Monday, July 06, 2015

Demeanor toward homosexuality

From the Aquila Report :

We must also respond with love. Even as we articulate the truth of marriage we must take great care to do so with the right demeanor. A counter-cultural message will not be compelling without a counter-cultural tone. We must not be condescending or resentful in the face of the cultural shift going on around us. We must extend the very same patient grace that God has extended to us. When Jesus saw the lostness of the crowds around Him, it moved Him to compassion, not hectoring. 

The above quote has to do with our response toward homosexuals and homosexuality. It’s a common sentiment. I’m OK with the sentiment if what is meant by “demeanor” is in some ways really no different than the God-honoring demeanor we ought to show toward ax murders, wife beaters and child molesters.

We are always to speak the truth in love, as self-conscious redeemed sinners. Maybe some might be surprised to see the correct, humble and loving “demeanor” toward an ax murder – or just maybe, some might be surprised to know what a loving demeanor toward a homosexual would truly look like. In all such cases, there should be no coddling. A sense of urgency must pervade all counsel, which should look more like a clarion call to repentance than a carefully constructed argument for why homosexuality is sin. Or, have we bought into the culture’s invention that this matter of homosexuality is somehow trickier than old fashioned, premeditated acts of sin and rebellion? How did these waters become so difficult to navigate in such a relatively short span of time? I don't know. But, I do think the church adopted a demeanor that was not in accord with the truth she should have been striving to convey all along.

The article goes on to address the supposed thorny question of whether one should attend an illegitimate marriage between two of the same sex. Thankfully, the article came down on the right side of the issue, but what I think the article does not convey is that the answer to that question is really no different than the question of whether one should attend or lend legitimacy to any of the aforementioned acts.

I’m finding a growing fear within the church that we might lose this particular battle if we don’t cultivate a certain kind of demeanor. (Maybe it's a good time to remind ourselves that the battle belongs to the Lord; our task is to obey in word and deed). That said, I can go along with that notion as long as we have the correct demeanor in mind. That is to say, as long as the demeanor is the same loving demeanor that should emanate whenever dealing with the most heinous sins imaginable – yet with one crucial caveat…this sin is in many ways worse! Most blatant acts of sin are not misconstrued as an expression of "love"! This one is different. This one is more insidious. This one is celebrated by liberal protestants and is practiced by Roman Catholic clergymen. (Though at least Roman Catholicism is still "on record" as being ashamed of the sin, unlike the Episcopal Church and PCUSA who have jettisoned such truth altogether.) Let's worry about demeanor once we've internalized what we're even talking about! Read on...

Those in a position to minister in these areas are to speak the entire truth in love, which means both (i) cultivating a demeanor suitable to the transgression and (ii) distinguishing the transgression from other transgressions. In both cases, if we don’t sound like Jesus, they won’t hear Jesus. We must strive to influence in word and deed; so, not just with pure demeanor but also with true doctrine. Key point: the latter will inform the former, indeed it must - for our demeanor must be consistent with the truth we hope to convey (lest we eclipse the truth). What we believe to be true about a particular sin will dictate how we behave toward those who practice such things! We must recognize not just the fall of humanity in Adam, but also its ensuing downward trajectory, manifested in the outright rejection of the gospel leading unto full blown apostasy that would eventually culminate in repudiation of the created order. In a word, what we are witnessing is deep seated enmity without guise. What we're also witnessing is a church that is not being normed by God's word.

Regarding the truth, we are under obligation to declare two things on the authority of God. First off, this particular sin is on a different order all together, for it is unnatural. It is unique in its degeneration. Secondly, this sin very often constitutes a turning over - an abandonment by God - (something the average evangelical has not considered I'm afraid). Exchanging the natural use of the created order in this way is not just sin but judicial consequence for persistent rebellion against the light of nature. Get this Christian. Homosexuality is not to be thought of in terms of that which might beget punishment. Rather, it is to been seen as divinely appointed punishment. Homosexuality is a nation’s judicial recompense for racing toward idolatry and glorying in overt, fist-shaking rebellion against God our Maker. Nothing less than willful heathenism can provoke God to render such justice against a nation. This must be said without apology, but first it must be understood and believed. Once we get that right, our demeanor will at least have a chance of looking "godly".

So, yes indeed, we must not just speak the truth… “We must also respond with love. Even as we articulate the truth of marriage we must take great care to do so with the right demeanor.” Let’s just make sure we bring our demeanor in line with the full-orbed implications of the transgression we hope to address. There are those who are angry and militant in their practice; whereas there are others who are dabbling in confusion and falling deeper into the clutches of sin. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all with respect to demeanor, but it does with the truth that must be declared on the authority of God. As Calvin reminds, “He, who is ashamed, is yet healable…” Yet our leaders along with many who have been photographed in "victory" take pleasure in this evil– even calling it a gift from God. Let that too inform our demeanor. But before chiding our elected officials and judges, maybe we might begin by rebuking, with an informed demeanor, the liberal "clergy" that promote such evils.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

God is not mocked...the fool is confounded once again

Easily, less than five percent of the U.S. population is homosexual. So, why is it that being pro-homosexual is advantageous for one seeking public office? I think the answer is simple. The average person is autonomous in his reasoning and is, therefore, easy prey.

Although all men know by nature that homosexuality is sin, it’s only through Scripture that one can prove in any robust, epistemic sense that it is sin. (All over this site I draw the distinction between knowledge and the justification of knowledge.) Since most Americans are autonomous in their reasoning, then it stands to reason that most Americans are incapable of justifying any moral claim they even know to be true. Recognizing that something is abnormal, even unnatural, doesn’t make it immoral, let alone something that should be deemed illegal. And if not illegal, then worthy of government protection.

Although many straight people still find homosexuality unnatural - unnatural does not imply moral deviance. God’s general revelation of sin has grown dim in the minds of most Americans, but even when it was shining more brightly, it was never to be interpreted apart from special revelation, God’s word. With the rejection of the Bible, Americans are left to grope in the dark. Christians can rejoice in at least this: God is not mocked!

The unbeliever is left with two unhappy alternatives. Rather than appear arbitrary and hateful toward someone who is merely different than us, the "open minded" (to everything but God's word!) are left to defend deviant behavior even when “it’s not my cup a tea.” The more noble even fight for it! Apart from a commitment to Scripture, the alternative to the perversion of "love" and "equality" is the self-inflicted guilt of arbitrary hatred toward a practice. The fool is confounded once again.

It takes God’s word to justify the premise that homosexuality is sin, absolutely. Yet even among those who see this plainly in God’s word, it’s only a minority who see that the practice of homosexuality should be deemed illegal.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sanctification and Moralism

Sanctification is too often only thought of in terms of that process whereby a converted sinner is gradually transformed in mind and affections  according to the preceptive-will of God and consequently into the image of Christ.  At best, too often sanctification is merely seen in terms of becoming truly Christ-like, and if truly Christ-like then truly human (since Christ is the perfect image of God in man). Yet when speaking of sanctification the New Testament speaks more in terms of a one-time break with sin, a definitive act of sanctification.  In this light, sanctification is more akin to effectual calling, justification and adoption - a one-time act never to be repeated or undone.  Indeed, that God will complete a progressive sanctifying work in all his children should be  a source of confidence and joy for every believer.  Notwithstanding, we should expect that the degree of understanding of God’s finished work of definitive sanctification in the life of the believer will, to some extent, influence the attainment of progressive sanctification in the experience of the believer.  After all, to think Christ’s thoughts after him, as we walk in him, includes thinking true thoughts about God’s work of definitive sanctification. Moreover, to think wrongly about sanctification is to “obey” in our sanctification not according to the truth of our sanctification.
At the very heart of sanctification is life from the dead. The believer is delivered once and for all from the bondage of sin and raised to walk in newness of life. In that great familiar hymn, Charles Wesley put it this way: Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee...”  

Is it not true that he that is dead is freed from sin? Hasn’t the believer truly died with Christ? Accordingly, as dead and raised in union with Christ, isn’t the believer freed from sin and, therefore, no longer under its bondage and dominion? Isn’t it true that the believer has been crucified with Christ and it is no longer the believer who lives but Christ who lives in and through the believer?  Isn’t the very imperative not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies premised upon the incongruity of what the contrary contemplates, sin having reign over the believer’s body? Doesn’t the incongruity presuppose the reality of resurrected life in union with Christ?  Sure, sin indwells every believer, but the truth of the matter is the believer is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit; so it is as the Westminster Divines rightly wrote, “…the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” Indwelling sin is not enslaving sin, for the Christian is a slave to Christ.

Falling into the error of perfectionism is hardly a danger in Reformed circles, but what is at risk is building a doctrine of sanctification upon personal experience, observation and Christian testimony. I fear that sentimental fundamentalism along with moralism has made its way into Reformed churches.  “Being saved” is understood primarily in terms of justification, which is all that God does; and we must do the rest. After being justified, the believer must respond by living a moral life in gratitude for God’s saving work in Christ, or so it is often told without remainder.  To whip up devotion to God and his ways by exciting gratitude for Christ’s atoning work on the cross, (even pity for the Savior in Romanist and many Fundamentalist circles), is often what is preached as the impetus for living the Christian life. Obligation to obey because of the Savior's sin bearing, life giving death upon the cross is all we have to move us. The very fact that every believer is a new creation in Christ and as such actually desires to run in the ways of the Lord is not a reality that is preached - if it is not also denied, at least implicitly. Devotion ends up becoming a work of the flesh, a dead moralism as it were. It even can become that which ultimately must cause one to differ from another, as there is little expectation that the Spirit will cause every believer both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure as he so determines.  God actually inclining the wills of his subjects so that they desire to participate in his foreordination of good works in the orbit of family, work, community and church is no longer in view. Sadly, it's exchanged for man, in the flesh, determining the good works that God has somehow mysteriously foreordained man to walk in through obligation, not sovereign transformation. In the end, it is we who determine our sanctification, and lip-service is given to biblical Calvinism as it relates to the divine initiative and subduing grace.

When sheep are taught over and over again that they are slaves to sin and under its bondage, as little children they lose the joy of salvation and begin to believe there is no hope other than through the arm of the flesh. Moralism and legalism begin to set in, and eventually the weary are tempted to give up. This is not good news. The self-effort and "good works" that once plagued the new convert, having been a source of robbing him of the joy, wonder, awe and sheer profundity of his justification through faith alone, becomes an hindrance to enjoying and participating in God’s saving work in sanctification. Justification and sanctification have been rent asunder as God is portrayed as being operative in the former, leaving the latter a matter of self-effort alone - a kind of saved by grace, kept by works - a despairing thought indeed. Have I gone too far? Well, note well that if God does not take the divine initiative of causing the believer both to will and do of his good pleasure and, also, fulfill his promise of completing a work of grace until the day of Jesus Christ, then the Christian is as alone in his sanctification as he possibly can be. What must be grasped is that anything short of pure Reformed theology in this regard is not the teaching of biblical sanctification. The message of grace should be so abundant - appear so one sided, that onlookers will mistake the truth for license to sin! "Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"

So, where do we go from here? Well, I think these are some starting points that the Christian church might begin to regain in emphasis as opposed to what is widely found in the evangelical church today…
1. More preaching and teaching on union with Christ in election, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and ascension must take center stage.
2. A realized eschatology – (e.g. God made us alive with Christ; God raised us with Christ; God seated us in heavenly places with Christ -> i.e. “we have been saved”)
3. The divine intention to sum up all things (in heaven and earth) in Christ (i.e. the eschatological and cosmic dimensions of God’s plan for the ages…)
4. Salvation, not merely justification and conversion
5. Ministers must preach to the church, those in union with in Christ, not the supposed lost that might be members or attending.
6. Inauguration & consummation (i.e. already not yet paradigm)
7. The relationship of the imperative to the indicative must be regained, with the indicative taking priority and laying the foundation for the imperative. (e.g. Behave this way, because you are this person in Christ; the unity of the Spirit exists, therefore, maintain it… as opposed to: create peace because Jesus died for you…)

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Matthew Slick / CARM on Theonomy

“This movement rose out of Calvinism. It is an extremist Christian movement, not held by very many people. The concern is that when a religiously dominated society has control of family, moral, and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?” Matt Slick 

Aside from mistakenly equating Reconstructionism with Theonomy, with respect to Matt Slick's superficial question certainly another question comes to mind - or at least to the mind of any minimally discerning reader: "Who is to govern the governors” in an increasingly secular society? More specifically, who currently governs our irreligious God-hating, would-be autonomous governors? If Slick says, "God", then why not the same answer for a "religiously denominated society"? If Slick says "no one", then according to his view of things, he places secular government in the same boat as "religiously dominated" government. Either way, Slick's question doesn't bolster Slick's position. It only shows that Slick is not terribly concerned with consistency, which gives me hope that he (and others like him) will see how bad their arguments are - even if they don't end up agreeing with the theonomic thesis.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Christian Reason for Celebrating Easter

Induction, the basis for all scientific inference, presupposes the uniformity of nature, which is to say it operates under the principle of the future being like the past; yet the resurrection of Christ from the dead is contra-uniform since it does not comport with past experience. Our experience is that people die and are not raised three days later. Also, we’ve all met plenty of liars and those deceived into embracing false beliefs (even dying for false beliefs!) but we have never observed a single resurrection of the body. Accordingly, the lives and martyrdom of zealots need not lead us to conclude that Christ has risen. Consequently, drawing an inference based upon past experience as it pertains to the question of the empty tomb is not very useful. Evidentialism indeed fails as an apologetic. After all, given only the uniformity of nature coupled with personal experience, a more probable explanation for the empty tomb is a hoax put on by liars rather than a miracle put on by God. The same reasoning applies all the more to the virgin birth I would think.

The fact of the matter is that we do not come to know that our Savior lives by examining the evidence according to some alleged neutral posture, for the facts do not demand the conclusion that Christ has risen. The facts are indeed consistent with the resurrection but the facts do not speak for themselves let alone lead us to the Christian conclusion, which is no conclusion at all but rather a starting point for apologetical discourse and belief. God speaks in order that we might interpret the facts aright. The fact of the empty tomb, therefore, is not what leads us to the "conclusion" of the resurrection but rather the empty tomb corroborates what we already know from God, that Christ is resurrected.

Similarly, we read in Scripture that a man named Saul who once opposed Christ became the chief apologist for the Christian faith. The way in which one will interpret the transformation of Saul to Paul will be consistent with one’s pre-commitment(s). Christians take the fanaticism of the apostle as corroborating what they already know to be true about the resurrection. The fanaticism of the apostle no more “proves” the resurrection of Christ than does the empty tomb. Moreover, neither the empty tomb nor the life of Paul proves the resurrection any more than it can disprove it by proving that a conspiracy to overthrow ancient Judaism took place evidenced by the hoax of the resurrection. The point is simply this. Naturalists will find their explanation for the apostle’s transformation and the empty tomb elsewhere, outside of the Christian resurrection interpretation. Similarly, the way in which one interprets the facts surrounding Joseph Smith will be according to one’s pre-commitment(s). If one is committed to a closed canon, then the claims of Mormonism will be deemed false.

Of course the tomb is empty, for Christ has risen. Of course the apostle Paul preached the resurrection of Christ with all his heart, soul and strength, for Christ has risen. Of course the Mormon religion is a cult, for Jesus is God and the canon is closed. Do we come to believe these things by evaluating supposed brute particulars in an alleged neutral fashion or are our beliefs already marshaled according to our pre-commitment to God’s word in general and the resurrection in particular? Do the “facts” speak for themselves or has God already exegeted the facts for us?

The reason one believes that Christ has risen from the grave is because God has revealed the truth of the resurrection. In fact, we don’t just believe God’s word on the matter, we actually know God is telling the truth. Yet, unwittingly, often times Christians do not speak the truth with respect to why they believe in the resurrection. Too often Christians will say that they believe in the resurrection because of such evidence, which if true would reduce one’s confidence in God’s say-so to speculation based upon supposed brute facts that (would) readily lend themselves to suspicion (when God’s word is not presupposed as reliable, true and one's ultimate authority). Christians need to lay hold of the fact that the “Word of God” is God’s word, and God cannot lie.

With the resurrection the former days of ignorance are gone (Acts 17:30); so our belief in the truth couldn’t be more justified since our justification comes from the self-attesting Christ of Scripture working in accordance with the internal witness of the Holy Ghost. We do not come to know Jesus lives by drawing inferences from uninterpreted facts in the light of past experiences but rather by believing with maximal warrant the word of truth. Indeed, we have a more sure word of knowledge. (2 Peter 1:19)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 1 paragraph 5) could not have been more on target in its reason for why Scripture's testimony should be believed:
"We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts."


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Gospel and Easter

The gospel is the central theme of the New Testament and consequently central to Pauline theology. In particular, Christ is risen, with all its implications, is the primary message of the Bible. It is the good news. Not justification through faith alone (through an alien righteousness) but intimate union with the risen Christ, which envelopes the glorious reality of justification, is Paul’s message to the church. It is not merely how one might receive pardon for sins and acceptance from God but rather all the benefits in this life that proceed from effectual calling is Paul's message, the gospel.

This gospel is not delivered in some atomistic, compartmentalized sense but in all its fullness, as a unit with many parts, which corresponds with all the benefits that occur all at once through one baptism into Christ. Notwithstanding, certainly Paul distinguishes (for instance) sanctification from justification but he never separates the two from union with the resurrected and ascended Christ. Paul does not detract from the eschatological implications and sheer profundity of the believer’s participation in the first resurrection and age to come. It’s not that Paul was not a systematic theologian. He was. Yet Paul had a more pressing message than "Justification"- a message from which other theological intricacies can (and should) be derived. Yet the Reformed church, possibly through the influence of conservative Lutheranism and Evangelicalism, has lost hold of the already-not yet reality in Christ that is so prominent in Paul’s soteriology. The Reformed church is missing the most essential part of what God would have us know about redemption.

Paul’s soteriology is eschatological in nature, for when was the new age inaugurated but at the resurrection! Accordingly, when one is united to Christ by the conduit of faith he is united with the firstborn from the dead, thereby entering into the new creation – Christ’s body, the church. When the many brothers are raised in the first resurrection they are made partakers of the new age not only in and through Christ but with him, their brother, the Lord and forerunner of his people. Accordingly, Paul does not see glorification at the second resurrection as the only aspect of the believer’s eschatological-salvation. Rather, Paul sees the entire process of salvation (and it is a process!) as receiving all the benefits of redemption and entering into the already inaugurated age that awaits its final consummation in Christ, the first fruit of the one harvest.

That's the year round message of Easter. Christ the King and Savior of men is risen! The inaugurated King of Kings is subduing the nations, placing all his enemies under his feet, making them his footstool. Then comes the end, that is the consummation of all things, when Christ turns the kingdom over to the Father after destroying all dominion, authority and power, even the last enemy - death itself.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Homosexuality and the Church

Could you imagine starting a small group at your church for those struggling with being a rapist? How about a struggling murderer? No, because the antidote is simply repent and come to Christ. There’s nothing more to talk about. Don’t murder and don’t rape. Period! Repent or perish.

Why then does the church feel the need to have ministries aimed at professing Christians, which focus on “same-sex attraction”?  It has become an obsession. Why coddle the homosexual and not the murderer? Is it possible that a Christian’s life can be marked by a sin that God identifies as only belonging to the unbeliever? And if the person’s life is not marked by the sin, then why minister as if it is?! Let the man grow in grace normally, forgetting the past (Philippians 3:13-14). The increase in focus can only harm the believer – especially the young believer who would have never entertained such a practice if such sinful depictions were not paraded before him or her in the church – in God’s holy church!

For some reason sexual sin of all sorts has gained a unique standing in the church. The culture has worn down the church. Such sin is no longer shocking but that's because people are more saturated with the world than the word of God. We've become desensitized and the truth is at best a vague memory. The church actually now believes there are practicing homosexual Christians. My own children have been exposed to X-rated word-pictures from God’s pulpit (not at my home church). They would have been better off in “junior church” and it would have been better for a millstone to be hung around one's neck if a youth within the hearing of that word was led astray. (Matthew 18:6)

Let’s get it out of our minds that there is such a thing as the Christian homosexual. If thousands of people say they love Christ yet God has not seen fit to grant them repentance from this sort of sin, who should we believe - God’s word about who will not inherit the kingdom of God or the people God’s word says live in darkness and will not own the truth? At the very least, why is it no longer “disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret”?  (Ephesians 5:12) 

How many ministries to homosexuals tell their subjects that such a life style is depicted in Scripture as punishment for being abhorred by God? How can a long and drawn out book study for such sin not undermine the urgency that such a person is sealing his destiny with temporal judgment (Romans 1). Such coddling of the impenitent portrays the lie that this is a common struggle in the church. No, it’s not a struggle in the church, let alone a common one; it’s a “struggle” for those outside the church, and the struggle is due to a decided unwillingness to repent. What, God can save us – He just cannot keep us from such unspeakable sin? What is salvation, after all? 

I hear more about this sin than gossip. I hear more about this sin than Sabbath breaking! Why is the sin that God turns men over to for hardened unbelief – that of degrading passions and unnatural functions (Romans 1: 26) – been the focus of so much attention? It’s because many leaders in the church do not believe the Bible is relevant for this day, though they’ll never say it that plainly. I guess "sex sells" is now true for the church too.

For those who have been saved out of sexual immorality (or any class of sin), the sanctified path does not enter through doors of meeting with people who had, let alone still have, the same struggles. I befriended one man who was eventually put outside the church for such sin, and then was reclaimed by the mercies of God. His testimony was that the renowned focus group he attended was no more than a pick-up spot. The path of light that leads unto life is through the study of the whole counsel of God - and exercising oneself unto the ordinary means of grace in the church. The Bible knows nothing of special focus groups that are often time an occasion to stir up sinful passions with graphic testimony. (Divorce groups have similar problems.) What all Christians need is integration into the body! And the last thing they need to do is recite their past to the church or small group for "the glory of God"! Again, it is disgraceful even to speak of these former things that were done in secret.

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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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. 1Corinthians 6:9-11

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Monday, March 09, 2015

A Primer on Covenant Theology & Baptism

Immediately after the fall of man God promised that he would inflict a deep seated hatred between the seed of the woman and the seed of the Satan. That promise, which would come to fruition being a promise(!), included the good news that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Then the Lord of the covenant covered with skins the two who were naked and ashamed (Genesis 3:21).

God later expanded upon his promise with respect to the seed, saying that he would establish his covenant between himself and Abraham; but not only would God establish his covenant promise with Abraham, he would also establish it with Abraham’s seed after him. This promise that was made to Abraham and his seed was that God would be a God to them and that they would occupy the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:7, 8). In response to the promise of God, which was one of redemption of a people and land for them to occupy, Abraham pleaded that his son Ishmael might live before God in faithfulness. (Genesis 3:18) God refused Abraham’s request, saying “as for Ishmael, I have heard thee… but my covenant will I establish with Isaac” not Ishmael (Genesis 17: 20, 21).

God’s promise of redemption of the seed would come to fruition; yet it did not apply to all of Abraham’s physical descendents. In fact, it even applied to those who were not of physical descent. Notwithstanding, all those who were of the household of Abraham were to receive the sign and seal of the covenant, as if they themselves were partakers of the promise of God. Even more, those within a professing household who did not receive the sign and seal of the covenant were to be considered outside the people of God and covenant breakers. In other words, infants who did not receive the sign of the covenant due to a parent’s spiritual neglect were to be considered lost and, therefore, under the dominion of Satan (Genesis 17:13, 14). This sign of the covenant was so closely related to the covenant that it was actually called the covenant by the Lord (Genesis 17:10). Consequently, those who had received the sign were to be considered in covenant with God; whereas those who had not received the sign yet qualified to receive it were to be treated as covenant breakers. We might say that the invisible church was to be found within the visible church, "out of which there was no ordinary way of salvation" (Acts 2:47b; WCF 25.2).

When we come to Galatians 3 we learn something quite astounding. The promise was made to a single Seed, who is the Christ; and it is by spiritual union with him, pictured in the outward administration of baptism, that the promise is received by the elect (in Christ). “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ…For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ… And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:16, 26-29) The apostle in no uncertain terms teaches that the covenant promise is established with the God-man - the incarnate Christ, and by covenantal extension with all who would be truly, by the Spirit, buried and raised with him in baptism.

Although God’s covenant was established from the outset with the elect in Christ, it was to be administered to all who professed the true religion along with their households. The theological distinction of the visible and invisible church was well in view, even at the time of Abraham. Although this was the theology of the Covenant, the apostle still had to labor the point to the New Testament saints at Rome. After telling his hearers that nothing could separate God’s people from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39), the apostle had to explain how the people of God who had an interest in the covenant could have fallen away. How, in other words, could the people of God become apostate if the promise of redemption had to come to fruition being a promise from God? With his pedagogical background in place, the apostle explained the timeless Old Testament Covenant Theology, which is that although God established his covenant only with the elect in Christ, it was to be outwardly administered to the non-elect as long as they were of the household of a professing believer and had not demonstrated visible apostasy. Consequently, it is not hard to imagine that they are not all true Israel who are from external Israel (Romans 9:6); and that all the New Testament church is not the true church. “That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Romans 9:8).

With respect to the promise of the land of Canaan, it too was a type as were the sacrifices that have passed away. And also, the land was a microcosm (i.e. part-for-whole) of that which would be realized in the consummation of the earthly eschaton. The promise was seen as part-for-whole even by Abraham, who in his own time was looking not for the dirt of Palestine but the streets of gold, “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10). In fact, all the “heroes of the faith” died without receiving the promises, “but having seen them afar off…confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God [the very essence of the covenant! “I will be your God...”]: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

In sum, God’s promise was that he would redeem a people that he would place in his recreation, the church. The church’s final destiny is the consummated New Heavens and New Earth, wherein righteousness dwells. Until God separates the sheep from the goats, the visible church will contain unbelievers and hypocrites. Upon consummation, the visible church and the elect will be one and the same.

From a proper view of the covenant, we can now take a look at the practice of covenant baptism.

As we just saw, under the older economy, although the covenant of promise was established solely with the elect in Christ it was to be administered to the households of professing believers. This means that the children of professing believers were to receive the mark of inclusion and, therefore, be counted among the people of God prior to professing faith in what the sign and seal of the covenant contemplated. Covenant children, even if they were not elect, were to be treated as the elect of God and heirs according to the promise based upon corporate solidarity with a professing parent.

When we come to the New Testament nothing has changed with respect to the heirs of the promise. The promise remains established with the elect in Christ, as it always was. The question Baptists ask is whether the children of professing believers have somehow lost the privilege of receiving the sign of entrance into the New Testament church. They say YES, which places a burden of proof upon them to demonstrate such a conclusion by good and necessary inference if not explicit instruction.

Quick Review

By way of review, God's promise to save Abraham and his "seed" was without any preconditions (Genesis 17:7) that had to be met by those prior to God establishing his promise with the elect. Abraham responded to God's promise of salvation in faith, which was first issued in Genesis 12, whereby he was justified (Genesis 15:6). Although God promised Abraham and his elect son Isaac salvation, God rejected Ishmael (Genesis 17:18-21). Nonetheless, Ishmael was to receive the outward sign of the covenant-promise, which was circumcision (Genesis 17:10ff). Accordingly, God's precept was that his covenant sign be administered to the household of Abraham, even though God established his covenant solely with the elect in Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans nine that the promise of salvation was not intended for every single person to whom the outward administration of the covenant was to be administered. In fact, the apostle explicitly tells us that the children of the "promise" are counted as Abraham's seed, and not the children of the flesh (Romans 9:8). Accordingly, all those who would believe the promise are the true children of Abraham (Romans 9: 8; Galatians 3:9). Most importantly, the "seed" to whom the promise was made was actually Christ alone (Galatians 3:16). It is through union with Christ, the single Seed of Abraham, that we become seeds of Abraham. As Galatians 3:29 states, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, and heirs according to the promise."

Some misguided arrows, continuity and discontinuity

With respect to national implication as it pertains to circumcision, we must keep in mind that Abraham was not Jewish. Indeed, Israel according the flesh eventually came from Abraham's loins, but the promise was that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Israel did not even become a nation until 430 years after God called Abraham according to the promise (Galatians 3:17). Consequently, contrary to what so many evangelicals think, the sign of circumcision primarily had spiritual significance as opposed to national or ethnic significance. As Romans 4:11 states, "[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith..." The verse does not state that Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of his ethnic origin. God always had an elect people, which he so happen to form into a nation about 2400 years into redemptive history. Nonetheless, the promise both precedes and transcends the nation and could, therefore, not be abrogated upon the apostasy of the nation. God has now taken the kingdom away from the nation of Israel and has started his final building project, the church. The church is the international people of God, a "nation" bearing the fruit of the covenant. Consequently, when one is converted to Christ he need not become part of the nation of Israel; for Christ has sent his followers into the world to make disciples of all nations.

God commanded 4,000 years ago that the sign of the covenant be placed upon the males within the household of professing believers. Although the sign of entrance into the people of God has changed from circumcision to baptism, God never rescinded his covenant principle concerning the subjects who were to receive the sign and seal of the covenant promise. In the same way that all Israel was not Israel, all the church is not the church. Nonetheless, we are by precept to place the sign of covenant membership in the church upon those who qualify, per the instruction of God – which was never rescinded or abrogated.

The disagreement and the error of both groups, Baptists and Paedobaptists

Here's the problem that many paedobaptists run into when dealing with Baptists, especially so-called "Reformed" Baptists. "Reformed" Baptists argue that the Old Covenant was established with the elect and reprobates in professing households since many who were to receive the sign of the covenant fell away. Then they rightly show that the New Covenant is established only with the elect. Accordingly, they reason: if the covenant has changed from including non-believers to including only true believers, then baptism should be reserved only for professing believers in order to ensure (as best as possible) that the visible church resemble the true regenerate church of the New Testament. The paedobaptist gets tripped up by that argument when he tries to argue that both the New and the Old Covenants are established with both the elect and non-elect within professing households, which Randy Booth tries to do in his book "Children of the Promise." Such paedobaptists are certainly correct with respect to the continuity from Old to New but they cannot argue effectively that the New Covenant is established with certain unbelievers because Scripture doesn't support it. Consequently, the Baptist argument often goes like this: "Hey Mr. Paedobaptist, you and I agree that the Old Covenant was made with the visible people of God, which includes believers and unbelievers (since many Israelites fell away from the true religion); therefore, we can agree that circumcision was to be administered to all males, elect or not, within a professing household. However, since the New Covenant is clearly made with the elect in Christ who will persevere in the faith (unlike unfaithful Israel), then it is reasonable to maintain that the covenant has changed with respect to inclusiveness. Therefore, the sign of the covenant should be reserved for those the elders are persuaded are actually believers." In other words, the Baptist argues that since the people of God fell away under the older economy, then the Old Covenant promise must have been made with at least some reprobates; yet the elect of God will not fall away in the New Covenant, therefore, the New Covenant promise must be made with the elect alone. There is a flaw in reasoning that must be considered. The Baptist is contrasting the Old Testament visible church with the New Testament invisible church. By using a faulty comparison, the Baptist is trying to prove whom the Old Covenant was established with by showing who were to receive the sign (elect and reprobate); then he argues for the proper recipients for New Testament baptism on the basis of God establishing his NT covenant with the elect alone. By changing their criteria in this way, they arrive at logically unsubstantiated conclusion. In other words, our Baptist brethren establish with whom the covenant was established under the older economy by looking at who was to receive the sign; then they try to establish who is to receive the sign under the new economy by looking at with whom the New Covenant was made! That's simply fallacious.
The one, single covenant of promise was established with the incarnate Christ and all who were elected in Him; yet this covenant, although established with the elect in Christ, was to be administered even to the reprobate who qualifies, by precept, even by birth.

Now, for those who like formal proofs:
The Best Baptist Argument Out There:

1. In the older economy the covenant was established with professing believers and their households (whether elect or not)

2. It should be ensured as best as possible to place the mark of the covenant upon those with whom the covenant is established

3. Therefore, the mark of circumcision was to be placed upon professing believers and their households (whether they would ever believe or not)

4. The new covenant is established only with those who possess saving faith

5. Given (2 and 4), we should therefore wait until someone makes a profession of faith before admitting them to baptism

The Baptist argument has many problems:

1 is False: The old covenant was established only with the elect.

2 is True: The question is who qualifies?

3 is True: The conclusion is true but it is logically unsound because premise 1 is false. The reason the mark of the covenant was to be placed upon the households of professing believers is not because the covenant was established with them but because due to the head of household’s professed faith it was to be administered to them by biblical precept.

4 is False: Both covenants are established with the elect and the sign is to be administered to those who profess faith, along with their households

5 is False: The falseness of 4 is sufficient to make 5 false.

A Sound Paedobaptist Argument:

1. An Old Covenant precept was that whenever possible the sign of entrance into the covenant was to be placed upon all who were to be regarded as God’s people

2. Children of professing believers were to be regarded as God’s people under the Old Covenant

3. Children of professing believers whenever possible were to receive the sign of entrance into the Old Covenant by way of precept (1, 2)

4. God’s precepts may not be abrogated without explicit instruction or good and necessary inference

5. God never abrogated the Old Testament precept regarding who was to receive the sign of entrance into the Old covenant

6. The sign of entrance into the New Covenant is water baptism

7. God’s precept is that children of professing believers receive the sign of entrance into the New Covenant (3, 4 and 5)

8. God’s precept is that children of professing believers receive water baptism (6, 7)

A Reformed Baptist use of Jeremiah 31

Baptists, of course, will disagree with point 5. They will say that the abrogation of the principle in view is implicit in Jeremiah 31:34: "...they will all know me....”, which they say means that the New Covenant is made only with believers who know the Lord. Accordingly, they reason that we should ensure as best as possible to administer the New Covenant only to those who profess faith in Christ, which infants cannot do. The problem they run into with this line of reasoning is that the verse does not teach that the covenant is only made with those who posses belief! The promise of Jeremiah 31 is a promise of greater fidelity (verse 32), greater empowerment (verse 34), and a greater depth of knowledge (verse 34). It does not address the qualification for covenant entrance. (I’ll address “depth of knowledge” later). Verse 34 does not speak to the question of with whom the covenant will be established. It merely teaches that those with whom the covenant will be established will indeed “know the Lord.” Before considering what it means in that context to “know the Lord” we must first appreciate that verse does not teach us that the covenant will be made only with true believers after they believe. At the very least, if Baptists were correct, then the knowledge of the Lord would not be a blessing of the covenant but rather something that first must be obtained in order to enter into the covenant! Moreover, the verse cannot possibly exclude infants from covenant entrance who will grow up to “know the Lord” because the verse does not imply a change in qualifications for covenant entrance, but rather it speaks to the increase of blessings that will be received by those with whom God establishes the New Covenant. The verse is not speaking of a new qualification for entering into the covenant; rather it is speaking about something different that will occur under the newer economy as compared to the older economy for those who will be in covenant.

The glory of the New Covenant

Since the Old Covenant was established with the elect alone, we may safely say that a saving knowledge was granted to all with whom God established the Old Covenant, barring no early deaths that would preclude saving knowledge. Consequently, the verse must be speaking to the quality and depth of that saving knowledge under the newer economy as opposed to the mere possession of it, which all those with whom God established the Old Covenant would have received. Not surprisingly, that is what we see in the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant with the establishment of the priesthood of all believers, through the revelation of Christ, the completed Canon and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – we all “know the Lord”(!) in a manner vastly different than that under the old economy. In summary, Jeremiah 31 may not be used to defend a more stringent entrance examination for covenant privileges simply because it does not imply anything more than increase of blessings. Thankfully the glory of the New Covenant is not to be found in the exclusion of infants!

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Why I Hate Roman Catholicism

Let me count the ways... No, this post is by no means exhaustive. There are many reasons why I hate the man-made system of the popes.

A  common argument for Roman Catholicism is that Rome has no disagreements within her official teachings whereas Protestant denominations often disagree. That sentiment presupposes that disagreements creates confusion for those who by grace seek the truth contained in Scripture. ("Which denomination should we trust for our source of truth? All seem equally sincere.") Such thinking leads to an additional premise, that truth can be more readily acquired by looking to a source that claims to pronounce with utmost clarity and infallibility Christian doctrine - yet while denying the lucidity of the original source from which this ecclesiastical magisterium supposedly derives its doctrine and authority(!). The implication is that God in his word is not as clear as those who would speak on his behalf (but that Scripture is somehow clear enough to derive the Roman See). But what if those who claim infallibility are deluded, if not liars? What if Rome not only interprets Scripture wrongly on essential matters of faith and morals but also goes beyond Scripture in order that she might gain authority over conscience that is not divinely appointed?

The material point is that the self-attesting authority of God’s word in conjunction with the Holy Spirit must wait final adjudication from the popes for a Roman Catholic to have full warrant for any belief on faith and practice. A Roman Catholic must reserve judgment on the absolute truth of any passage  of Scripture, no matter how plain, because the Roman magisterium may overrule what one thinks a passage means. Naturally, Rome’s authority undermines the Roman Catholic’s confidence that he has heard from God in Scripture. Rome, like Satan, says “Has God said?” There is something rather insidious (and cultish) about casting doubt upon what God has said in his word yet not upon what God has allegedly said through his supposed infallible mouthpiece. (That Rome now permits, even encourages, Bible study does not undermine the point in view.)
At the end of the day the Roman Catholic believes he may interpret and apply “tradition” yet he may not do the same with Scripture with the same degree of confidence. But why not? Why can’t Scripture interpret Scripture to the same degree that tradition can interpret Scripture?  If tradition may alter the Roman Catholic’s view of  Scripture, then why can’t Scripture alter the Roman Catholic’s understanding of tradition?! If there is an apparent discrepancy, why does God’s supposed tradition trump Scripture? Wasn’t Israel blistered by the prophets of God and Christ himself for raising tradition above Scripture? Let's make no mistake about it - Rome does not regard Scripture as she does her tradition for the former must conform to the latter and not the reverse.
So, what’s one to do?
Given all the theological nuances and outright disagreement among Protestants what is one to do? Isn’t Rome more attractive because of its internal consistency?  Aside from the inconsistencies that riddle her, to find solace in a communion that demands such loyalty is neither wise nor available to one who seeks only God’s approval. It’s also a sure sign of manipulation and doctrinal infidelity to demand such mindless submission for it is without precedence in redemptive history and contrary to the warnings given in Scripture.

Given this unlawful, allegedly authoritative, mediation of the Roman magisterium one can never have full assurance of faith while remaining true to the implications of his communion. Yet God who is love would have us set free from such tyranny, to worship him by grace in peace. 

Theology aside, Jesus told us we can know false shepherds by their fruit. Don't the thousands of perverted acts along with Rome's attempt to cover them up accuse her justly?
Peter was blessed because flesh and blood had not revealed Christ to him but rather the Father in Heaven did. Imagine though if Peter's loyalty was to the magisterium of his day? With that in mind, it's easy to see that the splits within Protestant communions only present problems to those who look to man, not God, for truth. Most Roman Catholics I know have never heard from God in this way but have merely heard some things about him, which is why they would sooner trust a communion that claims truth rather than the Christ who is the truth. By and large, Roman Catholics have no relationship with God through Christ. They know nothing of the forgiveness of sins, adoption as sons, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the hope of glory. Indeed, Roman Catholicism forbids such presumption and in doing so would deny access to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. It might just go without asking...What fellowship can be found within Rome?
Jesus was clear when he said: his sheep hear his voice; they follow him; he gives them eternal life; and nobody will pluck them from his or his Father's hand. That is why I also know that when Rome denies doctrines like perseverance of the saints that it is not Christ who is in error but Rome. That is just one reason why I hate Roman Catholicism. It’s not that she’s often wrong; rather her claim of infallibility while she errs is repugnant.

So, it’s rather easy to hate Roman Catholicism with a holy hatred once one knows the Christ of Scripture savingly and realizes how Rome has blinded so many who need the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

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