H  O  M  E          
Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Monday, November 25, 2013
Righteousness (Thoughts on the Fall Part II)
The difference between a live body and a corpse is that whatever "life" is, it only resides in the live body, and does not exist in the dead one.

How do we know that someone is alive?  We know a person lives because their body is animated by life.  They have a pulse, they breath, they move, etc.  A corpse is cold, it has no pulse and it does not move.  It cannot do anything because it lacks the animating capacity of life.

In other words, we recognize a dead body by this fact: life isn't animating it.

I mention this because I the same principle that I employ in making this distinction is being employed by the Apostle John in 1 John 4:7-14.  False teachers were infiltrating the church, and John was writing to expose them.  His thesis was that these false teachers did not love because God was not in them (God is love).

Of course these teachers loved other people.  John wasn't suggesting that they were incapable of affection.  They certainly felt affection for one another, for their families and for their friends.  What John was saying was that God was not in them, and that they could be recognized by this lack. 

How do you know that God is in you (or that God is in another)?  You know in this way:

 Anyone who possesses God must possess God's love.  Ergo, anyone who lacks God's love necessarily lacks God.
A Christian may grieve the Holy Spirit and act contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit within him, but grieving the Holy Spirit will upset his fellowship with God until he humbles himself before God.  Until this happens the love of God in that believer remains suppressed by the sinning believer's pursuit of his own selfish desires.

NOTE: If the angels (who presumably have more discernment in spiritual matters than men) cannot distinguish whether a disobedient person is disobedient by way of an immature faith, or by way of a false conversion, we should be that much more concerned about treating every spiritual indiscretion as proof of one's falsehood, and again treating outward signs of obedience as necessarily proving a genuine faith.
When John writes these things, we should understand that he is not talking about the normal facets of spiritual growth (i.e. the process of sanctification whereby a genuine believer struggles to obey God), but rather about something quite significant, and notably more serious (and likely more obvious) than the process of sanctification...

John is saying that those who possess God, possess God's love, and conversely since God's love cannot be expressed by those who do not possess God, it follows that those who do not love do not know God.  That is the form of argument that John is using. 

We are commanded to love one another, but that isn't what John is trying to show here.  John is not telling us that because God is loving we ought to imitate Him in loving also.  John is saying that God is love, and anyone who possesses God must necessarily possess God's love.  It follows that a person cannot express God love does not possess God (who is love) and is therefore not a Christian.  John wants his readers to recognize false teachers and false Christians, and provides this "test" if you will, to help them in discerning a false teacher.

There is much that I could say about that, but it is enough that we [a] understand the equation John gives us (God is love, ergo...) and [b] why John chose to this argument. Allow me therefore to run the risk of flogging this thought for longer than may be needed for some of my readers, but I want to ensure the thought is fully understood before we move one.

John's argument was not that God was very loving and that people who were indwelled by God were obligated to act more loving than others.  John's argument was that God was the source of genuine love, and that anyone who possessed God necessarily possessed God's love by virtue of the indwelling Spirit.  He was describing this fact:  the love expressed through a Christian does not originate from the Christian himself, it not being his own love but rather the love of God who is in him by virtue of the Holy Spirit who by definition indwells every genuine believer.

When John says that God is love, He isn't saying that God is really, really loving.  John is saying that God is the source of love.  That is not only very significant to the point John is making - it is important to our understanding of God.
If I say that Christ is the truth, I mean that Christ is the source of truth, and not merely that Christ is infinitely truthful.  He is infinitely truthful -but this fact is only a consequence of His being the Source of truth. When we speak of a light, we do not speak of the light rays that are cast by the light, but of the light itself.  When we say that God is love, we are not talking about the expression of God's love, we are talking about God as the source of love.  In the same way, when we say that Christ is truth, we are not talking about how truthful Christ is, or how well Christ expressed truth; we are saying that Christ is the source of truth.

Note: You may be inclined to muse that truth can exist apart from Christ (reasoning with yourself that that even the devil was capable of quoting the true scriptures when tempting Christ).  But I am not saying that a person can not repeat or comprehend what is factual.  I am saying that God alone (in the person of Christ), is true.  Recognizing that something is factual is not the same as being the source of truth.  You and I may freely either agree with, or deny, the truth, but we cannot produce it.  We can only reflect or obscure it...
Along the same line we can ask, "Is God righteous?" If He is (and He certainly is!) it follows that God is the source of righteousness.  To imagine that God is only expressing more righteousness than anyone else, or merely expressing a perfect and infinitely righteousness is to anthropomorphize God.  God is not merely expressing the most superior form of righteousness - He is the very source of all righteousness.

Do you understand what that means?  It means that anyone who is truly righteous, is not expressing their own righteousness, but is rather expressing a righteousness that is foreign to themselves - the righteousness of God.

Expressing the righteousness of God is fundamentally different than merely imitating the righteousness of God.  A morally superior atheist may boast of a personal moral standard that is higher (in practice) than that which is morality evidenced even by some genuine Christians.  But the morality of such an atheist (or of any person in any false religion for that matter) does not flow from the person and character of God.  That "righteousness" is rather a superficial imitation of God's righteousness

God's righteousness is indivisible

What I mean by that is that you cannot divide the righteousness of God into an hundred or more commands that amount to such things as "do not murder" or "do not commit adultery" and imagine that by keeping one or more of these commands you have actually been partially righteous.  It doesn't work that way.

It does not matter how many of these commands we are given, or how many we (seem to) keep. Keeping one or more commands while breaking only one other does not make us partially righteous for those commands we have managed to keep - it only shows us that we are entirely unrighteous.  When we act contrary to what is righteous, it shows that we are not at all righteous.  It doesn't matter how many commands we may keep if we cannot keep them all.  Either we are able to keep all of God's Law (as it were) or we are unable to keep it.  Either we are righteous, or we are not - there is no middle ground.  Anyone who fails to keep all of God's does so because he or she is not (and has never been) righteous.

The OT word for righteousness describes right-ness in the sense of something having a sort of perfect integrity -like a perfect weight or better still, like a perfectly upright plumb line.  To build your house to plumb is to build it perfectly upright.  To be "right" in this sense is to be perfectly in tune with a flawless (objective) standard. 

When the scriptures describes God as righteous, it is not saying that God perfectly lines His conduct up with some objective standard of righteousness that is above Him and foreign to Him.  No.  What it means is that God Himself is the standard and measure of righteousness, and if you can receive it, that God is the very source of righteousness.

When the scriptures describes a person as being righteous, it is not describing a righteousness that originates from the individual, but rather a righteousness that is alien to the individual: the righteousness of God.  Insofar as a person is surrendered to the will of God, the righteousness of God may be expressed through that person. When we say that an individual is righteous we mean that the light of God's righteousness is shining from that person (and not that the person is producing his or her own righteousness!).

To be explicit, I am saying that righteousness cannot be imitated or produced because it is not produced by (nor is it bound up in) works, rather righteous works can only be produced when a preexisting righteousness is present to produce that righteousness.

I often give this thought exercise to simplify the matter when I teach.  I ask, did Christ become righteous by doing good works, or was He born unrighteous (since there is no middle ground between righteousness and unrighteousness), and later attained righteousness by performing acts of righteousness? 

Of course Christ was never at any time unrighteous, so we are left to understand that Christ was righteous at birth such that His subsequent acts of righteousness were expressing a righteousness that was inherent in Him, and not producing that righteousness. It is important to put the horse before the cart in our understanding on this particular.  Christ's righteousness produced his obedience, and not the other way around.

We could describe it another way:  Christ did not become righteous by keeping the law, rather He kept the law because He was righteous.  The law revealed that He was righteous, it didn't make him righteous.  Just as the law reveals that everyone other than Christ is unrighteous, and doesn't make them unrighteous.  In this way the law is like a compass.  Where a compass points to the magnetic pole, the law identifies the Christ as the only person on earth capable of keeping the law - that is, the law itself proclaims the Christ.  In a culture that was producing Messiahs by the sack full, the law was a tutor to bring believers to the true Christ (the one who actually kept the law).  No one else has ever kept, nor could ever keep, the Law.

I may touch on this a little more the post to follow, where I hope to underscore the thought that there is no righteousness apart from God, and further that there never has been a righteousness apart from God (and this would include the pre-fall righteousness of Adam), and that there never will, nor never can be any righteousness apart from God. Using this premise as a foundation, I hope to build upon it (for the benefit of those believers who may be struggling with the question of "how to be" a Christian) enough of an edifice as to assist the believer in their understanding of the way in which we are to work out our own salvation (from sin).

What I want you to remember from this post is that God is the source of righteousness, and that no person is (or ever has been, or ever can be apart from Christ) righteous. 

If you cannot become righteous by doing something that the righteousness of God produces, how much less so can you become righteous by imitating the righteousness of God? 
posted by Daniel @ 11:37 AM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Thoughts on the Fall (Part I)
Consider what the following three verses have in common:

Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, We are not blind too, are we? Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. - John 9:40-41 [NASB]

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. - John 15:22 [NASB]

And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. - Luke 12:47-48a [NASB]

The impression I get from the words of our Lord, and from elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments where the same sentiment is touched upon (explicitly or implicitly), is that culpability is linked to the knowledge of good and evil.

I don't hear anyone teaching on this point, and the impression I get in the absence of such a teaching is that it makes no difference to God whether you understand that a thing is sin or not - He will hold you just as guilty either way.  I can't place it, but I have heard in my time as a believer, hints and suggestions that this is just the case - so much so that I feel like I am stepping awkwardly (and fearfully) out of the crowd just to say that the scriptures actually seem to paint another story.

The scriptures clearly state that no one is righteous.  Given this: even if God does not hold us culpable for the sins we commit in ignorance He will certainly hold each one of us culpable for those many sins we all have boldly, blatantly, and willfully committed.  In other words even if God doesn't count our unknown transgressions against us, every last one of us has more than enough known transgressions to warrant our condemnation and need for a Savior.

The implications of this thought are significant when applied to Adam prior to the fall.  Adam was, as you will recall, unable to comprehend good and evil.  He did not have that knowledge, and lacking this knowledge Adam could hardly be held culpable for any transgression.  It follows then that the only manner in which Adam could have become culpable for any transgression would have been for him be acquire the knowledge that what he did was a transgression.

In other words for Adam to condemn himself he would not only have to willfully transgress a command of God, but he would have to come into a knowledge of good and evil in order to become culpable for the transgression.

When the scriptures tell us that God placed Adam in the Garden to keep it and to cultivate it (c.f. Genesis 2:15) we are forced to admit that the flip side of this responsibility was an expectation of obedience in the matter.  We don't have an explicit command, but we certainly have explicit expectations - and who will dare to argue that it is on the one hand a grave transgression to disobey God's command, but no transgression whatsoever to ignore some responsibility that God has personally assigned to you?

 In other words, although we see only one explicit command given to Adam (i.e. the command concerning eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) we cannot ignore the other (implicit) commands that are inescapably present in the same narrative.  What made the explicit command fundamentally different from every other command that God gave to Adam was that if Adam disobeyed this command, there would be a consequence.

The man who pays for some groceries with a twenty and who is accidentally given not only his groceries and change, but also the same twenty he had paid for these goods with, is not guilty until he gets home, and realizes that he has not paid for the groceries.  At that point he is under a debt to the store, and must return the twenty to the store.  In the case of sinful transgression, we cannot return to the store with the original money, all we can do is return to the Lord the life He has given.

When Adam ate the fruit that gave him the knowledge by which his transgression made him culpable, he could not go and return the fruit and repay his sin debt - he had to return his life to God.  That is what our sin debt is - and that is what the warning God gave Adam was all about, "in the day that you eat from it [i.e. the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die."  It was a statement of fact: Do not eat from this tree for on the day that you do you will die.

I know there are many Christians better than myself who see in this command an agreement between God and Adam whereby God grants Adam continuing life in exchange for the work of perfect obedience in all matters (including the matter of the forbidden fruit) and this they call a covenant of works.

Yet I have never been able to convince myself that this was what the text was representing, nor have I been able to impose the notion contrary to my conscience for the sake of having a theology that others (many of whom I admire) would agree with.

I see the command in far simpler terms.  I am a father myself.  When I tell my child not to touch the red hot element on the stove because on the day that you do, you will surely be burned - I am not entering into a contract with my child - I am just a father giving a command and along with a command, a reason for the command: Don't do this, because if you do so, something bad will happen.  Why does a father give his child such a command?  He does so because he loves the child, and would spare the child the consequences of doing something in his or her innocence that would produce an effect that their innocence could not comprehend.

Many Christians believe that the forbidden fruit was a sort of spiritual test.  Had Adam passed the test we would all be living with God in Eden, but since Adam failed we are cursed, the world is cursed, and we can thank Adam for that.

The bible tells us that God sees the end from the beginning, meaning that He knew full well before ever He created Adam, that Adam would transgress His command in this matter, and that He would send Christ to redeem the life that Adam forfeit.  This was all known I say, before the foundation of the world.  It follows therefore that God was not testing Adam.  He knew exactly what Adam would do.

Think hard on these thoughts.  God could have stopped Adam from sinning - I don't just say that because we know that God is able to do anything.  We have explicit examples in scripture where God keeps people from committing a sin.  In Genesis 20 God personally intervenes in the matter of King Abimelech - who would have transgressed by taking Abraham's wife as his own - but God kept him from committing that sin (c.f. Genesis 20:6).  God not only can keep a person from sinning, He clearly has done so in the past (according to His own purpose) and likely continues to do so where doing so serves this same purpose.

That God did not keep Adam from sinning in this matter tells us that God intended for history to play out the way it did.  That isn't the same as saying that God made Adam sin, or that God wanted Adam to sin.  It is to say that before God created time and space, and ordained all that would be - He chose to bring into being this history which we are now living out.  God chose to create this history over and against every other possible history - one in which Adam condemns mankind, and in which He personally, in the person of Christ, redeems mankind.  It was God's purpose to bring this History (and no other) into being.

In that sense God "ordained" Adam's sin - in fact in this sense God ordains all, in that He chose this reality to be the one He would create.  He could have created one in which Adam did not sin - but  He did not - and we are forced to admit, if we are not so foolishly puffed up in pride, that God's choice was not a bad one - but in fact the most glorious one.  We haven't seen the end of this plan yet, but I suspect it will infinitely answer every doubt we may have the audacity to hold in this lifetime.

I close this post - which I intend as the first part in a small series - by summarizing my thoughts thus far:
  • The only sin Adam could have committed that would condemn him was to come into the knowledge of good and evil through an act of disobedience - that until and unless Adam did so, any other (real or hypothetical) acts of disobedience would not condemn Adam as his innocence was assured by his lack of knowledge of good and evil.
  • That God's command was not a covenant, but a warning - the kind of warning any loving father gives to their child when the child lacks the necessary understanding to fully comprehend the consequences of an action: Don't do this, because if you do, you will suffer for it.  Not a contract, not a covenant, just a loving command intended not as a test, but as a simple, even plainly stated deterrent.
  • Adam's fall (and especially the way in which it played out) was purposely ordained by God.  This in no way suggests that God was manipulating the will or motives of Adam.  It means only that God, who created every moment, every place, and every thing in the same act of creation - who knows the beginning from the end, chose to create this reality and only this reality from among an infinitely number of possible realities - one in which our history would play out in exactly this way, such that Adam by his own hand brought the condemnation of death upon us all.
In the post(s) to follow I hope to show that there is something very practical for us (as pertains to our walk with Christ) in understanding these things I have set forth here and again in some further things I hope to add in any follow up post(s).
posted by Daniel @ 9:15 AM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Doctrinal Differences Among Saints
It happens. Two people reading the same bible with comparable faiths come to different doctrinal conclusions. One is an Arminian, the other a Calvinist.

Both may admire the genuine faith, the gifting and the ministry of the other but each marvels that an otherwise faithful servant of The Lord can hold to doctrine that seems to paint the God of the scriptures in radically different ways - and neither seems willing to entertain the other's vision of God as accurate. 

As a Calvinist you may expect me at this point to painstakingly demonstrate that the Arminian is wrong on all points, even as you may have expected me to do the reverse had I been an Arminian.  Calvinists and Arminians have been engaged in this sort of back-and-forth criticism of one another for centuries. 

Today's post isn't about who is right. It is about the nature of the differences. Both parties read the scriptures in earnest and both parties draw their soteriology (the doctrine that explains how God saves us) from the same scriptures. Why then are otherwise identically earnest Christians coming to a profoundly different understanding of how God saves people?

The answer cannot be blamed on the scriptures, though I strongly suspect that the more interpretive a translation is, the more likely an earnest reader is to follow the translator's interpretation on a matter than that person would have been had he not been spoonfed another person's bias. This is especially worrisome when the translation presents such interpretation without informing the reader that the text they are providing is based upon the scriptures, but in some places (keyed to the doctrinal opinions of the translators) the actual word of God is glossed over by a phrase that the translator feels captures what God was trying to say better than the Holy Spirit did When He inspired the text.  

I say therefore that the person who favors the least literal translations will likely find more doctrinal disagreements among those who favor the most literal translations. I myself prefer the most literal translations, and cringe when a person quotes from five different translations in the same sermon or article.  It strikes me that with enough interpretive translations a person may pick and choose the meaning of a text that most agrees with his own opinion about what he wants the text to say. 

So there is that - but it isn't necessarily the reason for such doctrinal differences. No the main reason seems to be how one comes to have an image of God. 

Imagine two renaissance painters painting a picture of Jesus.  One imagines that Jesus as being perfect because he was Jesus, and paints Jesus as the idealic (according to renaissance standards) man, long, thick, dark blonde hair, kind and intelligent blue eyes, a noble handsome face with a stylishly trimmed but entirely manly beard.  This Jesus is the center of the picture, just a handsome face looking up as if in prayer with a sort of glow around Him to accentuate His divine origin.   The other paints a sad but hearty Jewish looking man, depicting The Lord not in a portrait, but in the very act of service - washing the feet of other Jewish men who looked, depending on the face, either indifferent (Judas?), or maybe indignant on Christ's behalf (Peter?) or confused an awkward (the rest?) - but the face of Christ in the painting is only partially visible - enough to see Him for a Jew, and to see both the concern of love and an underlying sorrow in His features but not enough to make out a full countenance, and this because the painter did not want the focus to be the imagined physical features of Christ, but on the character of Christ's person as portrayed in His ministry.

Imagine again the first couple of months in a relationship with someone you had a crush on. At first the person seems perfect in every way, but as you come to actually know that person, the illusion of perfection gives way, piece by piece to the reality of that person's actual personality, such that in a few months the "crush" is over, and the person may seem suddenly less interesting - do much so that some who do not understand how this works assume that the other person "changed". 

How a person forms their original image of God can have a huge effect on their soteriology. Just as the two painters painted radically different images of Christ, so two Christians can have radically different images if God - long before they ever pick up a bible and read it earnestly. Many children inherit their parent's image of God, and many children filter the character of God through the examples of those who have been the primary authority in their early life (typically their own father). When most of us read the bible for ourselves we already have an opinion of what God is like, so we are just adjusting our opinion as needed when something in the word disagrees with the opinion we already have. 

Second-hand descriptions of God abound, such that the original image we have of God is inescapably flawed, having been formed from the soupy patchwork of opinions and experiences that make up our own lives. It is the work of the scriptures to overcome these opinions with the actual image of God, but some of our opinions are so deep and profound, that we read them back into the scriptures rather than abandon them - and this we do unaware that we are doing it. 

A man who believes that life is sacred apart from what the scriptures say, cannot imagine God taking the life of anyone because that would be evil and not good, and God is good. He has a presumption and rather than abandon it, he defines God by it. A man who is convinced that if you give a gift to one undeserving man you are obligated to give the same gift to other equally undeserving men because that is only "fair" may impose this same rule of fairness upon God, and conclude that God must try and save everyone or He isn't being "fair" etc. 

Anytime a person interprets the God if the scriptures through the lens of some worldly moral, their image of God, and their subsequent understanding of What Gid is doing will necessarily be skewed by their having exalted worldly wisdom above the wisdom of God.

It is my opinion that a wrong opinion about who God is will always lead to a wrong opinion about what God is doing - hence soteriological differences vary according to the extent to which one uses worldly (moral) opinions as a filter through which the scriptures are understood.   

They read the same bibles, but are seeing the God their  predispositions demand. 

It is therefore important for every Christian to understand what has influenced their opinions of good and evil (hint: humanism, relativity, tolerance, ideas about fairness, what love is, etc.) moreso if one has taken the mantle if a teacher since his or her errors will be multiplied in those who fall under that one's influence. 

Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God, but they do not see the same character in God insofar as God's character is either being defined by the scriptures to the hurt of all worldly philosophies, or God's character is being defined by worldly philosophies to the hurt of the scriptures. 

Each loves the image of God they find in the scriptures, but they are not the same image. 

Having said that, both parties will believe that it is the other party whose image is flawed.  In truth it is difficult work plumbing the depth of your own deepest presumptions. Most of us are satisfied to think that we are intelligent and honest enough that we would never knowing worship a flawed image of God. But I expect that even the best of us worships an image of God that could stand correction. 

I am not embittered by the willful blindness of anyone else since, being fallible myself, I anticipate some flaws in my own understanding of God - though I strive to eliminate such flaws and endeavor to receive correction and instruction whenever I can. Yet it pleases God to accept imperfect worship in those who worship Him through the perfect person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  

If you find yourself at odds with another believer, try to remember that we are all imperfectly worshipping God in our selves, but that this imperfect human worship is made perfect for us in Christ - for all of us who are in Christ. 

That isn't to say that we shouldn't let iron sharpen iron (i.e that we should ignore what we believe to be error in one another). We should do all in our power to identify and correct bad doctrine, but we must be aware that doctrinal error almost always flows from worldly philosophy.

For this reason I am convinced that we do better to discuss how worldly philosophy infiltrates the church than to focus on the fruit of that infiltration. Why do I believe God is thus way and not that way, and why do you believe the opposite?

Not everyone will be Berean in the matter, but some will be. Don't make the mistake, as some do, of assuming that a person is being willfully ignorant - that'll just make you bitter, and cause you to form (and likely share) a bad opinion of that person. Regard this as the planting of truth that only The Lord can water and grow.  Love the saints, pray for them, and tremble at the knowledge that you too have room for improvement. Have your heart set on God's glory and the live that God has for such as these and you will do better than you would have had you skipped that step in your heart. 

There will be doctrinal differences amongst genuine Christians for as long as the enemy is with us, spewing out worldly philosophies and morals which inundate us from the cradle to our grave - through television, the school system, print, and the Internet; so it will continue until Christ returns. 

posted by Daniel @ 7:49 AM   5 comment(s)
Friday, November 01, 2013
I think they're all tools.
You know what I mean?  Probably not...

When I hear people talk about the covenants of works, grace, life, redemption, etc.  (the labels are not germane for the moment), I recognize that while the scriptures do not mention any such covenants explicitly,  couching what is clear from the scriptures in implicit covenantal language, certainly makes expounding the underlying truths a great deal more tidy.

And we all love what is tidy, don't we?

I prefer the text of the second edition of the First London Baptist Confession of faith (1646) to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) for this reason, the former makes no mention of any covenants that must be implied by and through one's theology.  Both confessions express a decidedly "reformed" orthodoxy, but the latter includes explicit language that presumes Covenant Theology as its foundation.

To be sure, the first edition of the LBCF was made public in 1644 because there were seven "Calvinistic" Baptist churches in London England that were being painted by some as being of the same stripe as those central European revolutionaries a century before, who having run amok with reformed doctrine, had, contrary to anything Luther had ever thought or suggested, woven the threads of reformed theology into the fabric of a call to revolution that ended in a war that saw hundreds of thousands die.

While certain notable persons of a reformed persuasion gave some direction to the revolution, the movement wasn't organized enough to describe any one as a leader in the military sense.  The movement was more of a series of insurrections amongst the peasant class fueled in part by the doctrine of the first reformers (Luther was excommunicated, and went into hiding in 1521, the peasants war broke out in 1524).  Luther wasn't the only reformer.  His colleague at Wittenberg, Andreas Carlstadt was a professor, and the Chancellor of the university, being the person who awarded Luther with his doctorate.  Having come under Luther's influence, and having seen such corruption in Rome personally, he wrote his own 151 Theses a year (1516) before Luther wrote his 95 Theses (1517).  He was excommunicated in the same Papal Bull that excommunicated Luther (1520), mentioned not by name, but as one who was a supporter of Luther's doctrine.

To be sure, in the first few months following Luther's escape and while Luther was still hiding out at Wartburg castle, Carlstadt, though excommunicated, continued to minister in Wittenberg introducing such reformations to the weekly services as the Catholic church condemned.  Carlstadt saw infant baptism as a doctrine that could not be supported from the scriptures, and as such he rejected the practice.  Where Luther felt that the epistle of James was less authoritative, Carlstadt believed it to be as inspired as the rest of the New Testament. 

But Carlstadt came to regard personal inspiration as equal to, or even a higher authority than the scriptures, and along this sad path, he faltered.  Though he himself took no active part in the peasant uprising, He was influenced in part by men like Thomas Muntzer and the Zwikau prophets, who themselves confuse into the same tangled lump, Marxism, mysticism and reformed theology.   These men, preaching that the end was nigh, that God was speaking to them personally, and speaking through them, etc.  laid the foundation for what would eventually become the core beliefs of the Anabaptists, a small radical sliver of whom, were blamed almost entirely, for the peasant war of 1524.

You can imagine what it must have been like to be a member of one of those seven Baptist congregations in London at a time when you could be persecuted (to the death) for your religious views.   At the time, a rumor was being circulated (through printed pamphlets and word of mouth) that these Baptists were dangerous, revolutionary-minded Anabaptists, who would certainly and eventually produce such insurrections in England, as had been seen a century before in central Europe.

These seven churches reacted to this slanderous libel (and gossip) by presenting parliament with a written confession of what they actually believed.  The first edition (1644) was criticized as being written in such a way as to sound orthodox, while obfuscating an underlying Anabaptist sentiment, and several paragraphs from the confession were cited as being sufficiently ambiguous to allow both an orthodox and an Anabaptist sentiment.  So to quell the fears that these ambiguities allowed, a second edition of the confession was written, taking care to clarify (and thereby remove) these ambiguities (1646).

What I like the most about the 1646 version is that it was a genuine apology.  Not apology in the sense that they were voicing regret or sorrow over something they had sad or done, but apology in the theological sense - they had been accused of believing something they did not believe, and they gave an answer to their accusers.  They motivation for this document was two-fold : to state clearly exactly what they believed the scriptures taught, and to have this same articulation define their beliefs for those who would otherwise put words and motives into their mouths.  Their is an ... efficiency in this document that I admire.  A clarity born of a sober and careful necessity that is lacking in the 1689 version, which really, wasn't so much a re-write of the LBCF, as it was a co-opting of the language and form of the WCF (1644) with provision made to distinguish Baptist distinctives.

It makes great sense for a Presbyterian confession to include covenantal language, because Covenant Theology, if one is faithful to it, leads one to conclude that both Baptism and Circumcision are signs of the same, over-arching covenant.  Circumcision is the Old Testament (under the over-arching Covenant of Grace) sign of "covenantal membership", just as Baptism is the New Testament (under the same over-arching Covenant of Grace) sign of the "covenantal membership".  Because both are under the same over-arching covenant, you can implicitly equate things that the bible itself (without the unifying notion of an underlying covenant that equates the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant in Christ's blood) does not equate.

The paedobaptist says that just as a male infant was circumcised under the Mosaic covenant, as a sign of both that covenant, and by extension the undergirding covenant of grace, so also infants ought to be baptized under the new covenant, since it is only the latest expression of the same undergirding covenant of grace.

But this all has to be read back into the act of baptism, not from the scriptures, but from the theological precept of an undergirding covenant...  If infant baptism were explicitly taught in the New Testament, we would all be baptising infants, and early reformers, many of whom felt that infant baptism was just another item that needed reformation, would never have come to that conclusion.  The fact that it cannot be proven, but must be implied, suggests that if God intends infant baptism, he necessarily intends men to build their theology upon implied precepts... yet Isaiah writes, that the error of those Jews who had gone astray, was that they built precept upon precept - and with each layer they drew farther away from the truth.

So when I see the language of Covenant Theology written into the 1689 LBCF, I find myself put off a little.  I understand that Adam certainly sinned, and that one can choose to express that sin in terms of a covenant between Adam and God... but I also understand that it is less invasive (and theologically risky) to simply take the matter at face value.

In Abraham's day, when you made a covenant, you would cut an animal in two, leaving room between the two halves of the animal for you and the other person in the covenant to walk through.  You would then walk around each half of the slaughtered animal, and through the midst of it (in a figure eight) as you each, in turn, declared aloud the particular benefits you were promising, and intending to receive, and it was understood that if you failed in your obligation, you were calling upon the powers to be impute to you the death and dismemberment of the slaughtered animal.

Not that every covenant was like that.  When God made a covenant with all of mankind through Noah that he would never again destroy the world by way of a flood it was not the kind of covenant that could be broken, since it was in no way dependant upon men to keep their end of the deal.  They had no end to keep.  It was a covenant that God made, really, with Himself.

So there is room to muse that when God determined, before the foundation of the world, to redeem mankind, that this also was a promise that God made to Himself.  Nothing is added or gained by drawing this conclusion.  God does not change - if He determined to do something, it will be done: no covenant required.  God is not a man, He does not go back on His word, nor is He ever hindered or kept from completing His purpose.

So when I read that God told Adam not to eat fruit from the only tree in the garden that would make Adam aware of his sin - I take that at face value.  Obviously God commanded Adam to keep and cultivate the garden.  Had Adam failed to keep and cultivate the garden to God's standard, there would have been transgression, but Adam wouldn't have understood it as such, since he lacked the knowledge of good and evil.  It seems obvious then that the only transgression that Adam could commit that would cause him to be culpable would be the one transgression that robbed him of his innocence. 

Not that I am presently willing to suggest that Adam would have been sinless even had he disobeyed God on some other point.  I say only that had he done so, it wouldn't have been the same, since it would (necessarily) have been done in utter ignorance of good and evil.

What God said was sufficient.  If you eat this, you will die.  What parent hasn't cautioned their own children in a similar manner.  Kids? Listen up./  This is Daddy's chocolate bar.  I am putting it in the fridge for when I get home from work on Friday.  Nobody eat it.  If anyone eats it, they will spend the whole weekend in their rooms regretting their decision to eat Daddy's chocolate bar.  This is not a covenant that I am making with my children - it me informing them that this particular disobedience will earn them a particular punishment.  I am not promising a weekend where they are free to do what they want if they obey - goodness no!  I am promising them a weekend of solitude if they don't, and that is the only promise that is taking place - a provisional promise of punishment.

I am not saying that this is what God did with Adam, but I am saying that taking what God says at face value doesn't require me to invent a covenant that isn't explicitly stated.

I say, I understand why a Presbyterian needs Covenant Theology.  How are you ever going to justify the practice of baptising unwilling unbelievers?  I am have never found a convincing argument for infant baptism that was based entirely and solely on the scriptures.  Neither have you.  In fact, if you're convinced of infant baptism is for the same reason that Catholics are convinced of the mass - your theology demands it.  Covenant Theology to the precept upon which the precept of infant baptism rests.

You see, if you believe that "original sin" is something that passes from parent to child, like Augustine did, you must conclude that Mary, the earthly mother of our Lord incarnate, Jesus, likewise inherited the "stain" of original sin.  Since Jesus clearly did not have this same "stain" it follows that either the whole "stain" notion is faulty, or alternately that Mary wasn't thus stained.

The Catholics go with the latter.  The immaculate conception is a "forced" theological conclusion.  Since everyone must inherit original sin - Mary must inherit it.  Since Mary could not have inherited it (lest she infect Jesus with it), God must have (in a singular act of grace) , not only allowed Mary to be born avoiding original sin, but God must have kept Mary from personal sin until the birth of Christ (at the very least), and likely all her life (depending on which flavor of Catholic myth innovation you care to swallow). 

Not everyone can get behind an all too convenient, made to order,  theological loop-hole like the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but if they cling to the notion that original sin is something that passes from parent to child, they have to come up with something that explains the discrepancy.

Some suggest that Mary was a surrogate mother to the Lord, and not a natural one.  That the Holy Spirit sort of implanted the fetus in Mary's womb.  Others say that Mary was the natural mother of Jesus, but that the sin nature did not pass from her to our Lord because only the father, as the federal head, can pass along the sin nature - forgetting I suppose that Mary would have received her father's sin nature, and would have passed on at least her father's share of the sin nature even if the sin nature could only be passed down through males.

If we translate the two word phrase ἐφ᾿ ᾧ in Romans 5:12 as having consecutive force, meaning that one thing is the result of another, we read that, "death spread to all men with the result that all sinned.".  That is, not how Augustine understood the passage.  Augustine thought the best way to translate the passage was to understand the pronoun (ᾧ) as referring back to Adam: "death spread to all men [in whom] all sinned in Adam",   Grammatically, that's a mess, and frankly, it is a poor translation.  Yet others see the phrase as suggesting one thing causes another , such that "death spread to all men because all men sin".

No matter how you translate Roman 5:12 (and people have argued about how to best translate it even to this day), one thing is certain: Adam's sin brought death into the world...

Think that through for a second.  When Adam was just a lump of dirt, transformed by God's creative hand into a lifeless body of flesh and blood - Adam wasn't "dead".  You cannot be dead unless you have first been alive.  In order to die, Adam would have to lose his life.  Until Adam sinned, nothing that had been given life had ever lost it.  Adam's sin brought something new into the world - but it wasn't an addition, it was a subtraction.  I like to use light and darkness to picture this, because light is something - it can be measured, but darkness?  It isn't a thing in and of itself - it is rather the utter absence of a thing (light).  So it is with death.

Just as light has substance, and darkness is just the concept we use to describe the absence of that substance; so life has substance, and death is just the word we use to describe what happens when that life is taken away.  Death has no substance, it isn't a "thing" like life is.  Adam didn't bring a "thing" into being, as his sin was by no means equal to God's power of creation.  He did not create death, but he did give God just cause to remove it.

If death isn't a "thing" what is it?

Let me make this simple for you...  Name all the things you know that have life in them, that cannot die or be put to death.  You're left with God, and only God, and the reason this is so is because everything that has life and is not God, derives/receives their life from God.  Said another way, if you have life, what you have is something that God Himself is sustaining in you.  If you do not have life, what you do not have is something in you God is sustaining.  To have life is to have something God supplies, and death is the word we use to describe not having God supply the same.

If physical death is to have God stop sustaining this life - where we have access to Him through repentance and faith, spiritual death means that we no longer have any avenue to God, he sustains our life apart from the availability of His presence, in eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Death is not something you get, it is the description of being incapable of getting life for yourself.

Knowing this, we go back to Romans 5:12 - why are men separated from the life of God?  Our three translational options are:
[a] all men are separated from the life that God sustains in them in Adam
[b] all men are separated from the life that God sustains in them because all men sin
[c] all men are separated from the life that God sustains with this result: all men sin.

Of the three the first one doesn't make sense grammatically, but it is nevertheless an opinion held by those see our death as being explained by virtue of our being pre-guilty (as it were) on account of Adam's sin.  We die because we are born guilty of "original sin".  That is one of the reasons why Catholics suffer infant baptism - because it "cleanses" the babe from the stain of Adam's sin.

The second is the common view amongst most evangelicals explains death as the consequence of personal sinfulness - we die because we sin.  This does not and cannot explain the death of sinless infants, so infants are said to be sinful in order to make that work.  Of course, sin is rebellion, and in order to rebel against God you have to be able to form a rebellious thought... but let's leave that hanging.

The third option, and this is the one I am inclined to believe, is that Adam's sin cut mankind off from experiencing the life of God ("death"), and that is why we sin.

Can there be righteousness apart from God?  Think carefully.  The sinless babe is not "righteous" - righteousness is not something that can be earned, it is a state of being - like virginity.  You cannot gain it if you do not have already possess it.  Jesus was not born "neutral" only to become righteous when He was old enough to start obeying God.  He obeyed God (perfectly) because He was righteous.  Said another way, He demonstrated that He was God by living a perfectly righteous life - a life that was never, at any time (until He was united on the cross with the sin of the elect) disconnected/separated from the life of God.

Do you understand the link between the life of god and righteousness?  Christ was righteous because the life of God was in Him.  He was God, and in one sense it was His own life that was in Him - but He lived as a human, and as such He lived like Adam before the fall - He was both alive, and aware of God's presence.  He was righteous.

If we understand Romans 5:12 to be saying that when Adam sinned, mankind was cutoff from God - the only source of righteousness, it follows that the consequence of this separation will be our being cut off from the possibility of righteousness in the same stroke.  This was the point Paul was making all along - there is none righteous, not even one.  It was Adam's disobedience that brought this universal, inescapable unrighteousness into being, and we all partake of it - not because we inherited it from our parents, but because Adam snuffed out the sun, as it were, and everyone has been born in darkness ever since.

We don't need to invent the concept of original sin - we just need to understand that Adam's disobedience made actual righteousness an impossibility.  Adam' sin made it impossible to come to God.  Adam cut all of mankind off from God, from righteousness and from life.  If Adam did this, Christ restored all this, made life possible, made righteousness possible (since it flows from life), and made salvation possible.  That is where Paul is going.

He is on his way to Romans six, to show that being united to the source of righteousness and life does not lead a man to continue in sin, but by virtue of that life causes a man to pursue righteousness.  The gospel does not free a man to sin, it enslaves a man to righteousness.

Sin is not a disease that passes to children from their parents it is a condition that everyone is born into by virtue of being born without a relationship to God through Christ. It isn't rocket science, but an over-developed theology can go a long way to complicating what is essentially a very simple thing.

As a Baptist, when I read the language of Covenant Theology in the 1689 LBCF I see convolution.  I see a framework that was put in place to try attempt to answer, biblically why it is that innocent babies die.  I see the fear of babies dying and going to hell, unless they get baptized to wash away this original sin that otherwise condemns them, and I see latter day theologies that have accepted infant baptism for so long, they no longer are capable of wresting the baby from the bathwater.  I see a theology that historically presumed infant baptism only to later develop itself to the place where it could sort of justify it also.

One of the reasons I prefer the 1646 LBCF to the 1689 LBCF is because it was a confession of faith intended to describe what the bible taught, rather than the personal theology of these seven churches.  It was a document that described what orthodoxy had always looked like.  They were reformers, not innovators.  They weren't trying to convince people that they were theologically on the same page as everyone else - they were trying to convince people that they were reformed, and this was what reformed looked like.

In penning the 1646 LBCF these seven churches intended to show parliament (for so the document was addressed) that Particular (i.e. Calvinist) Baptists were orthodox (meaning that they conformed to an image of what a corrected Catholic church would and should look like).  The 1646 LBCF on the other hand was written primarily as a stylistic update intended to show (with greater precision) what distinguished London Baptists from other reformed churches, adopting the words of the Westminster Confession wherever possible, by replacing the doctrine of infant baptism with the doctrine of believer baptism.  In this way Covenant Theology found its way into the LBCF.

I understand Covenant Theology, but I don't agree with it. I don't agree with Dispensationalism either.  I am leery of any theology that requires me to accept as true a precept that is built upon another precept which itself is only implicit if you squint just right, and mine and gather verses together that really aren't talking about the same things at all.  There are a great many godly men who have no problem with CT, men who are far godlier than I, far better read than I, and certainly more pleasing to God than I.  Nevertheless, I am not going to be judged on that last day for what better men than I have done with what God has given them.  The one thing I can do is strive to be honest with the scriptures, to not treat them like a puzzle to be solved, or a mystery that suddenly makes sense if you just have the right assumptions.  My assumptions are simple: scripture is true; it means what it says, and those who call on the name of the Lord ought to turn away from their rebellion, and surrender their way to Christ.

posted by Daniel @ 4:15 PM   3 comment(s)
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