Archive for October 2010

Resting in Election in Christ, by David Bishop

October 29, 2010

I had no problem with the doctrine of election upon learning of it. I knew right away it was the only way gracious justification in Jesus Christ could truly work. There can be no rest from self-righteous works if election is based on what the elect do rather than on what God does.

For eighteen years I had struggled to please God. Exhausted, worn out, tired of trying to please a god who it seemed could never be pleased, I threw in the towel. I was done. And then God caused me to hear the doctrine of election, followed by the doctrine of justification, and that’s when all the lights came on.

God chose, and then afterwards, those He chose come to faith in His own good timing (when He calls them).

There’s rest in the doctrine of election. It doesn’t depend on me! I can do nothing to earn God’s favor. God loves those He has chosen in Christ, and – gulp! – there is nothing His chosen can do to resist this love (not that they now would will to resist, but I say gulp with tears of joy because there is true rest in Christ).

The Ritual Christendom Captivity of the Churches

October 29, 2010

Those who would defend Constantine and slavery must also always defend the rituals of Christendom. I refer not only to the attempt to eliminate heresy by means of the heresy of violence. I refer to infant baptism, and to the “federal vision” deconstruction of any difference between water and union with Christ.

Those who warn against the “anabaptist captivity” of “the church” are also willing to reject any difference between a ritual Lord’s Supper and God’s “real or legal” means of union and communion. They will defend anything (slavery, the confederacy) old just so long as it is anti-liberal.

Instead of visible congregations, they write books of theory against theory. Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in justification by works, as optimists they write essays against not only individualism but even against counter-cultures. The most consistent Reformed idealogues (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. But as inductive theologians, they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence. And so they hope for a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

To get at the error of ritual Chrsitendom, we need to do more than talk about associations with Romanism. That’s like criticizing Billy Graham for his associations instead of his false gospel. He runs with those with false gospel because he has false gospel.

Those who cannot tell the difference between the gospel and “the nonvoluntary church” are trying to sell us a narrative in which the visibility of the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

“Reformed” people like J I Packer and Timothy George associate with Romanist ritualists because they themselves are ritualists (George, who calls himself a “baptist sacramentalist”, has much more in common with JI Packer than he doe with predestinarians like Roger Williams or Obadiah Holmes.

If we are going to escape the ritual Christendom captivity of the churches, we need to talk about the sacramental errors of John Calvin, Martin Luther and all “mystical catholic” people who define the Lord’s Supper as something God does instead of as the human obedience of Christians.

We need to oppose ecclesiastical anti-nomianism which equates ecumenical ritualism with spiritual revival and reformation. The fight about sacramentalism is a fight about politics, because it’s a fight about judging saved and lost.

Sacramentalists want to hand out grace without judging saved and lost. They want to include you in their “church” and tell you it’s God’s will and not your decision. Sacramentalists don’t trust anabaptists because they see that suspicion of the state might also mean suspicion of their big broad “the church”.

The majority culture of the state and the powerful (and the would be powerful!) always opposes any attempt for “sects” to judge who is saved. This is why the Reformers kept on killing the Anabaptists the Romanists also killed.

Ecclesiastical antinomians want to say that “sacrament” is a secondary issue and not a gospel issue. But when you refuse the political responsibility of judging saved and lost in terms of knowing and believing the gospel, then you have opened the way for assuming that everyone handed out the sacrament (or listening to the “minister’s” sermon) is a Christian. To not judge by the gospel is to compromise the gospel.

What we believe about who’s in the church has everything to do with the politics of evangelism. Do we see everyone with whom we talk as already Christians who simply need to know more (of what we know)? Or do we see that even Christ’s sheep are not yet all justified yet?

Do we think of church as one universal church which includes saints now living in heaven (to whom we pray or not, is not the only issue) or do we think of local fellowship around a table which is closed to those who do not yet obey the gospel?

In these days, to be more ecumenical means not only to be more romantic about ritual Christendom but also to be more open to “deification”. The “federal vision” way down this path usually begins with II Peter 1:4 (become partakers of the divine nature) and ends up replacing justification by Christ’s death with “union with Christ”.

Just as the word “sacrament” is left undefined or given multiple definitions, so also the idea of “union with Christ” is left undefined or given various (unbiblical) definitions in ecumenical discussions.

What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the kind of question we need to begin asking. Does this indwelling in Christ have anything to do with being handed the sacrament? Certainly Calvin thought so.

We need to read Calvin on this, to see what he did and did not believe. Calvin, for example, only believed in an union with the humanity of Christ, and did not teach an union with God defined as creatures indwelling the Creator, even though that is left an open possibility in undefined ecumenical discussion. But Calvin’s anti-rational streak, which cannot explain and refuses to explain, becomes very mystical when it comes to “sacrament”. (See Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton essays in Tributes to Calvin).

Does the Bible teach that God effects “union with Christ” by means of water, or with bread and wine? NO. My opinion is that we baptists will never get away from that sacramental idea until we get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is only about regeneration. As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define it at all) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” and then a time gap between that and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration or birth but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified. Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God knows that God is going to regenerate and change the person. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.

Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people (even ourselves) to be saved on the evidence of morality. But God sees that morality as something to be ashamed of, when those moral people are still in their sins, still not yet justified.

Romans 6 defines the “in Christ” in terms of legally being placed into the death of Christ. Union with Christ is justification. Instead of an “ritual done by an ordained minister” which makes you a participant in Christ ( understood in many places as indwelling even the deity of God!), our hope as the justified is that God has counted the death of Christ as our death.

Is this unbalanced? Why do I pit regeneration against justification? Well, I could ask you, why do you always draw the line between the regenerate and the unregenerate? Why don’t you draw the line between the justified and the condemned? Why don’t you judge by if a person knows and believes the gospel?

I am not denying the new birth or the absolute necessity for it. I am only saying that the new birth and faith are not all there is to “union with Christ”. I am only say that the “new creation” has to do with a change in legal state, and not first of all with a change of substance or nature.

II Corinthians 5:14 “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sakes died and was raised. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (judging by morality or immorality or by other non-gospel standards)….If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

“Those who live” means first of all those who are justified. The category of “we died” is not about a change of substance or nature but about an imputed legal reality. So also the category of “those who live” is also not about a change of substance or nature but about an imputed reality, legal life because of justification.

The “new creation” (or “new man”) is not first of all about regeneration or birth but about a legal change of identity, a legal before and after. It’s not gradual; it’s an either or. The new is not effected by a “sacramental feeding on Christ” but by God’s imputation of what God did in Christ in His death and resurrection.

Christ is here, yes, but not in some different way because of water or bread and wine. And also, Christ is not here, not yet, and we believe and obey and hope, waiting for the day when Christ will be here. He is not now coming down from heaven as He will someday, and we are not now going to heaven, no matter what the “minister of the sacrament” might say. The church is not Christ, and the church is not the gospel.

So how then are we in Christ? We are in Christ legally. The old has passed. The legal verdict has already been declared. One day, at the resurrection, there will be visible evidence of that verdict. No ritual is a sign from God that we in particular have been justified or united to Christ.

Even if our children were to eat the “sacrament” with us, still that’s no seal that either we or our children have been justified or that God is our God. What is the gospel? Judge justified and lost by the gospel.

You Must Help Us by Prayer, by David Bishop

October 27, 2010

Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:11, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” This isn’t Paul being flippant. Prayer really is the means by which God grants His blessing.

Verse 20 reads, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

God does not waver in His promises. His promises are never should I-shouldn’t I. His promises are always Yes. The promise spoken of in this particular passage concerns salvation, because the very next verse reads “for it is God who establishes us with you in Christ”.

God has chosen prayer to be the means by which He fulfills His promises. Our prayer is also shown to be an amen that is spoken in view of His glory. That is, the Amen, the Yes Lord let it be, is something He grants to us is for His glory.

Though the answer to His promises are always Yes, prayer is the nevertheless the means by which He has chosen to carry out that Yes. Prayer itself that glorifies God. God’s intent in saving the elect is to turn them also into a praying people.

I’m struck by the fact that the one person in the Bible who spent more time in prayer is the very same person I would have expected to spend the least time in prayer – Christ Himself. The Son of God spent more time in prayer than anyone else in the Bible. That should tell me something.

Prayer doesn’t save, God saves, but from what I gather here in 2 Corinthians, prayer is one of the end goals in mind. That is, God saves the elect in order to turn them also into a praying people, for it is through prayer also that His people glorify Him. It was through prayer also that Christ glorified the Father.

Jonathan Edwards: Justified Now because of what God will Do In Us

October 26, 2010

Dan Fuller (the Unity of the Bible) quotes Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

This same Jonathan Edwards quotation shows up in Schreiner’s new little book Run to Win the Prize (p20, 70, 92).

All the Sins of Some Sinners

October 22, 2010

As much as I agree with John Owen against the idea of double jeopardy, I cannot agree with Owen’s trilemma about all the sins of all people, or all the sins of some people (the third hypothetical of course being some of the sins of some people).

I cannot agree because the cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also entitles the elect to conversion.

Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. Christ bought both the forgiveness of sins and the legal application of the legal satisfaction God needs to forgive and continue to be just and holy.

What does the application of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that
God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of the elect.

So there is a difference between the work and the imputation of the work. For example, Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the
elect with Christ when they are justified.

Second, the application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus now their inheritance) includes the conversion which immediately follows the imputation. We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two.

Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and
conversion immediately follow the imputation. Romans 8:10–”but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will be life, not only forensic life but the life also the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted. Because the elect are now in Christ (not only by election but by imputation), Christ is in the elect. Christ indwells the elect by the Holy Spirit.

As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal
standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus
Christ.” The reason we need to be careful about John Owen’s trilemma is that Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel and conversion.

Of course Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ died for all the sins of all Christians including all those after they are
converted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows.

I am not saying that John Owen did not know this or believe it. I am only saying that the trilemma (as it is often used) does not take into account the time between Christ’s work and the application and imputation of that work.

Nor does that trilemma give us the necessary reminder that Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

Romans 5: 17 speaks of “those who receive the free gift of righteousness” and how they reign in life through the one man Christ Jesus. This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an “exercise of faith” (if you check the commentaries, Murray is right here about the passive and Moo is wrong).

It certainly is not “appropriating” (an ugly inappropriate Arminian word). The elect “receive” the righteousness by God’s imputation.

The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute
Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer.

But here is the point I want you to see: the receiving of the righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. The imputation is not at the same time as Christ earned the righteousness. God declaring the elect to be joint-heirs with Christ in that righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. There is a difference between imputation and righteousness.

Calvinism is Not Less than the Five Points

October 20, 2010

A Review of The Points of Calvinism (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology) by Kenneth Stewart, Covenant College

Stewart is rigid in his rejection of rigidity. His essay is less about what he does believe, and mostly about what he doesn’t believe–he doesn’t like the vulgar extravagance of those who identify the gospel with the five doctrines.

In his uncritical embrace of the evangelical party, Stewart rigidly cannot embrace parties on the narrow margins like Herman Hoeksema or David Englesma of the Protestant Reformed Church, or Robert Reymond (from Covenant Seminary, in his Systematic, p1125) or Tom Nettles (a Reformed Baptist “five-point Calvinist”, p387, By His Grace and For His Glory) or R.K. Mcgregor Wright (No Place for Sovereignty, IVP, p100)

By demonstrating the lack of historical precedent on a focus on the five points, Steward somehow thinks he has made an argument that we should not in the future focus on the five points.

But Calvinism is not less than the five points, and a lot of the “more than five points” guys don’t believe the five points.

With the non-Bible-church “Reformed” folks who really do believe the five points but want more than that, Calvinism is about “the covenant”. They say “the covenant” in every other sentence without defining it. Which covenant? Is that covenant conditional or unconditional?

“Calvinism is more than the five points” often means
a. infant baptism
b. “sacramental realism”: unlike those Zwinglian rationalists, they really eat Jesus they proclaim that they do not explain how.
3.They don’t withdraw from culture like the anabaptists (or create their own) but try to take over everybody’s culture. (The two-kingdom Calvinists still think there is only one culture, but they agree to it being secular.)
4. Like the brothers Niebuhr, they know there can be no culture without killing. To transform the culture, they will try to transform the killing without killing it.

Speaking from the margins where the atonement is defined in terms of imputation and election, I must say I am glad not to be Stewart’s kind of rigid Calvinist!

Mark McCulley

Is Union with Christ Regeneration?

October 4, 2010

Should we be assuming that “union with Christ” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification?

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” and a time gap between that change and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration or birth but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified.

Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God knows that God is going to regenerate and change the person. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.