Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Must the Civil Authority Rule According to the Word of God?

The following is a quotation from Sam Waldron (in his Exposition of the 1689), who includes a quotation from John Murray:

A serious objection to the separation of church and state is that civil authority must rule according to the Word of God. If it is so to rule, how can it permit religious freedom? For instance, the Second Commandment forbids idolatry. Is it not, then, the duty of the civil authority also to forbid idolatry?

Here a crucial distinction must be enunciated. It is certainly true that civil authority is subject to the Word of God, but this does not mean that it is the duty of the civil authority to enforce every part of God’s Word with its own authority. Several illustrations will make this clear.

Ephesians 6:4 asserts, “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The civil magistrate ought not to take it upon himself to bring up children. Not because the Word is not his authority, but because he is not a father. The exhortations to pastors in 1 Peter 5:2 are not to be implemented by the civil magistrate for the same reason. A civil magistrate is not a pastor.

John Murray well says, 

“Since the civil magistrate is invested with this authority by God and is obligated by divine ordinance to discharge these functions, he is responsible to God, the one living and true God who alone has ordained him. The magistrate is, therefore, under obligation to discharge the office devolving upon him in accordance with the revealed will of God. The Bible is the supreme and infallible revelation of God’s will and it is, therefore, the supreme and infallible rule in all departments of life. The civil magistrate is under obligation to recognize it as the infallible rule for the exercise of civil magistracy.

It must be recognized, however, that it is only within his own restricted sphere of authority that the civil magistrate, in his capacity as civil magistrate, is to apply the revelation of God’s will as provided in Scripture. It is only to the extent to which the revelation of Scripture bears upon the functions discharged by the state and upon the performance of the office of the civil magistrate, that he, in the discharge of these functions, is bound to fulfill the demands of Scripture. If the civil magistrate should attempt, in his capacity as magistrate, to carry into effect the demands of Scripture which bear upon him in other capacities, or the demands of Scripture upon other institutions, he would be immediately guilty of violating his prerogatives and of contravening the requirements of Scripture.
The sphere of the church is distinct from that of the civil magistrate. . . . The church is not subordinate to the state, nor is the state subordinate to the church. They are both subordinate to God and to Christ in his mediatorial dominion as head over all things to his body the church. Both church and state are under obligation to recognize this subordination and corresponding co-ordination of their respective spheres of operation in the divine institution. Each must maintain and assert its autonomy in reference to the other and preserve its freedom from intrusion on the part of the other.”

Why is the civil magistrate not to enforce the first table of the law [the first half of the Ten Commandments]? Because he is somehow not subject to the Word of God? No! Because it is not his job!

…Besides what has already been said, three comments are appropriate. Firstly, some limitation of the term ‘evil’ must be assumed in Roma 13:3-4 since the civil ruler is obviously not to punish private evil or evil of the heart. Secondly, interestingly enough, when Paul goes on to speak of the law in Romans 13, he speaks only of the ‘second table’ of the law. Thirdly, the historical context of Romans 13 makes incredible the idea that civil rulers are to punish religious evil. Paul is not speaking ideally in Romans 13, but of the actual conduct of the Roman government as it ruled in his life. Without doubt, the Roman emperors were not a cause of fear for religious evil behavior (Rom 13:1, 3-4).

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Happens if You Deny Christ's Imputed Righteousness?

I recently received the following question from someone: "What's the biggest problem with saying that imputation is only the declared righteousness of Christ and not a transfer of (Christ's meritorious) righteousness?"

I answered as follows: 

Virtually everyone today agrees that God “declares” us righteous.  God says, “justified” to those the Holy Spirit brings into union with Christ.  But that doesn’t answer the question of *why* He declares us righteous in the first place.  It doesn’t give us the ground of the verdict. The ground of a verdict is the legal reason that a judge declares a person "just" and "not guilty."  The ground of all just legal verdicts is whether or not a person has conformed to the law.  

Some may say that God declares us righteous on the ground of our faith.  But our faith is imperfect, while the law of God requires perfect faith to be at the ground of justification.  Someone may say God declares us righteous because of our imperfect faithful obedience.  Again, the problem is that the law requires perfect obedience.  To suggest that God declares us righteous on the basis of anything other than actual perfect righteousness is to compromise the justice of God and thus God’s own holy character.  

Others say that God declares us righteous because we are united to Christ and to the legal verdict the Father gave to Him at His resurrection, but that we are not united to Christ’s meritorious righteousness (deserved righteousness). I define “merit” in its strict sense only to mean "just deserts."

All the above views that deny the imputation of Christ's righteousness make it possible for true believers to fall away from Christ.  Here’s the reason: If Christ’s righteousness is not credited to you, then God is not obligated by justice to treat you like you deserve to live forever.  If Christ did not deserve life in your place as a substitute, then God is not obligated by justice to give you life-preserving grace. Now some may deny imputed righteousness while affirming that God will preserve all believers anyway, but they must also deny that God is obligated by justice to do so.

Once the possibility of losing your salvation is affirmed, then there is no more doctrine of assurance of final salvation.  Denial of imputation, practically speaking, often leads to the loss of confidence that God will preserve you to the end and give you the fulness of eternal life.  

The loss of the doctrine of final assurance leads, in turn, to an inability to trust God to save you to the uttermost, since God has guaranteed no such thing.  That means you must trust your own faith, efforts, and works to stay in God’s graces, which is a sinful, self-trusting, manner of striving for holiness that does not produce holiness, is not sanctification, and does not glorify God.  

Therefore, the loss of the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness not only leads to a theological denial of the absolute justice and holiness of God (since God accepts imperfect works for justification that do not meet the standard of His own justice), but also leads to stunted personal holiness and to dimming the glory of God in His people (since there can be no assurance of final salvation and believers are thrown back on themselves to endure to the end).

Friday, December 04, 2015

What is the Difference between the Law and the Gospel?

I am convinced that there is no more important biblical distinction than the distinction between the law and the gospel. Historically speaking, the law/gospel distinction was at the very foundation of the Protestant Reformation. Without the law/gospel distinction, the biblical doctrine of justification sola fide would never have been recovered in the time of the Reformation. So, exactly what is the distinction between the law and the gospel?

1. What the Law/Gospel Distinction is Not. 

The distinction between the law and the gospel is not a distinction between the Old and New Testaments. Both Testaments contain God’s good law and gracious gospel. The distinction is not meant to deny the absolute importance of the law of God in the life of the believer. Both the law and the gospel are absolutely necessary for the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of saints. The distinction between the law and the gospel does not separate the law and the gospel as though either one may be emphasized, taught, or even understood without the other. Faithful preachers proclaim both law and gospel, the whole counsel of God, not just one or the other.

2. The Law "Broadly Speaking" and the Law "Strictly Speaking." 

To set the stage for understanding the distinction between the law and the gospel, first, we need to look at the two different ways the Bible speaks of the law, then we’ll need to look at the two ways the Bible speaks of the gospel. First, consider the two different ways the Bible speaks of the law: “broadly” and “strictly.” This distinction between the “broad” and “strict” views of the law and the gospel can be found in the writings of the Puritans, including Anthony Burgess, as well as John Colquhoun and others.

The law, broadly speaking, includes commandments as well as a promise and a threat. The law, in this broad sense, is sometimes called the “law covenant,” or “the covenant of works,” because it has a promise attached to its commands. The law, broadly speaking, commands perfect obedience and promises eternal life to those who obey it perfectly, but it threatens death to those who break it. We find Scripture speaking this way in various passages. Romans 10:5 says, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandment shall live by them.” Notice that God promises “life” to those who “do” the commands. Galatians 3:12 says, “The law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’” Galatians 3:10 threatens the curse of death to those who break the law, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’” So you see that the law, broadly speaking, is a covenant of works, which promises justification and eternal life to anyone who perfectly obeys the law, but threatens death to those who break it. Now that we have a basic understanding of the law, broadly speaking, let’s consider the law, strictly speaking.

The law, strictly speaking, is commandments, without any promises or threats attached to them. While the law, broadly speaking, is a covenant, promising life to those who obey it, and threatening death to those who break it, the law, strictly speaking, is not a covenant because it has no promises or threats, but only involves the commandments. Sometimes this strict way of looking at the law is called the “naked law” or the “bare law.” The law, strictly speaking, is the Ten Commandments. Scripture speaks of the law in this strict sense in several places. Romans 7:22 says, “For I delight in the law of God in my inner being.” Romans 8:4 says that Christ came, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Paul says that we are not “outside the law of God, but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21). Believers are told to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). James speaks of “the law of liberty” (1:25; 2:12) and the “royal law” (2:8), both of which refer to the Ten Commandments (2:10-11). In the new covenant, the law in its strict sense is written on our hearts. God says, “I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel . . . I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts” (Heb 8:8-10). Notice that none of these passages refer to the law as the way to justification and eternal life, but only as a guide, or rule, to direct the believer in his sanctification.

In sum, the law, broadly speaking, is a covenant because it includes commands as well as the promise of life and the threat of death. The law, strictly speaking, is stripped of its covenantal context, and includes only the commandments without any promises or threats attached to it.

3. The Gospel "Broadly Speaking" and the Gospel "Strictly Speaking." 

Just as Scripture speaks broadly and strictly of the law, it also speaks broadly and strictly of the gospel. 

The gospel, broadly speaking, includes a promise and commands, just as the law does in its broad sense. While the law, broadly speaking, says, “do this and live,” the gospel, broadly speaking, says, “live and do this.” Do you see how promise and command are inverted under the gospel? The law broadly speaking says, “Keep all the commandments perfectly, and you will be justified and live forever.” But the gospel, broadly speaking, says, “Because of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection, you are justified freely and will live forever; now, keep His commandments!” Under the gospel, promise comes first, and then comes the commandments. Consider some passages that teach the gospel commands obedience from those who receive its promise. Hebrews 8:6 says that the law of the new covenant is “enacted on better promises.” That is, the commands of the new covenant are based on effectual, saving, justifying promises. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 warns those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” will go to hell. That’s because all those freely given justification and life in Christ will always have a pattern of obedience in their lives. To fail to obey the gospel, broadly speaking, is to manifest unbelief in the gospel promise. Romans 10:16 says, “They have not all obeyed the gospel.” And 1 Peter 4:17 warns those who “do not obey the gospel of God.” So, when the Bible speaks of disobeying the gospel, it’s referring to the gospel in this large sense: “live and do this.” Which law are believers to obey under the gospel, broadly speaking? They are to obey the moral law of the Ten Commandments. Notice that the Ten Commandments cut across the law broadly speaking, the law strictly speaking, and the gospel broadly speaking. The same moral law informs obedience under all three. That’s because the moral law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments, is a reflection of God’s own holy character, which never changes. So, there, we’ve seen what the gospel, broadly speaking, means. Now let’s turn to look at the gospel, strictly speaking.

The gospel, strictly speaking, is a pure promise, and there are no commands involved at all. While the gospel, broadly speaking, commanded obedience on the basis of God’s promise of eternal life, the gospel, strictly speaking, issues no commands whatsoever. In the gospel, strictly speaking, Jesus has already fulfilled the terms of the law broadly speaking. Jesus obeyed the command, “Do this and live.” He perfectly kept all of God’s laws, including the moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, as well as all of the positive laws of both the Old and New Testaments. He also died for the sins of His people against the law of God, paying the death penalty that they deserve, becoming a curse for them on the cross. And how do we know that Christ earned eternal life by His obedience? He rose from the dead! His resurrection proves that He perfectly fulfilled the terms of the law, broadly speaking. Scripture often speaks in this strict way about the gospel. “Christ “was delivered for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:25). “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (Jn 6:32). “This is the promise that He made to us - eternal life” (1 Jn 2:25). “Now I would remind you brothers of the gospel . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised, in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4). So, the gospel, strictly speaking, is about God’s work for us in Christ, and the absolutely free gift of our justification and eternal life in Him.  

The gospel, strictly speaking, is the reason justification is by "faith alone" and not by any of the believers' own works of obedience to the law.  Christ has already fulfilled the law's demands in our place and thereby satisfied justice, which is why God justifies Him and all who are in Him by faith alone.  No other works can possibly be added to Christ's justice-satisfying works for our justification because no other works can possibly be necessary.  

In sum, the gospel, broadly speaking, says “Live and do this,” while the gospel strictly speaking says, “Live because Christ has done all.” The gospel broadly speaking, includes commands, while the gospel, strictly speaking, is stripped of all commands, and holds forth the promise of justification and eternal life.

4. The Law/Gospel Contrast in Justification.

When the Bible speaks of the law/gospel contrast, it refers to the contrast between the law, broadly speaking, and the gospel, strictly speaking. Under the law, broadly speaking, a person must keep the law himself in order to receive the promise of justification and eternal life. Under the gospel, strictly speaking, Christ has kept the law Himself in order to obtain and freely give justification and eternal life to all of His people as a pure promise. John Colquhoun says, “The former [the law, broadly speaking] promises eternal life to a man on condition of his own perfect obedience, and of the obedience of no other; whereas the latter [the gospel, strictly speaking] promises it [eternal life] on condition of the perfect obedience of Christ received by faith, and that of no other.” So, the law/gospel contrast is about two different ways to be justified and have eternal life. You can either try to keep the law in its broad sense to earn the promise of eternal life yourself, or you can look to Christ, who kept the law in your place, and promises justification and eternal life as a free gift in the gospel, strictly speaking.

The Bible frequently makes this distinction between the law, broadly speaking (as a covenant of life) and the gospel, strictly speaking (as a pure promise of life). Consider just a few examples of this distinction found in the book of Romans. Romans 3:27-28 says, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? [i.e., the law, broadly speaking]? No, but by the law of faith [in the gospel, strictly speaking]. For we hold that one is justified by faith [in the gospel promise] apart from the works of the law [to obtain justification and eternal life].” Romans 4:5 says, “And to the one who does not work [under the law, broadly speaking], but trusts him who justifies the ungodly [by trusting the gospel, strictly speaking], his faith is counted as righteousness.” Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness [the law, broadly speaking] to everyone who believes [in the gospel, strictly speaking].” Romans 10:5-6 says, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandment shall live by them [that is, the law, broadly speaking], but the righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ [that is, trust the gospel, strictly speaking, rather than trying to ascend into heaven by your own works]”

So, the law/gospel contrast is about justification, the verdict that gives us a right and title to eternal life. Now, we turn to the gospel/law continuum in sanctification.

5. The Gospel/Law Continuum in Sanctification.

While there is a law/gospel contrast in justification, there is a gospel/law continuum in sanctification. When we speak of the continuum between the gospel and the law, we’re referring to the gospel, broadly speaking, and the law, strictly speaking. There is, in fact, no separation between the gospel, broadly speaking, and the law, strictly speaking in the believer’s sanctification. The gospel, broadly speaking, says “Receive this free gift of justification and eternal life, and then keep the commandments from a heart of love to God.” The law, strictly speaking, says, “keep the commandments from a heart of love to God.” These two overlap perfectly.

The gospel/law continuum teaches us that in sanctification, believers must keep the law of God because God has already promised them eternal life.  Believers obey from a heart of love and gratitude to Christ for their salvation and to give evidence of their faith in Christ’s promise.  In sanctification, the law has no curse and no promise of eternal life.  It is only a rule of life, teaching the believer how to express love for Christ and grow in communion with Him.  There is no threat or condemnation in the law, strictly speaking.  

Scripture is clear that believers must and will keep God’s commandments because of Christ’s love for them and because they love Christ. Consider a few passages from the Apostle John. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself to him.” John 15:10 says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” 1 John 2:3 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” 1 John 3:7-8 says, “Little children, let no one deceive you, whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.”

So, there, we’ve seen the differences and similarities between the law and the gospel, both broadly and strictly. Now, let’s look at the uses of this distinction. Why is this so important for believers to understand?

6. The Law/Gospel Contrast in Justification Assures the Fearful and Humbles the Proud.

Many believers live in a state of fear and depression because they’re not sure whether they actually belong to Christ. Too often, the only thing they can see in their hearts is sin. And they fear that their good works are not truly good because they seem to come from mixed motives. But the law/gospel contrast in justification teaches sinners to look away from themselves and their good works and rest in Christ alone and His good works for justification and eternal life. The gospel, strictly speaking, is the very foundation of our assurance of salvation before God. Because of Christ’s obedience and blood, we can have a certain and unshakable hope that heaven belongs to us, if we only look to Him in faith, resting in Him for justification. When our sinful hearts accuse us, we should preach Christ to ourselves, looking to Him and His righteousness alone for our acceptance before God. When Satan accuses us of evil and hypocrisy, we can say with Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, “All this is true; and much more which you have left out: but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.”

Some people are proud and self-righteous like the Pharisees. They think of themselves as good people because they are religious, because they perform religious rituals, and because they do outwardly good works. They don’t trust in Christ alone for their justification, but are partly trusting in their own works as a means of justification before God (Lk 18:9-12). But the law/gospel contrast humbles proud sinners. The law, broadly speaking, demands absolute perfection for justification and eternal life. When proud people come face to face with their own sin in light of the law in the hand of the Holy Spirit, they see that their hearts are wicked, and they give up every hope of trying to justify themselves. They throw themselves on the mercy of Christ alone for justification in the sight of God, which is offered by the gospel, strictly speaking (Lk 18:13-14).

7. The Gospel/Law Continuum in Sanctification Directs and Motivates Our Obedience to Christ.

The gospel/law continuum directs the Christian in how to express love for the Savior who bought him. Many Christians wonder what God expects of them. They love Him, but they aren’t sure exactly what God wants them to do; so, they end up doing what seems right to them. But that’s not the biblical approach. Christians should express their love for Christ by keeping His law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. The law of God directs the Christian’s obedience in sanctification. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). The word “keep” in that verse means “to watch, guard, or have respect to.” Faithful Christians express their love for Jesus by thinking about how to keep the Ten Commandments in every circumstance. They grow wise by constantly turning the law of God over in their minds, and learning to apply all its different aspects to every decision they make. And then they actually obey Christ’s commandments, more and more, as they learn what He expects of them. This is how God’s law directs Christians, often called “Calvin’s third use of the law.”

The gospel/law continuum also motivates our obedience from the promise of eternal life. The gospel, broadly speaking, says, “live and do this.” The greatest motivation to obey Christ is knowing that He has freely and lovingly given eternal life to those who belong to Him. We love Him because He first loved us, and gave Himself up for us! We keep His commandments because He’s shown us that He’s good and holds nothing good back from us. So, we trust that His commandments are for our good, and we gladly obey them. 1 John 5:3 says, “His commandments are not burdensome” to the believer. And we obey His commandments because we know that He has given them to us as the way to know Him more, to commune with Him, and to enjoy Him forever!

Monday, October 26, 2015

What is a Reformed Baptist?

What is it that makes a "Reformed Baptist" distinct from other kinds of Baptists and Reformed folks?  Reformed Baptists grew out of the English Reformation, emerging from Congregationalism in the 1640's for some very specific theological reasons.  Here are some of the theological identity markers of Reformed Baptist churches.

1. The Regulative Principle of Worship.  The earliest Baptists separated from the Congregationalist churches that practiced infant baptism because they believed that the elements of public worship are limited to what Scripture commands.  Because the Bible does not command infant baptism, the early Baptists believed that infant baptism is forbidden in public worship, and the baptism of believers alone is permitted.  The regulative principle of worship limits the elements of public worship to the Word preached and read, the sacraments, prayer, the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and whatever else the Scripture commands.

Many Baptists today have completely abandoned the regulative principle of worship in favor of entertainment oriented worship, consumerism, individual preferences, emotionalism, and pragmatism.  Such Baptists have abandoned the very principle that led to their initial emergence.  I doubt they have the right to identify as "Baptist," since they don't hold to the regulative principle, which is an historical precondition of Baptist existence.

2. Covenant Theology. While Reformed paedobaptist churches often insist that they alone are the heirs of true covenant theology, historic Reformed Baptists claimed to abandon the practice of infant baptism precisely because of the Bible's covenant theology.

Reformed Baptists believe that God made a covenant of works with Adam, which he broke and so brought condemnation on the whole human race.  But God mercifully made a covenant of grace with His elect people in Christ, which is progressively revealed in the Old Testament and formally established in the new covenant at the death of Christ.  The only way anyone was saved under the old covenant was by virtue of this covenant of grace in Christ.

Baptist covenant theologians believe they are more consistent than paedobaptist covenant theologians with respect to covenant theology's hermeneutic of New Testament priority. According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to "you and your seed" was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed. Abraham's physical children were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came.  Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line.   Rather, all who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus. In both the Old and New Testaments, the "new covenant" is revealed to be a covenant composed of believers only, who are forgiven of their sins, and have God's law written on their hearts.

Baptists today who adhere to dispensationalism and new covenant theology have departed from their historical roots and from the hermeneutical vision of the organic unity of the Bible cast by their forefathers.

3. Calvinism. Because Reformed Baptists held to the covenant theology (federalism) of the 17th century, they were all Calvinists.  When Adam broke the covenant of works, God cursed all human beings with totally depraved natures, making them unable and unwilling to come to Christ for salvation.

But God didn't leave the human race to die in sin; rather, in eternity past, God unconditionally chose a definite number of people for salvation and formed a covenant of redemption with Christ about their salvation.  At the appointed time, Christ came into the world and obeyed the covenant of redemption, fulfilling the terms of the covenant of works that Adam broke.  In the covenant of redemption, Jesus kept God's law perfectly, died on the cross, atoned for the sins of the elect alone, and rose from the dead, having effectually merited salvation for them.

God made the covenant of grace with His elect people in which He applies all the blessings of life merited by Christ in the covenant of redemption.  The Holy Spirit mercifully unites God's chosen people to Christ in the covenant of grace, irresistibly drawing them to Himself in their effectual calling, giving them a living heart, a living faith and repentance, a living verdict of justification, and a living and abiding holiness, causing them to persevere to the end, all of which life-blessings are the merits of Jesus Christ, purchased in the covenant of redemption, applied in the covenant of grace.

4. The Law of God.  Reformed Baptists believe the 10 commandments are the summary of God's moral law.  They believe that unless we rightly understand the law, we cannot understand the gospel.  The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ kept the law for our justification by living in perfect obedience to earn the law's blessing of life and by dying a substitutionary death to pay the law's penalty.  But the gospel isn't only a promise of justification.  It's also the good news that Christ promises graciously to give the Holy Spirit to His people to kill their lawlessness and to make them more and more lawful.

Therefore, while justified believers are free from the law as a covenant of works to earn justification and eternal life, God gives them His law as a standard of conduct or rule of life in their sanctification.  God's moral law, summarized in the 10 commandments, including the Sabbath commandment, is an instrument of sanctification in the life of the believer.  Believers rest in Christ for their total salvation.  Christ takes their burdens of guilt and shame, and His people take upon themselves the yoke of His law, and they learn obedience from a humble and gentle Teacher.

5. The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. Most of the early Baptists, both in England and in America, held to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.  While certainly not all Calvinistic Baptists held to this confession, it was the dominating influence after its publication. This confession, based on the Westminster Confession (Presbyterian) and the Savoy Declaration (Congregationalist), was originally composed and adopted in 1677, but it was formally published in 1689 after English persecution had lifted.

Historic Reformed Baptists were confessional.  They were not bare "biblicists." They did not believe that individual church members or individual pastors have the right of private interpretation divorced from the historic teaching of the church.  They believed that the Bible alone is sufficient for doctrine and practice, but they believed the Bible must be read in light of the church's interpretive tradition.  The Reformed Baptists believed that their theology was anchored in the church's rich theological heritage and that it was a natural development of the doctrine of the church in light of the central insights of the Reformation (sola Scriptura: no baptizing infants; sola fide: only converts are God's people).

Many Christians today are of the opinion that they have the right to read the Bible independently and come to their own private conclusions about what it means without consulting the church's authorized teachers or the orthodox confessions of faith.  But Scripture teaches that the church is the "pillar and support of the truth."  The church as a whole is charged with interpreting the Bible and God has authorized teachers in the church throughout history.  Therefore, while every individual Christian is responsible to understand Scripture for himself, he dare not do so without carefully studying and understanding what the great teachers of the past have taught about the Bible.

Reformed Baptists hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 because they believe it is a compendium of theology that best summarizes the teaching of Scripture in small compass.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Does the Bible Teach Baptism is Necessary for Salvation?

A number of groups teach that baptism is necessary for salvation.  Roman Catholics, the Churches of Christ, Anglicans, and proponents of the Federal Vision, all say that the water-rite of baptism is necessary and effectual for salvation. Consider the six main passages these groups use to support their position.

1. Mark 16:16. "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

Many regard this passage as clear evidence that baptism is necessary for salvation.  But it only teaches that baptism is ordinarily part of our salvation in the sense that baptism is part of our sanctification.  Normally, believers will be baptized, and they "will be saved" on the last day.

The second half of the verse seems to confirm this reading.  It says "whoever does not believe will be condemned."  The passage says nothing of about a lack of baptism leading to condemnation.  People are condemned because they do not believe, not because they are not baptized.  If baptism were necessary for salvation, then why would it be omitted from the last part of this text?

2. Acts 2:38. "And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

This text is often produced as a primary support for various forms of baptismal regeneration.  It's claimed that this passage teaches that repentance and baptism are both necessary in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins.  But consider two points of response:

First, the men Peter was addressing had already been "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). They had already believed the gospel and come to understand that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 2:36).  Therefore, these men were already forgiven (Rom 4:5).

Second, the word "for" in verse 38 can be translated "because." Peter was telling these men, who had already believed his message, to repent of refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, and to accept public baptism in His name, because their sins had already been forgiven.  For these men, baptism was necessary public proof of their repentance and forgiveness of sins.

3. Acts 22:16. "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’"

Some argue that this verse teaches that water baptism washes our sins away.  But the word "and" divides this verse into two distinct parts.  First, Paul commands the crowds to "rise and be baptized."  Second, Paul says to "wash away your sins, calling on his name."  It's only when a sinner calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that his sins are washed away.

It's not difficult to imagine Paul preaching the gospel to a large crowd and calling on the whole crowd to come for baptism on the condition that they call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

4. Romans 6:3-7. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." 

Advocates of baptismal regeneration say that Romans 6:3-7 teaches that water baptism effectually unites its subjects to Christ.  They point to the words "baptized into Christ" and "we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death."

But when we examine other passages of Scripture, we find that to be "baptized into" a person refers to a symbol of union with that person.  For example, 1 Cor 10:2 says that the Israelites were "baptized into Moses" when they crossed the Red Sea.  Of course, the Israelites were already associated with Moses, and under his headship, well before they crossed the Red Sea.  Their baptism in the Red Sea didn't cause their union; rather, it symbolized a union that already existed.  The same is true in Romans 6.

Furthermore, the main thread of Paul's argument in Romans 6 is not about water baptism, though he mentions it here to highlight its significance.  The argument is about the implications of justification by faith alone.  If we are justified by faith alone, are we free to live sinful lives?  Paul's answer is "May it never be!"  It's at that point that Paul launches into a discussion of the significance of water baptism as a metaphor of our sanctification: death to self and new life in Christ.  Those who teach baptismal regeneration from this passage are missing Paul's primary point about the sanctification of the believer, who has already been justified by faith alone.

5. Galatians 3:27. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Some argue that this passage clearly teaches that water baptism clothes us with Christ so that we have a saving relationship with Him.  But consider two points in response to that interpretation.

First, if that is the correct reading of this verse, then it contradicts everything else Paul has said in this letter.  Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians in order to refute the Judaizing heresy, which taught that justification and union with Christ came through the rite of circumcision (Gal 2:12).  Paul condemned that teaching as a legalistic heresy (Gal 3:1-7; 5:3-4).  Was Paul really saying, "The Judaizers were wrong to try to circumcise you for justification.  What you really need is baptism for your justification!"? No, Paul's answer to the Judaizers is that sinners must be justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Gal 2:15-16, 21).  Those who say that the rite of baptism unites us to Christ for our justification are actually advocating the same heresy that Paul refutes in this letter.

Second, it seems clear from the context that Galatians 3:27 is looking back to the time when the Galatians first believed.  Verse 26 says that the Galatians are "sons of God through faith."  Verse 27, therefore, means that you were baptized into Christ when you put on Christ through faith.  Paul is speaking of the water-rite of baptism in conjunction with the substance of faith and union with Christ that stands behind it. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ [as a symbol of union with him; see above] have [already] put on Christ [by faith]."

6. 1 Peter 3:21. "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Here is another major proof text for those who believe that baptism causes salvation.  They argue that this passage plainly teaches that the water-rite of baptism saves.

In fact, it teaches quite the opposite.  The passage explicitly says that baptism saves "not as a removal of dirt from the body." That is, the water of baptism doesn't save anyone.  Rather, the "appeal to God for a good conscience" is what saves.  When a person asks God, or appeals to God, for forgiveness of sins by faith, he is saved.  Water baptism is merely the outward manifestation of a person's appeal to God for a purified conscience through faith.  In that sense, baptism is a part of salvation.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A Critique of Peter Leithart: “No Sacraments, No Protestantism"

On November 14, 2014, Peter Leithart published a blog post at Patheos in which he declared, “No Baptism, No Justification.” In that post, he clearly argues that baptism is a means by which we receive God’s verdict of justification. I would like to respond briefly to several of his points.

1. Leithart claims that two passages of Scripture teach justification by baptism. 

1 Corinthians 6:11. 

1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Commenting on this verse, Leithart says, “The Corinthians had been the kind of people who do not inherit the kingdom, but Paul tells them they are no longer such people because “you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).”

Let’s consider Leithart’s exegesis. In order to argue that this text teaches justification by baptism, Leithart needs to read the word “washed” as “baptized.” But this is a questionable interpretation in light of how the word “washed” is used in the Scriptures. Throughout the Bible, words translated “washed” frequently refer to the cleansing of heart and conscience at the time of conversion. For example, Isaiah 1:16 says, “Wash and make yourselves clean.” Psalm 51:7 says, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Jeremiah 4:14 says, “Wash the evil from your heart and be saved.” Leithart claims that 1 Corinthians 6:11 is a baptismal formula, but he does not use the Bible to support this claim. I submit that Leithart loads more interpretive weight in the word “washed” than it is capable of bearing. 

Romans 6. 

Romans 6:1-7 says, “1. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2. By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

To show that this passage teaches justification by baptism, Leithart says:
Paul actually uses the word “baptize” with “justify” in Romans 6. Whoever dies, Paul writes, is “justified from sin” (v. 7). (That’s what the Greek says, though your English Bible may translate the verb as “freed.”) When does one die to sin? Paul has already told us: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death” (vv. 3–4). Through baptism, we die to Adam and brought to life in society with Jesus. Paul calls that transition from the reign of Death to the reign of Life a “justification,” and it happens at baptism.
Let’s briefly examine Leithart’s exegesis. Leithart’s reading depends on understanding the term “baptism” to refer to the ordinance of Christian baptism. That certainly may be the right reading of this passage. But consider that the term “baptism” in Scripture often does not refer to baptism with water. John the Baptist says Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11) and with fire (Matt 3:11).  Christ’s baptism with the “Holy Spirit” is the immersion of the believer into the Holy Spirit Himself. Christ’s baptism with “fire” is the immersion of a person into judgment.  Moreover, Acts 1:5 sharply contrasts water baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, showing that the two are not the same: “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Water baptism is insufficient for salvation. Spirit baptism is necessary. In conclusion, the meaning of the term “baptism” in the Bible should be interpreted contextually and the notion of “Christian water baptism” should not be read into every occurrence of the term.

So, what is the meaning of the word “baptism” in Romans 6? Romans 6, in particular, appears to refer to a baptism other than water baptism, though water baptism certainly stands in the background. Verse 3 says that we are “baptized into Christ.” Paul doesn’t tell us that we’re baptized “into water as the means of entering into Christ.” Rather, he tells us that we’re “baptized into Christ” Himself. And when we’re baptized into Christ Himself, we die and rise with Him. Baptism into water is a fitting symbol of this deeper reality of baptism into Jesus.

2. Leithart claims that baptism is a justifying act of God. 

Later in his post, Leithart writes:
“How are we to understand this? If we talk about baptism and justification in the same breath, aren’t we falling back into justification by works?  
No, because baptism is an act of God. A human pours the water and says the words, but God performs the baptism. Baptism is an enacted word that declares the forgiveness of sins and the justification of the ungodly. The big difference between the word and baptism is that the word offers God’s grace to everyone-in-general while baptism declares God’s favor to me. Baptism wraps the gift of forgiveness and justification and puts my name on the package.  
Like the gospel, baptism requires a response of enduring faith. Faith involves believing what baptism says about you. Because you have died in baptism “consider [reckon] yourselves to be dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). The self-imputation of “righteous” is based on the baptismal declaration that we are “justified from sin” by union with the death and resurrection of Jesus. And I can’t, of course, live a life of unbelief and disobedience, and expect baptism to recuse me at the end. Such a life would betray my baptism, which is Paul’s whole point in Romans 6. Still, baptism is the moment when I “die to sin” through Christ, the moment I’m washed to become “justified from sin.”  
The heart of Leithart’s argument is that baptism is an act of God, not a work of man. While that claim certainly sounds appealing, one wonders whether the Scriptures themselves separate baptism as an act of God and as a work of man the way Leithart does. In Acts 2:38, Peter issues two commands: “Repent and be baptized.” Both of these are works that human beings are to perform. Even more explicitly, Acts 10:48 says: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Similarly, Acts 22:16 says, “Rise and be baptized.” It appears that baptism, in Scripture, is indeed a work God commands human beings to do. While baptism represents the free and gracious promise of God, the rite itself is a work of faith that God commands of men. In itself, this does not prove that justification is not by baptism (a work of faith). Rather, it shows that Leithart’s argument that baptism is not a work seems to fail.

Also, notice what kind of justification is given through baptism on Leithart’s model. Leithart’s justification is not a sentence of complete redemption, full and everlasting pardon, and a certain title to eternal life. Instead, according to Leithart, if you’ve been justified by baptism, you are also required faithfully to endure to keep your justification to the end. Leithart tells us that the sentence of justification, announced at baptism won’t necessarily “recuse me at the end.” In other words, if you receive the justification of baptism, but then “live a life of unbelief and disobedience,” you will not enter into heaven, but you will go to hell. The kind of justification you receive at your baptism, according to Leithart, doesn’t guarantee that you will endure to the end, nor that God will keep you to the end. Consider Leithart’s doctrine of justification in relation to the Bible’s doctrine of justification, which says, “Those whom he justified, he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). Justification, in Paul’s view, guarantees glorification. Paul also says “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God . . . Since therefore we have been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:1, 9).  Notice the logic.  Since we have been justified, we will be saved from God's wrath.  Paul tells us that justification guarantees final peace with God, full rescue from the wrath of God forever.

Let me illustrate the problem using Leithart’s gift metaphor. Leithart tells us, “Baptism wraps the gift of forgiveness and justification and puts my name on the package.” But to be more accurate, in Leithart’s system, he would need to say, “Baptism wraps the gift of forgiveness and justification and puts my name on it, but this gift comes with a list of conditions that I have to meet, if I want to keep God’s gift.” Perhaps Leithart should change his metaphor. Everyone knows that a truly free gift doesn’t come with conditions. Perhaps a better metaphor would be that of a master who gives his servants wonderful living quarters, delicious food, and provisions for his work, but then tells his servants what they need to do to remain in the masters house. And the master warns them that if they don’t obey, they’ll be removed from the household. That metaphor seems much more consistent with Leithart’s model, much less like a covenant of grace, and much more like a covenant of works. 

3. Leithart claims that only baptism can give us settled assurance. 

Leithart writes:
Suppose I ask you, “How do you know you are in a right standing with God?”  
You might say, “Because I feel the relief of forgiveness.” But then I’ll ask, “Do you always feel relief? Do you never feel guilty?” And I suppose you’ll admit that you do feel guilty sometimes. You might say, “I know I’m justified because I believe the gospel.” You know you’re justified because you’re confident that you have fulfilled the condition of justification, which is faith. That sounds a lot like putting faith in your faith, which is putting faith in something you’ve done, which is the opposite of what a Protestant should say.
Leithart’s solution to the problem he alleges is justification by baptism. If our baptism justifies us, according to Leithart, then we only need to look to our baptism when we feel guilty and need to be reminded of God’s promises to us. We can be sure we belong to God by looking to our baptism. But does Leithart’s solution solve the problem he proposes?

First, is Leithart suggesting that believers should not feel guilty? His opening questions appear very strange indeed. David felt guilty in Psalm 51. Paul says that he felt guilty in Romans 7. Is the standard of the accuracy of our doctrine of justification whether or not we “never feel guilty?” I submit that we should feel guilty when we sin, but that our feelings of guilt should be alleviated, not by looking to our faith, nor by looking to our baptism, nor by the works of perseverance, but by looking to Christ and His finished work on the cross. Leithart is correct that our object of faith must be outside of us. It must be something concrete and certain. The object of our faith must not be our subjective faith, feelings, or works. Instead, the Bible urges us look to what Christ did objectively in history, and there we find our comfort. This is the plain and consistent teaching of the Scriptures. The Lord says, “Look to Me and be saved all the ends of the earth” (Is 45:22). “Whoever believes in Me will not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40). There is true and perfect comfort for sinners who look to Christ and His work. The Word of God never teaches us to look to our baptism for salvation or for assurance of salvation.

Second, it would seem that Leithart’s proposed solution does not solve the problem he thinks he has identified. Even on Leithart’s model, a person must look to his baptism and believe its promises. He must still do something subjective. He must “look” to baptism in faith. Leithart writes, “Faith involves believing what baptism says about you.” But more than that, on Leithart’s model, he must also do good works, and persevere to the end in covenant faithfulness in order to remain secure in his baptismal promises. Leithart is clear: “Baptism requires a response of enduring faith.” Thus, Leithart says his system resolves a problem he perceives in classic Reformed theology, but in fact, his system creates the very problem he thinks he is solving, and makes it worse.

Leithart tells people to look to baptism for their assurance, but the Scriptures teach us to look directly at the objective Christ and His historic work (Heb 6:17-20; 9:12). Does looking to an objective baptism (the lesser) really give us greater assurance than looking to an objective Christ (the greater)? How can you know for sure that you’re really “looking” to your baptism? Do you “really believe” the promise of your baptism? If you don’t, then on Leithart’s model, perhaps you have committed apostasy. It may be that you believed once, but now you’ve stopped believing the promises of your baptism. How do you know? Maybe you’ve fallen away from faith and it’s only a matter of time until your unbelief manifests itself. Moreover, are you sure you’re going to endure to the end so that you can receive all the promises that baptism makes to you? You might fall away in the future, and your baptismal promises will be lost. This system throws a person back onto his faith and works for salvation in a covenant of works.

The covenant of grace in Christ is far better than any of this. In His covenant, He washes us completely; He keeps us by His power; He works life in us, and will never let us go. He finishes all He begins, and He keeps all of His sons forever. Thanks be to God for the covenant of His boundless grace. He is so good.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two ways to be Proud: Unity and Purity

It's not easy to achieve the biblical balance between unity and purity. Often Christians press for either unity (catholicity) or purity (orthodoxy), but few are known for both. Those who want unity tend to sideline or minimize the secondary teachings of the Bible. Those who want purity often elevate secondary teachings to a place of primary importance. But both approaches are idolatrous. I confess that I don't get this right, but I want to.

The Idol of Purity

Christians who emphasize doctrinal purity tend to make secondary biblical teachings central to their personal identity. Instead of being centered on Christ, they're centered on being “Calvinists” or “Arminians,” “Fundamentalists” or “Evangelicals,” “Credobaptists” or “Paedobaptists,” “confessionalists” or “biblicists,” "biblical theologians" or "systematic theologians," “social ministry oriented” or “conversion ministry oriented,” “family integrated” or “age graded,” etc. Those who idolize purity turn secondary convictions into objects of worship. And the result is that their idols enslave them. They hate and fear whatever and whoever opposes their idols. They exclude true Christians from fellowship. They cause divisions within the body of Christ. They give lip service to the centrality of Christ, but their chief concerns lie elsewhere.

Those who idolize purity are proud of their distinctiveness. They feel superior to other Christians because they've got something right that other Christians don't. So they judgmentally condemn those who don't think like they do. They're often unteachable and unwilling to listen and learn from others.

The Idol of Unity

Christians who emphasize unity tend to minimize and sideline secondary doctrines. They speak of unity in Christ, but it's often a very shallow unity. They rightly fellowship with Christians who have a wide range of beliefs, but they won't speak the whole counsel of God in love. Their idol of unity enslaves them. From fear of disunity, they avoid certain truths, which, if spoken, may contribute to the health of fellowship. Ironically, they even refuse fellowship with those who thoroughly teach the secondary truths of Scripture. They give lip service to Christian unity, but in practice, they only unite with those who are “catholic” like they are.

Those who idolize unity proudly mute the Word of God. They refuse to speak clearly where Christ has spoken. They refuse to insist on the whole counsel of God and to show how secondary truths are necessary supports to the gospel itself. They feel superior to other Christians because they are “big enough” to join with Christians across a broad spectrum of belief. They have superior and judgmental attitudes toward those who aren't like them. They're often unteachable and refuse to learn from others.

Truth and Unity in Jesus Christ

Instead of idolizing doctrines/confessions (purity) or people/church (unity), we need to center on Jesus.

Against the “Purity Idol.” If our identity is in Jesus, we don't need to feel personally threatened if someone disagrees with us. We are “right” in Christ, not in our doctrine. That means we don't have to prove ourselves right. We don't have to fix everyone else's beliefs. We can let others correct our thinking with the Word of God. We can love and draw near to our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they're wrong about important secondary doctrines because that's how Christ treats us. Jesus lovingly drew near to us, while we were still heretics.

Against the “Unity Idol.” If our identity is in Jesus, we don't need to fear speaking the whole counsel of God in love, and we don't need to be offended by those who do. We're objectively united to Christ and with all believers in Christ, which means disagreements cannot separate us, and we don't need to fear that they will. We can humbly and boldly contend earnestly for the truth of secondary doctrines, and so love our brothers, without fearing the loss of true unity. Jesus lovingly told us the whole truth, while lovingly uniting Himself to us. We can be like Him.