When Will Christ Return?

A Chapter Summary of Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Chapter Twenty-Five – Biblical Eschatology

All of the study of systematic theology finds its culmination in the “systematic study of eventualities”, as Buswell defines eschatology. The eventualities concerned include personal and cosmic considerations; human death, disposition of the soul and body, final judgement and individual eternal destiny on the one hand, and the return of Christ, liberation of Creation and the new heaven and new earth on the other. While we can, for the sake of study, categorize these in such a way it is important to note that these eventualities remain integrally related, with the former, in reality, being an aspect of the latter.

Over the past century-and-a-half there has been considerable controversy regarding the appropriate understanding of biblical eschatology. Out of this debate has arisen five predominant views; some more dominant than others. Classical liberal eschatology rejects the eschatology of the Gospels altogether opting for a view that Jesus was primarily providing moral instruction and not engaging in prophetic utterance. Consistent eschatology, notably championed by Albert Schweitzer, in a twist of irony ends up at essentially the same destination as the liberal view. Schweitzer holds that Christ, the “deluded” man and would-be ruler of mankind, did indeed prophesy of the eschaton and set out to bring it about. However, once he realized that this was not occurring as planned he attempted to force God’s hand by foisting himself upon the cross where he died and there he remains having no relevance beyond his own era. The Realized eschatology view is quite the opposite of the Consistent view in that it holds that the prophesy of Jesus was real and true but not prophetic in the temporal sense. Jesus was not predicting the “end” in terms of events to come but was rather describing it in terms of things of ultimate significance, the “present of the eternal” in history. Rudolf Bultmann advances the idea of an Existential Eschatology where any moment of personal, crucial decision is deemed “eschatological”. For Bultmann, Jesus was merely a Jewish prophet who was not teaching of the end of the world to come, or of a literal heaven and hell, but rather of the divine demand that individual men lay hold of the opportunity to decide for authentic existence. In the early part of the twentieth century, out of the midst of this potpourri of opinions, rose the view known as Dispensational Eschatology. Consistent with classic dispensationalism, this view holds that the current church age is the “grand empty parenthesis” between the Old Testament prophecies and inauguration of the Millennium. In other words, the prophesies do not speak of the church age whatever, but rather after the incarnation of Christ the very next event prophesied is the establishment of the Davidic kingdom. This very Jewish millennium will be preceded by a pretribulation rapture of the church at the second coming of Christ. It is after this 1000 year reign that Christ will destroy all remaining opposition and deliver the perfected kingdom to the Father.

Having briefly outlined the major views it is prudent now to consider the actual biblical teachings related to this topic. In regards to the Old Testament teachings, Jesus spoke to his contemporaries of “the kingdom of God” assuming they were familiar with this concept (Mark 1:15) as he does not define it for them. George Eldon Ladd describes what this phrase would have represented to Christ’s Jewish hearers under five heading: a dynamic hope – the rule of God, an eschatological hope – the coming direct “inbreaking” of God into history for the redemption of God’s people, an earthly hope – the redemption of creation, a historically oriented hope – the juxtaposition of near future and distant future events in prophesy without regard to strict chronology given a lack of temporal perspective, and an ethical hope – the idea that the promised future kingdom is limited to the faithful; those who turn from their sin and submit to God. A sixth hope, a messianic hope, should be appended to these. This speaks of the divine invasion into history of “the great and final King” through whom salvation of man and the restoration of created paradise is accomplished. Considered another way, Anthony Hoekema provides a succinct outline of eschatological events found in Old Testament prophesy: the expectation of the coming Redeemer (Gen. 3:15; 22:18; 2 Sam. 7:12-13; Dan. 7:13-14), the anticipation of the kingdom of God (Dan. 2:44-45), the making of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), the restoration of Israel (Isa. 11:11; Jer. 23:3; Ezek. 36:24-28), the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-32), the approach of the Day of the Lord (Obad. 15-16; Joel 1:15; 2:1-17; Isa. 13: amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:7, 14-16; Mal. 4:5), and the creation of a new heaven and new earth (Isa. 11:6-9; 32:15; 35:7; 65:17; 66:22). According to Peter, the efforts poured into these understandings of the Old Prophecies by the Old Testament saints was not for their own benefit but for the benefit of the future faithful (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Turning to the New Testament we see at the outset with Gabriel’s announcements to Elizabeth and Mary that eschatological prophesy picked up here where it had left off in the Old Testament (see Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). John was seen as the “Elijah” who was to precede the coming of the Lord (Matt. 11:14; 17:11-13). The birth of both was seen as God’s fulfilling of his covenant promise to Abraham (Luke 1:54:55; 1:68-75). As for John the Baptist’s own eschatological view, he warns that “the ax is already at the root of the trees” therefore there is no time to waste – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near” (Matt. 3:2), as has “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John understood that in the incarnation God had visited his people and brought his kingdom into history for the purpose of their salvation and the overthrow of the unrepentant. In this sense, eschatology had been realized.

As for Christ himself, the church’s chief prophetic scholar, we are introduced to what is a recurring theme in the New Testament of “eschatological dualism”; the concept of the “already” and the “not yet” aspects of the invasion of the divine into history. Mark 1:15 gives one example as it illustrates the “already” as we are told that “The time has been fulfilled (peplerotai). The kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the gospel.” The “not yet” aspect is taught in various ways. One such example is in the Lord’s teaching the disciples to pray, “May your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). Again, in 7:21, he proclaims, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” This “future” view is also explicitly described in 19:28, 25:31-34 and 26:29. Jesus picks up and clarifies the Old Testament understanding of the coming of the kingdom of God – he teaches the “already” as the kingdom’s arrival in grace and the “not yet” that will come in judgement. Further affirmation of Christ’s intention to teach the dualistic motif is also seen in his kingdom of heaven parables in Matthew 13 and Mark 4:26-29. Specifically, in Matt. 13:11 he explains to the disciples that “many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (italics added). The distinction between the two aspects of the kingdom is further illumined by reference to the present kingdom, the “kingdom of grace” as “this age” (Luke 16:8; Rom. 12:2; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:2), “this time” (Luke 19:30), “the now age” (1 Tim. 6:17; 2 Tim 4:10; Tit. 2:12) and the disciples view that they were in the “last days” (Acts 2:7), the “last times” (1 Pet. 1:20), and the “last hour” (1 John 2:18). This contrasted with reference to a distinct kingdom to come marked by phrases such as “that age” (Luke 20:35), the “age to come” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Matt. 12:32), and the disciples anticipation of the “last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48, the “last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52), and the “last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). Paul notably points out that “the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11) and yet also speaks of “the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7). At this point dispensational adherents object. Their contention is that the phrases “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” differ in meaning. The former should be understood as the literal, earthly, Davidic, millennial kingdom while the latter is the general, universal reign of God. This interpretation cannot be supported by the scriptures. Indeed, Matthew uses the former, whereas Mark and Luke use the latter synonymously (see Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). Further diminishing the appropriateness of such an interpretation is the fact that the Jews by-and-large were anticipating an earthly kingdom that would overthrow Roman oppression. Their logic absolutely does not follow. Had Christ represented such it is inconceivable that he would have been rejected, scorned, beaten and killed as he would have been bringing to them precisely what they expected and hoped for. Rather, he brought a much unanticipated (by many) kingdom of grace that did not fit into the contemporary Jewish Daniel 2 paradigm they were hoping for and as such Jesus was easily dismissed by them as an imposter and missed the spiritual reign of God’s grace within and over their hearts.

In his “Olivet discourse “ (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:3-36; 17:22-37) Jesus clarifies to his disciples the distinction between the “now age” and the “age to come” whose transition will be marked by his Second Coming (parousia). He described to them the destruction of the temple as part of God’s judgement against that generation of Jews for their rejection of God’s Messiah. In direct answer to their question regarding the time-frame of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus set about correcting the misunderstanding the disciples held that these events, the Second Coming and the end of the age, were to be simultaneous activities, teaching them rather that the razing of the temple would occur in the near future and the other two events in the distant future. To prepare them for the latter events he warns them of the appearance of false prophets as well as the futility of looking to signs – wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes etc. – in an attempt to predict these events, and that they would suffer persecution in the interim but to remain faithful to the end (Matt. 24:9-14), and that this “end” would not come until the gospel had been preached in the “whole world”. This reference to the “whole world” cannot mean literally the entire earth and therefore be speaking of the distant future for the following reasons: First, had Jesus intended this interpretation he would not have been answering the disciples specific question about the destruction of Jerusalem. In fact, later in this same context he confirms that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (24:34). Second, according to New Testament testimony, the gospel had indeed been preached to the “whole [then known] world” before A.D. 70 (Acts 2:5, 11; Rom. 1:8; 10:17-18; Col 1:6, 23). Third, Jesus foretells of the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:14), or the “abomination that causes desolation”, which Luke clarifies in his gospel: “When you see Jerusalem being surround by [Rome’s] armies, you will know that its desolation is near” (21:20). Finally, the setting of the discussion should be viewed as geographically restricted and not global. The context into which Jesus in speaking is confined to the area of Palestine. The words used, “Judea”, “on the roof of his house”, and “Sabbath”, provide the setting and the referent of this teaching.

Largely because of its apocalyptic language, the Matthew 24:29-31 pericope has presented some difficulty in interpretation and has been used to illustrate Christ’s intended focus on his Second Advent and the Eschaton. Verse 30, “And then shall appear in the heaven the sign of the Son of man”, in particular is often understood as a sign of the event when the risen Christ in glory will return to earth in power ushering in the temple made without hands. This verse however is “semeion tou huiou tou anthropou en ourano”, which, literally translated states, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven”. The second half of this verse reads: “Then, all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and glory”. In light of passages that speak of the Gentile nations enjoying the blessings of the “Jubilee Year”, and that the gospel would be proclaimed and that his messengers “will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:31), the previous verse has to be interpreted as referring to the twelve tribes of Israel spread throughout the then-known world, rather than the entirety of the world. These latter statements make no sense if interpreted as referring to the final Eschaton, for their would remain no opposition or necessity of gospel proclamation. It is to the Roman siege and the [then-known] worldwide proclamation of the gospel to which Jesus is referring in 24:33 when he says, “when you see all these things”. For despite the destruction of Jerusalem, the evangelical mission will continue. Interpreting the text dispensationally would place the “all things” after the Second Coming of Christ.

Further solidifying the proposed interpretation is the digression taken by the Lord beginning in 24:36 through 25:46. Where he had been referring to “those days” (plural) and seemed to have an intimate knowledge of the timing of the events of which he spoke, he now speaks of “that day” (singular) and admits ignorance to the specifics regarding the timing: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” It is clear that he is now concerned with teaching about his Second Coming from heaven – and not his exaltation in heaven (see Dan7:13-14) – and from here proceeds to, by the use of parables, admonish the believers to be diligent and watchful. For the first event, the destruction of Jerusalem, would be preceded by a preparatory sign in their lifetime, but the second and third will come suddenly at some unknown, unannounced time in the future.

There are those, particularly in the consistent eschatology camp, who argue that Christ miscalculated the time of his return, that is, Second Coming, based on Matt. 10:23, Mark 9:1 and 13:30. This position is non-sensical given that Christ did not calculate a time for his return. As just noted, he clearly stated that he did not know the time of his return. Further, Jesus made other statements that imply that while he did not know “the day or the hour” he did understand that it could be quite a long time. For instance, he told Simon the Leper that the woman who had anointed his head with oil would be remembered for her kindness to him “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world” (Mark 14:9). With similar implications, “he went on to tell them a parable, because…the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once” (19:11). In the parable of the wicked servant he says, “My master is staying away a long time” (Matt. 24:45-51). Again, in the parable of the ten virgins, he states that “The bridegroom was a long time in coming” (Matt 25:5). See also the parable of the talents, the mustard seed. and that of the leaven where he similarly suggests a lengthy period of time. Our Lord’s statement in Matt. 10:23, when he says the disciples would not have finished going through the cities of Israel with the message of the kingdom before the Son of Man came, could allude to his appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, to the destruction of Israel in 70 A.D., or he could have viewed the disciples as representatives of the entire church and thus his emissaries. Similar objections are based on Mark 9:1 in his declaration that the kingdom of God would come with power before some standing before him would taste death. Interpreted by the analogy of Scripture, it is probable that Jesus here was referring to his transfiguration. To summarize Jesus’ eschatological dualism: he taught of two ages, the present evil age and the age to come between which there is no intermediate period or millennial age; he taught that the two ages are consecutive with no overlap or gap; and he taught that the current age ends and the next begins at the return of Christ in glory to usher in the Eschaton.

Now that we have considered Jesus’ eschatological teachings, we will turn to an understanding of that of the New Testament writers. James, providing no quarter to an intermediate period theory, affirms the “dualism” of Christ as evidenced in teachings of the first “age”, such as the Christian being born anew and already a redeemed child of God (Jam. 1:18), and that the growth of the church is the “rebuilding of the fallen house of David” (Acts 15:13-17). Referring to the latter age to come, he speaks of the Lord’s coming to judge the earth (Jam. 5:9) and the encouragement that Christians can take in the fact that it is this coming kingdom of which they are the promised heirs (2:5).

After his dramatic Damascus Road conversion, Paul too had much to say about the ages to come and like James (and Jesus) his eschatology is that of the dualistic, “already” and “not yet” position. He taught that Christ’s messianic reign was inaugurated at his resurrection and ascension (see Acts 13:30; 1 Cor. 15:23-25; Col. 1:13), the eschatological resurrection from the dead had already begun with the resurrection of Jesus as the “first fruits” (1 Cor. 15:21-23), the outpouring of the Spirit predicted by Joel in the “last days” (2:28-32) had begun (see Acts 2:17-21) as “down payment” of the final redemption (1 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14; 4:30), and justification had already been purchased for those for whom Christ died and was resurrected (Rom. 5:1, 9; 4:25; Gal. 2:16). Paul clearly understood the “grace” motif of the “already” kingdom that was “making known” that which had until Christ’s first appearing been “hidden” in the shadows (see 1 Cor. 2:7-8; Rom. 16:25-26; Eph. 1:9-10; 3:3-5; Col. 1:25-26; 2 Tim. 1:9b-10, Titus 1:2-3). As a result the Christian resides between the kingdom that has already come (in grace), an experienced eschatology (Col. 1:13), and the kingdom that is still to come (in judgement), an anticipated eschatology (1 Cor. 15:50).

Paul describes the stages of his eschatology in three ways: the “present”, the “intermediate”, and the “future”. In the present we view the gospel as the “death of death” and the securing of redemption of the believer (see Col. 2:14ff) who is a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). “Better by far” (Phil. 1:21-23) is the intermediate state of believers between bodily death and resurrection when they are in their spirit (2 Cor. 5:1-3) and “at home with the Lord” where they will have personal communion with the Lord (5:8) in a state more glorious than the present (5:6), but pales in comparison to that of the “future” state. The future state then is that point after Christ’s Second Advent in which God’s people are finally redeemed and his sin cursed creation is restored (Eph. 1:10; Rom. 8:19-23). The believers who have died will be resurrected from the dead and the alive in Christ will be transformed to incorruption (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 2 Cor. 5:4-5). Unbelievers will also be resurrected to join those remaining alive in the final judgement unto eternal damnation (Acts 25:15; see also 2 Cor. 5:10). According to Paul, believers too will be judged according to their works and will receive rewards accordingly (Rom. 14:10, 12; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This position has been used by some to argue against a salvation by faith alone without works. There are several reasons why there is no inconsistency between this teaching of Paul and the Reformed position. First, there should be noted a critical distinction between judgement according to works and salvation on account of works. It is very important to note that these are not synonymous concepts and the latter is absolutely contrary to Paul’s gospel. Second, it has often been stated that while believers are saved by faith alone they are never saved by a faith that is alone. [Aside: A saving faith necessarily produces the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).] Third, the judgement of God must take into account the fruits born in believers as a result of their salvation. Fourth, while the believer is under the law to Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:21) he is not without law to God and it is the latter that is the standard for the judgement of works. Fifth, therefore it is the good works that result from salvation by grace through faith that is the criteria of judgement. To those who would accuse Paul of contradicting himself it should be noted that the judgement spoken of here is not with respect to the justification or salvation of the believer but rather the rewards to be bestowed on the already justified believer in glory. In sum, Paul describes the conclusion of his eschatological understanding in the event that will “trigger” the onset of the future state which is the bodily, visible, public return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; Phil. 3:20; 1 Cor. 15:23). Transformed and resurrected believers will then be “caught up” with him (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and immediately return to earth with him for the judgement of the transformed and resurrected unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:2; see also Matt. 25:1-14; Acts 28:15).

The classic dispensational view of being “caught up” is understood as the secret pretribulation rapture of the church. This is to occur seven years before the actual return of Christ; during which is the time of tribulation. This view does not square with Pauline (or any other New Testament) eschatology. First, in 1 Thessalonians Paul addresses the concern of the Thessalonian church regarding the dead in Christ. In 4:13-18, the supposed “rapture pericope”, Paul is answering this question and then in the very next pericope (5:1-11) he speaks of the “Day of the Lord”. Between these two pericopes, dispensational eschatology places a seven year span of time in which occurs the tribulation arguing that the first speaks of the pretribulation rapture and the latter, the Second Coming of Christ. While an interesting interpretation it lacks any textual support whatever. In this context Paul is providing encouragement to the believers and with no evidence of a shift in subject he describes this time as the Day of the Lord and then uses this truth as reason for the believers to “encourage one another and build each other up” (5:11). In truth, these are not two separate pericopes but rather one unified teaching. Also, in 2 Thess. 2:1 and Titus 2:13 Paul describes the “coming” of the Lord and the “gathering together” of Christians as a single event. Finally, Paul not only goes on to explain these as coincident events, he also describes it as anything but “secret” and “hidden” (2 Thess. 1:7; 2:8). Indeed, while he will come as a “thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2), this refers to the sudden, unexpected aspect of his coming. When the “coming” actual ensues it will be with the Lord’s “loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (4:16).

The debate related to Paul’s teaching regarding the timing of the ingathering of “all Israel” is not confined only to dispensational versus non-dispensational scholarship. It is clear that because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ, Israel has become as much a son of Hagar as Ishmael himself (Gal. 4:25) and is subject to the wrath of God (1 Thess. 2:15-16) who has made them blind and deaf to the truth (Rom. 11:8). However, in this latter pericope Paul goes on to proclaim that there will be an ingathering of ethnic Jews of so great a magnitude that he, hyperbolically, speaks of “all Israel” (11:26). By this, dispensationalists assert that Paul intends here to teach that at some point during the last half of the seven-year tribulation (after the “full number of the Gentiles” has been realized prior to the onset of the tribulation) God will save literally “all” ethnic Israel. Though considering Paul’s line of reasoning throughout Romans 11 it is clear that he is instead teaching that God’s design is to save “all” of the elect in Israel. He also presents an understanding that the “fullness” (11:12) of Israel (their ingathering) will bestow even greater salvific blessings upon the Gentiles. The obvious conundrum presented here by the dispensational (and some non-dispensationalists’) interpretation is exactly how Israel’s ingathering could possibly be a means of even greater blessing in the saving work of God among the Gentiles if said ingathering occurs during (even at the very end) of the tribulation when all of the Gentile elect have already been saved?! Even if one were to submit a logically sound answer to this conundrum, would it be more consistent with reason and stretch Scriptural interpretation less than the position that holds there to be a period prior to the Second Coming when the ingathering of the elect of Israel begins and proceeds confluently alongside the salvation of the Gentiles? Paul seems to be quite clear that this is the case and that the “fullness” of the elect, Jew and non-Jew alike, will be reached simultaneously, ushering in Christ’s return. This view is supported by Romans 11:17-24 which speaks of Jews being “grafted” back into the olive tree. Further, in the next verse he notes that the “partial hardening” of Israel will persist “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Note then, in 11:26, he does not say that after this “fullness” of the Gentiles then all Israel will be saved at some later point. Rather, he says “in this way (houtos) all Israel will be saved”. It is during this time that the “disobedient” Jews will “now receive mercy” (11:30-32).

Romans 11:26 is further employed by the dispensational camp in support of the assertion that the phrase, “The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn the godlessness away from Jacob”, should be interpreted to indicate that Christ’s Second Coming from heaven (Zion) will be the triggering event for the Jewish ingathering. However, the “coming” of the “Deliverer” could just as easily, and perhaps more consistently, indicate Christ’s first “coming”, the incarnation, providing salvation to the Jews through the instrumentality of the church’s proclamation of the gospel, where in this instance “Zion” is the church (Heb. 12:22). It is then, as prophesied by Moses (Deut. 32:21), that the salvation of the Gentiles will kindle in idolatrous Israel a righteous envy which will bring about the salvation of Israel (Rom. 11:11). As such, the current posture of many Christians who cheer every modern-day Israeli advance is unwittingly lauding their unbiblical “Jewishness” by which they reject the only true hope of Israel.

As regards a supposed millennial reign, Paul’s teachings are silent. However, premillennialists point out 1 Cor. 15:24-25 in which Paul uses the terms “the kingdom” and “he must reign” as evidence of Paul’s support for such a doctrine, particularly in light of the preceding verse – “…order: Christ the firstfruits, then (epeita) at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then (eita) comes the end…” (15:23-24). It should be noted here that eita can properly be used to indicate an intervening interval of time, however such an interpretation is not necessitated. According to BAGD it is often used to place “things in juxtaposition without reference to chronological sequence.” Therefore, in this context eita cannot rightly be expected to bear the necessary weight of the “order” interpretation that would squeeze the millennium in between 11:23 and 11:24.. This is especially true when 15:51-55 is taken into consideration. Here Paul explains that death, Christ’s last enemy, will be destroyed through the resurrection at his coming. Therefore, the reign of 15:25 (“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” [including death, his last enemy]) is a victorious spiritual reign that occurs before his coming. This amillennial view has been accused by the premillennialist of necessitating an inexorable slide into postmillennialism. They argue that if Christ is presently reigning and must continue to reign until he has put all of his enemies under his feet, then mankind must be conformed to a state of virtual moral perfection prior to his return by the effects of the gospel and his judgement upon his enemies. However, this very argument by the premillennialist serves ultimately to discredit premillennialism as it would eliminate the possibility of the apostasy (“Gog and Magog” [Rev. 20:8]) that they hold is to occur at the end of the millennial reign. If one is to suppose that opposition to Christ after the millennium is possible, which is essential to premillennial eschatology, then this particular objection not only contradicts his own position but serves nicely in support of amillennialism.

Finally, concerning Paul, we address three points of contention in his writings. First, did Paul, as some suppose, really expect to be among those still alive at Christ’s return based on 1 Thess. 4:13-18? Specifically in 4:15 Paul states, “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord…” To attribute this intent consistently through his writings would indicate his intent to the contrary in passages such as 1 Cor. 6:14 and 2 Cor. 4:14 where he says that God…will raise us.” By “we” Paul is simply categorizing pedagogically the groups in these states at Christ’s return rather than intending to imply who will be in a given state at that time. Further, in other passages he clearly teaches his own expectancy of death before the coming of Christ (Phil. 1:22ff; 2 Cor. 4:11; 5:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:6). [Aside: Certainly Paul was also aware of Christ’s teaching that no one but the Father knows the return of the Son. Taking as foundational that “all Scripture is God-breathed” it would be impossible that Paul could be inspired to teach a contradictory “truth” as this would be tantamount to a divine self-contradiction.] Related to this first objection, some have argued that Paul changed his mind between 1 Thess 4:15 (circa A.D. 50) where he states, “we who are still alive”, and his statement in 2 Cor. 4:14 (circa A.D. 56), “[He] will also raise us with Jesus.” [Aside: So much for the internal consistency of Scripture.] This view does not explain why he would have held an “imminent return” view from his conversion in about A.D. 33 to 50 and then change his mind. These verses are similarly explained as the first. Finally, there are those who argue that Paul’s expectation was mistaken in that even if he did not teach an imminent return he clearly intended to teach Christ’s return sooner than the two-thousand years he has yet tarried. This is the desperate groping for purchase of a position that is sliding off the precipice. Paul quite adeptly maintains the tension between our not knowing the time and the need to always be expectantly ready. For example, he teaches the necessity of the apostasy and the appearing of the man of lawlessness (1 Thess. 5:1-10), but this does not provide any implication as to the timing of this occurrence. Rather than providing a timetable for ease of strategic planning for the nominal Christian, Paul was rather simply giving a perspective on earth history.

Turning to the book of Hebrews, here also easily demonstrated is the idea of “eschatological dualism”. The author speaks of Christians who have already “tasted the powers of the age to come” (6:5), and have already been purified (9:14), sanctified (9:13; 10:10; 13:12) and perfected (7:11; 10:14), as well as “the world to come” (2;5) and of the “coming age” (6:5). There is no mention or allusion to an intermediate period. Chapters 8 and 9 discuss the typological relationship between the Old Testament sanctuary and its spiritual antitype in the New Testament. A rather Platonic construction has been placed on this relationship as if the Old Testament was allegorizing rather than recording actual historical occurrences. By this, we simply see a picture of “vertical”, spatial, spiritual eschatology rather than one with “horizontal”, temporal, and material import that has an actual effect on human history. Taken in context with the remainder of the teaching of Hebrews, as well as the remainder of the New Testament, it is more appropriately understood that the Old Testament type pointed to a future, earthly antitype where Christ “assumed his high priestly role as Mediator of the new covenant at the incarnation, and the Most Holy Place was his cross!”

Peter’s epistle is littered with references to an understanding of eschatological dualism. For example he proclaims the “already” stating that Christ’s “messianic reign has already begun” (1 Pet. 3:22), that Christians have already been “redeemed from the empty way of life” (1 Pet. 1:18), and that they have been “born again” (1 Pet. 1:23). In his Pentecost sermon, Peter affirms Christ’s reign and messiahship by reminding his audience of the miracles Christ performed, his fulfillment of David’s prophecies, and that it is he (Christ) who is the Spirit-Baptizer of men. Peter is shown to equally understand the “not yet” aspect of a biblical eschatology. In Acts 2:20-21 he speaks of God “sending the Christ…[who] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything.”

John’s gospel largely treats the “vertical” – the contrast between the world above and the world below, aspect of eschatological dualism, however he does also provide understanding of the horizontal – the contrast between this age and the age to come (see John 3;13; 6:62; 8:23). Demonstrating the “already” of dualism, John indicates the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in the life of Jesus (John 1:23; 2:17; 6:45 and others). He proclaims Christ as the one who brings in the new era anticipated in the Old Testament (John 1:17; 8:33-58). Consistent with the synoptics, of Christ he uses the terms “Messiah”, “King of Israel”, “Son of Man”, and “Son of God”. In passages such as 4:23; 5:25; 12:31; 16:5; 17:5, 13; 2:4; 8:20; 12:23 he demonstrates the centrality of Christ to salvation in the “now” and at this “hour”. In contrast however, he also understands the church’s future Gentile mission in this age (10:16; 11:52) and he teaches of the “eternal life” to come (3:36; 5:39; 12:25). Similarly, in his epistles he speaks of the “already” – the “true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8), Christians have already “passed out of death and into [eternal life] (1 John 3:14); and the “not yet” – proclaiming that this evil world and its desires “are passing away” (2:17), that Jesus will come again (2:28) and the “day of judgment” will come (4:17). As with all of the others thus far, in his gospel John makes no reference, either directly or by implication, to an intermediate state.

Often mistakenly, the book of Revelation – John’s Apocalypse, is myopically emphasized in eschatological studies to the exclusion of the remainder of the New Testament. While the analogy of Scripture would dictate that this should not be done, it is important to spend considerable time in its study as it does have the most to say on the topic. Before delving into this, some terms used to define the more common positions taken in its interpretation are defined. The preterist view, most consistent with the postmillennial position, holds that John was describing contemporary events (largely the Neronian persecution) and that only the last few chapters remain to be fulfilled. The historicist view interprets the book as a forecast of actual earthly events to occur between the apostolic age and Christ’s return. The symbolical or idealist view holds that it was not John’s intent to be prophetic, rather through symbolism he was providing instruction regarding spiritual principles that should govern the church. The extreme futurist view, most consistent with pretribulation, premillennial dispensationalist eschatology, holds that the future events prophesied in the Eschaton include everything after chapter three. The moderate futurist view place this line of demarcation after chapter six. Finally, the view held by the amillennialist is that of the progressive parallelism (or recapitulation) view. In this view the seven sections of the book each, repeatedly and from varying perspectives, cover the time period between Christ’s incarnation and his Second Advent.

There is little debate that John authored the Revelation and that he wrote it while in exile on the island of Patmos, however there has been, and continues to be, considerable division regarding the precise time period in which is was composed and little to no hope of being able to prove either position in this life. The “late-daters” place its writing at about A.D. 95 or 96. If this is indeed when it was written, near the end of the reign of Domitian, then the prophecies spoken cannot be explained by the events of the mid-late 60s under Nero. The “early-daters” insist the writing took place about A.D. 65 or 66, during Nero’s reign (54-68), prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and therefore the prophecies contained therein may indeed allude to the Roman persecution of Christians (64-67), the Roman-Jewish war (67-70), the death of Nero (68), the Roman civil wars (68-69) and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (A.D. 70).

Probably the most convincing evidence of a late date writing is from Iranaeus in Against Heresies (5.30.3) where he states, “For it was seen no very long time since, almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” Others argue that the phrase translated “it was seen” is incorrect and that given the “For” (gar) to begin the sentence forces the referent of this sentence to be the main subject of the paragraph, John himself, not his vision and thus should be rendered “he was seen.” Indeed, John did live until A.D. 98, the time of Trajan. Following from this understanding is the argument that Iranaeus intended to indicate that had John’s expounded apocalyptic vision not been sufficiently clear to his contemporaries, having lived “almost in our day”, he could have further expounded on the mysteries he had previously written (in A.D. 65 or 66).

Further evidence proffered for a late date authorship is John’s allusion to emperor worship which had become much more common under Domitian than in Nero’s day. Thirdly, and related to a greater expectation of emperor worship, Christian persecution was much more vigorous under Domitian, accounting for John’s banishment to Patmos (1:9) and other recorded events (2:13; 6:9,10). Finally, it is quite subjectively argued that the descriptions of the seven churches of Asia Minor reflect a period of development not possible during the Neronic persecution.

Likely the most formidable piece of evidence for an early date is found in 17:9-10 – “…the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while” – coupled with 17:18 – “And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” There is little doubt that “the woman” is Rome herself and the “king” who “is” refers to the emperor enthroned at the time of John’s writing who was preceded by five emperors and to be followed by one, short-lived emperor. Following the chronology of the Roman emperors, there are five from Julius Caesar (49 – 44 B.C.) to Claudius Caesar (A.D. 41-54). The emperor after Nero, Galba, reigned only from June 68 to January 69. This places Nero as emperor at the time of John’s writing. In opposition to the interpretation of “seven kings” indicating the Roman emperors it has been proposed alternately that John was speaking of seven world empires, namely, Ancient Babylon, Assyria, New Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greco-Macedonia, Rome and the seventh being all other worldly governments in opposition to Christ from the fall of Rome to the return of Christ. While the former view also holds that the number of the beast – “666” – refers to the numerical value of the Greek letters spelling Nero (nron qsr, “Neron Caesar”), the latter insists that it refers rather to the number of man who was created on the sixth day and met with “failure upon failure upon failure,” never able to attain 7 (perfection).

The second piece of early date evidence is found in Revelation 11:1-2, which suggests that at the time of the writing Jerusalem and the temple remained and that the “holy city” will be “trample[d]…for 42 months”, referring to Vespasian’s siege of Jerusalem from the spring of A.D. 67 to its fall in September A.D. 70. This argument is easily disputed by countering that visions are not necessarily limited to that which remains in reality. A third argument in support of an early date are the time indicators that support fulfillment of the primary object of the prophecy in this paradigm, namely, the divine judgment of God upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70. John writes, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds [in judgement], and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him [the Jewish leadership], and all the peoples of the earth [lit., the tribes of the land, hai phylaitesges] will mourn because of him.” (1:7). In 1:1, 1:3 and 1:19 we are told that these events “must soon take place”, “for the time is near”, and “are about to take place.” In the letters to the seven churches Christ declares that he will come soon in judgment (2:16; 3:10; 3:11; 22:6; 22:7; 22:10; 22:12; 22:20). Against this position it is argued that Christ’s coming in judgement could also mean against “the peoples of the earth” as opposed to the tribes of Israel. Finally, statements made by John seems to place the context of his writing in a decidedly Jewish milieu which did not exist after the A.D. 70 destruction of the temple. For example, he speaks of “those who say they are Jews and are not” (2:9; 3:9). Christians were presenting themselves as “true Jews” which some argue seems unlikely after A.D. 70 – as to this, even in our own day some Christians refer to themselves as being part of the real, spiritual Israel.

The purpose of John’s writing is for the preparation, strengthening, encouragement and assurance of God’s people. Before outlining the book Reymond takes a small excursus to explain the logic behind the progressive parallelism interpretation of the Apocalypse. He points out, countering the dispensationalist, that the depiction of the cataclysmic events of the final judgment do not occur but once in Rev. 20-21, but rather they are recorded seven times, once in each of the seven visions. Therefore, to interpret the book consistently, it must be read as a series of recurring parallel accounts of the coming judgment contained within each of the seven visions which span the entire gospel age.

Finally, there are some interesting points to note throughout the apocalyptic visions. With regard to the 144,000 mentioned in the second vision, which describes the book of the seven seals and the trial and persecution of the church (4:1-8:5), this number cannot refer to literal, ethnic Israel because of the irregular way in which he describes Israel in this context. Judah is mentioned first, Dan is entirely omitted and Joseph is mentioned instead of Ephraim. In another interesting point, noted in the third vision (8:6 – 11:19), the seven trumpets judgment, we see that John’s earlier proclamation, the One “who was, and who is and who is to come” is foreshortened to only the first two tenses indicating that the “coming” has occurred. Also a general effect of the terror of this time is symbolized in various ways – by blood flowing as high as the horses bridle (14:20, the fourth vision), one-hundred pound hailstones (16:21, the fifth vision), as well as others, and thus should not be taken literally. The next chapter will take up a discussion of a few disturbing trends in contemporary evangelical eschatology.

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What Can We Know About the Holy Scriptures?

A Chapter Summary of Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Chapter Three – The Attributes of Holy Scripture 

 The attributes or characteristics of scripture according to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and generally accepted among evangelicals include its: Necessity, Inspiration, Infallibility, Authority, Self-Authentication, Sufficiency, Perspicuity and Finality. These are explained in turn.

 The necessity of scripture speaks of man’s dependence of the word of God and the reason for this dependence. God has revealed himself by means that have been categorized under two primary headings. First, is through what is known as “general revelation”. This is God’s revelation through creation that provides a general knowledge of his existence and attributes to man (Rom. 1:21). This is sufficient to make plain his presence leaving man without excuse with regard to belief that he “is”, however it does nothing to provide the specific knowledge necessary for salvation. For this “special revelation”, vis, the inspired revelation of holy scripture, is needed.

 The next attribute of scripture then is that it is inspired. This characteristic is most notably attested to, as previously seen in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, where it is mentioned that “all scripture is God-breathed” (theopneustos) and to be used as our rule for faith and life. All that is “non-scripture”, such as the apocrypha and other extra-biblical writings are deemed as neither inspired, nor canonical, nor authoritative, and not to be approved by the church as such.

 So the question is raised, what determines which writings are biblical and which are extra-biblical? This is the question of canonicity. According to Deut. 18:14-19 the authoritative spokesman of what became the Old Testament canon were the prophets. Christ affirms this as the tripartite canon which he mentions in Luke 24:44 including the “law of Moses”, the “prophets” and the “psalms”. Analogous to the Old Testament prophets are the New Testament apostles established by Christ (Mark 3:14, Acts 10:41, Eph. 2:20). The word of God as revealed through the apostles was attended by the Holy Spirit who Christ promised to them (John 14:26, 16:12-15). This working of the Holy Spirit in the form of miracles among the apostles testified to the veracity of the revelation brought through them (Acts 14:3, 2 Cor. 12:12). Out of this, during their lives, the fledgling church benefited from the “apostolic tradition” by their preaching and writing that affirmed and added to the Old Testament canon (Rom. 3:2).

 For the 1st century church the biblical corpus, which would become recognized as the canon of scripture, was “at work” with little debate. The revelation of the apostolic tradition was viewed as authoritative to the saints of the early church, indeed, it was read along side the Old Testament scriptures. Unity in this regard did not last but over the next two centuries the synoptic gospels and Paul’s writings were generally accepted as foundational to the canon. A notable exception to this was that proposed by the heretic Marcion who rejected the entire Old Testament and only accepted mutilated versions of Luke, Acts and Paul’s writings. An attempt more closely resembling the “final” canon was that of Muratori who proposed 20 of the eventual 27 canonical books.

The 27 books eventually recognized as canonical and remain to the present are those suggested by Eusebius in A.D. 325. Further credence for this collection was given upon Athanasius’ agreement with Eusebius calling his proposed canon “the wellspring of salvation”. Then the event that has been credited with sealing the final canon was the 3rd Council of Carthage in A.D. 397. Since this time there has been speculation as to the criteria used in this process of canonization. These criteria have included apostolicity, antiquity, orthodoxy, catholicity, lection and inspiration. In several areas these criteria are left wanting. For instance, the gospels of Mark and Luke, the letter to the Hebrews as well as the books of Jude and James cannot rightly be said to be apostolic. Also, as to antiquity and lection, Paul’s “previous letter” mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9 and his letter to Laodicea (Col. 4:16) were obviously not canonical though older and arguably inspired. In the end, the biblical canon that has formed the church – and not vice-versa, and has remained relatively unchallenged for the last 16 centuries, must be founded only upon the providence of God, rather than historical investigation.

 Having the canon established in its usefulness for “faith and life” then hinges upon its trustworthiness. The Westminster Confession of Faith and most evangelicals subscribe to the doctrine of the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures because of its divine authorship. Indeed, if the author be infallible so must be his word. When interpreted in context, in light of when, for whom and by whom (the human agent) it was written, scripture is found to be internally noncontradictory and incapable of error – inerrant. Numerous objections have been leveled at this doctrine of inerrancy. Of these, the claim that scripture contains historical and scientific error has never been able to be proven. Others have argued that the writers do not claim inerrancy of their own writings yet do uphold the doctrine of man’s depravity, ergo, the inability of man to write anything without error. This too is simply not so. In the first place, simply because humans indeed err does not mean they must. Further, the inspired writers are kept from error by the superintending power of the Holy Spirit and they do claim inerrancy in verses such as Psa. 19:7-9, 119:86, John 17:17, 2 Tim. 3:16 and others. Another objection is that this doctrine binds our faith to a book. The clear counterargument is that inerrancy, in its guarantee of truth, frees us (John 8:32) to be bound to Christ, the rightful object of our faith. The previous objection is similar to the next which claims that the doctrine of inerrancy promotes the worship of scripture. Similarly we would argue that because it is inerrant and the revealed word is our only source of knowledge of the person and work of Christ, the doctrine of inerrancy is absolutely necessitated if we are to have any foundation for the true worship of our Savior; for scripture is true because Christ is truth (John 14:6). Additionally leveled at evangelicals is the notion that they use the doctrine of inerrancy to justify their own narrow theological views. This argument might have logical merit if at any point scripture could be found to be untrustworthy however, as stated already, scripture must be trustworthy because God is trustworthy.

 It is precisely because of the trustworthiness of scripture that it carries great authority, in fact, absolute authority for the child of God. This authority is and must be self-derived, for if it had any higher authority it could not be said to be the word of our sovereign God. Contrary to the position of the Roman Catholic church – which argues that because the church formed the canon then the tradition of the church wields authority over, or at least equal to, the scriptures – remember the church did not form the canon, rather, the canon formed the church. The church merely recognized the already existing canon.

There have also emerged some relatively unhelpful arguments posited by evangelicals related to scriptural infallibility. One such is the position that scripture proves itself to be “generally trustworthy”. If this is the case and scripture makes the claim that Christ is infallible and he supports the inerrancy of scripture then the word which speaks of him must also be infallible. Another such position is that which claims the “systematic consistency” of scripture in that it is noncontradictory and it fits the facts of history and science. Both of these positions are really only convincing to those already convicted of biblical inerrancy and to the thoughtful sceptic would only yield a conclusion of “probable” at best. In the end, as already stated, the inherent authority of God’s word can be said to be authoritative, infallible and inerrant precisely and only because it is the Word of God!

 Self-authentication is the next inherent attribute of Holy Scripture. It is self-authenticated because as there is no higher authority (Heb. 6:13) it can not be otherwise. Those features that attest to this attribute is its “heavenly content, doctrinal efficacy, majestic style, internal consistency, glorification of God, exclusivity of salvation, incomparable excellencies and entire perfection”. Even given these characteristics the depravity of man is still sufficient to effect man’s damnation. In the Christian the Holy Spirit is required to remove this innate spiritual blindness. This illumination provides no new revelation and is not the ground of faith but gives eyes to see what is already revealed and then the means by faith to believe.

 Again, in accordance with the WCF and 2 Tim. 3:16-17, God’s inspired word is known to be sufficient for God’s glory and man’s salvation, faith and life. It is for this reason that the study and knowledge of this holy, inspired, faithful Word of God is commanded (1Tim. 4:13). To this end there are those who were so gifted and commissioned to hold the prophetic office during the apostolic age. This “living, apostolic tradition” was beneficial, indeed necessary, for the early church. However, since the passing of this era and the closing of the canon it is scripture alone that trumps all else as the authority for faith and life. It is at this point that the apostolic tradition and the formal prophetic role becomes subsumed by the teaching offie whose qualifications are delineated in 1Ti 3 and Titus 1. We can be confident in the “completeness” of God’s revelation to man contained in Holy Scripture. We are commanded to avail ourselves, just as Paul taught in Acts 20:27, “the whole counsel of God.” If the canon be not closed and further revelation is to be added this “whole counsel” could not in Paul’s day nor even in our own be taught or learned. It has been stated that those holding this position contradict themselves when they make deductions from scripture arguing that this is tantamount to adding to revelation. Deducing, according to the WCF, “by good and necessary consequence”, is in no way adding to God’s revelation. Rather, such deduction is simply rearranging and categorizing the treasures in God’s word in such a way that those truths already contained can be harvested for God’s glory and man’s edification.

 It should be easily comprehended that if the sovereign, omnipotent God chose to communicate with his creation that he could, and logically would, do so in such a way as to be understood. This idea is contained in the doctrine of scriptural perspicuity. By this we state that God’s revelation is made clear. However, we can gather from a modest study of God’s word that though designed to be clear it is not equally clear in all its parts and not equally clear to all but it is sufficient in its clarity that anyone “by ordinary means” (reading, studying) can apprehend all knowledge that is necessary unto the salvation of their souls.

 Finally is the doctrine of the finality of scripture. This is simply to say that it is, as was intended by its ultimate author, to be the final authority as it relates to faith, life and man’s knowledge of and relationship to God as he has revealed himself. The original autograph is utterly inerrant and the extant apographs (translations), to the degree to that they agree with the autograph, bear this attribute of inerrancy as well. The Holy Scriptures are the only revelation of God in existence upon which man is totally dependent. It is precisely through this revelation that the Holy Spirit speaks to man.

How Does God Work In and Through Us?

A Chapter Summary of Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Chapter Twenty-Four – The Church’s Means of Grace 

For the Christian, the desire and ability to carry out the responsibilities and duties in the Christian life as well as the receiving of blessings, and even divinely appointed discipline is all mediated through the various circumstances and providences God ordains to bring about these ends. These processes, these means to the ends, are known as “means of grace”. It is God’s grace ultimately that informs every aspect of the life of the believer. While God is perfectly capable in his sovereign omnipotence to operate above, around or even without any means whatever, in history he has been predominantly pleased to work through the use of means. There are three general categories of means as they relate to the church: the Word of God, the sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. It is primarily through the outworking of these “outward and ordinary” means of grace that the church realizes spiritual growth and progressive sanctification. It should be understood that these means are of special rather than common grace. That is to say, they are not efficacious in themselves containing divine power to produce holiness or cause salvation (consider Roman Catholic or Lutheran theology), and they are not so central to salvation as to be essential to it in themselves. Rather, God alone is the efficient cause of all salvific grace and the means he employs are simply his chosen instruments or vehicles by which his grace is applied.

The most important means of grace the church has been given is the divinely inspired Word of God. As such, it should be read with reverence, preached with diligence only by those “approved” (2 Tim. 2:15) and duly called upon to do so, and attended upon by the hearers with high esteem. While the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is treated elsewhere it is erroneous to ascribe to it some intrinsic salvific power as Luther did (and the Lutheran church does). If indeed the words themselves contained the power of salvation, would not all who read or heard it be saved immediately and without exception? Free will, which has been thoroughly treated and refuted previously, then is the Lutheran response to this objection. The more consistently biblical understanding of salvation is that it is ever under the direct, sovereign governance of God and, as we have stated, the means are the usual instruments by which his decrees are brought to fruition.

It is “through the foolishness of preaching” (1 Cor. 1:21) of sound doctrine that God has seen fit to save and sanctify those who believe. Just as the words of Scripture in and of themselves contain no salvific might, neither does the minister of God’s word. The causal agent of salvation is God alone working through the means of the minister’s diligent and faithful proclamation – and only insofar as it is consistent and faithful – of the divinely inspired Word (another means) that salvation is wrought in the believer. The authority vested in the minister of the Word is limited to that which is ministerial and declarative and is never to be dictatorial or legislative, particularly beyond that which Scripture commands. Indeed, the believer has the “Berean” duty (Acts 17:11) to examine the Scriptures to verify that which the minister proclaims.

The sacraments are another essential means of grace. These include baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Sacrament is derived from the Latin sacramentum, meaning “sacred thing” which has also been described as “a visible form of an invisible grace”. As briefly alluded to previously the Roman Catholic church has held that the sacraments (of which in their theology are seven: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony) contain in themselves the power of, and as such are essential to, salvation. Reformed Protestant theology rejects this understanding and insist that there are only two sacraments instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord (WCF XVII/iv). According to the clear teachings of Scripture it is not possible that the proximate cause of salvation rest in the sacraments. First, God’s grace in salvation could not possibly be bound to the use of external forms. Second, according to John 5:24; 6:29; 3:36 and Acts 16:31 salvation’s sole instrumental condition is faith. Third, the sacraments do not confer said faith, they presuppose it and are administered where faith is assumed (Acts 2:41; 16:14-15, 30-33; 1 Cor. 11:23-32). Fourth, there were many in the Old Testament as well as the penitent thief next to Jesus who were saved without the sacraments. Before one argues that circumcision was Abraham’s sacrament-based salvation, he was circumcised years after he had been justified by his faith. Unfortunately, Rome’s assumption that the sacrament’s contain salvific power in themselves and are all that is necessary for salvation only serves to undermine the authority of Scripture and devalue it as a means of grace. Contrary to this of course is the Reformed view that the Word takes precedents over the sacraments (consider Paul’s statement regarding his calling to preach rather than baptize in 1 Cor. 1:17) in that the former is essential to salvation, engenders faith and has the whole world as its target audience while the latter is not essential to salvation, only serves to strengthen faith – not engender it, and is restricted to the church alone.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Zwinglian view (possibly not even held by Zwingli himself). In contrast to the Reformed view that in the administration of the sacraments Christ himself is really spiritually present, the Zwinglian view holds that the elements of the sacraments are merely symbolic and ceremonial and nothing more. The Reformed position regarding Christ’s real spiritual presence and the efficacy of the faith building instrumentality of the sacraments is based on the understanding that both sacraments are visible and observable actions that are the sign and seal of spiritual graces, the spiritual graces themselves are observable actions and the relation between the sacraments and the spiritual graces serve to confirm each other. Both of the sacraments were instituted by Christ for this purpose, are to be observed by the church using material elements as signs and seals of the covenant of grace. Where they differ is that the Lord’s Supper is to be perpetual until his return but baptism is but once.

[Aside: In this next section we discuss baptism. By way of disclaimer, I hold the credo-baptist position which differs from that of Reymond thereby making the writing of this difficult with regards to giving an accurate representation of Reymond’s positions (as I think his logic is faulty at times and, at times, his facts incorrect. That said, I will do my best to represent his teaching well, though not without some editorializing.]

At the outset of a discussion of baptism it is important to first consider negatively what is not its intended purpose. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith XXVII/i-vii, being an accurate interpretation of Scripture, though baptism should not be neglected as a point of obedience and a means of grace it has no regenerative power and does not hold the power of salvation. Salvation comes to some never having been baptized and likewise some who are baptized have not been regenerated. Christ himself commanded John the Baptist to baptize him in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15) and later commands the disciples and the church forevermore to baptize its members in his name (Matt. 28:19; see 1 Cor. 1:10-17). This marks a union with Christ specifically in his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Col 2:11-12). Only eleven such Christian baptisms are recorded in Scripture. It is interesting to note that the agent of baptism is Christ rather than the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the Spirit was poured-out on the believers. It was (and was always intended) by Christ that he would “send his Spirit” and be the cause of the outpouring (Joel 2:28-29, Luke 24:49). Paul teaches that union with Christ is made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit on the believer of which baptism is the outward sign and seal for those who are no longer slaves to sin but righteousness (Rom. 6:3-4). Of baptism Paul states in Col. 2:11-12, “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith.” By this Reymond equates circumcision and baptism, “Clearly for Paul the spiritual import of the New Testament sacrament of baptism…is tantamount to that of Old Testament circumcision.” [Aside: He is drawing a necessary conclusion where the text does not make it necessary. In fact, the end of the quoted verse reads “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith” (italics added). Which of the eight-day old Israelite infants could be said to have demonstrated faith? Baptism, by Reymond’s own teaching on its purpose is not primarily a sign of covenant membership, rather it is the “sign and seal” of union with Christ for those who by faith have died to sin and live to righteousness.]

The mode of baptism is another debate between the “dippers” and the “sprinklers”. Baptists have argued that Scripture teaches the proper technique is full-immersion based on the root baptizo being defined as “to dip” or “to immerse”, the New Testament descriptions of baptisms being performed in this way (John 3:23; Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:9; Acts 8:36-39), as well as the symbolism of death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:11-12). Opponents to this view argue that baptizo sometimes also means simply “to wash” (Luke 11:38; Isa 52:15 and Ezek. 36:25 – yazzeh, to sprinkle). The author of Hebrews speaks of the Old Testament ceremonial washings as “sprinklings” (9:13, 19; 21). [Aside: Is baptism a parallel to Old Testament ceremonial washings or covenant relationship?]. Reymond argues that it is arbitrary to select burial and resurrection as the events being pictured in baptism when it is crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection to which baptism is pointing. He then notes that Christ’s baptismal work in Scripture is seen in terms of the affusion of the Spirit upon believers (Acts 1:8; 2:17; 10:44; see Rom. 5:5) rather than the believer being immersed and as such contends that logic would then support a “sprinkling upon”, which reflects Christ’s affusionary baptismal work. He further points out “that there is not a single recorded instance of a baptism in the entire New Testament where immersion followed by emersion is the mode of baptism. [Aside: Neither does Scripture use the word Trinity or give a command to baptize infants. Mathew 3:16 does however state, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water…”. The Greek “anebe apo tou hudatos”, translated “to rise out of the water”, would suggest he was actually in the water and not simply sprinkled with water. Also, it seems interesting that Reymond points out the burial and resurrection aspects as being arbitrarily selected by credo-baptists but does not seem to apply the same logic to his rather arbitrary selection of the affusionary aspect in the application of paedobaptism. Also, I believe that in his assertion that immersionists are being arbitrary he has set up a “straw-man”. In every immersion baptism I have seen it has been pointed out to represent “burial and resurrection”. So then he might argue, “Yes, but it pictures crucifixion and death as well!”. Herein lies the straw-man. Is it not implicit that, in general, those who are being buried have first died? Knowing anything about the Gospel, is it not explicit that the death that necessitated Christ’s burial was brought about by his crucifixion? The first two components were accomplished spiritually in the heart of the believer upon justification by faith who “should consider [themselves] to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). The picture seen in immersion/emersion baptism is in fact that of crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. Your’s is a thin argument indeed Dr. Reymond.].

Baptists have long opposed the paedobaptist practice of baptizing infants and young children prior to their own profession of faith. This rejection of paedobaptism is met with three major arguments. First is that there is no specific biblical mandate to baptize only those who make a personal profession of faith. [Aside: So, whatever is not explicitly commanded is fair game? That sounds a bit Romish. Is not baptism an act of corporate worship? According to the Reformed Presbyterian interpretation of the Regulative Principle, is it not justified only to do in worship that which is explicitly or by good and necessary inference commanded, and to do nothing not commanded?] Secondly, it is posited, that because there are instances of baptism based on profession of faith in the New Testament this does not preclude necessarily the practice of paedobaptism. [Aside: See previous Aside. I think perhaps it does indeed mean precisely this.] Thirdly, “the sacramental continuity between the testaments is so strong that not to baptize children of believers would require some explicit word of repeal.” [Aside: This argument only works if one holds a presupposition of equivalence between circumcision and baptism which has been discussed (and rejected) earlier. That is not to say there is no relationship, but equivalence cannot be demonstrated. As a typological relationship the latter is higher, inward and spiritual while the former is mundane, external and physical.]

Reymond goes on the clarify that the ground of infant baptism is not a presumption of election or regeneration but a sign of the covenant relationship as was that of circumcision in the Old Testament. Gen. 23:3-4 and 28:13-14 speak of God’s promise to Abraham to bless his descendants with great numbers and land, and that they would be a blessing to all peoples as part of the covenant community. [Aside: This is true, however no where do these passages indicate at what age the descendants would be community members who are bringing a blessing to other nations. It is rank eisegesis to interpret a support for infant baptism from these passages.] Turning to the New Testament Luke 18:15 is used interpreting “to little children such as these” and inserting the parenthetical qualifier “(who have covenant parents)”. Reymond argues that Christ did not intend to imply simply those like children but rather “these” who have covenant parents. [Aside: Again, eisegesis. Reymond argues that this passage does not indicate “simply to such as are like little children”. Why not?! This is exactly how it is to be interpreted particularly in light of Matt. 18:3-4 where Christ admonishes the bickering disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child (referring to the humility “like this child” and not a covenant membership) in my name receives me.” (Italics added)]. He then stands on this faulty presumption and asserts that in this Christ “makes clear that covenant children are not to be excluded as a matter of course from the new gathering of the people of God.” [Aside: This is indeed logical if this was Christ’s intention, but if it was he took no pains, nor did the New Testament authors, to make this clear.] At Pentecost Peter proclaims that “the promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:1-4). [Aside: True enough, I would agree that children who consciously employ their God-given faith do indeed inherit the promise. Neither this passage nor Joel 2:28-32 to which it refers mentions infants and young children. It is clear that God uses the means of birth into a Christian family to most abundantly add to his church. This does nothing to dissuade a credo-baptist position. My church baptizes the young children as well as adult children of believers upon their credible profession of faith.] Reymond then appeals to the several instances recorded, mostly in Acts and once in 1 Corinthians, of “household baptisms” as support for infant baptism. [Aside: Can this not mean that salvation has been brought to this household where before there was no instrument of light to be found? Now the means of this grace of believing parents can be availed to the children (if indeed there are any infants and young children in the home at all which is further a baseless assumption). Is it not possible that the term is being used hyperbolically as in statements such as “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized…” (Matt. 3:5)?]

In the case of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31-34) it is pointed out as further support for infant baptism that Paul and Silas told him to “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (singular) – you and your household.” [Aside: “Saved” here, pisteuson, is in the singular. No good hermeneutic will allow this to be interpreted to mean that by the one man’s faith salvation is applied to all in his home! Salvation is applied through one’s own faith alone. Further, Reymond previously mentioned (see above) that infant baptism is not grounded in salvation but in covenant membership. This passage speaks clearly of a faith-based, regenerative salvation. So which is it? Is the infant saved by baptism or not? Is it not likely that Luke is, as in much of Scripture, simply employing an economy of words. Suppose all in the household similarly had their heart “opened”, having set down this principle of the need to have the heart opened is it really necessary that Luke must then say, “and her husband Bob’s heart the Lord opened to receive the things spoken by Paul. Then, her teenage son Ted’s heart was opened by the Lord to receive the things spoken by Paul” etc.? No. Again, salvation will be brought to his household by the means of his having believed; this God will powerfully use in the lives of his family members. Further, it is also possible that Paul is speaking here with Holy Spirit unction being given a supernatural knowledge of the effects the jailer’s salvation will have upon the spiritual state of his family members. Even if we were to make exception for all of this we still must assume that his household even contained infants or young children. Case in point, my household of believing parents does not.] Paul, in 1 Cor. 7:14 teaches that the child of even one Christian parent is holy, and he refers to them as “saints” in Eph 1:1 and 6:1. [Aside: Amen! Means of grace yet again which is the theme of this chapter. The presence of a believer is mightily used of God to effect the salvation of those in her household. To think otherwise would seem to be saying that the unregenerate, unrepentant, innately hostile to God, sinning child is holy. Is the believer not saved “by grace, through faith” in Christ as his only hope for salvation? And again, by this argument are we not again making salvation and covenant membership synonymous? I personally think such an understanding is correct and right to do but this would seem to fly in the face of the paedobaptist position. Otherwise it seems we are saying that within themselves they contain some “island of righteousness” so that when the day comes that they make a conscious profession they are, at least in part, doing so by this that resides within themselves. Synergism?! A reason to boast?!]

Further, Vermigli is quoted, “We assume that the children of believers are holy, as long as in growing up they do not demonstrate themselves to be estranged from Christ. We do not exclude them from the church, but accept them as members, with the hope that they are partakers of the divine election and have the grace and Spirit of Christ, even as they are the seed of saints. On this basis we baptize them.” [Aside: This sounds very like how credo-baptist churches (those not perverting the doctrines) function with regards to their children. It is understood that the greatest means of salvation in terms of number come through children born to Christian parents. Raise them “in the fear and admonition of the Lord”. This does not seem to necessitate or even warrant the application of a sacrament of the church.] According to Polanus, children of believers should be baptized “because they have been purchased by the blood of Christ, have been washed from their sins, and possess therefore by the work of the Holy Spirit the thing signified…Because the Holy Spirit is promised to them, they possess the Holy Spirit.” [WOW! Really?! Am I misinterpreting this? Polanus cannot be teaching that every infant of every professing believer is in fact regenerate and justified. The implication of this is that either no child of professing believers will ever fail to attain eternal salvation or that salvation can be lost.] The Westminster Assembly in its Directory for the Public Worship of God seems to deny such an interpretation when it teaches that covenant children are not to be viewed as necessarily regenerate or saved by virtue of his covenant status or baptism. Striking a more biblical balance Thornwell and Dabney support the necessity of infant baptism but assert that such “are to be regarded as ‘of the world and in the church,’ and ‘as unregenerate until their personal faith and repentance are evident’”. [ Again, am I missing something? It seems that to think otherwise should be heresy? “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard” (Rom. 10:14)? “For it is by grace that we are saved through faith…”(Eph. 2:8). So is it through someone else’s faith? The believing parents perhaps?]. It is pointed out that the believer is admonished to examine themselves to see if they are indeed “in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5). [Aside: By this, must they not by definition be “in the faith” as they have had the Holy Spirit within them from birth? What then is the point of the examination? It seems akin to being asked to examine yourself to ensure you are still alive.] Paul points out to Timothy the means of grace in his life in that “From infancy you have known the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). [Aside: This is used to argue a “paedo-faith” position. It seems quite plausible that this is more easily interpreted to show that the means of grace by which God drew Timothy, beginning at birth, was the faithful teaching of the Word and admonition in godliness by his mother and grandmother. It seems a sloppy hermeneutic to assert a prinicipial application of an ordinance of the church based on such a statement particularly in light of the last half of this very verse which states “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith”. The Greek “dunamena se sophisai eis soterian dia pisteos”, where dunamena, to have the ability, is plural, passive, present tense. This would indicate Paul is indeed not just speaking of Timothy but all believers but also that he is not saying Timothy had the ability at birth to be permitted to have such faith but presently has the ability. Further, sophisai, to make wise (aorist, active, infinitive) indicates that the wisdom which is enabled unto salvation is ongoing. To presume a principle of infant baptism based on this passage is arbitrary at best and, more likely, eisegetical.]

As to the efficacy of the sacraments, it must not be concluded that they contain any power in themselves (as in Roman Catholic and Lutheran practice). It is not the baptism or Lord’s Supper than contain the power to work salvation and sanctification in the lives of the believers but rather the Holy Spirit that works in the believers through the faith and obedience of the believer in the observance of the sacraments. Opponents of this position have cited Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not will be condemned”, Acts 2:38 – “Repent, and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins.”, and Acts 22:16 – “be baptized and wash your sins away”, in support of the ex opere operato view. [Aside: As for the Mark 16 passage, its interpretation has been called into question, but even as it stands it explicitly indicates the lack of “believe” that leads to condemnation. Baptism is to be performed for those who “repent and believe”; supporting credo-baptism.] The Acts 2 command to be baptized should be interpreted as a subsidiary adjunct rendering this as “Repent…for the forgiveness of your sins” as the main thought and “and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ” as the dependent, subordinate clause. [Aside: Which, again, seems to support the credo-baptist position.] Further supporting this interpretation of Acts 2:38 is the fact that neither Luke (Luke 24:47) nor Peter (Acts 3:9) mention anything of baptism in their accounts of Christ’s commission to the church. The primary emphasis is on the inward, spiritual aspects of repentance (1 Cor. 1:17; Rom. 2:26-29; Acts 3:19). Another possibly viable interpretation given the eis in Acts 2:38 is “because of the forgiveness of your sins” (which Reymond rejects as it supports a more Baptistic interpretation). As for Acts 22:16, “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name,” the washing away of sins is not the result of the baptism but rather the result of the “calling on his name”. In the end we must come to understand that baptism is a means of grace that serves to signify and confirm salvation “by grace, through faith”.

As a sign, baptism publicly displays the work of his sovereign, free grace in the lives of believers. Individually it serves as a sign reminding the believer of the covenant under which he stands and against which he must not sin. For God’s part, the “seal” of baptism is the confirmation of the promises of his covenant unto the believer. On this point Reymond makes another appeal for infant baptism asserting that while they are unable to exercise a saving faith they have received the “sign” and “seal” of the covenant. [Aside: This seems woefully problematic. If this is true, what then of those infants who grow to reject God? Is it impossible that such a one could commit the unpardonable sin? If so, why then the biblical warning? If they may in fact reject the faith, were they sealed or not? If so it seems a weak seal indeed!] Reymond further laments the rejection of children from the privilege of covenant status in many churches. [Aside: Can parents and a church not covenant together before God to raise their children in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” without offering a sacrament that in reality may be a sign but, in the case of the infant, does not necessarily “seal” anything? We have already affirmed that baptism does not confer the Holy Spirit or salvation and since it is also admitted that the infant cannot employ a saving faith I would argue there is no spiritually difference between the relationship between the child of faithful parents and the faithful church in either tradition, paedo or credo-baptism, and the only practical difference is a sprinkling of water that seems to seal nothing.] Reymond presses the urgency of his concern [Aside: Which I believe is truly heart-felt] by pointing out that there are antipaedobaptist parents who insist that their children are equivalent in God’s sight to raw pagans until they turn to Christ in faith – “the first prayer God will hear from them is the cry: ‘God, have mercy upon me, the sinner.” [Aside: To these I would say, “Shame on you! God, in his kind providence has placed this child in a believing home. Do not waste this blessed means of grace.” However, once the child grows to adulthood, should they reject the faith, are they not then seen as no different than the heathen simply because the were born into a believing family and, perhaps, sprinkled at birth? And should they do so after being baptized in infancy, did we not performed an ordinance of the church on one non-elect and label them “sealed”? This objection by Reymond is a bit intellectually dishonest. He is again asserting that the perversion of the thing nullifies the validity of the thing itself. Were this so, Christianity itself would be condemned. Besides, those parents who believe what he here asserts are generally theologically unsound on many levels. God will not “hear” (in the sense of a saving “hearing” as alluded to by Christ – “my sheep hear my voice”) even this cry of the heathen until and unless he has given them first the gift of regeneration, faith and repentance, which no doubt he could do even from the womb.] Reymond continues arguing that such parents in a case of blessed inconsistency exhibit opposing practice and doctrine in that they teach their as yet unregenerate children the Lord’s Prayer even though they “do not possess the theological grounding necessary to justify” their actions. [Aside: This is a patently unfair caricature. It is quite consistent if you are not viewing this myopically from the paedobaptist paradigm. It is appropriate to “train them up” in this way. Very often understanding and growth of faith follows obedience and example. Is it to be otherwise deemed more consistent that credo-baptist parents should teach their children to curse and be involved in all manner of debauchery until they have been given the right to behave in a more godly manner through a personal understanding of their salvation? It is ungracious foolishness to assert that the unbaptized child of believing parents can only be consistent if they treat them as rank pagans. No! We are to expectantly behave toward them as God’s elect whom he will save in due time. The inconsistency is not in behaving toward as yet unregenerate children as elect, rather it would be inconsistent to believe that God, as a means of grace, has placed a child in a believing home and not live a life demonstrating, modeling and teaching that faith as an instrument in God’s hand for the salvation of that child.]

By way of a small excursus, Reymond rightly points out that a large number of renowned scholars through church history have subscribed to the paedobaptist doctrine. He also admits that this is perhaps the weakest argument for this position [Aside: I am not certain this is correct]. Further, he suggests that baptism of the believer only (credo-baptism) was never even considered until the Reformation. [Aside: To this I would submit one piece of evidence to the contrary. Consider the Didache. This extra-biblical, historical church document, meaning “Teaching”, also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” was written c.a. 65-85 A.D. Note the following excerpt and its translation:

Did. 7:1 Περὶ δὲ τοῦ βαπτίσματος, οὕτω βαπτίσατε· ⸂ταῦτα πάντα προειπόντες, βαπτίσατε⸃ εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐν ὕδατι ζῶντι. Did. 7:2 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἔχῃς ὕδωρ ζῶν, εἰς ἄλλο ὕδωρ βάπτισον· εἰ δ᾿ οὐ δύνασαι ἐν ψυχρῷ, ἐν θερμῷ. Did. 7:3 ἐὰν δὲ ἀμφότερα μὴ ἔχῃς, ἔκχεον εἰς τὴν κεφαλὴν τρὶς ὕδωρ εἰς ὄνομα πατρὸς καὶ υἱοῦ καὶ ἁγίου πνεύματος. Did. 7:4 πρὸ δὲ τοῦ βαπτίσματος προνηστευσάτω ὁ βαπτίζων καὶ ὁ βαπτιζόμενος καὶ εἴ τινες ἄλλοι δύνανται. κελεύεις δὲ νηστεῦσαι τὸν βαπτιζόμενον πρὸ μιᾶς ἢ δύο.

1 Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. 2 But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. 3 But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. 4 And before the baptism let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able. Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand (Italics added).

To say the least this document is quite a bit earlier than the Reformation and it seems to suggest a “pouring” of water over the head as a last resort. Further, what infant/young child will tolerate a one to two day fast. In fact, in the newborn period this would be neglectful and dangerous.]

Turning to the second sacrament, or ordinance, of the church, the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20) is synonymous with the “breaking of the bread” as it is called in Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor. 10:16, “the cup of thanksgiving”, “the bread we break” and “communion” (1 Cor. 10:16), “the table of the Lord (1 Cor. 10:21), and “eucharist” (1 Cor. 11:24). It was never called “Last Supper” in Scripture and the concept of the Roman Catholic “Mass” enjoys no biblical support whatever. Just as Jesus instituted baptism, he too instituted this sacrament at the Passover celebration, demonstrating its typical connection with it, in the hours before his crucifixion as described in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) as well as by Paul (1 Cor. 11:24). The only “new” element Christ added to the Passover elements was their interpretation. As to its observance, in both Luke’s and Paul’s account Christ gave the command to “do this in remembrance of me”. This instruction is in the imperative, imperfect – it is indeed a command and is to be a recurrent, ongoing action. While we are given instruction to “do this”, we are given no specific frequency with which, or manner in which it is to be observed. One thing is clear, Christ’s and Paul’s examples in Scripture exhibit a reverent simplicity, in contrast to the Romish pomp and circumstance that has become part of their Mass.

As to technical aspect of observance of the Lord’s Supper, it is affirmed in the Reformed tradition that only ministers of the Word distribute the elements. This not due to any sacerdotal power in the minister himself but rather because of the analogy of the high-priest that “no one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called of God” (Heb 5:4). Also, regarding those who partake, it is for converted believers only. This is not to be viewed as a “converting ordinance”. We are instructed to beware of partaking of the elements in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27,29), must “recognize the Lord’s body, and engage in spiritual self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28) to ensure one is indeed in the faith (see 2 Cor. 13:5). At this point the traditional paedobaptist position according to the Westminster divines is to exclude children until they are “of years and ability to examine themselves” [Aside: That is curious. Are they full covenant members or not?] There has been a more contemporary challenge to this position that argues for the repeal of such restrictions based on the notion of the analogy between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the assertion that Paul’s admonition for self-examination is to be limited to those able to self-examine but should not preclude the young child from the Supper. The “counter-counter” argument goes on to insist that given that the engagement in the Lord’s Supper is active and baptism is passive that the traditional view should stand. [Aside: This seems quite arbitrary and convenient.]

The interpretation of the significance and intent of the elements as they relate to the presence of Christ has been, and remains, a divisive issue and generally involves four different views. The first, transubstantiation, the Roman Catholic view, insists that in the “miracle” of the Mass the bread and wine retain the accidents (the form) but the substance (essence) transforms into the real physical body and blood of Christ. This view is refuted for its lack of the role of faith in the spiritual benefits received through the ordinance, its “bloodless” sacrifice which implicitly negates Christ’s propitiatory “once-for-all” atoning work, and its mystical character. Consubstantiation, the Lutheran view – though they do not refer to it as such, holds that while the accidents and substance remain bread and wine, Christ is really corporally present “in, with, and under” them. Both this understanding and that of transubstantiation serve to imply a corporeal ubiquity to his person thereby impugning his true humanity. The third view, Symbolic Representation, also known as the Zwinglian view – though perhaps not the view of Zwingli himself, simply sees the elements as a means of directing the believer’s attention to Christ’s sacrifice – merely a reminder. Luther argued that Zwingli undervalued the “gift” character of the sacrament and overstressed the deity of Christ to the detriment of his humanity, Zwingli held Luther’s position “magical”, that it undervalued faith as the instrument by which the spiritual blessings are received, and it overstated Christ’s humanity. Finally, “Real Spiritual Presence” is the traditional Reformed view which holds that the body and blood of Christ are “really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers”. By this the believer may “really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death” (WCF XXIX/vii). By this understanding, the Lord’s Supper serves as a means of grace through which the believer may, by faith, lay hold of the personal blessings of Christ and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Many Reformed scholars since Calvin have taken exception with aspects of his view calling it “peculiar” (Charles Hodge) and “strange” (Dabney) to mention a couple. It is surmised by some that Calvin placed too much emphasis on the real influence of Christ’s humanity in the Supper. Others feel as though Calvin went too far in his attempt to bridge the gulf between the Lutherans and Zwinglians. Calvin himself uses John 6:27, 33, 51-59 to make his argument that, though ultimately incompletely understood by himself, the eating of Christ’s flesh follows from faith (Institutes, IV.17.5). One concern pointed out in this position however is that using John 6 in this way perhaps only served to “muddy the waters” of this topic. In John 6 Jesus is speaking to believers and unbelievers alike, the word Christ uses here for flesh is translated by the Greek sarx, whereas the Greek word soma (body) is used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, nor he did not use the word for “chewing” (hotrogon) as he did in John 6 but rather the words for eating and drinking, and finally, Jesus does not bind eternal life to a liturgical ordinance.

So, why is the Lord’s supper significant if salvation is indeed not bound to it? Its importance is summarized under five headings, in that it is: A commemorative celebration, an eschatological anticipation, a means of grace, a demanding ordinance and a vindicating apologetic. As a type of the original Passover, Christ has become our Passover. The “remembrance” the ordinance is to bring to mind is not as relates to man’s inclination to forgetfulness but rather that fallen man’s propensity toward unbelief and ingratitude may be kept in check and not permitted to diminish Christ’s work on their behalf from its rightful position of primacy in their hearts. Christ further speaks to the duration of his command to “do this” in Luke 22:16, 18, “until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God…until the kingdom of God comes.” Paul further clarifies, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26) [Aside: and this is not only a proclamation to the world and the other believers with which he “communes” but also a proclamation this his own soul.]. The believer, as he communes with the body of Christ in this way, anticipates the return of Christ and the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9) when he will drink anew with Christ in his Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). As has already been belabored, another significance of the ordinance is its role as a means of grace through which the spiritual benefits of Christ, not simply a mental recollection, are, in faith, represented and brought to the believer. Further, this is a demanding ordinance. This is to say, it inheres specific requirements, namely, those who would partake must prepare themselves through self-examination (previously noted), they must engage in the ordinance soberly and with “holy reverence”. Should the fruit of it be made manifest it should be attended upon all the more with gratitude, and if not manifestly, then in humility, attended to with greater care, diligence and expectant prayer. Finally, the Lord’s Supper serves as a vindicating apologetic. The Lord’s Supper is a perpetual reminder of Christ’s sacrificial cross work and display of the supernatural nature of his substitutionary atonement.

The last, but not the least, means of grace we consider is prayer, the “first expression and exercise of faith” (Jones). According to the question 178 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of the Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.” Subsequent questions paraphrase the biblical teachings that we are to pray to God alone (179), in the name of Christ alone (180) and with the help of the Spirit (182). We are to pray for all manner of people save for the dead and “those known to have sinned the sin unto death” (183) and all things tending to the glory of God (184) with awe of his majesty and our unworthiness (185).

Prayer, particularly as it is demonstrated in Scripture, is in faith and holds as its foundation the presupposition that God’s is really there to hear and answer prayers (Matt. 21:21, 22). Despite its perspicuity in Scripture, some, mostly rationalists but also some hyper-Calvinists, have asserted that prayer is merely a means of self-motivation and change. [Aside: the former group, of course, disbelieving the existence of God, and the latter deterministically believing prayer has no power in effecting God’s predetermined decrees. See the chapter on God’s decrees for more on this.] Throughout the Scripture, Old and New, prayer is ubiquitously integrated into the lives of God’s faithful who “called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26; 12:8; 21:33; 1 Sam. 1:9-11; 2 Kings 19:15-19 and others) including Christ himself (Luke 3:21; Mark 1:31 and others). The risen Christ now “lives to make intercession for the saints” (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:24-25; 1 John 2:1).

Prayer has been contemplated and written about throughout church history from the earliest church fathers. Calvin gave a sixfold rationale for prayer: that our hearts be set aflame with the “desire to ever seek, love, and serve him”, that we have no desire in our hearts that we should be ashamed to set before him, that we be prepared to expectantly receives his gifts with thanksgiving, that we would be motivated by answered prayer to meditate upon his kindness, that we embrace with greater appreciation that which he has gifted to us, and that we be ever more assured of the kindness of his providence as he is an “ever-present help”. The efficacy of prayer, of which Calvin alludes, is explicitly and implicitly taught in Scripture. Christ instructed that his disciples: “Pray that you enter not into temptation” (Mark 14:38; see also Matt. 6:13 and Luke 11:4). The Matthew 6:5-13 pericope is a veritable primer on the topic of prayer given by Christ at the request of his disciples which contains the Lord’s Prayer. The certainty of real answers to prayers is demonstrated by Christ and the apostles further in the “asking-receiving” texts (Matt. 7:7-11; John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-26; Rom. 8:26-27; Eph. 3:20; James 1:5-8; 1 John 3:21-22; 5:14-15).

The aforementioned verses stress the “prayer of faith”. This raises two objections to the traditional Reformed doctrine of prayer. First, it has been argued that to make conditional requests, “if it be your will”, to God is contrary to a prayer of faith as it denies the presence and power of faith. [Aside: This logic is, however, faulty. It assumes that ones faith utterly corrects their fallenness making it impossible that they could perhaps pray in a manner outside of the will of God. We are instructed in the Lord’s Prayer to pray for God’s “will [to] be done”. Also, John 14:13-14 tells us that Christ “will do whatever [we] ask him [his] name”. Implicit in these statements is the idea that it is possible pray outside of God’s will and not in his name.] Indeed, Paul prayed three times that the Lord would remove his “thorn in the flesh” and was denied his temporal request (2 Cor. 12:8-9). We are to pray God’s will be done with a faith that humbly submits to every word and desire of God. Others have taken the position that prayer at all is incompatible with God’s sovereignty (this is consistent with a hyper-Calvinist position). If indeed, they argue, everything has been foreordained and God’s plans cannot be thwarted, then prayer is pointless (essentially Deism). This position betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty – which is indeed far greater than they here are imagining. For God does not merely ordain the ends, he ordains all of the means to those ends as well, including the means of prayer. Prayer, then, is foreordained and efficacious. The rebuttal of Charles Hodge is poignant, if humorous: By this logic, “If it be foreordained that I should live, it is not necessary for me to eat.” [Aside: By way of illustration, though simplistic, God may have foreordained Sally’s salvation – “Sally will be saved”, but also that an instrument by which she is to be saved is the prayers of Sally’s mother. So, the decree may be stated, “Sally will be saved and Sally’s mother must pray that Sally would be saved.” The one is dependent upon the other and God has foreordained both. If Sally’s mother, in this scenario, does not pray, Sally is not saved. Similarly, “You shall live and you must eat to live”. The decree that you live is dependent upon the decree that you eat. If you do not eat, you do not live.]. It is critical to understand that “Prayer is not the means by which we get from God what we want. Rather, ‘prayer is a means God uses to give us what He wants.’”

Defending the Doctrines of Grace

Below is my response to a gentleman struggling with the doctrines of grace. Any constructive criticisms? Is there anyway I could have explained better? Any errors in my own understanding? Any way I could have come across more gracious?

His post:

I’m sort of at the stage where I’m “on the fence,” if you will. There are just a couple of things I wonder about. I don’t mean this as a “gotcha” moment, I am asking these questions sincerely and honestly.

1. The Bible says in more than one place God is not a respecter of persons, that is, he doesn’t make any distinctions between individuals (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11). If this is true, why does He only choose certain people for salvation?

2. The Bible says God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4). Why then does He not give salvation to everyone?

3. How do you respond to the Scriptures that indicate anyone can be saved (John 3:16, Romans 10:13, Acts 2:38, etc)?”
My Response:

1. This argument raises a false dichotomy. There is no contradiction here. We, as God’s fallen image bearers, are all sinful and deserving of hell right out of the gate. God’s election of particular individuals has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything in them, about them or anything they have done, according to Ephesian 2:8-9. It is God’s “free will” (the only being to actually have a will that is absolutely unconstrained by anything outside of himself) for His own good purpose which He alone has the right to do (Rom 9:21).

2. This is a distinction between God’s prescriptive will and His decretive will. An example explains it best. When God’s said “Let there be light”, was there any possibility that there would not be light? Of course not. This is a decree – God’s decretive will. When God says, “Thou shall not commit adultery”, is there any possibility that adultery will be committed? Of course there is. We see it all the time. This command is certainly God’s will but unless you believe God to be impotent to bring about His decrees than this cannot be speaking of His decretive will. God prescribes this behavior – prescriptive will. There is a difference between what God “desires” and what God “arranges”. God’s electing salvation MUST be prescriptive if we are to remain consistent with the clear and explicit teaching of scripture. I strongly recommend referring to Mat 7:13-14, 21; 22:14, Luke 13:22-27, Rom 9:27 and many others.

3. John 3:16 does NOT state explicitly or even imply that anyone CAN be saved. It simply and clearly states the truth that ANY who believe WILL be saved. It says nothing of who can (has the ability to) or who will (has the desire to) be saved. Many have eisegetically (pressed the presupposition into this text) interpreted it as indicating a meaning that is simply not there.

Rom 10:13, in much the same way, explicitly teaches that any who actually does call on the name of the Lord will be saved. It says nothing, explicit or implicit, about who will or who can. It simply states a fact of salvation, not a prescribed avenue.

In Acts 2:38 Peter is, as should we all be, telling all who will hear him the command of God – “REPENT”! Indeed if anyone does repent “in the name of Jesus Christ” (key phrase there) they will receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. It’s not about the words. Peter, by qualifying the command with “in the name of the Holy Spirit” leaves no room for the “come to the alter, pray a prayer, sign a card and your in” salvation. All are commanded. Not all who are commanded can or will repent and believe but only those to whom the gift that cannot be taken away is given (John 10:25-29).

I sincerely hope this helps and is received in the loving spirit with which it is intended.

Church Government 101

A Chapter Summary of Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Chapter Twenty-Three – The Government of the Church

 In the last chapter we discussed the responsibilities and roles of the church. Now we consider the means by which these responsibilities are practically governed to ensure their comportment with Scripture. To this end Christ as the Head of his Church has ordained that it answer to him through the means of its own self-government. The debate has arisen over the centuries however as to which form of self-government is most consistent with the examples in Scripture. In the main, there are 4 forms of church government that have arisen along with various permutations and admixtures on these themes. These forms are: presbyterian, episcopal, congregational and Erastian.

 Presbyterianism hails from the Greek presbyteros meaning “elder” while the closely associated term episkopos is translated “overseer” or “bishop”. Reymond argues that the presbyterian form of church government can be seen as far back as Moses and through the Old Testament where reference is made to the “elders of Israel” or “elders of the congregation” (Exod. 3:16, 18; Lev. 4:15; 9:1-2; Judg. 21:16; Ps. 107:32 and others). In the New Testament Jesus was brought before the presbyterion (council of elders) in Jerusalem (Luke 22:66). Associated with this “top-down” form of oversight we consistently see a plurality of elders being noted (ex, Acts 14:23). The early church-planters were instructed to appoint elders “in every city” (Titus 1:5). [Aside: Reymond asserts here that implicit in the qualifications for this office delineated in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 the election of a “council of elders” is implied. At this point I think he is at best overreaching once again and possibly engaging in eisegesis. I see no “good and necessary consequence” in these passages that necessitates this interpretation.]. The responsibilities of those entrusted to the divinely appointed office of overseer (elder, pastor) have manifold purposes. The elder is to “shepherd” God’s church (Acts 20:28) not as overlords but as servant-leaders (1 Pet. 2:2-3). This shepherding is to serve the body of Christ by endeavoring to keep its member from going astray and providing course correction for those that do. The elder is to protect his flock from false teachings and practices and to help salve spiritual wounds they sustain and provide guidance in their progressive sanctification. It is apparent that the weighty responsibilities of this office are not to be taken lightly and as such this role may not be entered into flippantly. To that end the Scriptures do indeed prescribe qualifications for those who would be considered for this post (1 Tim 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9). The list of about 9 categories of qualifications can be summed up in the requirement that the nominee for elder be a “godly man”. There are somewhat similar qualifications for the office of deacon, derived from the Greek diakonos meaning “servant” who is appointed to assist the elders.

 [Aside: In the interest of full-disclosure this paragraph discussing Reymond’s position seems to derive from a view through a somewhat different shade of lens than I wear.] Presbyterian church government posits a “connectionalism” that rightly exists among the churches as consistent with biblical warrant. There are indeed passages in the New Testament that reveal an interaction consisting of mutual accountability, dependency and submission among churches at several locations. Peter and John were sent to inspect Philip’s work in Samaria (Acts 8:14). Antiochene missionaries were to return to the Antioch church to report on the state of the fledgling Gentile church-plants (Acts 13:1-3; 14:27). The Jerusalem council sent instructions to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia with the expectation of compliance (Acts 15:23). [Aside: These sound a lot like the interactions common between congregational churches and their church-plants (pending maturity to independence) and missionaries (who remain under the biblical authority of their sending elders) to whom they provide oversight.] The presbyterian system of government consists of at least three levels of jurisdiction. First is the local council of elders (a plurality) from among whom a member is chosen to represent the local church at the second, presbytery, level consisting of such elders selected from the local churches in a given region. A representative from the presbytery is then selected from among their number to represent their presbytery at the larger regional or national level known as the general assembly.

Among presbyterians the understanding of which level holds the primary authority over a local church remains debated. The “aristocratic Presbyterians” (as that in Scotland) hold that the ultimate earthly authority of the local church is held at the highest level, the general assembly level. The “democratic Presbyterian” embraces the understanding that it is the local church itself which has the authority to grant the higher levels only that authority which the local churches hand up to them. Still another position is that each level has an intrinsic authority peculiar to itself not given it by other levels of human jurisdiction but rather that provided through the very commission from Christ by which it exists in the first place. Whatever the position held by different presbyterian adherents it is said to be the form of church government of the early church up until Cyprian introduced the episcopal form of church government in the 3rd century A.D.

Churches adhering to an episcopal form of government, also known as “hierarchical” government, employ a category of church officers commonly referred to as a priesthood which is comprised of archbishops, bishops and rectors. This form of government is seen in the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, the Church of England and the Episcopalian and United Methodist Churches in the U.S. Many advocates of such episcopal or prelatic form of government readily admit that no such example or charge is to be found in the New Testament however they argue that neither is it expressly forbidden and that it is a natural outgrowth of historical church development. A very interesting argument for the continuance of episcopacy is that it has proven beneficial to the church. It appears this perception would depend on who one asks. Some may rightly argue that this post-Cyprian development gave rise to the papacy with its many subsequent heresies and abuses of power. Another attempt to explain the existence of the episcopacy claims that local bishops hold their posts by divine right as successors of the apostles with Christ as their authority. Regardless of the support stated for the episcopal form of church government, the fact remains that there is no explicit or even implicit warrant for it in Scripture.

The congregational form of church government, supported by the likes of John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, advocates for the self-rule of each local church. There have been identified five variations of congregationalism depending on where final authority lies within the local congregation: The single elder (pastor) form, the plurality of elders form (the most consistent with New Testament examples), the corporate board form, the pure democracy form and the no government but the Holy Spirit form. While congregational denominations have somewhat of an appearance of a hierarchical structure with regional associations and denominational conventions these simply function in an advisory (and often missions funding) capacity on behalf of its member churches. “Congregationalism”, Reymond asserts, “with its rejection of all meaningful connectionalism between local Christian bodies, is not in harmony with the Word of God.” [Aside: This seems an unfortunate overstatement. Consider Jonathan Leeman’s book, Don’t Fire Your Church Members: the Case for Congregationalism.]

The Erastian form of church government, named for the Swiss theologian Thomas Erastus, holds that the state has the right to rule over the affairs of the church – including the appointment of leaders, exercise of church discipline and excommunication of members. Those subscribing to this form are such churches as the Lutheran church in Germany and the Church of England where the reigning British monarch is its “Head and Protector”. Interestingly, the Church of England’s form of government is an amalgamation of episcopacy and Erastianism. Even more interesting is the fact that the Westminster Assembly was convened at the direction of the British government and the majority of the Westminster divines held to the Erastian view. Even so this form of church government too leaves us with no New Testament support.

Reymond contends in summary that the Presbyterian form is the most biblical form of church government and “provides the most trustworthy, just, and peaceful way for the church to determine its direction.” Further he argues that a loss of “balance” will lead to a drop into “episcopal tyranny” in one direction and “congregational anarchy” in the other. Regarding the latter he asserts that anarchy has ensued in American Christianity as a result of too many churches that lack the accountability provided by connectionalism. [Aside: This too is an unfortunate deduction by Reymond. While is quite true that there are certainly many biblically unsound congregational churches it cannot be demonstrated that the chief cause of their error is their form of church government. We should bear in mind that the perversion of a thing is not tantamount to the thing itself. That is to say, error perpetrated in the context of a particular form of church government provides not proof of unsoundness in the form of government itself. I should say it grieves the staunchest congregationalist to find churches led by heretics of any stripe. However, consider the impact of a single pastor (or even several pastors of one church) who err as compared to one large presbytery that errs. ]. He goes on to say that “It is no exaggeration to say that the Christian church in our day is about to self-destruct because of its abandonment of biblical church government.” [Aside: Yet another overstatement. Is such even possible? Is not Christ sovereign over “his” church?] Further he argues that “the pastor (or church) who answers to no one inevitably experiences the warping of priorities under the influence of his (or its) privately held biases” (italic mine). [Aside: Reymond is partly correct here but again “me thinks he doth protest too much”. I would ask that he show me the biblical basis by which he deduces this inevitability. Has not God preserved his remnant? Also, it is overstating to say that ANY pastor answers to no one. Even the lone pastor in the small, secluded, rural church must answer in some sense to his congregation. Though I do agree greater accountability than this is generally supported by the New Testament examples. In my experience, and apparently Wayne Grudem’s as well, the congregational plurality of elders is helpful, appropriate and even necessary to provide adequate accountability. If this degree of accountability is not sufficient how much and how high must it rise to meet Dr. Reymond’s seemingly arbitrary (likely preference-based) standard for which there is no specific rule provided in the Scriptures?] He implies that a lack of Presbyterian connectionalism has damaged the populace’s respect for the church by citing David F. Wells’ No Place for Truth who provides statistics regarding the lackluster relative social prestige of ministers in America as compared with other professions. [Aside: I do not think this argument necessarily follows. It does not address WHY those polled have this opinion. Is it largely because of clerical debauchery resulting from their lack of accountability or because we are told in Scripture that those who preach the Word with diligence and follow Christ will be hated (Matt. 10:22)? It is likely both and other reasons besides. However, it is clear that it is a bit of a logical leap to assume that if all churches changed to a Presbyterian form of government tomorrow we would fair much better in the opinion polls of a fickle and wicked generation.] Finally, Dr. Reymond’s recipe for renewal and growth in Christ’s church is the “restoration of the biblical form of church government in the American church, for representative and connectional church government provides the essential “checks and balances” necessary to keep the church on track and to protect it from tyranny on the one side and anarchy on the other. [Aside: I thought from his previous chapter on the duties of the church that church growth would be witnessed by the “increase” granted by God through the faithful preaching of the gospel!?]

What is the Role of the Church?

A Chapter Summary of Robert Reymonds A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Chapter Twenty-Two – The Authority and Duties of the Church

 Jesus, as God and Messiah, wields all authority as given him by the Father (Matt. 11:27; 28:18; John 5:22, 27; John 17:2; Rev 2:27). Under his reign is the church of which he is the head and to whom he is able to confer authority and it is only by this investiture that the church may claim any authority. He gave such authority to his church beginning with the apostles (2 Cor. 10:8) enabling them to cast out demons and heal disease (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:19), make disciples (Matt. 28:18-19), forgive sins (Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21,23), be guided into “all truth” (John 16:13-15), and to be God’s instrument of witness (Acts 1:8b; 9:15; 20:24). Specifically for the edification of the church it has been granted to some to hold divinely appointed offices within the church, such as evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:8, 10-11). This authority invested in Christ’s church finds its only foundation in the Holy Scriptures and its activity under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

 The authority given to the church is confined strictly to the spiritual and moral realm. While God does indeed appoint civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-7) that is not in any way to be the function of the church. Examples of the church egregiously violating this boundary include, but is certainly not limited to, Innocent IV’s bull Ad extirpanda (1252) which endorsed the use the churches “secular arm” in applying torture to extract recantations; the Spanish Inquisition (1479); the Crusades; Martin Luther’s call for Germany to take up arms against the Anabaptists; John Calvin’s support for the execution of Servetus as a heretic; the English Reformers persecution of Roman Catholics and the modern theonomic reconstructionists who call for the execution of false prophets, homosexuals and the like. Of course there are those for whom the pendulum has overcorrected leading them to the conclusion that the church and individual believers should have no interest or involvement in secular politics. Indeed, as part of its commission to be about the moral and spiritual needs of people, the church must be willing to speak out against societal transgressions in the secular realm that violate biblical standards of morality. However, in doing so it maintains the duty to serve (Matt. 20:25-28) and never has the authority to employ physical force (Matt. 26:51-52; Luke 9:54-56; John 18:36-37; 2 Cor. 10:3-4) as it is not the physical realm in which its fight resides (Eph. 6:11-18a).

 The authority vested in God’s church has been bestowed in order for it to fulfill a specific calling. Just as the individual man’s highest duty is to worship and serve his Creator (Rom 1:18-25; 1 Cor. 10:31) so it is the duty of the church (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). This obligation of the church is due God for the mercy he has shown having “called [it] out of darkness and into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). It is insufficient however to understand that the church is to see itself as a “trophy” of God’s mercy and grace only to permit the resulting service rendered to be employed in any way other than how God specifically commands that he be worshipped. Excerpting section XXI of the Westminster Confession’s summary, such worship is to be directed to God alone “in the name of the Son, by the help of the Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love and perseverance”. The Scriptures are to be read with “godly fear”. There is to be sound biblical preaching, singing of psalms and proper observance of the sacraments. God is to be worshipped “in spirit and in truth”. The Lord’s Day is to be “kept holy unto the Lord”. Out of these truths comes an understanding of the governing principle of worship termed the “regulative principle” which states that the worship of God may include only that which God has expressly commanded in Scripture or that which may be deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence and nothing besides. [Aside: Even within Reformed churches their has been and is much debate regarding the precise form the regulative principle is to take in corporate worship. While the visible outworking of our worship must be offered as and only as God has commanded on the one hand, I think it is important to consider that we ought to be careful not to permit our concern over the “externals” of our liturgy to be a distraction from the object beyond itself to which the liturgy points, namely, Christ (see Luke 11:37-40) or an unnecessary cause for division among the people of God Eph. 4:1-3).]

 In stark contrast to the regulative principle stands the Roman Catholic teaching which does not view as false any worship not expressly commanded or permitted. That is to say, their view holds that the only false worship is that which is expressly forbidden by God – anything else is acceptable to him [Aside: tell that to Cain]. As a result, in Roman Catholic worship the veneration of Mary and use of images and relics (idol worship) are acceptable. Contrary to this the Scriptures “expressly” teach that God commands he be worship as and only as he prescribes. Consider the following: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it” (Deut 12:29-32); Nadab and Abihu were summarily executed by God because they “offered unauthorized fire…contrary to his command” (Lev. 10:1-2); King Uzziah was afflicted with leprosy because of his usurpation of the priestly privilege to burn incense in the temple (2 Chron. 26:16-19); Jesus warned that men worship “in vain” when they “let go of the commands of God” and “hold to traditions of men” (Mark 7:7-8); Paul’s infrahortation regarding worship whose “regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship” but “are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings” (Col. 2:20-23). G.I. Williamson soberly warns that “if we once allow that a man can rightly add even one element to divine worship – it becomes exceedingly difficult to refute the devious arguments and distinctions such as those [offered by Rome] between latria and doulia and ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ worship”.

To safeguard against such error Reformed worship generally employs the following principles: First, the chief purpose for Christians attending church is not fellowship, evangelism or even sound biblical teaching but the worship of Almighty God, and second, Christians should regard in worship anything not commanded as forbidden. [Aside: While I agree with this there is a good and necessary tension to be employed here lest we become as the “whitewashed sepulcher” of the Pharisees who also intended to take great care in their obedience by establishing “safeguards”. Reymond comments that “This approach to worship will produce a worship that is biblical, spiritual, simple, weighty, and reverent”. I believe he is correct save that I would nuance this with the words “may produce” provided the aforementioned tension is born in mind.] The solution for the church who finds that their worship lies outside of God’s prescription will not necessarily rectify this by an overhaul from contemporary to “high-church” but rather the answer is found in the entrance into worship in a posture that recognizes the awesomeness of God who is a “consuming fire” and is to be worshipped “with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28-29) and out of this be filled with joy and gladness in so doing (Ps. 149:2). [Aside: I challenge (not in a competitive or confrontational way, but in true interest) one to find an argument that can be consistently supported from Scripture either explicitly or by “good and necessary consequence” that proves that contemporary music styles or clothing styles are necessarily contrary to the ability to worship with “reverence and awe”. Would not arguing the contrary lead us into the very “external” understanding of the definition and role of the true church of God that we vigorously defend against by the consistent teaching of Scripture?]. Individual styles may vary on the one hand and at the same time Phariseeism in worship avoided on the other. Principles for the foundation of God-honoring worship deduced from Scripture include Sabbath observance, theologically sound congregational singing, hermeneutically sound expository preaching, and contemplation of the law-gospel paradigm – highlighting the “Gospel thread” that pervades all of Scripture, and the exclusion of all in worship that God does not command.

In addition of the chief duty of the church to worship it has a duty to bear witness to divine truth as revealed in sacred Scripture as the Christ appointed “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) who is commissioned under divine inspiration to “preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). It is the responsibility of the church to disseminate this truth among it contemporaries but also for the training of successive generations (1 Tim. 6:20). Not only is the church to teach these truths it is to defend them from perversion when under attack (Jude 3). The use of “confessions” (2 Thess. 2:15) is an important aspect of this calling as it promotes a more clear understand of stated beliefs among its adherents as well as “outsiders”. [Aside: “No creed but Christ” and the like are commonly stated as if to portray a single-minded devotion to the teachings of Scripture as if those subscribing to a confession are doing so for the purpose of replacing what the Bible teaches with what they wish the Bible to teach. The fact is, all churches have a confession, a set of doctrines regarding how they understand and categorize the teachings of Scripture. Those without a codified expression of these doctrines are ironically less single-minded in their devotion to Scripture in that they are more susceptible to corruption of their teachings and understanding of Scripture over time. Confessions do not trump Scripture, they clarify our held beliefs regarding the whole counsel of Scripture and hold us accountable that we might not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).] Our calling as the church of God is to teach the truth of Scripture.

While the duty to worship God is paramount and the church’s chief purpose for gathering is not evangelism, this does not mean that evangelism is not an important duty of the church. Indeed God has given evangelists to the church (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4-5) to aid in its commission that has been labeled “great”. Christ’s church is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-20) by “preach[ing] repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name” (Luke 24:47) “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This evangelism must start in our homes as it is in God’s providence (Gen. 17:7-9; Exod. 20:6; Deut. 6:6-7; Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor. 7:14 and others) that in the homes of Christian parents is where resides the largest part of his church at any given time. The exceptions to this historically are those times when the gospel finds its way to a new place or people group. As such, the primary means moving forward regarding church growth is first to evangelize our own homes with the faithful preaching of the undistilled and undiluted word of God.

Problems in our day with our all too business-like models of church growth tactics is that there has beset us a declining confidence in the message of the gospel. Sermons too often in our day are aimed at improving temporal problems over eternal ones, bolstering ones self-esteem and displaying success by vast numbers of “wheat” mixed with “chaff”. In so doing many church services have created “consumer oriented”, “seeker friendly” services where these lesser goals drive church function rather than the gospel being the driving force and trusting God to be faithful to grow and prosper his church as he sovereignly sees fit. [Aside: When I deride “seeker friendly” as a term, I do not intend to imply we should be unfriendly to seekers that enter our doors. Quite the opposite, we should humbly receive them in the love of our Lord. However, it is not and should not be the priority of the church to orchestrate its worship service to magnify its own glory for the purpose of being attractive to those estranged from God who are incapable of finding beauty in his worship outside of his sovereign, regenerating work in their hearts. When the seeker then does arrive they should be met with the undiluted, unvarnished truth of the Gospel and God be trusted for “the increase”.] A lack of faith that God is sovereign over the salvation of his people has led to worship practices as drama presentations, sermonettes, “how to” messages and in some cases no discernible evidence of biblical exposition whatever as if carnal machinations could possibly prove more productive than God’s providence. Too often the minister’s role is reduced to lead entertainer and facilitator in a weekly consumeristic enterprise rather than the herald of the word of God.

Lying at the foundation of the solution to such an unbiblical church testimony is the orchestration of worship based on an understanding of God’s utter sovereignty in salvation and an abiding faith that he will establish and multiply his church not by our devices and schemes but by his own providence. For it is not men that save but God through election who ordains the ends and the means. It just happens that in God’s kindness his means often include the use of his people who, having no room for boasting, are permitted involvement in God’s most gracious of works (see 1 Cor. 1:26-31). It is by this that the church can exhale a sigh of relief and rest in the knowledge that through the unadorned proclamation of the truth of the Gospel God will bring salvation to his people. Further, if we remember that our primary purpose in church attendance is to worship God then we will see that the audience is not the congregation but an audience of One. What does this audience see when the church gathers in worship?

Another duty of the church is to properly administer the sacraments of the church which will be discussed in detail in a later chapter. In addition to the church’s responsibility to worship God, it is called also to provide ministry to the saints. The Greek root diakoneo (“to wait at table”, “to provide or care for”) is generally translated “ministry”. In Hebrew culture there was great honor is serving. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 22:27, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” On this basis Christ taught that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant [diakonos], and whoever wants to be first must be your slave [doulos]. Such service finds appropriate expression in the Christian’s efforts to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24) and in “hospitality to strangers” (13:2). This ministry or service to others finds one of its greatest expressions in personal evangelism. A convert from such ministrations becomes “an offering acceptable to God” (Rom. 15:16). All of this ministry in the church has as its goal the edification of the body of Christ and the building up of the saints in love (1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:15-16).

The church also has the responsibility to govern its affairs “in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40). Consistent the the Great Commission, the church is to teach obedience to Christ in all that he has commanded (Matt. 28:20). As believers we are to “instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14), “build each other up” (1 Thess 5:11), “Guard yourselves and all the flock” (Acts 20:28), “take care of God’s church, “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:7,9) and “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority” (Heb 13:17). The elders are called especially to “take care of God’s church” (1 Tim. 3:5). As a means of carrying out this responsibility to govern the affairs of the church it has been given the authority to develop constitutions and guidelines for church order so long as these comport with the teachings of Scripture. Also, to the end that order would be maintained, the church has the authority and responsibility to institute disciplinary actions according to the dictates of Scripture for the purpose of the restoration of disobedient members and unity of the body (Matt. 16:19; 18:15-18; John 20:23). Those in the body of Christ also have the right to separate themselves and/or oppose error (2 Thess. 2:3). Such opposition should be engaged in charitably with a heart for unity and restoration. The decision to part ways should only be considered for apostasy – abandonment of the faith – and heresy – destructive teachings (1 Tim. 4;1; 2 Pet. 2:1). Differences over non-essential issues should never be the basis for schism (1 Cor. 1:10). To avoid such concerns the church is called to protect its doctrinal purity by “guarding the truth” (Acts 20:28-30; Tit. 1:9), ushering out apostates and heretics (1 John 1:18-19), and disciplining those unrepentant heretics who do not leave (Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:10; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 John 1-11; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20). Finally, the individual believer may appropriately leave his church or denomination if it will not discipline such heretics (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

Finally we come to the duty of the church with regard to deeds of benevolence and mercy. Scripture reveals God’s great care the poor and needy particularly concerning mercy and justice related to them (Prov. 29:7; 31:20). God through Ezekiel condemned Samaria and Judah for not helping such as these (16:49; 22:29). He promised longevity to the king who dealt justly with them (Prov. 29:14). Nebuchadnezzar’s lack of “mercy to the poor” was pointed out by Daniel (4:27). In fact, God’s disposition in this area is so earnest that he anointed the Messiah specifically to preach good news to the poor (Isa. 61:1; see Luke 4:18). Later James taught that religion that is acceptable to God is that which “look[s] after orphans and widows in their distress” (1:17). Among many such admonitions Paul instructed Timothy that the church should be about the business of caring for widows in need (1 Tim. 5:16). The apostle John, as a litmus test of faith, tells us that “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17-18). [Aside: Much to the shame of the modern American church we have to a progressively greater degree abdicated this mantle to secular society and the state. Though the secularist motivation for service is not the glory of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, they have for years out-served the church, vis á vis, the “poor and needy” and “widows and orphans”. It appears to me that this may be for many reasons however it also occurs to me that an abysmally small percentage of “Christians” in the church today are tithing even the generally recognized minimum standard of one-tenth; by some estimates as little as 4% of professing Christians. One reason the majority of the tithe is used to service church operations is because 96% of the revenue that should be used for missions, benevolence and mercy is not making it into church coffers. The next time you feel a pang of guilt for those struggling and less fortunate consider first whether or not you are tithing as the Lord would lead.]