 and Eph. 4.

This image, while constituted within individuals, isn’t expressed through individualism. It is expressed in and through community. We see this in God's command to his image bearers in Gen. 1:28. The text says, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Humanity was created to express the image of God by being fruitful, multiplying, filling, subduing and having dominion over the earth. Adam’s and Eve’s smaller marriage community was expected to propagate an increasing community of offspring. Only as two individual human beings of the opposite sex became one flesh could humanity properly express the image of God. Husband and wife, two individuals with two distinct bodies, were to function together as one body in the interest of further forming and filling God’s good creation. 
Because we see the image of God expressed in the beginning through the smaller husband and wife marriage community propagating an increasing community of offspring, and homosexuality runs contrary to this expression, we must conclude that it is contrary to the image of God narrowly considered.

Therefore, our second answer to the objection, “God made me this way!” is to say: “No, that’s not true. The image of God in which humanity was created was expressed through the smaller husband and wife marriage community which was commanded to propagate an increasing community of offspring. Homosexuality runs contrary to this expression. Therefore it must be part of the perversion of the image of God that occurred in the fall.”

Engaging the Homosexual Movement

Last Summer I taught a six-part Sunday school series at Neon Reformed entitled Engaging the Homosexual Movement. The class schedule was as follows:
  1. God Made Me This Way! (Part 1)
  2. God Made Me This Way! (Part 2)
  3. Jesus Never Condemned It!
  4. Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!
  5. Does Your God Hate Me?
  6. Do You Hate Me? 
In the interest of dusting off this old blog, I thought I might publish this and other short Sunday School series moving forward. Perhaps it will be a benefit to some.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pentecost in Four Geographical Stages

Lately I've been studying Luke and Acts. In Acts 1:3-5 the risen Jesus teaches his disciples about two things: (1) the kingdom of God and (2) the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then we read in Acts 1:6, "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" They view the kingdom as Jewish dominion in the Promised Land. Jesus responds by announcing a key distinctive of the New covenant era. The kingdom will advance beyond the Land into the whole world through the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. We read in Acts 1:7-8, "He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'" This geographical advance is the organizing principle of the book of Acts. Ch. 1-7 have to do with the advance of the kingdom in Jerusalem. Ch. 8-12 have to do with its advance in Judea and Samaria. Ch. 13-28 have to do with its advance to the end of the earth. But what about the various Spirit baptisms in Acts (i.e. ch. 2, 8, 10, 19)? How do they fit? Are they somehow related to the geographical advance of the kingdom?

Sinclair Ferguson makes this connection in his excellent book The Holy Spirit. Ferguson considers the pouring out of the Spirit at Ephesus in ch. 19 to be of a different kind than the previous three. Thus he proposes a three stage Spirit baptism from Jerusalem (ch. 2, Jews) to Samaria (ch. 8, Samaritans) to Caesarea (ch. 10, Gentiles, "end of the earth"). The weaknesses of this view are the disqualification of the ch. 19 event and the discontinuity with Acts 1:8 with respect to the kingdom's advance into "all Judea."

R.C. Sproul sees things differently. In a recent lecture he proposes a four stage Spirit baptism based on four kinds of people: (1) Jews, (2) Samaritans, (3) God-fearers, and (4) Gentiles. In ch. 2 the Spirit is poured out on the Jews. In ch. 8 he is poured out on the Samaritans. In ch. 10 he is poured out on the God-fearers (i.e. Cornelius's household). And finally in ch. 19 he is poured out on the Gentiles. The weakness with this view is that it is not entirely clear that those who received the Spirit in ch.19 were Gentiles, and, if they were, that they shouldn't be considered God-fearers like Cornelius. After all, they had already received John's baptism, a baptism that was preached specifically for the Jews and only applied in Judea. It seems much more likely that these men were Jews who had encountered the ministry of John during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem some years earlier.

I think there may be a simpler explanation. Perhaps the four stage Spirit baptism aligns with the four stage geographical advance of the kingdom laid out in Acts 1:8?

The first stage is easy to identify. The Day of Pentecost is Jerusalem. The second stage is easy to identify. Ch. 8 is Samaria. The fourth stage is easy to identify. Ephesus becomes the center of Paul's mission to the Gentiles, so ch. 19 is "the end of the earth." But what about the third stage? What about Caesarea where the Spirit was poured out upon Cornelius's household? Could Caesarea represent Judea? If you look at the maps in the back of your Bible, you wouldn't think so. But those maps represent a Jewish understanding of the regions in question. What if Luke is thinking about them from a Gentile point of view? The Roman region of Judea was much bigger. It extended further north and included Samaria and Galilee. Caesarea was a capital city for the region. This is why Paul was eventually sent from Jerusalem to stand trial before Felix in Caesarea. We see more evidence for a Gentile rendering of Judea in Luke's gospel. Luke 4:14-9:50 focuses on Jesus' ministry in Galilee. But we read in Luke 4:44, "And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea." Now, if Luke intends to refer to the region of Judea as the Jews conceived it, this verse is out of place. In 4:43 and 5:1 Jesus is in Galilee. Why would he all of a sudden be 60 miles south in v. 44? Interestingly, there is a textual variant at this point. Some later manuscripts replace "Judea" with "Galilee." Could this be a scribal attempt to clarify Luke's Gentile usage of the term? I think that is likely.

So now the third stage of the geographical advance of the kingdom is in alignment with the pouring out of the Spirit in Caesarea. Thus the four stage "geographical advance/Spirit baptism" is as follows:
  1. Jerusalem- Ch. 2
  2. Samaria- Ch. 8
  3. Judea- Ch. 10
  4. The end of the earth- Ch. 19
Now, one might quibble with the ordering of (2) and (3). Acts 1:8 says, "in all Judea and Samaria." Why are they now out of order? One possible answer is that Samaria was part of Judea as the Romans conceived it. So, perhaps we should render Acts 1:8, "in all Judea even (or including) Samaria." The semantic range of kai certainly allows for this. In that case we would expect the advance of the kingdom into Samaria to precede its advance into all Judea.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Ten Commandments: God's DNA

This Sunday we began a new morning series at Neon Reformed Presbyterian Church entitled The Ten Commandments: God's DNA. Having spent the Spring in Paul's letter to the Galatians, which emphasizes the moral law's pedagogical use (i.e. its use with respect to our justification), I thought it would serve us well to examine the law with a particular focus on its didactic use (i.e. its use with respect to our sanctification).

Here is a worksheet for the first sermon:

Text: Exodus 20:1-2, "And God spoke all these words, saying, 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.'"
Thesis: Because God is the LORD, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments (SC 44).

Moral law (Ten Commandments) (the law narrowly considered):
  1. You shall have no other God's before me.
  2. You shall make no graven images.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet.
First Table (1-4)- Duties to God
Second Table (5-10)- Duties to man

Threefold division of law (the law broadly considered):
  1. Moral law (Ten Commandments)- Regulating all of life. 
  2. *Ceremonial law- Further regulating worship. Human-to-God relations. 
  3. *Civil law- Further regulating society. Human-to-human relations. 
*These laws were unique to the Mosaic covenant. Since the first coming of Christ, they have ceased to be directly applicable to us.

Threefold use of the moral law:
  1. Pedagogical (Disciplinarian)- The law serves to uncover and condemn our sin that we might flee to the mercy of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:20; 7:7-12; Gal. 3:21-24). 
  2. Civil (Common)- The law serves to restrain evil in the world among all men in common, especially at the level of human-to-human relations (second table) (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 2:14-16; 13:1-7). 
  3. Didactic (Moral instruction)- The law serves as a rule of thankful obedience on the part of the Christian (Matt. 5-7; Rom. 12:8-14; Gal. 5:13-24). 
Sermon Divisions: 
  1. The LORD’s Law (Covenant)- "And God spoke all these words saying, 'I am the LORD...'" The Hebrew word translated LORD is Yahweh. This is the personal name of God revealed to Moses in Ex. 3:13ff. It is uniquely associated with his covenant. The moral law is part of God's covenantal dealings with man, beginning with the covenant of works between God and Adam and his posterity in him in the garden prior to the Fall and continuing into the covenant of grace between God and Christ and his elect in him outside the garden after the Fall. 
  2. Our God’s Law (Creation)- "...your God..." The Hebrew word translated God is Elohim. This is the word used in Gen. 1:1 for God. It is uniquely associated with his work of creation. The moral law is revealed to all humanity by nature as part of the image of God into which we were created. It uncovers and condemns us in our sin according to the broken covenant of works in Adam, and it works to restrain evil among all men in common until the end. 
  3. Our Redeemer’s Law (Redemption)- "...who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." As Israel was freed from the oppression of the Pharaoh, so we are freed from the curse of the moral law through the person and work of Jesus Christ that we might therefore obey it, "not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind” (from WCF 20.1).  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Talking about the Federal Vision Controversy on the Heidelcast (Part 2)

The second part of my conversation with Dr. R. Scott Clark on the Heidelcast is now up. Here's the blurb from the Heidelblog:

For those who are outside the Reformed churches, the so-called (and self-named) Federal Vision movement probably seems like a tempest in a teapot. For those of us, however, who worship in Reformed churches, the FV is no theoretical discussion. There have been actual Federal Visionists in pulpits preaching their errors. As a result. some believers have been robbed of their assurance through a corruption of the gospel and through the FV corruption of the doctrine of apostasy. Others have been led into a false view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (e.g., paedocommunion). The FV errors have led to a series of ecclesiastical trials. Most believers, even those in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, have probably never seen an ecclesiastical trial. In these two episodes we’ve been able to get a behind-the-scenes view of one such FV-related trial. 
Here is part 1 of the interview with Pastor M. Jay Bennett with links to background materials. 
Here’s episode 54.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Talking about the Federal Vision Controversy on the Heidelcast (Part 1)

This week I had the privilege of discussing the Federal Vision controversy with Dr. R. Scott Clark on the Heidelcast. Here's the blurb from the Heidelblog:
The self-described and so-called Federal Vision movement has been troubling the confessional (NAPARC) Reformed and Presbyterian denominations since before it had a cool name. It presents itself as Reformed theology but is only Reformed in the way that Arminius was Reformed. He was a Reformed minister. He was never convicted of error yet his theology was soundly rejected by the Reformed Churches at the Synod of Dort. The FV has been rejected by most of the NAPARC denominations in assemblies and in study reports. Nevertheless, that rejection has not always translated into successful prosecutions on the ground, most notably in three cases in the PCA. In cases in the Pacific Northwest, Siouxlands, and in the Missouri Presbytery the prosecution of particular Federal Vision cases has failed. So, what happened? That’s a good question and the Rev. Mr. M. Jay Bennett, pastor of Neon Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Neon, KY joins us in this episode and the next to help us understand what happened in one high-profile case....
Here’s episode 53.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

When Church Courts Err

Westminster Confession of Faith 31.3 states: "All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both." I believe I recently witnessed this first hand. Let me explain.

On Jan. 20, 2009 after successfully completing my ordination exams, I became a member of the Missouri Presbytery (MOP) of the PCA. A few months later MOP received a letter of concern from various men around the PCA regarding the Federal Vision teachings of one of its members, Jeffrey J. Meyers. After several months of investigation MOP found no strong presumption of guilt in Meyers's teachings. Three members of MOP, including me, complained against that decision. Our complaint eventually went to the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), where a panel of five men voted to sustain it. Before that decision became finalized by the whole SJC, MOP determined to try Meyers. I was appointed assistant prosecutor in that trial. Part of my duty as the assistant prosecutor was to cross-examine Meyers. The full transcript of that trial can be found here.

MOP, of course, voted overwhelmingly to exonerate Meyers of all charges. I complained against that decision, but by the time the complaint was answered by MOP (in the negative, of course), I transferred into the Presbytery of the Southeast of the OPC, having received a call to serve as organizing pastor of Neon Reformed Presbyterian Church. I continued the appeal process by sending the complaint to the SJC, but since I was the only complainant and was no longer a member of MOP, the SJC ruled my complaint administratively out of order without ever seeing it. Initially I was very disappointed in the SJC's decison. After all, I had been part of the judicial process concerning TE Meyers from the beginning and was in fact a member of MOP when my complaint against the action in question was first filed. But given that the SJC voted last week to deny a complaint regarding the exoneration of Federal Visionist Peter J. Leithart by the Presbytery of the Northwest, my disappointment has been somewhat quieted. I'm certain my complaint would have met the same end.

Yesterday I learned that Leithart is now teaching at a place called The Trinity House in Birmingham, AL. I "googled" it and found this: http://trinityhouseinstitute.com/solomon-among-postmoderns/. The announcement says: "Trinity House fellow Rev. Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart will lecture at the annual All Saints conference at Community Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky, November 1-3. Click here for schedule and registration."

So today I clicked over to the Fellows page on the website and found this list of Federal Visionists:

John Barach
Richard Bledsoe
James B. Jordan
Peter Leithart
Rich Lusk
Steve Wilkins

AND...

Jeffrey Meyers

That got me to thinking about some of the questions I asked TE Meyers from the stand during the trial:
Q. Thank you. Moving on. I'm going to move on to baptism here. You said that you're unsure about what happens exactly to the reprobate in baptism. Is that accurate?
A. I believe that there's some mystery involved in what is -- what is and what isn't received by the reprobate in baptism, yes.
Q. Joint Federal Vision Profession states we deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration, that is that an effectual call or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. That's from Section 5. My question is is there a less common understanding of baptism regeneration that you do believe?
A. What section is this again?
Q. This is Joint Federal Vision Profession, Section 5, we deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration, that is that an effectual call or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. And my question is is there a less common understanding of baptismal regeneration that you do believe or that you do affirm?
A. Well, I do not affirm baptismal regeneration, and I've made that clear in my answers to both investigative committees.
Q. Was that a yes or no, sir?
MODERATOR STUART: I think he answered that.
A. What was the question?
MODERATOR STUART: He basically said he denied baptismal regeneration, and that would a categorical statement when you asked if he believed in something lesser than what --
MR. BENNETT: Well, I said is there a less common understanding of baptismal regeneration that you do believe? Because the profession -- the Federal Vision Profession, or Joint Federal Vision Profession says --
MODERATOR STUART: I think we need to move on. He's denying baptismal regeneration, period.
Q. (By Mr. Bennett) You're denying it in all senses; is that accurate? You would be uncomfortable in any sense of talking about baptismal regeneration?
A. Well, you would have to list all the senses for me to affirm or deny them.
Q. Well, I would say it this way.
A. What we mean by regeneration in the Westminster Standards and in our reform tradition, given that, I deny baptismal regeneration.
Q. Is there any sense in which you affirm bap -- any sense of baptimsal regeneration?
A. No, I don't believe so.
Q. I'm going to read this quote from Peter Leithart, The Baptized Body, Page 76. In baptism God judges sin, declares the baptized righteous and delivers the baptized from death into new life of the spirit-filled body of God the son. You believe this view contradicts our Standards, right?
A. Would you read it again, please?
Q. In baptism God judges sin, declares the baptized righteous and delivers the baptized from death into new life of the Spirit-filled body of God's son?
A. Do you have a context for that; what comes before and after because I might read to you Romans 6 and ask you if that contradicts our Standards.
Q. You're saying you're unable -- given that one statement you're unable to say that's out of bounds or not?
A. I would have to --
Q. Yes or no?
A I would have -- I don't know. I'd have to think about the context. I'd have to know what he means by some of those statements. He is not using baptismal regeneration language there.
Q. Okay. Thank you. I'm going read this quote from Rich Lusk out loud. This is from Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace. He writes, preaching alone is insufficient to make them believer -- them, that is believers and their children, participants in Christ's work of redemption. Baptism, not preaching, per se, is linked with forgiveness and the reception of the spirit. Clearly Peter believes God will give them something in baptism that they have not received through preaching alone. Baptism will consumate the process of regeneration begun by the Word preached. Would you say that's an accurate summary of what Acts 2:38 teaches?
A. Acts 2:38?
Q. Yes. Is that an accurate summary of repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins?
A. Are these comments on Acts 2:38 that Mr. Lusk has made? Is that what you're telling me?
Q. I'm just asking you if it comports, if it's an accurate summary of Acts 2:38?
A. Well, no. Is it meant to be an accurate summary of Acts 2:38?
Q. If someone read that statement to you and said does this reflect the teaching of Acts 2:38, would you say it does or not?
A. I would say like I usually do in cases like this, show me the whole context. Let me try to understand what you're saying; who said this, when did he say it, why did he say it, what's the point, what does he mean by these terms, and other questions like that.
Q. In the indictment on Page 6, beginning at Line 19, you begin to write about Paul's conversion. You said it's pretty certain that the reason baptism was offered immediately is because the forgiveness of sin -- because the forgiveness of sins is attached to the action. When were Paul's sins forgiven? When was he, quote, converted, end quote. On the road to Damascus or in Damascus when Ananias poured water over his head in the name of the Triune God. The text is pretty clear. Would you say you still agree with that statement, sir?
A. I have had opportunity to interact with the committee, the Complaint Review Committee, and there is a great many questions to me and answers by me that have clarified that in the record.
Q. You write on Page 6, Lines 25 through 27, sure let God take care of the exceptions. We don't do theology by exceptions. Normally God forgives sins and grants new life in baptism. Is this something that you would still agree with, sir?
A. Where is that?
Q. Page 6, Lines 25 through 27.
A. Another comment made on the Wrightsaid discussion list many years ago. I have again in my questions and the questions and answers to the two committees clarified that kind of statement. There are things in there that I agree with that we don't do theology or we should not do theology by exceptions, otherwise we overqualify everything, but this quote normally God forgives sins and grants new life in baptism needs to be qualified, and I have done that in multiple contexts.
Q. Yes. Thank you. You also wrote in the -- in that response I'm not willing to restate -- this is from Page 6, Lines 34 through 38. I'm not willing to restate it because, as I said in my answer to the last question, I'm not confident I can formulate a slogan that will express the abstract apart from concrete circumstances exactly how God uses baptism in every situation. Would you say you still agree with that?
A. Yes. 
Maybe I'm just a pessimistic amillennialist, but I find it hard to believe that TE Meyers wasn't sure about the teaching of these men who are now his teaching fellows at The Trinity House.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How Has God Revealed Himself? (Part 4)

In Part 3 we looked at the teaching of the Westminster Standards on the supernatural revelation of God (1) broadly considered and (2) narrowly considered in the doctrine of Holy Scripture. Today we will take a look at the doctrine of the canon as it is presented in WCF 1.2-3, LC 3, and SC 2.

WCF 1.2-3 reads:
Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: [then it lists the 39 books of the OT and the 27 books of the NT]. All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life. 
The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.
LC 3 reads:
Q. 3. What is the Word of God? A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.
SC 2 reads:
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
It is one thing to say God has revealed himself through Scripture. It is another to actually identify those texts. The doctrine of the canon serves to identify particular texts as Scripture. 

The word "canon" means rule or standard. Those texts identified as canonical are therefore the rule of faith and life. No other texts have this status. No other texts are inspired (i.e. God-breathed, 2 Tim. 3:16). No other texts carry the authority of God.

We agree with Eastern Orthodoxy (EO) and Roman Catholicism (RC) in recognizing the 39 books of the OT and the 27 books of the NT as canonical. We disagree with them in recognizing any other texts as canonical. In 1546 RC's Council of Trent defined 12 additional OT books as canonical. These 12 books are commonly referred to as the Apocrypha. In 1672 EO's Synod of Jerusalem defined 4 of the same 12 books as canonical. We expressly reject the Apocrypha as canonical. 

The doctrine of the canon is of fundamental importance for the church, because Christ establishes and governs us by his Word and Spirit (WCF 8.8; LC 67). If we get this doctrine wrong, then the rule of Christ over us will be hindered at best and usurped at worst. This could happen in two ways: (1) the omission of canonical texts thus hindering Jesus' rule and (2) the addition of non-canonical texts as canonical thus usurping Jesus' rule. The former is an accusation RC and EO make against Protestantism. The latter is an accusation Protestantism makes against RC and EO. Protestants believe that the teachers of RC and EO have usurped the rightful headship of Christ by binding the consciences of their members to the opinions of men. This is a violation of the doctrine of the liberty of conscience, which is spiritual tyranny. 

In 1521 at the Diet of Worms the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther defended himself against the accusations of the papacy by citing the doctrine of the liberty of conscience:
Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, not embellished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand. May God help me, Amen.
Apart from the doctrine of the canon, Luther could not have made this defense.

In Part 5 we will look at WCF 1.4 and the doctrine of the authority of Holy Scripture.

But by Some Voluntary Condescension

This week we began a new Sunday School series at Neon Reformed Presbyterian Church. For the next few weeks we will be studying Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) Chapter 7 "Of God's Covenant with Man." WCF 7.1 reads,
The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
Essentially what is being taught in this section is God's relationship to man in terms of obligations. Man is obligated to God by nature (i.e. by virtue of the ontological distance that exists between God the Creator and his creatures). But God cannot be obligated to man by nature. God can only become obligated to man by some voluntarily condescension on his part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant. So we see two aspects of God's relationship to man: (1) natural, by which man is obligated to God and (2) covenantal, by which God has obligated himself to man.

This same distinction is made in Larger Catechism (LC) 17 and 20. Man's obligation to God is a work of creation. God's obligation to man through covenant is a work of providence.

It is also assumed in Shorter Catechism (SC) Q. 1., "What is the chief end of man? A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." Here we see the two distinct aspects of our chief end: (1) glorifying God and (2) enjoying him forever, which reflect the distinction established in WCF 7.1 between the natural and covenantal aspects of God's relationship to man, respectively.

Glorifying God
Our obligation to glorify God is established by nature. Creatures owe their Creator all honor and thanks (Rom. 1:21). But even if Adam had glorified God perfectly, apart from God's special revelation through the covenant he could never have obligated God to himself. This underscores God's holiness or otherness.

Enjoying God
Our calling to enjoy God cannot be established by nature. It is established by God's voluntary condescension through covenant. God covenanted with Adam in the beginning, obligating Himself to him on condition of perfect and personal obedience, so that man might enjoy Him (i.e. "have...fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward"). This underscores God's love or personal nature.

Think about some of the astounding conclusions we must draw from this teaching:
  1. If God had never entered into covenant with Adam, Adam may have been perfectly obedient and yet God would never have been obligated to reward him in any way. God could have scrapped the whole creation at any moment without any injustice regardless of Adam's actions.
  2. While Adam could never obligate God to himself, he was nonetheless obligated to obey God and forbidden to disobey under the threat of condemnation.
  3. God has obligated himself to us through His covenant, limiting His freedom with respect to His creation. He could no sooner deny his covenant than he could deny himself (i.e. cease to be God).  
  4. God is not an impersonal tyrant in the sky, commanding us from a distance. He is personal, and He has chosen to condescend to us by way of covenant in order to dwell and commune with us that we might enjoy him forever as our blessedness and reward. How wonderful is this?!
  5. John Piper's (a pastor-scholar that I appreciate and admire) suggestion that SC 1 should be rephrased, "Man's chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever," (Desiring God, 1996 Edition, p. 15) fails to account for the distinction between the natural and covenantal aspects of God's relationship to man as taught in WCF 7.1, resting, as it does, on the assumption that man's glorifying God (which he was obliged to do by nature) required his enjoyment of God (which he could only do by covenant). This belies a weakness in the baptist hermeneutic with respect to God's covenant with man.  
  6. WCF 7.1 rests on the assumption that Adam was obligated to God by nature prior to the establishment of the covenant of works. However, natural (or general) revelation is nonetheless dependent on supernatural (or special) revelation for its true understanding, interpretation, and application. This fits with the doctrine of natural law taught in Rom. 2:14 and LC 17. By God's providence he uses this natural law to restrain evil in the world today among all men in common. But it cannot be understood, interpreted, and applied truly (i.e. with a view to glorifying God) apart from a saving knowledge of Holy Scripture. 
  7. Therefore Holy Scripture is the only rule to direct us in glorifying God (SC 2). Before the Fall Adam could not have glorified God apart from God's special revelation in the covenant of works. Likewise, sinners after the Fall cannot glorify God apart from a saving knowledge of the gospel (i.e. the covenant of grace), which is given in the Holy Scriptures.     

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How Has God Revealed Himself? (Part 3)

In Part 2 we looked at the Westminster Standards' teaching on the natural revelation of God, which is primarily given in WCF 1.1a and LC 2a. God gives natural revelation in two distinct but unified ways: (1) within humanity and (2) without humanity. That which resides within humanity is called the "light of nature." That which resides without is called "the works of God," which are further defined as "the works of creation and providence." This natural revelation sufficiently and efficiently reveals the one true and living God, but it is "not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation." Instead, it is only sufficient "to leave men unexcusable." But natural revelation not only condemns humanity, it also temporarily preserves it through the restraint of civil evil (WCF 19.6).

The Westminster Standards also teach about another kind of revelation, supernatural (or special) revelation. We see this in WCF 1.1b-1.10, LC 2b-5, and SC 2-3. Let's begin with WCF 1.1b and LC 2b.

WCF 1.1b reads:
Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
LC 2b reads:
Q. 2b. How doth it appear that there is a God? A. ...but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.
Here we encounter the doctrine of supernatural revelation broadly considered and then more narrowly considered in the doctrine of Holy Scripture.

Supernatural Revelation Broadly Considered

First notice the "therefore." The divines predicate supernatural revelation (insofar as they address it here) on salvation. Natural revelation is insufficient to save, therefore it pleased the Lord to reveal himself supernaturally.

Unlike natural revelation, supernatural revelation is not a universal constant. Instead, it has been given at "sundry times and in divers manners." While the Confession doesn't specify, these divers manners include theophanies, audible voices, angels, visions, Holy Scripture, and the incarnation.

The Confession teaches the Lord was pleased "to reveal himself" (i.e. who he is) "and to declare his will" (i.e. what he purposes for us). As we saw last time, natural revelation includes these same two subjects. It reveals the one, true, and living God (who he is) and that he should be worshiped and obeyed (what he purposes for us). Supernatural revelation goes further than this, teaching us about the mercy of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (who he is) and the covenant of grace whereby we might be saved (what he purposes for us). So LC 2b says, "his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation."

This supernatural revelation is given by God "unto his church" as its special possession. This is why the Apostle calls the church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15b). God gathers and perfects his chosen people through this supernatural revelation. It is given to, through, and for them.

Supernatural Revelation Narrowly Considered in the Doctrine of Holy Scripture      

After thousands of years of giving supernatural revelation "at sundry times, and in divers manners," the Confession says it pleased the Lord "to commit the same wholly unto writing." Notice what has been committed wholly unto writing is "the same" as the other. In other words, Scripture is the same kind of revelation as the theophanies, the audible voices, the messages delivered by angels, the visions, and even the incarnation. There is no essential difference between those ways of revelation and Holy Scripture. When we read our Bibles we encounter essentially the same kind of revelation that Moses encountered in the burning bush. When we hear the Bible preached we encounter the same kind of revelation that the disciples encountered in beholding the person and work of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful truth!

That the Lord has committed supernatural revelation "wholly unto writing," implies two things. First, it implies that all other ways of supernatural revelation have ceased. Second, it implies that the Lord has now (since the cessation of the other ways) given all the supernatural revelation he is going to give until the Second Coming. With regard to the cessation of the earlier ways the framers teach explicitly, "those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased." And since the only supernatural revelation available today is Holy Scripture they say it is "most necessary."

The framers give four reasons for the Lord's committing supernatural revelation wholly unto writing. The first two have to do with the revelation itself. They write, "for the better preserving and propagating of the truth." The truth of supernatural revelation is less likely to be corrupted, and if it is corrupted, it is more likely to be discovered and corrected. Further, to be able to hand a person the completed canon of Holy Scripture all at once expedites its propagation. The other two have to do with the effect of the revelation. They write, "for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world." The Lord has committed supernatural revelation wholly unto writing for the good of his church. That it might be better established and comforted in the face of its threefold opposition: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. What a gift of grace the Holy Scripture is to us!

In Part 4 we will look at the doctrine of the canon in WCF 1.2-3, LC 3, and SC 2.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Has God Revealed Himself? (Part 2)

In Part 1 we introduced our topic and gave a brief historical account of the Westminster Standards. In Part 2 we will begin to explore how the Westminster Standards answer the question "How has God revealed himself?"

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1a reads:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.
Larger Catechism 2a reads:
Q. 2a. How doth it appear that there is a God? A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God.
Here we have the totality of the Westminster Standards' teaching on the doctrine of natural (or general) revelation. Natural revelation is defined positively (i.e. what it is and does) and negatively (i.e. what it isn't and doesn't do).

What Natural Revelation Is and Does

The Westminster Standards teach that there are two distinct but unified ways of natural revelation: (1) "The light of nature," which the LC further describes with the prepositional phrase "in man" and (2) "the works of God," which the WCF further describes as "the works of creation and providence" (cf. WCF 3-5; LC 14; SC 8).

This raises an important question. Isn't the light of nature itself a work of creation? And if so, why do the Standards distinguish between them? It appears that the Westminster divines are distinguishing these ways with respect to their relationship to man. The light of nature is that aspect of natural revelation which resides  within man as God's special image bearer. 

Natural Revelation Within Man 

The locus classicus for this doctrine is Romans 2:14-15. The text reads, "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them." Here the Apostle teaches that the Gentiles who do not have the law (i.e. the special revelation of God) nonetheless do what the law requires "by nature." He calls this aspect of human nature "conscience" (con "with," science "knowledge"). It is located within man (i.e. the immaterial part). It is "on their hearts" and in their "thoughts."

The "light of nature in man" is that aspect of human nature that is commonly called conscience. To be human is to have knowledge of God by nature. This knowledge is one sphere of natural revelation.

Natural Revelation Without Man

"The works of God," which are his "works of creation and providence," are natural revelation that resides without man. Both works are the execution of God's eternal decree (cf. SC 8).

Ps. 19:1-4a teaches, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." Further, Rom. 1:19-20 teaches, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

In these two passages we see that the creation reveals the God who made it. The psalmist says, "the heavens declare," and "the sky above proclaims." Moreover, the Apostle teaches that God's invisible attributes are revealed "in the things that have been made."

We also see that God reveals himself in the work of providence (i.e. his upholding, directing, disposing, and governing his creation). So the psalmist says, "Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge."

This natural revelation of God, both within man and without man, declares "plainly that there is a God" (LC 2). But lest we think that it only declares some generic concept called God, WCF 1.1 teaches that it manifests specific attributes of the one true and living God, namely "the goodness, wisdom, and power of God." 

What Natural Revelation Isn't and Doesn't Do

Natural revelation has its limits. It teaches all humanity that the one true and living God exists and should be obeyed and worshiped. Moreover, since we don't do this, it teaches us that we are sinners who justly deserve his wrath (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.). But it doesn't teach us what God has done to save sinners (cf. Rom. 3:21ff.). To put it another way, natural revelation teaches us about the law but not the gospel. It teaches us about God's justice but not his mercy. It teaches us about the covenant of works but not the covenant of grace (cf. WCF 7; LC 20, 22, 30-36; SC 12, 16, 20). Only supernatural (or special) revelation teaches us about the covenant of grace. Therefore, WCF 1.1 teaches that natural revelation is sufficient "to leave men unexcusable" for their sin, but it is "not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation."

But natural revelation doesn't just condemn. It is also temporarily preserves humanity through the restraint of civil evil. WCF 19.6a reads: "Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly."

In Part 3 we will begin to look at what the Westminster Standards teach about the supernatural revelation of God.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Has God Revealed Himself? (Part 1)

In this series I'd like to explore how the Westminster Standards answer the question "How has God revealed himself?"  But before we dive into the Standards a few words about them are in order.

The Westminster Standards are documents that were produced by the Westminster Assembly in 1646 and 1647. The Assembly was a group of 119 ministers called together by the English Parliament on June 12, 1643 for the purpose of "settling of the government and liturgy of the Church of England, and for vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the said Church from all false calumnies and aspersions" (Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly, 108-9, cited in Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly30). Most were English Presbyterians. All were Non-conformists, also known as Puritans. They met in London at Westminster Abbey (hence the name) for nearly six years from July 1, 1643 to February 22, 1649, though official business was concluded on March 25, 1652. The documents that make up the Westminster Standards are the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Larger Catechism (1647), and the Shorter Catechism (1647). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) are contemporary U.S. denominations that include the Westminster Standards in their constitutions.

The Standards have undergone several revisions among Presbyterians since the founding of the United States. In 1788 the Presbyterian Church in the USA revised WCF chapters 20.4, 23.3, and 31.2, properly distinguishing the power of the state from the power of the church. It also removed the phrase "tolerating a false religion" from LC Answer 109 and replaced "depopulations" with "depradation" in LC Answer 142. In 1887 the teaching that forbade marriage to the close kindred of one's deceased spouse in chapter 24.4 was removed. For better or worse more revisions were made in 1903. The version of the Westminster Standards adopted by the OPC in 1936 includes the 1788 and 1887 revisions. It also includes two of the 1903 revisions, i.e. the removal of reference to the pope as the Antichrist in chapter 25.6 and the removal of the teaching that forbade refusing to take an oath when imposed by a lawful authority in chapter 22.3. Revisions have also been made to the proof texts appended to the Standards, though the proofs have never been considered part of the Standards.

The teaching of the Westminster Standards on how God has revealed himself has remained unchanged since it was first laid out 365 years ago. We find that teaching in WCF chapter 1, LC 2-4, and SC 2. We'll begin an examination of that teaching in part 2.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is Church Membership Important? (Part 4)

In part three we looked at the necessity of visible church membership for the reception of the Word and the sacraments. We learned that an individual might receive the benefit of the Word preached for a time without joining the church. But he cannot receive it in that condition perpetually, because the Word itself teaches the necessity of church membership. Therefore if one is benefiting from the Word read and preached, he will join the church. One way we see this is with regard to the sacraments. The Bible teaches that participation in the sacraments requires visible church membership.

In part four we will examine what the Bible teaches about church discipline and membership.

In 1 Cor. 11:27-31 we see church discipline connected with the reception of the Lord's Supper. The Apostle explains that there are worthy and unworthy manners of receiving the sacrament. Worthy reception amounts to the maintenance of the credibility of one's profession of faith (i.e. discerning the body). Therefore there are times when the Supper should be withheld from a person if the credibility of his profession is in question. This would constitute an act of church discipline. And since receiving the sacraments is dependent on visible church membership, therefore in this respect so is church discipline.  

Further in 1 Peter 5:1-5 we read, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

In this text the Apostle Peter exhorts his fellow elders (presbuterous) to be proper shepherds over the flock (i.e. "those in your charge"). They are undershepherds of the chief Shepherd. Christ rules his church through these men (Matt. 16:19; 18:17-18; John 20:21-23, cf. WCF 30.2). Further he commands individual believers to submit to the government of elders who have charge over them, saying "be subject to the elders."

This relationship between elders and congregants is only possible for those that have voluntarily associated with one another (i.e. believers) or are under the headship of one who has (i.e. their children). The elders could have no charge over anyone apart from this, since their rule under Christ is declarative and ministerial rather than legislative and magisterial. They declare God's word in service to his people. They DO NOT legislate their own words or force obedience.

And what is the goal of church government? 1 Pet. 5:6-11 concludes, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Through church discipline God protects his covenant people from evil so that they may continue to be nourished in the faith unto eternal life. Therefore visible church membership is of vital importance.

Conclusion

In Eph. 5:25-30 we read, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body."

The Lord Jesus Christ loves the visible church. It is his bride. It is his body. How can a person claim to be united to Christ, and not also be united to his body? Just as a man nourishes and cherishes his own body, so Jesus nourishes and cherishes his church. He does this through the Word, the sacraments, and church discipline.

Much more could be said about the importance of visible church membership, but my prayer is that these short articles will help orient us to the fundamentals of the Bible's teaching, and that having been so oriented we might better love her and participate ever more faithfully in her worship and service.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Church Membership Important? (Part 3)

In part two we set out the historic Protestant view of the three marks of the visible church, namely the Word, the sacraments, and church discipline. We also saw that while each mark is essential to the being of the church, there is a functional hierarchy among them. The Word is primary. The sacraments are secondary. Church discipline is tertiary. These are ordinary means whereby God creates and confirms saving faith in the hearts of his elect unto eternal life. Visible church membership is vitally important because the church is the place of the means of grace.

But couldn't a person just attend the church's worship services and get the same benefits without actually becoming a member? Is official membership really necessary?

One could indeed receive the benefit of the Word preached for a time without becoming a member. I say for a time because if he was truly benefiting from the Word preached he would recognize his obligation to receive the sacraments and church discipline, neither of which can be received apart from membership. Let's begin with the sacraments. What does the Bible teach about the sacraments and church membership? 

Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A. 162 offers this fine definition of a sacrament: "A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without." 

Notice that it says a sacrament is an ordinance "instituted by Christ in his church" for the benefit of "those that are within the covenant of grace... to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another, and to distinguish them from those that are without." In other words, the sacraments are NOT given to individual believers, but to all those within the visible church.

The LORD gave the OT sacrament of circumcision not just to Abraham but to his children throughout their generations (Gen. 17:9-14). He gave the OT sacrament of Passover not just to Moses but to all Israel (Ex. 12). When Jesus instituted the NT sacrament of baptism, which replaces and perfects OT circumcision, he not only gave it to the disciples but to those who would become disciples in all nations (Matt. 28:19), because as Peter preaches to Israel, "the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the LORD our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39). And when the Lord Jesus instituted the NT sacrament of the Lord's Supper in Matt. 26:26-28, he not only gave it to the disciples but he said of the cup, "this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." So the Apostle Paul will later write to the church in Corinth, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you" (1 Cor. 11:23a).   

Clearly the sacraments belong to the visible church for the benefit of all those that are within the covenant of grace. They do not belong to any individual. Therefore by definition one must join the membership of the visible church in order to enjoy the benefits of the sacraments. 

Jesus has instituted two sacraments in the NT church: (1) Baptism and (2) The Lord's Supper (WLC 164).

Baptism is a rite of solemn admission into the membership of the visible church (WLC 165). Therefore if one is to receive it he must become a member, which happens by being born to believing parents or by conversion.

With respect to the Lord's Supper, the issue is a little more complex. While one must undoubtedly be a member of the visible church to partake, the necessary proximity of that membership is debated. Some churches practice closed communion, meaning only those who are members of that local church can receive the Supper there. In the branch of the visible church in which I minister, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, one need not be a member of the local church in order to receive the Supper there. But one must be a communing member in good standing of some local church where the gospel is preached in order to receive it.       

Jesus has instituted the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper in his church. They belong to the visible church as a whole, not to any individual. One must be a member in order to receive the sacraments by which God so graciously nourishes and strengthens us in the faith. Therefore visible church membership is vitally important. 

In part four we will take a look at membership and church discipline.