"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, August 31, 2009

Does the Bible teach Limited Atonement?

It may, and has been, alleged that Scripture does not teach Limited Atonement, but that Limited Atonement is a product of Calvinist Scholasticism. That Limited Atonement is a product of cold rationalism.

Let us first define what we mean by “Limited Atonement.” Limited refers to the aim, scope or purpose for which the atonement was commissioned. Calvinists contend that the Atonement was commissioned for the purpose of redeeming the number of the elect, and that it was actual in accomplishing and redeeming those people. This is why Scripture speaks of Jesus the Messiah in this way:

Matthew 1:21 “ you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."”

What is lauded as great and glorious in the work of God is not potential or that Jesus “may or might” accomplish His aim, but that He did accomplish His aim. The effects of the atonement are then limited to that number of the elect that are His people and not for the unelect. The Father chose those whom He would save and the Son commenced His work to redeem and to actually save those lost persons. The reward of Christ's death is the number of those elect.

I have already made the case that the term “world” refers to the diversity of peoples in that number of the elect, and not “every single person” as many English or Latin glosses of the word suggest. But this may be said to make the case that these verses that speak of Jesus dying for the “world” or being “Savior of the world” are not proof texts for Unlimited or Universal Atonement, but does not make the case that the Scripture explicitly teaches a particular aim of the Atonement for the number of the elect rather than every single person. Fair enough.

I would like to make my case thusly: In the case of “Limited,” how does the Scripture talk about the particularity of Christ's work. Is it spoke of as excluding, or all encompassing? Secondly, does this also apply when speaking of the death of Christ?

[I make no claims on originality in basic argument, though the words and commentary are mine, some of this line of reasoning is found in The Death of Death by John Owen]


First, let us agree on the way that Christ's intercession is spokenof. In other words, can we say Christ intercedes for the elect and not for the unelect? This issue is important, for the link between the death of Christ and the intercession on behalf of those for whom Christ died is explicit from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Few Christians would object that Isaiah 53 speaks of the Messiah. The end of Isaiah 53 concludes that the work of the Suffering Servant is “he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. ” Here we see the work of Messiah can be said to be of two offices in redeeming the lost: First, the Messiah is to “bare sin.” We know this is the teaching of Isaiah 53 concerning the atoning death of Christ. The second office is making “intercession for the transgressors.” This refers to Christ, as John puts it, being an Advocate with the Father to stand in place of us for our sins (1 John 2:1). It is a matter of assurance for the believer that Christ makes intercession for them. This is not general, for then all persons would be saved. It is particular to the elect. We know this for Paul says such:

Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
Rom 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Therefore, unless we are Universalist (believing all persons obtain eternal life) we know that the way we are able to stand without charge is the intercession, the mediatorial work of Christ on our behalf. This is due to a particular work for the elect, that is not for the the unelect. How do we know Christ does not intercede for the unelect? First, Paul tells us the pardon for the elect is assured by Christ's intercession. Second, we would have to believe the Father is not accepting the work of Christ as sufficient to answer Christ's request (The Father would be denying the Son's worthiness to make such a request) and Finally, Jesus Himself tells us, in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father that He does not pray for the unelect world, but merely the world of the elect:

Joh 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Joh 17:19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be
sanctified in truth.


It is my contention that Christ intercedes only for the elect, for He died only for the elect. His work is not divided. The work of Christ is commissioned only for the elect, not part of it commissioned for every single person and part of it commissioned for only the elect. Jesus, even before His death, specified the particularity of His mission, and responded to the unelect telling them:

Joh 10:25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me,
Joh 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
Joh 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Joh 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
The work of Christ is here said to be for His flock. This is not a potential flock. This is an actual flock, a set number given to Christ from His Father. The suggestion that they come in and out of His possession at their own will is counted as insulting: “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For to lose a sheep from the flock would be to impugn the goodness of the shepherd:

Joh 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Joh 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
Joh 10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
If Christ loses His sheep, we must say He is not a good enough or strong enough shepherd to keep them. But Christ knows His sheep (10:14), for they are the ones for which Christ “lays down his life” (10:11). No one for whom Christ lays down His life will be lost. If Christ died for every single person, and any person is lost, Christ is a liar.

Another way this is communicated by Biblical authors is by Paul's language of the particular love Christ has for His church. The love of Christ is analogous to this love in Ephesians 5:25:

Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

What principle is able to be derived for Christians if Christ gave Himself up for those other than His Church? Are Husbands here told to love their wives as they would love any other random woman? Are our wives to be told that we love them the same amount, and give our love to them in the same way as we do to all women? As intimate as the love of a husband is for a wife, so is the particular love of Christ that compels Christ to give up His life in death for her, in a way that He does not do for those who are not His bride. It is a particular, not general or universal love that God speaks of with his bride, not of any inherent worth of His bride but:

Deu 7:7-8a It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you
God loves His people, Christ loves His bride, because: He loves her. God's love determines His people, God's love is not determined by people. It is to a particular people, not every single person that Scripture assures:

Act 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Heb 9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
Heb 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Heb 9:25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,
Heb 9:26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Christ: Savior of the World

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

- Article 2 of the Remonstrance by the Arminian Party in the Netherlands

The most prominent argument against the idea that the Bible teaches an atonement that was commissioned for the elect and accomplished fully and actually for them and is not committed for the unelect is the wording of the Bible itself. Some of the verses have already been cited. 1 John 2:2 identifies Christ as the propitiation for "our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 4:14 states "the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world."

Does this settle the manner? In our way of using the English word, when we say "world," don't we mean everyone? What purpose does calling Jesus the Savior of the world serve?

What being "Savior of the World" means:

Let us look at an extended episode in which this phrase is used in John 4. Many know basics of the story of the woman at the well. It is important that we are told that this woman is a Samaritan (John 4:7). When Jesus speaks to her, two boundaries have been crossed. Most focus on the gender difference, which is important. But the bigger boundary is the racial boundary. The woman does not answer Jesus' words, but merely replies "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" as John supplies the observation: "(For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)" (John 4:9).

Differences are discussed such as where the Jews worship and where the Samaritans worship (John 4:20-24). The Samaritans have their hope for a Messiah, yet are separated from Jews and their worship. Jesus declares that such barriers are being brought down. When the woman believes and tells the village, it gives a hope to the people who say "we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." (John 4:42)

Why would the people say such a thing? Is it because they believe in universal redemption of every single person? Certainly not. Is it because they believe in a universal atonement that is a propitiation for every person? Nope. They say Jesus is the "Savior of the world" because they now see that Jesus is not just the savior of the Jews. Jesus is from the Jews, but He is not only sent to be the Savior of that people, but all peoples in all the world. We can see that John's emphasis in using the word "world" is that John uses that in contrast to "Jew" or "Israel" or "Jewish." John uses "world" to communicate that Jesus is not a national deity, but the universal Savior of all peoples, not just the Jews.

What being "Savior of the World" certainly doesn't mean:

So to use the phrase "Savior of the World" as a case for saying Christ died for every single person is illegitimate. A meaning is explained in John 4. But we also know what "world" does not mean (i.e. every single person) by proper thinking through what someone is saying when they claim such a thing.

Let us think of what we are saying if we say “Jesus is the Savior of the world” as meaning “Jesus is the Savior of every single person.” This can mean 2 things:

1. You are a Universalist and believe no one suffers hell.

If we look at 1 John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” And we insert our gloss in, we see John combating provincialism. Christ's death is not merely for some in the race of the Jews, not merely for your particular group (Those in Asia Minor, Romans, Americans) but for members of every people group. However if we insert the Arminian gloss of “every single person” then universalism would be a logical conclusion of Christ being the propitiation of the sins of every single person. Propitiation means Christ was the object of God's infinite wrath against sin. How would God have wrath left over for anyone if Christ suffered propitiation for them? Indeed, logically if world means “every single person” all are saved. However, if we take the Bible at its word, then hell is a real place with a numbered population. For one who accepts the Scriptures as infallible and the true teaching of God, they cannot accept such a conclusion.

2. You believe Jesus is the Savior of those in hell.

People have said this. Rob Bell says there are forgiven people in hell. If a proponent of Unlimited Atonement is honest, they must say that Jesus is the Savior of those who are not saved. The problem with this of course is that this is nonsense.

We do not say that God is the savior of those who are not saved. If I talked about saving the life of a person that drowned and died, that is nonsense. If they were saved, they would not have drowned. If God is the savior of those who are not saved, salvation means nothing, for it has no essence, it communicates an action that has not taken place. When God told Israel that he was their savior from the Egyptians, this was not because he let them drown in the sea. Such a statement would call for no praise, but merely ridicule. If one is saved, they do not suffer hell.

Therefore, we really only have one true answer for how “Jesus is Avior of the world.” World must refer to all types of people. For:

* Jesus is not the Savior of every single person, for some suffer hell.

* Jesus is not the Savior of those who are not saved, for this statement would make no sense and is only deserving of ridicule for God, not praise.

* Thus, we must say: Jesus is the Savior of those from every people, nation and tongue.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Questions from Owen

I have been re-reading John Owen's Death of Death and drawing out what I believe are his questions he poses to a person that believes that "Christ died for every single person." This assertion is draw from a reading of verses that use wording such as Christ dying for all or the world. The assumption is that all (pas in Greek) or world (kosmos in Greek) mean exactly what the English equivalent means as "every single one." Owen challenges this assertion, positing instead that Christ's death is not just potentially for all, but has its desired and intended purpose, salvation, on the elect. To assert a "universal atonement" requires answering these pointed questions on what that would actually mean:

Questions from Book I:

1) Did the death of Christ accomplish the end for which Christ intended or was that aim (if it was every single person) thwarted?

2) If Christ suffered hell (separation from the Father) in substitution for all persons, why would they have to suffer hell?

3) If Christ paid for the sins of every person, why is any person made to pay for their sins again in hell?

4) If Christ's death and intercession before the Father are inseparably related [i.e. the only basis for intercession is pleading what Christ has done one behalf of those He intercedes for - Romans 8:33-34, Isaiah 53:11-12] how can Christ die for all and only intercede for some?

5) Why does Christ specify that He only intercedes for the elect (John 17)?

6) If Christ died in place for all, why are all not saved? Is Christ's death insufficient for those He allegedly dies for but wind up in hell?

7) Why is "Christ died for your sins" good news if the person it is said to might still have to answer for those sins?

8) Why would God the Father elect some, and not all, and the Holy Spirit regenerates some, but not all, yet Christ would aim to die for all? Are the Persons of the Godhead at cross-purposes, have different minds or different wills?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Owen: Important Question on the Death of Christ

From "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ." by John Owen. The words are from Book 1, chapter 3. Only the two headings are mine.

[1 - Christ suffered hell for us]

He cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And this, by the way, will be worth our observation that we may know with whom our Saviour chiefly had to do, and what was that which he underwent for sinners; which also will give some light to the grand query concerning the persons of them for whom he undertook all this. His sufferings were far from consisting in mere corporal perpessions and afflictions, with such impressions upon his soul and spirit as were the effects and issues only of them. It was no more nor less than the curse of the law of God which he underwent for us: for he freed us from the curse “by being made a curse,” Gal. iii. 13; which contained all the punishment that was due to sin, either in the severity of God’s justice, or according to the exigence of that law which required obedience. That the execration of the law should be only temporal death, as the law was considered to be the instrument of the Jewish polity, and serving that economy or dispensation, is true; but that it should be no more, as it is the universal rule of obedience, and the bond of the covenant between God and man, is a foolish dream. Nay, but in dying for us Christ did not only aim at our good, but also directly died in our stead. The punishment due to our sin and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; which that it was the pains of hell, in their nature and being, in their weight and pressure, though not in tendence and continuance (it being impossible that he should be detained by death), who can deny and not be injurious to the justice of God, which will inevitably inflict those pains to eternity upon sinners?...

[2 - Then how can any that Christ suffered hell for still go to hell? ]

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,” Isa. liii. 6: and add thereunto this observation, that it seems strange to me that Christ should undergo the pains of hell in their stead who lay in the pains of hell before he underwent those pains, and shall continue in them to eternity; for “their worm dieth not, neither is their fire quenched.” To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:— God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. ii. 20, 21. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reformed Spirituality

Here I will link to my treatments of the subject of Reformed Spirituality. This started out as a short-lived class (the first three were taught), then turned into my own attempt to keep thinking and writing on the topic. My grand ending was to be on the subject of prayer and it as the continuing discipline of spiritual growth. But I am still learning. So this series is not finished, as I am still struggling with the final part of my study.

1. Introduction: What is Reformed Spirituality?

2. Theology of the Heart: Man and Sin
(Reflection on Job 14 and a Fallen world)

3. Our Mystical Salvation: Union with Christ
Part 1: Answering the Problem of Sin
Part 2: Salvation in Christ
(Reflection: Justification, Sanctification and Adoption)

4. Overcoming Sin
The context of Spiritual Formation: The Church
The Ordinary Means of Grace:
Continuing: Prayer...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

O Heart Bereaved and Lonely

O Heart Bereaved and Lonely,
by Fanny Crosby

O heart bereaved and lonely,
Whose brightest dreams have fled
Whose hopes like summer roses,
Are withered crushed and dead
Though link by link be broken,
And tears unseen may fall
Look up amid thy sorrow,
To Him who knows it all

O cling to thy Redeemer,
Thy Savior, Brother, Friend
Believe and trust His promise,
To keep you till the end
O watch and wait with patience,
And question all you will
His arms of love and mercy,
Are round about thee still

Look up, the clouds are breaking,
The storm will soon be o'er
And thou shall reach the haven,
Where sorrows are no more
Look up, be not discouraged;
Trust on, whate'er befall
Remember, O remember,
Thy Savior knows it all

Saturday, August 22, 2009

ELCA loses their cross.

Seems a small tornado damaged the steeple of Central Lutheran Church (ELCA), across the street from the Convention Center where the ELCA Assembly was meeting. The winds knocked off the cross from the top of the church, while in the convention center the ELCA approved homosexual ordination with a vote of 66.6%.
A Prayer from a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) pastor that he prays every Sunday:
"O Lord, defend your church from enemies within and without;
give to your church faithful pastors and people who faithfully receive the gifts of your grace."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Worship and Belief: Worshipping the way I want to

The typical modern conception of worship likely has more to do with emotions and the will than with what one believes. This, in some ways, has more to do with the denigration of beliefs than with worship. To this point I have said “beliefs” for that very reason, because when synonyms like doctrine, theology or dogma are used, the modern person immediately recoils. These are not the terms they first associate with Christianity. They prefer other, admittedly good terms such as joy and relationship.

Still, when the question is put forward: “Does it matter what you believe?” The majority will (probably still?) answer: yes. If you deny the existence of God, there may be a problem. If you say Jesus is not God, there may be some concern. Even if you deny grace, there may be some taking of a person aside for a talking to. Yet, if we begin to apply what it is we believe that God tells us to any area, a typical reaction is to accuse one of quenching the Spirit or of getting in the way of relationship and joy.

Don't believe me? The next time someone tells you they have shared their faith with someone, ask them what they said. Then, if something is off in the doctrine, criticize their wording. This is a sure way to get an ear full of the Spirit providing words and that the important thing that was said was that God wants a relationship. We think what we believe is important...just not in evangelizing.

Still don't believe me? The next time someone says they had a wonderful time of worship, ask what they learned. If nothing, ask what they were reminded of as a great doctrine of the gospel. Ask if Christ was mentioned. If not, tell them they may have done something, but they did not engage in Christian worship. See if they really believe it matters what one believes, or just what one feels. Typically saying that one had a “good time” of worship is saying something about the style or selection of music rather than having anything to do with what Christians believe, or particularly having something to do with Who Christ is and what He has done. Yet, Scripture mentions confession (what we believe) along with gathering together:

Heb 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
What might happen if we let our beliefs...our confession/doctrine/dogma inform our worship?

1) We would see worship as at the invitation of God, not our own wills.

We worship at the invitation of God. The Psalms continually repeat a call to worship God. “Let us worship God, our light and our salvation.” (Psalm 27) “Praise the Lord.” (Psalm 34) “Shout for joy to the Lord.” (Psalm 100) “Come let us bow down in worship” (Psalm 95).

If we believe that God invites us to worship Him at His pleasure, then we will not see worship as our self-expression or emotion, but at its core: prayer (Ps 116:4, Acts 1:14) and confession (Heb 3:1, 4:14, 10:23, 1 Tim 6:12-13), praying to God a confession of Who He is. Not by the functions of our autonomous wills (Col 2:23) but in accordance to His Will (Matt 26:42).

2)We will confess Who Christ is, every time we worship.

Not only is Christianity a confessional faith, Christianity's Saviour is confessional. His confession is the object of our emulation in Heb 3:1 and 1 Tim 6:12-13. As Peter confessed (Matt 16:16) and as Israel confessed (Deut 6:4) or as Nathaniel (John 1:50), Thomas (John 20:28), and the Baptismal formula (Matt 28:19) confesses. Any of these would be acceptable in worship if the Apostles' Creed, Nicene or other creeds scare “Biblical” Christians.

3) We will pray. (Ps 116:4, Acts 1:14)

Prayer is often a filler in worship. Something to do as the band sets up or as a transition to let the pastor make his way to the pulpit. They are rarely intentional or Scriptural. This is sinful.

4) We will confess who we are.

In other words, we will confess our sins. We may use the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 51 to acknowledge that sin is not being unhappy or doing something frowned on, but something that is a personal offense against God alone. But we are assured that if we confess our sins, we are forgiven by a gracious God. (John 1:8-9). We should also be absolved of our sins. This is a fancy way of saying we should be assured of the forgiveness won by Christ's work (John 3:16, Romans 5:1, Romans 8:1).

5)We will read the Word publicly.

Paul gives this specific instruction to Timothy as part of his duties as a minister. To obey Scripture, we ought not to ignore or neglect this command. (1 Tim 4:13) It might also be nice to hear more Scripture than merely what the pastor has chosen to preach from, but also to hear something from both testaments, Old and New, in the context of worship.

6)We will administer the sacraments

Christ's final command includes baptizing. (Matt 28:19) Christ also commanded the observance of the Supper until he returns. (1 Cor 11:26) Not to do these things occasionally at an evening service or a non-worship service. They are the commands of God not to be trifled with by mere human preference for other more exciting things. They are not done infrequently because they are important to us, but because they are unimportant to us.

7) We will do what is commanded.

Nadab and Abihu, the sons of the high priest Aaron in that happy picture above, tried their hand at innovative and exciting worship by their own preferences. God killed them for it. (Lev 10, Num 26). Today, we think God has changed his mind. Today, God does not care how we personally choose to worship Him. Let us hope that the Church does not need the severity of the lesson of Nadab and Abihu to change our minds. Perhaps only the severity of God causing sickness among the Corinthians when they abused the Supper in worship (1 Cor 11). God gave His Scriptures to teach and guide His people (2 Tim 3:16). We ignore it at our peril. Therefore, if our preferences contradict what God commands, then we worship at our peril and in our sin.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Confessionalism in Matt 16?

Some say the church is people. Not traditions or doctrines or confessions, but people. I would like to say that this idea denies the very biblical foundational nature of the church. So first we must ask the question:

What is the nature or essence of the Church? By nature, I mean, what makes a church a church and not merely a Christian social gathering. What makes a church God-ordained?

The best description of what the nature of the church is at its essence, may be found in the text that explains the means by which Christ builds his Church. Here, Christ asks the disciples an important question:

Mat 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
Mat 16:14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Mat 16:15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Mat 16:16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Mat 16:17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Mat 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Mat 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

The passage has several movements. First, Christ asks what others say about Him and the disciples answer him. Then Jesus asks Who they say He is, personally. Peter answers Him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus gives a short monologue about the church.

The words from 16:17-19 become highly debated, especially verse 18. Typically, there are two camps that debate this verse in what Jesus is talking about when He says “on this rock.” Is it Peter? Or is it Peter's confession?

To answer this question, we should do two things. One, we ought to leave some prejudices behind. Two, we ought to make this align with the rest of the canon.

We must leave behind some prejudices. We think that Protestants say confession of faith (Peter saying “you are the Christ”), and Catholics say Peter. Let's first look at what the language of the text suggests and then reconcile that to the rest of the canon.

The language of the text. Jesus replies after Peter has answered “And I tell you, you are Peter (Πέτρος), and on this rock (πέτρᾳ) I will build my church” One cannot ignore in honesty the play on words that occurs in this passage. Peter or “Petros” is compared to rock or “petra.” This comparison in which would have been “Cephas” in Aramaic, Peter is the one referred to as the rock. Yet, how can this be?

Does this reconcile to the rest of the canon? Does this deny a Protestant doctrine, that Jesus is the only foundation ala:

1 Cor 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Yet, we indeed find such a thing said elsewhere in Paul's letters:

Eph 2:20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

Indeed, the church is build on and uses people, as well as on Christ. They are not mutually exclusive. But these are not any people, given authority and raw power to do with as they please. The church is not merely build on a man (Peter) but on a man with a confession. A few verses later Jesus will call Peter "Satan" as Peter tries to deny Christ His mission on the cross. Though the church is built on people with a confession, when the people lose that confession, they cease to be the church.

A confession without people is no church. Jesus does not build a church on a mere document of beliefs. Yet, a people without a confession is no church either. The church is not a voluntary association of people with like interests and desires for potlucks, but the people God has given his message and who confess His message and doctrine.

So Matthew 16 refers both to Peter and His confession. Both are required for the church to be the church as it does what Christ commands it to do in proclaiming that confession in word and sacrament (Matt 28:19). The nature of the church is made up of people and confession. This is what is meant by saying the church is, by its very nature, confessional.

Warning: Soap Box Week

This week is dedicated to unpolished pieces I wrote a while ago and that I have held off on posting. After this week, we will go back to the regularly scheduled tame stuff. If this seems tame, they get progressively less tame, at least in my circles. If they all seem tame, you merely are not in my circles and are not having these conversations. IOW, ignore this disclaimer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Music for the Soul.

Col 3:16 NET - Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.

I recently returned from accompanying a choir on a trip that sought to minister through music. I was struck by the words to one of the songs that sought to strip away the ideas of a merit system or rewards and just focus on God alone in His Beauty as He reigns and embraces us through His Son in the greatest scene of seeming weakness upon a cross.

The trip reminded me of my love of hymns and the way they speak to us in ways that simple prose or speech sometimes can't. My favorite modern arrangements of hymns has been through the work of "Indelible Grace." The minister, Kevin Twit, that puts those projects together wrote a post I think is worth mentioning here. Col 3:16 mentions the word of Christ dwelling in our hearts and Paul encourages song as a means of putting it there.

The post begins:

"So it is Saturday August 1st and I am sitting with my wife in a hospital room at Vanderbilt..."

Link here

The hymn words worth dwelling on?

In the weary hours of sickness, in the times of grief and pain,
When we feel our mortal weakness, when all human help is vain,
In the solemn hour of dying, in the awful judgment day,
May our souls, on thee relying, find thee still our Rock and Stay;

Friday, August 14, 2009

Architecture to the Glory of God

Most church builds are focused on ultility. A friend of mine was recently called to Covenant Presbyterian (PCA) in Nashville. They built a facility, but their primary value was not utility but beauty and awe. Researching online, the cost was actually comparable to many megachurches that look like warehouses. We often think that what we do speaks about who we are: in writing, painting, working, playing, etc. Why not architecture?
Check out the Video:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Calvin on Apostolic Tradition

"Irenaeus had seen the followers of the apostles. He and Tertullian mention the small number of bishops who had been in succession to the apostles up to their time. Many old people were still alive then during whose lifetime the very words uttered by the apostles had been well known from the reports of their fathers. So it is not surprising if they put forward as apostolic tradition what at that time not only had been accepted in common by the first churches, but was considered fixed and unchangeable as the sure doctrine of the faith which Paul, Peter, and their other colleagues had only lately delivered to them. But even Origen, whose time was not much different from theirs, counts among the essentials of the faith certain opinions which, if Pighius [his Catholic opponent] does not anathematise, will get him stoned by his own side too.....I urge readers merely to compare those ancient times with our own; then they will be able to judge how much sincerity or alternatively disgrace there is in his [Pighius'] building his case on [the Father's] support."

-John Calvin. The Bondage and Liberation of the Will. pg 66-67

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Few Pictures from Scotland

Entering Scotland.


St. Andrews.
Grave of Samuel Rutherford.

Church where John Knox preached his first sermon (Holy Trinity)

The sites of the burning of Patrick Hamilton (PH) and George Wishart (GW).

In February 1528, Patrick Hamilton, who was influenced by Martin Luther, was burned alive at the stake in St. Andrews for his Protestant faith. Soon to follow him at the stake was George Wishart, the spiritual mentor of John Knox who wanted to follow Wishart to his trial, but Wishart forbid him to come. John Knox was the man that was able to harvest what these men planted in bringing the Reformation to Scotland.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Few Pictures from England

Parliament & Big Ben.

St. Paul's. (and statue of John Wesley).

Trafalgar Square and statue of Lord Nelson.


All Souls Church.


Fountains Abbey (old Monastery in England near York)

Durham Cathedral

Friday, August 07, 2009

Singing Psalms, and only Psalms, on Sunday

I had a unique experience recently. I attended my first Psalms-only service in Scotland. The church was a Free Church of Scotland that has been exclusive in singing Psalms without instruments and no hymns for nearly a hundred years. I had set a post on Luther to hit that commented that I could never be a Psalms-only puritan. However, the experience was unique and enlightening.

Our choir came to the Free Church early, leaving behind their hymns and songs that they often sing by themselves to adopt Psalms sung by the whole congregation. Then, they practiced in a small building that was very unforgiving to those that sang off key. Then, as the practice wrapped up, a few early congregants filtered in. Mostly the older crowd getting their usual seats. But I watched the members as the choir finished preparing. As the choir sang, I saw an elderly woman singing along, knowing every word to Psalm 127. I knew none of the words. But this woman heard the first few lines and could join right in. The next Psalm they sang, she joined in again. The fact hit me: This lady probably knows all 150 Psalms from singing them every Sunday! I know Psalm 1, 8, 23 and parts of 51. My opposition to Psalms-only missed an important virtue of Psalms-only singing: The congregation begins to memorize the book of the Bible that Calvin called “an anatomy of the soul.” Laments, praises, confession, all in this rich book.

Such a fact does not change my mind that there are good reasons not to be Psalms-only. First, one must feel hypocritical every time you sing Psalm 150, that commands instruments to be used in the worship of God. Second, one has to be stricter than Paul who quotes from early new hymns in his epistles (Phil 2:5-11, Col 1:15-20). Finally, one must do interpretive gymnastics to get around the command to “sing a new song.”

Yet, the choice today seems to be between singing Psalms-only and singing no Psalms. We may sing a song that lifts a few lines from a Psalm, but never the whole thing. We sing the line “Your love endures forever,” in tons of songs, but barely touch the parts that show specific instances of God's love. Though I think being Psalms exclusive is not warranted by Scripture, I do think they have a richer experience and diet of worship than we Christians who rarely, if ever, sing Psalms at all. Somehow, I don't think God will chide the Psalms-only people in heaven as much as the no-Psalms Christians. Our music director at PCPC has a vision for a new Psalter with new music and updated metric words, to re-introduce the Psalms to a Church that has forgotten them. Few things, in my opinion, could be better for the diet of the Church in worship in America.

An example of Scottish Psalms singing: Psalm 23 sung by the congregation mp3.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hymn: Luther's Best

I was told of a Lutheran gathering where the worship leader decided for time's sake to just sing the first verse of this hymn. The pastor immediately got up and declared that they must finish the song, for Satan was still winning! Luther's greatest hymn, based on Psalm 46, is a story. It is the story. Singing it in church for the past two weeks continues to take me on an emotional roller coaster. From lowly despair, to hope, to joy. I can never by a Psalms-only Puritan because of this wonderful hymn.


1. A mighty fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing;
For still our ancient Foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow'r are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing;
Dost ask who that may be:
Christ Jesus it is He;
Lord Sabbaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

3. And though this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God hath willed,
His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure,
For lo his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

4. That Word above all earthly pow'r,
No thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hymn: My Eternal King

Something the PCPC Choir sang on the trip:

“My Eternal King”
from 17th Century Latin
Translated by Rev. Edward Caswall

My God, I love Thee;
not because I hope for heav’n thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
Must die eternally.

Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails, the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace.

Why, then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the hope of winning heav’n,
Or of escaping hell;

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord!

E’en so I love Thee, and will love,
And in Thy praise will sing;
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my Eternal King.