Sunday, February 23, 2014

One Size Doesn't Always Fit All

How are we to behave toward (i) un-repented brothers in the church, (ii) profane people, (iii) splendid pagans (i.e. the populace) who live in the neighborhood and (iv) those who preach another gospel?

Imagine a person plotting to commit murder. Would any sane person think that after the murder was committed the killer was no longer guilty of sinful contemplation? Although the intention to act is not typically as consequential as the act itself, the manner of an intention often times determines the degree of punishment that will be inevitably indexed to the act itself.  Was the murder committed in self-defense and not intended, intended but spontaneous, or committed with considerable malice aforethought etc.? It’s easy to see that the intention from which an act proceeds is indeed relevant, and all the more when God judges. That is why premeditated acts may be weighed differently than spontaneous ones that result in the same outcome. At the very least, isn’t an intention to commit a crime still worthy of penalty in cases in which the ultimate act is providentially prevented by something other than the will of the plotter?

Why is it then that those who have plotted to sue out unlawful divorce are not considered throughout the universal church in need of repentance even after the divorce is finalized? Is high-handed, premeditated and unlawful pursuit ever absolved upon culmination, in this case receiving a written bill of divorcement? I should say not. One’s “victory” in gaining an unlawful divorce can never exonerate him. Even after divorce, any guilty party is to repent and seek forgiveness for pursuing divorce.
Now what about unlawful acts that can be undone but should not be? Many sorts of "unlawful" marriages, for instance, ought not to be dissolved though entered into unlawfully. Why are professing Christians after pursuing unlawful marriages to unbelievers not universally deemed candidates by the church for biblical confrontation even after entering into such an unholy alliance? In a biblically informed ecclesiastical setting, one in which elders are doing their job, such an unholy union resulting from considerable deliberation in the face of loving confrontation would result in excommunication.

un-repented brothers in the church

Upon excommunication Scripture is clear that believers are to withdraw themselves from the unrepentant sinner; any contact should be conscious and deliberate, never casual or idle, according to a ministry of focused gospel reconciliation lest the seriousness of ecclesiastical sanction is undermined along with any proper sense of urgency for repentance and restoration. Although the unrepentant sinner is to be regarded as an unbeliever, he is not like the world. Repentance in such cases is not to be seen as bringing forth salvation but rather restoration of a wayward child. Excommunication is for reclaiming a brother. It is not to be seen as evangelism. Accordingly, those brothers from whom we are to withdraw are not to be counted as enemies of Christ but rather lost sheep (not goats) in the need of admonishment. The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly states that “Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren...” Our hope should be that shame would come from God’s mandated avoidance, which in the end might aid in a changed heart and biblical restoration. (2 Thess. 3:6 ff)

There is a difference between a covenant breaker and a heathen. Yet it is wrongly thought that one who is excommunicated is no different than the world and that spending idle time with such a one is acceptable. First off, no time spent should be utterly idle and without Godward purpose. Even rest should be thought of in self-conscious terms of recharging our batteries in order to serve God. In any case, this sort of thinking (that an excommunicated person is no different than the world) makes way for covenant breakers to live comfortably in their sin, without the shame that should accompany their obstinate heart. It is often times out of selfishness or familial convenience that Christians disobey God’s word on this matter and spend unjustifiable amounts of time with wayward friends and family members. What’s worse is when Christians disobey God’s word by spending out of convenience  inordinate amounts of  time - void of prayerful purpose - with the decidedly unrepentant in the name of “building relationships” so that an occasion might arise to offer, once again, the demands of the gospel. We must share in the sufferings of Christ and if we feel called on to engage, then engage we must but with purpose and in tears. 

Yes, Jesus spent time with sinners but it was always on his terms and on his time table. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. He warned of eternal damnation. Jesus confronted sin and preached righteousness. The relationship building that Jesus was engaged in was saturated with the word. His relationships were always brought in short order to a terminus point, Himself.  Jesus' relationship buidling and ours looks much different I'm afraid.

Unfortunately, many congregations do not practice formal ecclesiastical censure. What is the parishioner to do in such cases? That can be a thorny question to many but I think the answer is clear. The instruction to withdraw from disorderly brethren is given to all in the church, whereas the "keys" are granted only to the elders. So even if the elders don't discharge their ministerial and declarative obligations, parishioners can discharge their own. The charge to avoid disorderly brethren  still stands. There is also a time to withdraw from liberal ministers who refuse to obey God's word on this matter and others.
profane people
There are other sorts of people who are utterly self-indulgent, existential, living without constraint and without natural affection; from such we are to turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5) We are forbidden to cast pearls before swine. Yet we must balance such instruction with the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to every creature. The resolution to this conundrum is that we are not to waste undo time with profane persons. “Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” but be willing to shake the dust off your sandals should the profane person not respond with interest.  (Matt. 10:14; 2 Timothy 4:2;)

splendid pagans (i.e. the populace) who live in the neighborhood

A Christian’s manner of life is to be consistent with the gospel. Our light is to shine before men. There should be more striving with people and building purposeful relationships in order to win the lost. We need to strive with splendid pagans and be prayerfully purposeful in our pursuit. 

by way of review (the first three groups)

When one who is called a brother has been unambiguously confronted with sin that undermines a credible profession of faith and there is no repentance to be found in him, he is to be avoided until such time he repents. If the person is attending a church that does not have the pastoral fortitude to confront and censure their rebellious members, the instruction to Christians still abides. Individual Christians are to confront in all longsuffering and if necessary avoid such people (whether the church does its job or not).

We are to place mockers of the gospel and those living without constraint in a different category all together. We are to throw them the life line of the gospel then move on if the fish aren’t biting.

We are to be all things to all men so that we might win some. This pertains to the populace.
those who preach another gospel
Finally, there is a fourth category of person - those who would bring another gospel. The short answer is, do not receive such a one into your house or even extend him a greeting. (2 John 1:10)


How often have we seen Christians attend marriages that were entered into unlawfully? How often does this occur under the pretense of wanting to be supportive? It's a terrible thing to rely upon our own understanding and not God's word. Just imagine fathers of sons and daughters refusing to attend a wedding on biblical principle. Imagine if the church marshaled together and obeyed God in faith?

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adam, Merit & Glory

It is not deducible from Scripture that the prospect of glorification was open to Adam prior to sinning, let alone that Adam was in a position to merit glorification. In fact, a reasonable inference is that covenant of life implies that Adam would have continued in a perpetual state of communion with God had he continued to obey God by faith. Unfortunately, in certain Reformed circles, the latter view is now considered aberrant. (Beale makes the best case I've seen for the prospect of glorification, though it remains an unnecessary inference.)

Let’s assume, however, that it was available to Adam to be glorified. To say that he might have merited glorification is most misleading. Would we say that a son who cuts his father’s half-acre field for fifty million dollars “earns the money”? In common parlance we might say “The son earned nothing. He merely received from a generous father that which was not deserved.” We can find even more problems with this novel view when we look more closely at the significant differences between the earthly son who receives a disproportionate reward for completing a task and the alleged prospect of glory that awaited Adam upon the successful completion of a supposed probation period.

1. The blessing of the world to come is of a different order than any blessing that can be obtained in this world, accentuating the folly of referring to the celestial blessing as one that could be earned by a creature. In other words, if it is equivocal to say that a son may “earn” fifty million dollars for cutting grass in less than two hours, how much more confusing is it to suggest that Adam was in a position to have “merited” being like Christ? In some respect it seems heretical.

2. When something is truly earned, it is understood that two parties benefit. The two parties, relative to each other, can be said to be autonomous. Indeed, the earthly father would receive some (although small) benefit from the son’s obedience; whereas God would have received no benefit from Adam’s obedience. Accordingly, it’s a misnomer to say that Adam, being contingent upon God, could have earned something from the hand of God. To suggest that Adam could have earned glory implies that God is wanting of something, like earthly fathers, and that would-be autonomous Adam could have fulfilled that need.

3. The earthly father would not have played a relevant part in causing the obedience of his son; whereas God would have providentially assured Adam’s obedience had Adam obeyed, accentuating the undeserved favor that Adam needed in order not to have fallen and to have remained a covenant-keeper. Therefore, it is misleading to say that Adam could have earned something from God when it would have been God who effectually enabled Adam gladly to do as he ought. To deny this is to affirm that Adam had libertarian freedom prior to the fall, a metaphysical surd indeed.

If one wants to say that Adam would have merited glorification, then it should be underscored that the compact would have been so exceedingly gracious that (a) the merited reward of being like Christ would have been incomprehensibly disproportionate to the work performed; (b) the benefactor of the reward would have received nothing of value in return for the work performed; and (c) the one who would have earned the reward would have done so only because the benefactor providentially caused the beneficiary gladly to will and to do of the benefactor’s good pleasure. Yet when we make all those qualifications, what then does it mean to say that Adam might have “merited” glorification?! Merit becomes a vacuous term!

So, why could the God-man have merited our glorification without contradicting the three points above?

1. By obedience, the Son received back the glory he already had known. (John 17:5) Accordingly, given who the Son is, the reward was not disproportionate, for he was even the one who created heaven.

2. Even when we “glorify” God, we are not bringing glory to him per se, but rather a magnanimous God is showing forth his glory in us. Accordingly, strictly speaking, Adam himself was not, nor could he have been, in position to glorify God. Therefore, Adam was not in a position to earn anything from God. Yet Adam was in a position but by no worthiness of his own (of course), to show forth God’s glory but only by God’s determination and grace.

The Father, however, did receive something through the Son’s work on behalf of his people. The Father was truly glorified through the glorification of the Son. (John 17:1) The difference is that the Father was glorified through the work of the Son that was performed not only for, through and to God but, also, by him in the person of Christ. God being a non-contingent sovereign being can receive glory through who he is and what he’s done.

3. The Son being the creator and sustainer of all things was the source of his own willing and doing of his Father’s good pleasure, unlike created beings – even those created upright.

With respect to the claim of glorification upon perfect obedience:

It is with hesitance I dignify the notion that Adam could have merited anything before God. For one reason the idea presupposes the inference that it was available to Adam to enter into glory, whether by grace or merit.

Here is a rough argument for the meritorious view:

p1. Jesus after a finite amount of time on earth entered into glory
p2. The compact with Adam paralleled that of Jesus with respect to the hope of glory
C. Adam after a finite amount of time on earth would have entered into glory

The minor premise needs to be shown from Scripture, not just assumed. Given the implied parallel in p2, why not also assume a parallel with respect to the possibility of sin? Why, in other words, should we not conclude that Jesus could have sinned given that Adam could, if it were indeed true that Adam could have obtained glory just as Christ could? (I address Hodge’s argument here: Also, given the parallel in p2, why not also assume that Adam would have obtained eternal life for those he represented, as did Jesus? (G.K. Beale in his N.T. Biblical Theology offers the most persuasive exegetical case I've seen for p2; yet it remains an inference that although is "good" is not "necessary" but to make it dogma is to exceed the principle of Sola Scriptura.)

The response I have received in the past is much along the lines of: “God promises ‘eternal life’ to those who perfectly fulfill its precepts (Lev. 18:5; Matt. 19:16-7; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; etc.)”The problem with such a line of reasoning is that none of the proof-texts imply that Adam (or any other non-divine person) would have been glorified by keeping the law. Life is indeed a sufficient condition for the guarantee of future glorification in the days of redemption, but we know that by divine revelation - not speculation! With respect to Adam we have no such revelation. In fact, all we know is that the life Adam enjoyed was not a sufficient condition for glorification since he indeed fell! Under the gospel we have a golden chain of redemption, which culminates in the glorified state. In the garden there was no golden chain of redemption but rather life was offered upon perpetual obedience. As long as Adam would obey, he’d live. Adam had life (even life eternal in some respect) until he would fall. Eternity is not timeless; so Adam was (in time) a partaker of eternal life, just as believers are now. [Note: The ontology of Adam and that of one born from above are of course different but the point still stands.] If Adam had obeyed forever, he would have continue to live eternally. The merit advocate’s task is to prove that Adam, after a time, would have lived forever in a different, glorified state. Yet all that Scripture reveals is that glorification is an additional blessing to our new life, having been raised in Christ. I want to see where Scripture reveals that glorification was offered as an increase in blessing upon Adam’s perfect obedience apart from union with Christ, the God-man.

What a great salvation we have in Christ! We have more than was ever available to Adam, which has teleological implications that I would think pertain to supra-infra discussions. It would seem, in other words, that the prospect of glory for Adam is critical to a infralapsarian position. (The supra position as it has been traditionally formed (Beza) is problematic to me as well. Yet in later times supras such as Clark and Reymond placed in the first position the election of some sinful men unto salvation, which I find closer to the telos that Scripture puts forth. Finally, given a multi-faceted decree in which some ends are means to other ends, it's somewhat a fools game to try speculate the teleological order of it. I think Frame hints at this notion with softer words in DKG.)

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