Friday, February 29, 2008

The Jehovah's Witnesses are Coming!

At least, they say they're coming. For the past three weeks, the Jehovah's Witnesses have come to my house to talk with me about the gospel. Every Saturday at 11 AM, there is a knock at my door. The first week, they didn't stay very long. All they did was introduce themselves and give out their literature. The second week, things got a little more interesting. We got into a discussion about the kingdom of God, the deity of Christ, sin and redemption, and whether or not we should worship Jesus. The third week, they gently challenged my view of the deity of Christ by using Philippians 2:6. The verse says that Christ "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." We also talked about texts that teach His divinity, such as John 20:28 and Heb 1:8. I tried to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to them in a simple, straightforward way. I also explained the gospel to them. They said they'd be back next week, which is tomorrow. But before they left, they encouraged me to study Genesis 1 in preparation. I suppose they're going to ask me about the Holy Spirit, who they believe is an impersonal force. So, I'm getting ready for that, but I'm also getting ready to show them what their own New World Translation says about Christ's divinity.

They're supposed to come again at 11. I don't know whether or not they will, but please pray that the Spirit will open their hearts to His Word (Hebrews 4:12-13). They are greatly deceived, and they are oppressed by the Watchtower Organization. They desperately need God's mercy. God is powerful to save. We're going to have cookies and drinks for them tomorrow when they come.

Here is the approach I'm going to take with them. I'll ask, "Would you agree that if the Bible teaches that Jesus is Jehovah God, you must accept that fact, even if you cannot fully understand how Jesus can be both God and man?" Then, I want to take them through the following outline:

1. Deuteronomy 6:4 - There is only one God, Jehovah.
2. Isaiah 43:10-11 - God is Jehovah, the only Savior, and there is no other.
3. Isaiah 44:6 - Jehovah God is the first and the last.
4. Revelation 1:8 - Jehovah is the Lord God Almighty, the Alpha (first) and the Omega (last).
5. Revelation 22:13 - Jesus is the Alpha (first) and the Omega (last), the beginning and the end. See also verse 17. We know Christ is the one speaking because of the repeated phrase, "I am coming soon" throughout the passage (vv. 7, 12, 20).
6. Revelation 1:17-18 - The one God who is the first and the last died and rose again.

I encourage you to write this outline in the back of your own Bible in case you ever have an opportunity to speak with the Jehovah's Witnesses about the hope that is within you. It's adapted from an appendix in Everyday Evangelism by Billie Hanks, Jr.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Law/Gospel Contradiction?

In a recent White Horse Inn broadcast, the hosts of the show denied that the Sermon on the Mount is the Gospel. They said that Christ's sermon is primarily a law, which drives us to rest in Christ for our justification. iMonk responded with questions about some of the assertions that were made.

But, I'm convinced that Christ was preaching the Gospel throughout the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). It is certainly good news to say, “Keep these laws to be rid of the miseries that come from sin and to enjoy the blessing of God!” “Obey and you will be blessed with the enjoyment and happiness that comes from the possession of eternal life!” The law of Christ is not bad news for the believer who is already justified. If it is not bad news, and if it teaches us the way to enjoy our relationship with Christ, then it must be good news!

It's important to remember that "the instructions for sanctification" aspect of the Gospel only comes after the announcement of what God alone has already done to redeem His people. The heart of the gospel is, “Christ has completely satisfied the law for His people! He paid the penalty and earned the blessing! Just look to Him in faith and you will have a right and title to eternal life!”

But, the whole gospel message is more than simply an announcement of what God has done in Christ by the Spirit to overcome the effects of sin. It also includes the good news of what we can and must do to enjoy His purchase.

The gospel involves all three of Christ’s offices: He is our prophet (herald); He is our priest (justification); but He is most certainly also our king (sanctification).

Here is an excellent paper by J.C. Ryle on the similarities and differences between justification and sanctification. It is a quick read, and it is absolutely superb.

I highly encourage you to read Ryle's paper.

HT: James Grant

Friday, February 15, 2008

Following up on "The Church, State, and Politics"

I'm not satisfied with either theonomy or Klineanism. There are glaring problems with the theonomic model, but a Klinean perspective raises the questions Ben expressed in a reply to my post on "The Church, the State, and Politics." Those questions, I think, can be summarized in this way: What do we do when the conscience of a culture will not agree that the violation of God's social moral laws is wrong? I'm not sure what Kline would say. Lee Irons seems to think that we should just preach the gospel and never try to force the issue with unbelievers when they have "dug in" on an issue. If all our loving arguments and attempts to persuade the culture fail, we should not try to get laws that will force the culture to submit to God's social standards. This is evidenced by Irons' apparent approval of, or refusal to fight against, the same-sex marriage law.

So, Klineanism doesn't seem to be an adequate alternative to theonomy. The historic view of politics among Baptists was that the state should never legislate the consciences of men and that speech is a function of conscience. An early forerunner of the Baptists, Thomas Helwys, wrote, "For mens religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answere for it, neither may the King be iudg betweene God and man. Let them be heretikes, Turcks, Jewes or whatsoever, it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure" (A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity 69). I agree with that sentiment (see John 18:36). Therefore, all men should have the right to free speech and the free exercise of religion. This means that public blasphemy should never be a punishable offense. The state should uphold the right of all men to worship as they please and the right of men to try to convert others to their faith. Connected to this, I would argue that the state should protect the right of Christians to worship on one day out of every seven.

However, the state should directly enforce the *outward aspect* of God's social moral laws *within its sphere* of authority. Magistrates are responsible before God for this. God's laws are revealed in the Bible and summarily contained in the Decalogue. The state should punish those who physically murder or harm other human beings. It should punish rapists, child molesters, homosexuals, adulterers, and thieves of every stripe (embezzlers, robbers, swindlers, unjust merchants, identity thieves, etc.). Governments should punish businesses for harmfully polluting the environment, since that is tantamount to murder and causing harm through disease, etc. It should regulate businesses in ways that prevent them from harming their employees, and it should punish those who perform and have abortions. The state should also have laws that penalize those who sign contracts and then break them.

That said, it is not within the sphere of the government's authority to punish rebellious children, unless the children rebel in ways that violate laws that are in the state's sphere of sovereignty. Children are under the authority of their parents. If parents refuse to do their jobs and their children end up being social deviants, murderers, etc., then the state's role kicks in. It is not the state's job to educate children; the Bible gives that responsibility to parents first and churches under them. It is the state's job to protect children from physical harm; so, the state should prevent children from abuse and neglect (do not murder).

This is neither an Anabaptist nor a classically Calvinist view of politics. It's a classic Baptist view.


Teachability: Part of True Mentoring

Dr. Haykin had the following to say about true mentoring:

"What happens in the mentoring process, be it pastoral or academic? It is not the case that the person being mentored is totally passive and the mentor has all of the answers. Rather, a true mentoring experience is one in which there is a subtle interplay between teaching and learning on both sides. In the true mentoring experience the mentor also experiences what is to be a learner. And being a learner, summed up by that exquisite word 'teachability,' lies at the heart of what it means o be a true leader."

Those are good words.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Church, State, and Politics

During this election season, more than any other I can remember, I find myself struggling to think more carefully about the relationship between the church and the state. We have Obama and Hillary on the "secular progressive" side, and we have Huckabee, who is trying to appeal to cultural Christians, and McCain, who evidently can't stand the "evangelical right," on the conservative side. For me, the question is larger than the particulars of this election. The election is simply the catalyst of my anxieties.

I'm struggling to work out a coherent and consistent biblical theology of church, state, and politics because I want the Bible to govern my opinions in every sphere of life including opinions about the public square. There are two extremes among Reformed theologians: Theonomy (via A. Kuyper) and Klineanism. I'm not on board with either position, especially not with theonomy.

Theonomy is advocated by the likes of G. Bahnsen, R. Rushdoony, and G. North. This system teaches that Israel's government is the model for all civil magistrates at all times. They argue that God's law, revealed in Scripture, is the only norm for all the human spheres of relationship, including the home, the church, and the state. They say that the standing civil laws of the Old Testament along with their sanctions should be enforced by the governments of every nation.

Contrary to what one might expect, theonomy claims that the Old Testament recognizes a separation between the church and the state: Israelite priests were not to run the government and Israelite kings were not to make sacrifices. It also claims to allow for liberty of conscience and for non Christians to live peaceably within the borders of a theonomic state (the stranger within your midst).

However, theonomy teaches that the state should execute public blasphemers (Lev 24:10-16) and idolaters (Deut 13:6-18). That is, if you keep your opposition to Christianity to yourself, you may live in peace, but if you try to convert others to your non-Christian religion, then off with your head. Furthermore, theonomy claims to make allowance for all kinds of Christian denominations, but it does not allow for the advocacy of any form of Christian theology that opposes theonomy, since that would be an attack upon the establishment. Thus, I would be in trouble for writing a blog that offered any criticism of theonomy, and any denomination that opposed theonomy (such as historic Baptists) would not be allowed to exist.

So, theonomy would prohibit the free and open exchange of ideas and would use the sword of the state to punish all who argue against either Christianity or theonomy. That doesn't sound like much separation of church and state or civil liberty to me. It seems theonomy has much in common with the Islam and its ideal of sharia law, in which Muslim theologians interpret and apply the Koran to the civil government and culture. Devout Muslims believe that sharia law should be the norm for every society on earth and they have a vision for the conquest of the nations. Of course, to be fair, the Muslims see this conquest taking place through military action, while theonomists say that the conquest will come only through the advancement of the gospel and the ushering in of the millennium (most theonomists are postmillennialists).

I'm still in the process of learning about the Klinean model, but here is what I've gathered so far. Those who know the system better than me are welcome to correct any misrepresentations. The city of God (believers and the church) and the city of man (Gentile civilization) are supposed to be distinct, and the city of God should not try to conquer or otherwise "take over" the city of man because it will not work and is contrary to the gospel of Christ. The government, culture, and civil sphere in general are too weak to maintain a public Christianity. Here is their biblical-theological justification for their model.

After Cain killed Abel, Cain constructed a civilization. Cain's city was destroyed in the flood for its godlessness, but after the flood, God promised that he would never destroy the city of man again until the day of judgment. The city of man should be allowed to continue alongside the city of God until judgment day (Matt 13:36-43). After the flood, Genesis 9 teaches that the image of God in man (i.e., common grace) was the foundation of civil law for all the nations prior to the Mosaic covenant. God's moral law is in the heart of every man, and it teaches that the government should punish murderers, thieves, and other social deviants.

The Mosaic covenant, along with its civil and ceremonial laws, was a temporary covenant, intended for the nation of Israel alone. It was never for any nation/culture/government but Israel. No other nation can claim to be under that covenant, and no other nation can claim any of the legal blessings or curses promised to that nation because Israel was a chosen nation, a special people for God's own possession. God promised to do them good for obedience and to discipline them in their disobedience, but he makes no such promises for any other nation. Israel alone was placed under a heavy legal burden as an example of God's holiness to the nations and in anticipation of Christ's fulfillment of that law burden. Israel's covenant was also specially designed to preserve Israel as a nation through severe discipline until the coming of Christ. After Christ came, the Mosaic covenant was fulfilled and abolished as a covenant, such that no nation is obligated to keep the Mosaic covenant. We are free from the Mosaic law-covenant (Gal 3:15-4:7).

Not only is no nation obligated to keep the Mosaic law, for Christians to demand that any nation yoke itself to the Mosaic code is contrary to the gospel of Christ. Men must embrace the gospel voluntarily. Men become Christians when they are persuaded in mind and heart to embrace Jesus Christ. If the government comes with a "club" and an argument, men will not listen to the argument but will pretend to be Christian because of the club.

On the Klinean model, Christians should defend the liberty of conscience and the right of all men to believe and argue for whatever they wish. But, Christians should also try to persuade unbelievers of the value of keeping God's social commandments (the second table of the law), and work alongside of them to bring about justice and liberty for all. Christians should not, however, beat the city of man over the head with God's law in an authoritarian way. Instead, we should appeal to reason and to the image of God that is within everyone on the basis of common grace.

The Klinean does not hope that this present world will be transformed into Christendom. He is politically active out of love for his fellow image bearers, but he doesn't believe that political action will usher in the kingdom, nor does he believe that the city of man will ever fully or truly embrace any one of God's laws. Rather, he believes that the city of God and the city of man will exist side by side until the judgment day. It is not the role of the church to bring the state into subjection to God's law or to itself. But, by working for good in the state, and by appealing to the image of God in every man, there can be larger and smaller successes by which mercy is shown, suffering relieved, the weak defended, etc., though these "successes" will never overtake the city of man completely. Nor should they.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Versions of Dispensationalism

Here is something I wrote in the comments section of a previous blog post. I'm posting it here in case anyone missed it, and because some dispensationalists have been known read this blog, and if I'm misrepresenting them, I want them to call me out on it.

Dispensationalism (A General Definition) – Divides the Bible into two separate and distinct peoples: Israel and the Church, and the two do not mix or overlap.

Classic Dispensationalism – Sees the OT as applying only to Israel and promising a Messiah to rule over them only. Had Israel agreed to submit to Christ’s rule at his first coming, Christ would have set up his earthly kingdom among them at that time, but Israel refused. Therefore, God formed the church as an “intercalation” or “parenthesis” (an interruption) which stands between God’s 1st dealings with Israel and his 2nd dealing with Israel in the millennial period. None of the Old Testament promises of law or gospel apply to us Gentiles in the church at all. We are under the New Testament only and the OT promises are for the nation of Israel, not for us. This position was held by most old school dispensationalists.

Hyper Dispensationalism – Holds that not only the OT but also the Gospels and possibly other books of the NT are for Israel only. The Gospels with all of their laws and commands do not apply to us. Paul’s writings, primarily (sometimes exclusively) are for the Church. Hyper-Dispensationalism denies Lordship-Salvation because while Israel had to work for its salvation under the law dispensation, the Church does not work for its salvation under the gospel dispensation. This view is pretty rare today.

Progressive Dispensationalism – Affirms the “already – not yet” method of interpreting OT prophecy. The “Progressive Dispensationalists” say that the promises God made to Israel in the OT are “already” being fulfilled in the church (this is a move toward covenant theology), but are “yet” to be fulfilled for national Israel in the future millennial reign (this is like classic Dispensationalism). This view would only differ from my own in terms of eschatology. It would see a future for national Israel in the millennium, and I would see a future for true Israel in the final state. While I don’t agree with any form of Dispensationalism, this is the mildest form of it. I struggle with how this position can be viewed as logically consistent, since it claims that God can genuinely fulfill promises to national Israel in the church, but that God must fulfill those promises to national Israel in the future.

The way in which I believe all of these views err is that they think the OT promises of land and prosperity to national Israel were for that nation without respect to the faith or faithfulness of the Israelites. Thus, on that basis, they make a hard distinction between Israel (David) and the Church (Paul). They say that David and Paul are part of two totally distinct peoples with totally different promises. I believe that the promises God made to Israel are ours in Christ.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Are Baptists out of step with the gospel?

Some have accused Baptists of denying the gospel because they insist that baptism (immersion) must precede any participation in the Lord's Supper. John Stott, for example, argues that Galatians 2:11-14 teaches us to welcome all believers to the Lord's Supper, regardless of what mode of baptism they received. Stott says that when churches make immersion a prerequisite of communion at the Lord's Supper, they are denying the gospel.

However, there are two problems with Stott's notion.

First, it proves too much. If we were to admit people to the Lord's Supper on the basis of faith alone, then it would be wrong to insist that baptism itself is prerequisite. Surely Stott doesn't believe that. A simple profession of faith alone in Christ alone would have to be sufficient, and no manner of church polity could govern the Lord's Supper.

Second, Galatians 2:11 does not say that Peter refused to take the Lord's Supper with the Gentiles. Rather, it says that he drew back from dining with the Gentiles in a fellowship meal. It also says that he separated himself from them. Peter's sin was that he refused Christian fellowship to genuine believers. The picture here is not that Peter refused to partake of the Lord's Supper with the Gentiles but that he wouldn't eat with them at church fellowships. It is entirely possible that Peter did participate in the ordinance/rite of the Lord's Supper with the Gentiles while still refusing to dine with them at fellowship meals, though we are not told what actually took place.

Baptists are happy to dine with brothers and sisters who have not been baptized, to fellowship with them, and to enjoy their company as fellow believers. I would gladly sit down for dinner with Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards! They are beloved brothers in Christ, and I have no doubt whatsoever that they would greatly edify me. I would certainly not keep back from them or separate from Christian fellowship with them. The universal church is a marvelous thing and we can benefit from Christians across all Christian denominations and churches.

However, an unbaptized person should not be permitted to join the church or invited to take the Lord's Supper because the pattern of polity revealed in the NT is that baptism precedes membership and Communion. We can love a person and have fellowship with him even while insisting that the NT pattern of polity be followed.