Archive for June 2012

Do Baptism and Faith Hook Us Up With Christ’s Death?

June 26, 2012

“In real time, through baptism and faith, we were united with Christ in His effectual penalty bearing death.”

Let me begin by saying that there is something good in this statement. Christ’s death is effectual. God’s justice demands that Christ’s death take away the guilt of all for whom Christ died and give them all the blessings of salvation. So, the statement is correct that Christ’s death is effectual and also with the idea that Christ’s death was not sufficient to save everybody but only effectual for some.

At least the statement is talking about getting hooked up with what Christ did in the past, and not hooking up with Christ to get us to do now what needs to be done. And that’s a big thing.

But having said that, as you have come to expect, I disagree with the rest of the statement I not only disapprove of the idea that water baptism by something which calls itself “the church” (and claims that God is objectively doing something and promising something) is what causes the imputation. I also disapprove with the idea that faith is what unites us to the imputation.

I know that some Reformed confessions point to such ideas, but the Bible does not say that water baptism and faith unite us to Christ’s death. The Bible says justification is by faith, through faith, but this means that imputation creates the faith in the gospel in us. There is no justification without faith, but logically there is imputation before faith.

So I dislike the statement. I think the statement aids conditionalism and sacerdotalism. What does “baptism” mean? I am rational enough to want some definitions. Is the idea that “baptism” won’t work without faith, but also that the faith won’t work without the “baptism”? So what exactly is the “baptism”? Is it water? Is it God’s imputation? Is it regeneration? Is it both, or all three?

If you make imputation rely on water baptism rather than God baptizing us into Christ, then the consistent implication would be a man-centered false gospel. Humans calling themselves the church are claiming to be one of the two (or three) factors in uniting us to Christ’s death.

Another weird thing that I notice is that, you could say make this statement, ie that it’s water and faith that hooks you up, and still say that what you are hooked up is what Christ did, not what you are doing. God caused you to hook up with the death, and then after you are hooked up, it’s not your faith or your hooking up that saves, because after that, it’s only Christ’s death saving you.

That order of salvation application would still be wrong, but logically you could read it that way, and the tradition does read it that way for “justification” but not for “sanctification”. Because some Reformed confessions tell folks that “sanctification” is a process, and they read that into the Bible.

Even more seriously, once you have “front-loaded” the gospel (or at least the order of application) with regeneration before imputation, then you don’t really have justification of the ungodly anymore. You have justification of the regenerate.

And with many folks it seems to be a very quick step from that statement to saying that the same regeneration which makes you godly enough to have the faith which is the condition of justification, that this same regeneration is going to make you godly enough and believe enough so you will keep getting better.

And most Calvinists think that, if you don’t agree with them about that, then you must be an Arminian who simply denies that we need to be regenerate before we can believe the gospel. So the Arminian idea of faith without needing a new birth first is seen as the only other alternative to the idea of sanctification as “getting better.

Saying you can have faith and be justified, all before you are
regenerate, that’s what Arminians say, and then some of these Arminians also deny (as I do) that “sanctification” is “regeneration causing you to be better”. The third alternative, the correct view, that imputation causes regeneration, is not much considered.

Of course it doesn’t divide up this neat, with Arminians and Calvinists on each side, because many of the Arminians (like Tozer) agree that “sanctification” means getting better and that if you don’t get better that means you weren’t justified. And many of the “Calvinists” don’t really talk about imputation at all, much
less imputation before faith. No, most Calvinists are only talking about regeneration being first, and not about the atonement, or election the atonement, imputation.

Most Calvinists doesn’t talk about election when they talk about legal identification with Christ’s death.They talk about “baptism” and faith and regeneration, not about election.

Even though there is a sense in which we “count ourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6), we sinners are never the primary imputers. Our counting only true if it’s based on God’s counting. We don’t do something to “make the exchange”. We don’t even “contribute our sins”. God already did or did not count our sins to Christ.

Also, in the application of Christ’s death to sinner, in our uniting to Christ’s death, again it’s not our counting which is first but God’s counting. We don’t believe so that God will impute. God imputes so that we believe.

Remember that “impute” sometimes has two sense, always  declare, but sometimes also “legally share We don’t ever cause the “legal sharing.  God both declares  and does legal sharing. We do declare, but only after God has declared, and we count (agree, say amen, reckon) based on God’s declaration.

But what good is this “declaration”, since it’s not audible words we hear from God, telling us “you are justified”? And no, when we hear a sacerdotalist or a clergyman’s absolution, that’s not God’s declaration, no matter if the guy is from Rome (I forgive you) or from Geneva (God forgives you).

So what good is a legal thought in God’s mind, a declarative transaction we can neither hear nor see? To me, it’s my only hope, because I know that a. this is the gospel which I believe and that b. I only believe it as a result of God’s imputation, and my believing it was not a condition to make it happen, to get me hooked up or in union with Christ.

I simply don’t care even if you were getting as better as you think, because if you are still a sinner (and have been, always been one) then your only hope is if God imputes Christ’s death to you. God won’t do that, if God has not already elected you and has not already imputed your sins to Christ when Christ already died.

Notice I did not say that “God won’t do that, if you don’t believe.” Rather, if you end up not believing the gospel about God’s imputation, then that will be evidence that God never imputed Christ’s death to you and that Christ never died for you.

And if you say that this is not fair and gives you nothing to do, then that shows you that your religion is still man-centered and that as of yet you have not been regenerated so that you believe the gospel.

There is of course a sense in which God hasn’t forgiven justified Christians yet for the sins they haven’t committed yet. But I would not say that dailty forgiveness depends on daily confession as its condition. What do we confess? Do we confess in order to be forgiven? Or we do confess the evil or our sins and also the grace of God already forgiving our sins?

There is an one time justification, a before and after, so that we have passed from death to life. We are not being re-justified every day, nor are we passing from death to life every day, even though some Lutheran rhetoric sounds that way. But that’s what you expect from people who think Christ died for and justified everybody, but that somehow in the end not all these folks are justified.

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“Faith to Apply”?

June 22, 2012

The Faith Needed Is Purchased by Christ For the Elect Alone

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

Many today teach that the only “atonement” which really matters is the “faith which applies” Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, they teach that Christ died for some who will perish.

It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

The difference between the “faith to apply” folks and those who teach that many do not believe because they are not Christ’s sheep (John 10) is NOT about the need of the Spirit’s work or faith in the gospel. Even though at the end of the day, we have different gospels (objects of faith), we do not disagree about justification being through faith. Neither side teaches eternal justification, or justification apart from faith, even though the “faith to apply” folks claim that this makes the rest of us inconsistent.

We do NOT teach that the elect are free from condemnation before being “baptized into Christ”. Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, John Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are placed into that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But those who accuse us of thinking there is no need for faith claim that it is not logical for us to teach such a need for faith. If the substitution has already been made, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.

But we do NOT teach justification apart from faith. Neither do we teach that faith is a mere recognition that we were already justified.

What is it that those who make the accusations are teaching about the atonement? Some like the Torrances think that saying that Christ died only for the elect leads to denying the need for faith. Some like Andrew Fuller agree that Christ only died to gain faith for the elect, but they make this purchase of faith to be the only thing that is limited about God’s intention in the atonement.

The “faith to apply” folks do not want to teach that Christ’s substitution under God’s wrath was limited only to the sins of the elect. They can rightly say they teach “limited atonement” but they do not think that the propitiation is limited.

The “faith to apply” folks do teach that the atonement is unlimited in its ability to condemn everybody. (Andrew Fuller himself regarded the transfer of the sins of the elect to Christ as figurative and as not legally possible.) But they all teach that the atonement is unlimited in its proclamation of God’s offer to love everybody. But despite that general love, and general propitiation, some of them add that Christ’s death did not purchase faith for everybody.

Those who teach “faith applies” are confusing “regeneration” and the work of the Spirit with the atonement and imputation. But Romans 6 never tells us that “regeneration” places the elect into Christ’s death. Romans 6 never tells us that it’s the work of the Spirit that puts the elect into Christ’s death.

“Substitution” and “regeneration” are not the same thing. Substitution has to do with “all died” (II Cor 5:15) when this means that Christ alone died for the elect, without the elect being there, so that His death legally counts for them to take God’s wrath away from them.

The “faith to apply” folks claim that we who teach substitution only for the elect should agree that the elect can go free before they are converted and believe the gospel. They want to put us in that box, so they can then deny that the death of Christ is the effective and just difference between saved and lost. Thus they accuse—if no efficacy to set free before faith and without faith, then no legal efficacy by itself.

The “faith to apply” folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in propitiation, not in Christ’s bearing the sins of the elect, but in the efficacy of “faith applying”.

And we would could answer back: what do you need the death for, if the real thing is the new birth and the indwelling? And it’s a good question, but I am sure that they think the incarnation (if not the death) is a necessary prelude to “faith applying”.

But this is their argument: you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by “faith applying”. Only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice. But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the sins of sinners.

How can they say that Christ’s death for sinners is not enough payment for the sins of these other sinners? Listen carefully to their answer: “Baptism into Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death the death of the sinner”. Unless we want to say that Christ’s death is legally effective without faith, then they tell us that something after Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death legally effective.

I hope you think that through. Unless we want to go the way of those who teach eternal justification (or justification of all the elect at the time of the death and resurrection of Christ), we must agree that many of the elect (all those born after Christ’s death) for whom Christ died are nevertheless born in their sins, under the sentence of death. Of course we would stipulate that God’s justice demands that they will not die in that unjustified state.

But how can we explain that temporary legal condemnation when we are also teaching a substitution by Christ for their specific sins? It depends on what the Bible means about “being placed into Christ”.

The “faith applies” folks think placed into Christ means “Christ in us”. But the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is not imputation.Not indwelling but imputation is taught in Romans 6.

God the Father’s legal imputing of Christ’s death to the elect places them into Christ. No, the word “imputing” is not in Romans 6. But neither is the word “Spirit” or the words “regeneration” or “indwelling”. But the meaning of Romans 6 is God’s imputing.

I Cor 1:30— because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Booth’s Glad Tidings On Regeneration

June 22, 2012

Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings

p238 “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in regeneration, the salutary and important change being produced entirely without it..It is too hastily assumed that the mind is prepared to receive the light of spiritual knowledge before the truth have any influence on it.”

p247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin.

p249 “For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations. 

Was the Physical Circumcision of Christ Part of Christ’s Righteousness?

June 17, 2012

The Fatal Flaw, by Jeffrey Johnson, Free Grace Press, 2010

I very much recommend this new book. It is an excellent study of various covenant theologies and also an argument against infant baptism. But I still want to quibble . I quote Johnson:

“The covenant of works that Christ was obligated to fulfill could not have been the covenant of creation. Why ?Because this covenant had already been broken and its death penalty issued upon Adam’s fallen race. Thus Christ had to be born outside the broken covenant of creation…He could not be born under the federal headship of Adam. As Wisius explains, ‘That the surety was not from Adam’s covenant, not born under the law of nature, and consequently not born under the imputation of Adam’s sin.’

Johnson continues: “The law justifies but before the law men could not merit salvation by works, because there was no covenant….If all this is true, then the Mosaic covenant had to be a covenant of works; our salvation depended upon it. If not, there would be no covenant to reward the man Christ Jesus for His obedience.”

I have of course not quoted the entire argument. I encourage you to buy the book and read the discussion beginning on p 146 an ending on p162. What do I disagree with in the above argument? I agree that Christ was not born under the federal headship of Adam. I agree that the Mosaic covenant was a legal conditional covenant.

I even agree with Johnson’s larger point, which is that the Mosaic covenant cannot be seen as an “administration of the covenant of grace”. But I go further and question even the idea of any “the covenant of grace.” Which covenant is “the covenant of grace”? Is it the Abrahamic covenant? Is it the new covenant? Are both those covenants one and the same? Are both those covenants administrations of “the covenant of grace”?

Johnson is very good in showing that the Abrahamic covenant had both its unconditional and conditional aspects. At one point (p215), he even refers to Bunyan’s idea that Christ kept the conditional aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, that had NOT been kept by anybody else. When Gal 3:16 explains that the promise was made to Abraham and his seed, and then explains that Christ is that one seed, why not see Christ alone as obeying the Abrahamic requirement for blood?

Why does Johnson think he needs to see the Mosaic covenant (instead of the Abrahamic legal aspect) as the covenant of works Christ kept? Isn’t circumcision a requirement of not only the Mosaic but also of the Abrahamic covenant? Does not physical circumcision point to the need for the blood not of animals but of Christ?

Make no mistake. I believe and rejoice in the federal headship of Christ. My objection is to the idea that the Mosaic covenant is the condition of the agreement of God the Father, Son and Spirit to redeem the elect. Why must the “covenant with Christ” be conflated with either the covenant with Adam or the covenant with Moses?

I am not disagreeing that there is legal covenantal arrangement with Adam. Even though as a supralapsarian, I do question language about what Adam “could have earned if he had passed probation”, I do not at all question the federal imputation of Adam’s sins to the human race, including to the elect. And I also agree that the Mosaic covenant is conditional.

I am only questioning why Johnson must locate the legal conditions of Christ the covenantal surety in the terms of the Mosaic covenant. His answer is that Christ was not under Adam. But why not say that Christ was under the Abrahamic conditions? Why not agree with Bunyan in saying that Christ kept the Abrahamic requirements so that the promise would be unconditional to all those promised salvation by the Abrahamic covenant?

Johnson does not really answer this question, and I would love to have a talk with him about it. Were the Gentiles (for example, those addressed by some of the prophets) ever under the curse of the Mosaic law? I am only asking a question here. Please don’t call me a dispensationalist for asking the question! My hope in the gospel has everything to do with Christ legally paying off (satisfying) the curses of God’s law against the elect. But my hope in the gospel does not depend on me identifying God’s law with the Mosaic law.

On page 163, Johnson seems to give away his case for the Mosaic covenant being the “covenant of works”. In a footnote, he acknowledges that Gentiles were not under the Mosaic covenant, but then says “nevertheless they were still under the covenant of works” and then quotes Romans 2:14 (a law unto themselves). But doesn’t this show that you can be under a covenant of works and not be under Moses? And if so, doesn’t this show that Christ could have been under a “covenant of works” for His elect without that being the Mosaic covenant?

To say that Christ died “for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant” in Hebrews 9:15 does mean some of the elect were under the Mosaic covenant. But it does not prove that the gentile elect were under the Mosaic covenant.

As James Haldane suggests in his commentary on Hebrews (p245, Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press), the solution to the problem of the first covenant is not to find a better mediator for that first covenant. If a former covenant is infringed by one of the parties, satisfaction is given by making a second covenant.

If we are going to make distinctions within the Mosaic law-economy, why not be consistent in thinking about these distinctions when we think of Christ legally satisfying the Mosaic law? Was Christ keeping the ceremonial laws of Moses when He shed His blood? Were we Gentiles under the curse of the Mosaic law for our failure to keep the ceremonial law?

I am not denying that Christ was cursed by God’s law for the sins of the elect. I am only questioning the idea of pointing to the Mosaic covenant as that law or as that “covenant of works” for Christ. If you want to use the language of a covenant of works for Christ our federal Head, why not go to the Abrahamic covenant for that? Or even better, why not refer to a “covenant of redemption” which is neither the Mosaic nor the Abrahamic (especially in its conditional aspects, like the duty of the physical children of Abraham to be physically circumcised)?

Hebrews 13:20—“the God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.”

I am not denying that Christ was physically circumcised, but I am questioning if that circumcision was a vicarious law-keeping for the elect. Since we Gentile elect were never commanded to be physically circumcised, how then we can be blessed because Christ was physically circumcised?

But Didn’t Daniel Work for the Government?

June 17, 2012

We could be talking about Joseph and Daniel instead of about Hitler, George Washington, and Ronald Reagan. I suggest that we live now in the new covenant version of exile, in analogy to the exiles of Joseph and Daniel.  This means that, for us, exile is not a curse but our vocation. Diaspora is not a punishment but an opportunity to sing the songs of Zion in strange lands.

This means we should not appeal to the paradigm of Exodus 32 in which people ordain themselves as priests to God by means of slaying their ethnic brothers. Nor should we argue for the republished “covenant of works aspects of the Mosaic economy” to serve as the standard for those who serve as resident aliens in the regimes of foreigners.
What difference, if any, is there between the exile of us now and the exiles of the Old Testament? Does the law of Christ (the Sermon on the Mount) make anything different today? Does there continue to be a law-ordeal aspect to our getting things done in the civil kingdoms in which live as exiles today?
I would welcome an answer to any and all such questions, but my basic question now is simple. Do you think that Joseph and Daniel acted as agents of the sword for their magistrates? Why would foreign magistrates trust aliens with the sword? Do you think that Joseph and Daniel had acquired dual citizenships, not only in Israel (that was and is to come) but also as Egyptian and Assyrian citizens ?
Jeremiah 29 reads: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream.” I take it that Jeremiah was referring to the theonomists of his own time.
II Kings 5:14 reads  So Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”
On this manner of singing the songs of Zion in strange lands, I would recommend one Mennonite book: For the Nations, by John Howard Yoder (Eerdmans), expecially the chapter on diaspora, “See How they Go with Their Faces”.  And one book by a Quaker, A Biblical Theology of Exile, by Daniel Smith-Christopher( Fortress).  And by the premill evangelical Robert H Gundry, Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian (Eerdmans).

Federal visionists (theonomists)  like Leithart are a lot more Constantinian than many Roman Catholics today even when they agree on “sacrament” making the church (or churches)  It’s interesting to me that folks like Leithart and Hauerwas  have made a case for going back to Rome, without ever doing it. They  claim to be “too catholic to be catholic”.

These same folks who want to follow the OT (“the” covenant) model for worship are not agreed about what is legitimate for the people of God when they operate in a second kingdom.

Are You Too Catholic to Be Catholic?, Too Tolerant to Be Tolerant?

June 8, 2012

Some “dividing” and “distinctions” are important for emphasizing what’s important in the gospel, the grace of God. For example, some dispensationalists distinguish believing in Christ as Savior and as Lord. Those who insist on obedient discipleship as a result of faith in the gospel are accused of believing “another gospel”.

Another such “distinction” is made by two gentlemen from Australia, Robert Brinsmead and Geoffrey Paxton, editors of Verdict. Their “dividing” goes like this—religion is good, gospel is best. In other words, outside of us righteousness is so important that ecclesiology and ethics become matters of indifference.

I have two criticisms, one with the “dividing” itself and the other with what Brinsmead and Paxton call “gospel”. They rightly insist on the centrality of the “outside of us doing and dying of Jesus.” But they do not tell the entire story, as the apostles did in the book of Acts. They do not talk about the promise of God to destroy those who do not believe the gospel. They sound like universalists, and when you ask them about this, they bristle and relegate the question to “religion”.

Brinsmead and Paxton also do not talk about the authority of Jesus Christ to give eternal life and the knowledge of Christ revealed in the gospel. In fact, they so distinguish “our experience” from the “doing and dying of Jesus” that they even consign any talk of the new birth to being “religion”.

The decisive difference between the experience of those who believe the gospel and those who do not is to be found in the glory given to Jesus Christ as God’s reward for His doing and dying. But Paxton and Brinsmead claim that the Scripture is silent about the “theology” of particular redemption.

The two gentlemen minimize the significance of faith in justification. Granted, most people today make an idol of faith, so that they think God counts faith as righteousness, or so that they think faith makes the difference between elect and non-elect. But in reaction to that, Barthians like Paxton and Brinsmead teach something very much like an ex opere operato view of salvation.

They pretend to stand in the future and look to the past. The New Testament perspective, however, is to stand in the present and look to the past. Knowing that they believe in Christ, the justified elect have confidence in His doing and dying for them. Is Romans 6 gospel or religion? Is the “our old self was crucified with” (6:6) the “gospel” part with the “we have been united with Him” (6:5) only the “religion” part?

The wrath talked about in Ephesians 2:3 is part of the gospel. Even the elect were under God’s wrath until they are justified. Unless one believes in the Christ revealed in that gospel, he or she remains an object of God’s wrath.

I very much wonder about any attempt to “divide” religion and gospel. Yes, we can and should divide law and grace. But as some kind of Anabaptist, I can’t help noticing that Brinsmead and Paxton are saying something very definite about what they consider the good and right “religion”. Although they claim to only be talking about “gospel”, to the extent they define that in antithesis to “religion”, they end up saying all manner of things about what we have the liberty to do or not do in “religion”.

For starters, they definitely think that congregations should be non-separatist. They assume that anybody who is not as ecumenical about “the one church” as they are is some kind of legalist. While Brinsmead and Paxton claim they want “tolerance for dissent”, they also attempt to remove all basis for a gathered church. In other words, they can’t tolerate people who are so intolerant that they would not consent to go to their “one church”.

They insist that no group of Christians is ever to separate from another group of Christians. To give a specific example, they would allow believer baptism (even if you had not been infant baptized before?), but they would condemn any church which restricts its membership only to those baptized as believers. The two gentlemen talk about “the” church, an universal body which one automatically enters (not by experience or conversion or faith). Local assemblies of believers who have agreed together about what it means to trust the gospel and obey Christ they reproach with sneer-words like “sectarian” and “ghetto” and “religion”.

I suggest that what they call good religion is both unworkable and unbiblical. Imagine the following situation. These two fellows settle down in a small town with only one church. To use the Anglican or Roman Catholic jargon, that church is the “parish”. It is therefore typical of the Magisterial Reformation. Though there is a distinction between church and state (two kingdoms?), the boundaries of the church coincide with the boundaries of the nation-state,

Imagine more about the situation. Imagine that every adult in town is a Christian. (Remember, the two gentlemen don’t believe in experience and conversion, so maybe they were all just born that way.) Then this one church in town decides together to do some particular religious practice, take your pick—footwashing, seventh day Sabbath, conscientious objection to war, etc. Now what do Brinsmead and Paxton do in this situation? They could say that those practices should be up to individuals to do or not do, but what do they do if everybody else in town decides to follow these practices together? Leave town? Start another church?

Remember they have said that such practices are merely “religion”. So how could they in good conscience separate from the other Christians in town about such practices? If it’s only “religion”, why not go along with the rest for the sake of peace and unity? I am reminded of Galatians 2. Paul reproaches Peter for separating from the Gentiles when others come from Jerusalem. And that’s all well and good. But what happens if Paul has to separate from Peter because Peter has separated from the Gentiles. In either case, before or after, you still have two different groups of Christians.

Either that, or you have one group saying that the other group is not Christian, because they put their “rellgion” in place of the “gospel”. And then the other group can say the same thing, and on it goes. “They went out from us because they were not of us.” And, yes, that’s right, because they were only about “religion” and we ourselves are about the “gospel”. And on and on it goes, back and forth.

I am reminded of the “Church of Christ” assemblies that come out of the Alexander Campbell (Robert Sandeman) groups. They began by condemning all denominationalism, but the result in many cases is that anybody outside “the Church of Christ” nondenominational denomination is condemned. The two Australians will inevitably establish groups which exclude others who exclude, even though they think these “others” are Christians (maybe born Christians) but who are nevertheless “legalist” in their religion. They are the legalists. No, you are the legalists. And on it goes!

I imagine that the two fellows would deny responsibility for the situation in which they are forced to leave town or start a new church. They would say it was the old church which was wrong in the first place to have such standards. Perhaps so. Many times true. But a congregation with no standards seems not to really be a congregation.

I suppose the only way that Brinsmead and Paxton could “practice discipline” is by excommunicating Unbelievers. Of course that’s a problem for them, since they are functional universalists who deny any need for faith in the gospel. But to get to the unbiblical nature of their ecclesiology, the New Testament does NOT assume that excommunication is only for apostates and unbelievers. II Corinthians 5 speaks of brothers and sisters being delivered over to Satan for the “destruction of the flesh” so that brothers and sisters will benefit from the discipline.

Christ is not only the Doer and Dier, but also the Lord of the churches who commands us to take the logs out of our own eyes so that we will be able to serve our sisters and brothers by attending to the specks in their eyes. (Matthew 7:1-50)

Brinsmead and Paxton simply do not understand this type of “religion”. The Magisterial Reformation had the nation-state kill Anabaptists. I am not suggesting that the two gentlemen want to start a new inquisition, but they have the same fundamental lack of appreciation of the importance of assemblies who help each other attempt to live in reference to the pattern of the life of Jesus Christ. The “natural law” and “common morality” mentality of these two fellows suggests that the “idealistic’ ethics of the kingdom is not for this age, but either optional or postponed.

Only if one does something really outrageous (like become a drug addict or murder somebody), would they become concerned about church discipline. And at that point, I guess they would stop being functioning universalists, or at the least, say that the criminal was not yet a Christian.

Brinsmead says that the issue between Luther and the Anabaptist Carlstadt was not a matter of “religion” but rather a question about “gospel”. Well, since I have deconstructed the difference between religion and gospel (but not between law and grace!), I can agree with Brinsmead about the gospel importance of the debate. But there are different kinds of “legalism”. Even those who agree that we are not saved by what we do can still disagree about what God commands us to do.

Let me quote from Carlstadt on the gospel: “If they desire to evaluate and offer their obedience and good will to God, they notice so much pollution that they must be ashamed of themselves…However, through the costly and unpolluted priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, they receive joyfulness in Christ’s sacrifice before God…Christ alone is righteous before you and before you only Christ’s sacrifice is without weakness and without blame. His sacrifice is so great that I must consider my own as nothing…Man on earth does not accomplish any command of God, not even the smallest.” (Ron Sider, Anreas Bodenstein Von Karlstadt, E J Brill, 1974, p 252)

To me, that sounds like gospel! Now, I do think Carlstadt was a “soft legalist”, in the sense that he thought that the Mosaic law was normative for Christians. But this is no different from me disagreeing with a WCF Presbyterian about sabbatarianism. The point is that his confidence was not in his Mosaic law-keeping but in the sacrifice of Christ. The separation which resulted in Luther killing not only Jews but Anabaptists was not simply about the “gospel” and not at all about “religion”.

What if Peter and Paul had ended up separating in Galatians? (Let’s not even think about Paul going back to killing Christians like Peter! Or Peter killing Christians like Paul) Would there always be one person at fault or more at fault in the separation? Do we say, if Paul caused Peter to leave, that would have been about the gospel, but nevertheless we think Peter left not because of the gospel but because of religion? It does get confusing! And we like things to be more simple than that. The rational “closure” that says that everybody should be in my “the one church” is a lot more comfortable.

Because of his distinction between “gospel” and “religion”, Luther tended toward gradualism instead of immediate obedience to what he himself understood from Scripture. In his early days, for example, Luther called for a ‘truly evangelical order consisting of those who
1. want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel
2. sign their names and meet alone in a house
3. accept the necessity of being reproved or corrected
Though Luther emphasized faith in justification (more than the two gentlemen do), Luther did not make faith a requirement for being in “the church”. In fact, Germany enforced infant baptism with the death penalty! But that doesn’t stop Brinsmead from labeling as “prostitution” those who “withdraw from the world into a holy remnant waiting the eschaton.” The Anabaptists withdrew because Lutheran antinomians were coming after them with swords!

Even though I agree that nobody is now under the Mosaic economy, I also disagree with Brinsmead and Paxton about their characterization of Mosaic law. Neglect and abuse of the Sinai-code resulted in mistreating other people. Compare, for example, the Pharisee with the good Samaritan. Think also of the temporal benefits of the jubilee laws when some of the one percent had to return some stuff to the poor. It simply is not fair to say, as Brinsmead does say, that “all the law of Moses could produce was the stern asceticism of a John the Baptist in the desert.” Yes, all who rely on obeying Moses are condemned, but so also are all condemned who rely on obeying the law of Christ. But this does not make law a bad thing! When standards and regulations are eliminate, sinners use that also to hurt other people.

Receiving the Righteousness of Christ’s Death is Not By Our Imputation, but By God’s Imputation

June 8, 2012

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”.

The elect “receive” the righteousness by God’s imputation. The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor can the elect impute Christ’s righteousness to themselves until after God has already imputed the righteousness. God is the imputer.

The receiving of the righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. The imputation is not necessarily at the same TIME as when 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.

Our continuing acts of faith toward the gospel are not the righteousness. But neither is God’s imputation, nor the indwelling of Christ which follows that imputation, the righteousness.

This is not four-pointer double-talk about a difference between redemption and atonement. Rather, it is a recognition of the biblical difference between the atonement and justification. The difference I am taling about is NOT that the elect “do something” to get justified. The difference I am talking about is that, God imputes the righteousness, and this means we need to see a distinction between God’s imputing and God’s righteousness.

Even before they are justified, the elect are entitled by Christ’s work to justification. But the elect are not justified until God imputes the righteousness to them.

Well, all this sounds logical enough, but what does it practically mean? Is not the safest and most far away place from Arminianism and legalism and conditionalism to agree with those who teach eternal justification that conversion does not matter?

I challenge the notion that the best way to counter salvation conditioned on the sinner is to teach eternal justification, so that conversion becomes only knowing that you were always converted.

In other words, their idea is that since I was always elect, I was always “saved”, I was never not converted.

The safest and best place to be is not the most extreme away from what the Arminians say. The safest and best place to be is what the texts of the Bible says.

I have no big problem with saying that the elect were “in some sense” always saved, but only if this “sense” is that they are elect. In other words, from God’s perspective, the elect are never in danger of perishing.

As far as I can tell, most folks who teach eternal justification do NOT teach “presumptive regeneration”. The gospel does not tell anyone: you are elect. The gospel tells everyone: God loves the elect and Christ’s death will save the elect. you might be elect but you won’t ever know that until you are justified. As long as you are under the wrath of God, you cannot and will not believe the gospel. As soon as God imputes Christ’s righteousness to you, you will understand and believe. BELIEF IN THE FALSE GOSPEL IS EVIDENCE OF GOD’S WRATH ON YOU NOW

But the eternal justification gospel says to Arminians—you might be already justified That to me is a quite a different gospel
Where the Arminian wants to tell everyone that God loves them, those who teach eternal justification (or presumptive regeneration) want to tell SOME of the unconverted that God has already justified them. But the Bible does not encourage this kind of logic

I Thessalonians 1:4 “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to not only in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

To insist on the necessity of conversion is not to be a “revivalist”. I don’t approve what goes by the name of revival. I do want conversions, in which sinners come to understand and believe the gospel, and repent of false gospels.