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

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fulfillment Fridays: Seed crushing Serpent

The Seed will crush the head of the serpent

Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

God will crush the head of the house of the wicked

Hab 3:13 You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah

Christ's body, the church, will crush Satan

Rom 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

For Christ defeated Satan

Rev 12:10-11b And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Calvin: How do we receive the Benefits of Salvation?

"We must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son - not for Christ's own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called 'our Head' (Eph 4:15) and 'the first-born among many brethren.' (Romans 8:29) We also, in turn, are said to be 'engrafted into him' (Romans 11:17), and to 'put on Christ' (Gal 3:27), for as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith. Yet since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits...The Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself."

- John Calvin. Institutes. 3.1.1

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some interesting Vos Quotes

Jesus is not a second Moses:

“There prevails still a subtle form of legalism which would rob the Saviour of his crown of glory, earned by the cross, and would make of him a second Moses, offering us the stones of the law instead of the life-bread of the gospel.”

- Geerhardus Vos, Grace & Glory (Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 102.

Our doctrine of resurrection depends on our doctrine of righteousness.

“The resurrection stands related to righteousness in the same way that death stands related to sin.”

- Geerhardus Vos, Grace & Glory (Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 159.

Faith of Abraham

"When God promised that his prosperity should be numerous as the stars, he believed and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. But with reference to the promised inheritance of the land he doubted."

- Vos. Biblical Theology. pg 85.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Torrance on Christ's Deity

Torrance as a theologian works in words the way painters work in paint. Here's Torrance on the necessity of the deity of Christ:

"The full reality of Christ's deity is essential for salvation, for the reality and validity of salvation are grounded upon the reality of Christ's deity. Man's salvation must be an act of God, else it is not salvation. The deity of Christ tells us that the action of Jesus in the incarnation and on the cross is identical with God's own action. How can man be saved? The answer is given in the words, "You did not choose me, but I chose you' (John 15:16) - but if the 'I' is not God himself, it is ultimately an illusion. Everything depends on the fact that the whole course of Christ's life is identical with the course of God's action towards humanity. The whole of our salvation depends n the fact that it is God in Christ who suffers and bears the sin of the world, and reconciles the world to himself.

The validity of our salvation depends on the fact that he who died on the cross under divine judgment is also God the judge, so that he who forgives is also he who judges. The reality of our salvation means that its reality is anchored on the divine side of reality, that the lamb is slain before the foundation of the world, that he has ascended to the right hand of God the Father almighty, and sits down with God on his own throne because he is God. Everything depends upon the fact that the cross is lodged in the heart of the Father.

It is important to see that if the deity of Christ is denied, then the cross becomes a terrible monstrosity. If Jesus Christ is man only and not also God, then we lose faith in God and man. We lose faith in God because how could we believe in a God who allows the best man that ever lived to be hounded to death on the cross - is that all that God cares about our humanity and its search after God, after truth and righteousness and peace? Put Jesus Christ a man on the cross and put God in heaven, like some distant god imprisoned in his own lonely abstract deity, and you cannot believe in him, in a god such that he is monstrously unconcerned with our life, and who does not even lift a finger to help Jesus...But put God on the cross, and the cross becomes the world's salvation. The whole gospel rests upon the fact the it is God who became incarnate, and it was God who in Christ has reconciled the world to himself...He who reveals God to man, and reconciles man to God, must be both God and man, truly completely God, and truly and completely man. If the Son was to redeem the whole nature of man, he had to assume the whole nature of man; if in the Son man is to be gathered into the fellowship and life of God, it must be by one who is truly and completely God.Only he can be mediator who is himself the union of God and man."

-T.F. Torrance. Incarnation pg. 189-190

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Harmonizing Vos on Forensic and Mystical Language

"Whereas the Lutheran tends to view faith one-sidedly - only in its connection with justification - for the Reformed Christian it is saving faith in all the magnitude of the word. According to the Lutheran, the Holy Spirit first generates faith in the sinner who temporarily remains outside of union with Christ; then justification follows faith and only then, in turn, does the mystical union with the Mediator take place. Everything depends on this justification, which is losable, so that the believer only gets to see a little of the glory of grace and lives for the day, so to speak. The covenantal outlook is the reverse. One is first united to Christ, the Mediator of the covenant, by a mystical union, which finds its conscious recognition in faith. By this union with Christ all that is in Christ is simultaneously given. Faith embraces all this too; it not only grasps the instantaneous justification, but lays hold of Christ as Prophet Priest and King as his rich full Messiah."

-Geerhardus Vos. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation. pg 256

"In our opinion Paul consciously and consistently subordinated the mystical aspect of the relation to Christ to the forensic one. Paul’s mind was to such an extent forensically oriented that he regarded the entire complex of subjective spiritual changes that take place in the believer and subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by the believer as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification. The mystical is based on the forensic, not the forensic on the mystical."

- Geerhardus Vos. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation. pg 384

The Mystical and Forensic in Paul and Vos

Within the same volume of Vos' writings, we find these two quotations. Vos affirms both that the mystical is subordinate to the forensic AND that mystical union precedes forensic justification in the believer. Is Vos contradicting himself? Did Vos change his mind? Or can Vos hold both these positions simultaneously?

First, Vos declares that in the ordo salutis, the mystical union is prior to, and even the source of, the benefits of redemption including forensic justification. Justification is found “in Christ,” and is part of the spiritual blessings given to the believer in union with Christ (Eph 1:3). Although they come simultaneously, there is a logical priority to union with Christ before justification in Reformed soteriology, which avoids the “legal fiction” charge leveled against Lutheranism by Roman Catholics. This also seems to best conform to the language of Scripture about the benefits of redemption being rooted in union with Christ.

So how does the second quote on subordination of the mystical to the forensic not contradict this? Because the second quote is dealing with how the Gospel is accomplished and communicated. Vos is addressing the proclamation in totality of Christ's Gospel to the Church. In declaring the gospel, Vos says that the mystical is subordinate to the forensic and the mystical depends upon the forensic. This is certainly true in that if the forensic is the accomplishment of salvation by Christ in regards to the Law. Christ obeys the law in life, and takes the penalty of the law in death. This is an accomplishment in history rather than in the believer and so is often called the historia salutis. The mystical, on the other hand, is the application of the accomplishment of salvation in the Spirit uniting the believer to Christ (enumerated in the ordo salutis). Therefore, Christ must accomplish salvation in history before it may be applied to us. The application by Spirit in uniting us to Christ depends upon the accomplishment of Christ fulfilling the law. The ordo salutis depends on the historia salutis. The mystical depends upon the forensic.

There is, however, another context where we would bring the mystical aspect to the surface as of utmost importance. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:16-17 brings the mystical union to the forefront when addressing the context of the use of prostitutes by members of the church. Paul applies union to rebuke his audience that their conduct was inconsistent with the mystical salvation that belongs to believers: i.e. the body of Christ cannot be united to a prostitute. Yet, Vos' broader point (about the subordination of the mystical to the forensic) still remains true. Even this mystical aspect depends upon the accomplishment of the forensic/legal demand that Christ fulfills for His church. Paul begins 1 Corinthians with the defense of his preaching of the accomplishment of salvation by Christ's crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul must first establish the priority of the historical accomplishment of Christ (historia salutis) before the implications and benefits that come from union with Christ (ordo salutis).

In this way, Vos is not contradicting himself and we ought not fight between two different Voses. Rather, we ought to acknowledge that in the application of salvation to the believer, mystical union establishes justification. However, the basis of this mystical union applied to us is Christ's accomplishment forensically of salvation outside of us and is logically prior to us or the application of salvation to us. If we discuss the relation of the historia salutis and ordo salutis, then the forensic precedes and is necessary before any talk of the mystical can occur. But if we discuss specifically the ordo salutis by itself, then the mystical precedes, because it applies, the forensic.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Doctrine? What's that good for?

Why Study Doctrine?

Doctrine literally means “teaching.” It comes from the Greek "διδάσκω” which is where we get the word didactic. Jaroslav Pelikan describes doctrine this way: “What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses on the basis of the word of God: this is Christian doctrine”

Doctrine deals with the intellectual teaching about the faith. Typically, when Doctrine is addressed, one of these objections comes up:

1. It is better to be concerned about godly living.

2. It is better to be focused on evangelism

3. Doctrine is Divisive

But How does Scripture treat doctrine? A few things to consider:

Romans 16:17 - I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

Paul tells us that it is wrong doctrine that divides, not true doctrine. Bad doctrine causes division. This also may tell us the basis for unity: good doctrine. And Good doctrine creates the right kind of unity. According to Scripture, doctrine unites, it does not divide.

1 Peter 3:15 - but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

How can we answer if we do not know?

“defense” here is apologia. (and ‘reason’ is logos) This is where we get the word Apologetics, the defense of the faith to the unbeliever. Paul uses this word in reference to answering a charge in a law court. Such a defense, typically, had to be well reasoned, able to communicate to another party in understandable language. Never did “apologia” in the eight times it appears in the New Testament refer to: “just a feeling” or “my personal experience” which unfortunately is how Christianity is often explained to an unbeliever: As an unexplainable, irrational feeling that you can only feel, but not think. According to Scripture, doctrine is necessary for evangelism, not against it.

1 Timothy 4:6-8 - If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

6:3-4 - If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the doctrine that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing

For Paul, good doctrine is the root of godliness. Bad doctrine is against godliness. To shun doctrine for “godliness” is to shun godliness. According to Scripture, one cannot be godly without doctrine. To assert otherwise is arrogance, not piety.

Thus we study doctrine for the purpose of Unity, Evangelism, and Godliness. To refuse to study doctrine is to be disobedient to those commands to be one, to evangelize and to be godly.

Yet, this does not mean that doctrine is an end of itself:

“Doctrine is not the only, not even the primary, activity of the church. The church worships God and serves mankind, it works for the transformation of this world and awaits the consummation of its hope in the next. The church is more than a school...but the church cannot be less than a school.” -Jaroslav Pelikan

IOW – We study doctrine to know God, in order to properly worship and serve.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Evangelical and Liberalism: What's the difference?

[Reason #132 why I reject the label evangelical]

According to a 2008 PEW study, 57% of self-identified Evangelicals don't believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

A 2010 survey of the Presbyterian Church USA (the "liberal" one) showed 43% disagree or strongly disagree that “all the world’s religions are equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth.” (that would make 57% left over) and majorities of members (60 percent), elders (68 percent), and pastors (66 percent) at least agree that “the only absolute truth for humankind is in Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, I will now no longer call the Presbyterian Church USA the "liberal" denomination, but the evangelical denomination, for there is no real difference in reality between the two words. Also, if someone in the PCA says they want to be more evangelical and less Reformed, I will rebuke them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's first, the Baptismal or the Table?

A question that comes up in both credo- and paedo-baptist communities is "Should a person be baptized before taking Communion [the Eucharist]?" This might be represented visually above as: "Does one need to come to the baptismal fount before one comes to the Table?"

This question comes up in both Baptist and paedo-baptist communities when baptism is delayed, for age, Catechesis or a special season of baptism, such as Easter. It comes up in many Episcopal Churches with open communion, where everyone, even unbaptized people are welcomed to take the Eucharist. The situation in all places arises: If a person has faith and seems to understand what the significance of the Supper is, why have them wait or deny them the Supper merely because they are unbaptized?

Many times this is left in the realm of personal conscience, which one can see in places where the question is asked, usually the answer most preferred is "As long as you're doing this from your heart and you love Jesus, you're okay. "

Against such an answer, suggesting a rigid priority may seem "legalistic" or nit-picky. However, I believe there are good Biblical, Confessional, Catechetical and Historical reasons for only allowing baptized Christians to partake of the Eucharist.


Historically, the earliest and consistently repeated answer of the Church throughout history has been to delay partaking the Eucharist until after Baptism. One of the earliest documents of the Church, outside the Bible, was the Didache which was a manual of sorts for accepting new converts into the Church. The instructions make very clear:

Didache 9:5: "Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized."

The reasoning may sound rather harsh: "for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: 'Do not give what is holy to dogs.'" (9:5) This merely points out that the Eucharist is considered the meal of the Church, and one was not considered a part of the Church, and so not a Christian, until Baptism. There are no instances in the first millenium of the Church where partaking of the Eucharist was allowed before being baptized.

This is way the major Reformation faiths always place teaching about Baptism before the Lord's Supper. Baptism is seen as initiatory rite, and the Supper as a rite of fellowship. Before one joins the community, one cannot have fellowship with that group. To have fellowship is to be a member, and baptism is the rite of membership for someone to be in that community.


The Scriptures display a heavy weight towards Baptism necessarily coming before Communion. Firstly, Baptism precedes the Supper in notable places in Scripture's teaching and narrative. In Acts 2, Peter offers Baptism (2:38) before we have an account of the first Christians breaking bread (2:42). The Gospels record the Baptism of John before the Last Supper. Paul speaks of acknowledging Baptism (1 Cor 10:2) before the Supper (1 Cor 10:3 and following). This is logical, for we must be united to Christ (Rom 6:4) before we can participate in him (1 Cor 10:16).

But why? What's the big deal?

The Scripture's main way of explaining the sacraments is through the story of redemption of Israel. We are told of the baptism Israel experienced in the sea (1 Cor 10:2). We are also told of Israel eating manna in the wilderness, pointing to the Supper (John 6). It is simple observation to observe that Israel experienced baptism in the sea before eating the manna. Israel did not eat manna from God before the sea. And I think this is the most important point for how the sacraments teach us about the reality of the Christian life and salvation.


Israel did not need food from God before the sea, for their slave owners in Egypt gave Israel food. The episode of the baptism in the sea for Israel irrevocably severed the connection between Israel and their slave owners. After the baptism in the sea, although Israel often wanted to go back and were unthankful to their Redeemer God from Egypt, Israel no longer could take food from their former slave owners.

For us to insist on Baptism before the Supper requires a high sense of what Baptism is. Baptism in the early church often included a ritual of exorcism and a question to the person presented for Baptism, "Do you renounce Satan and all his works?" This is because Baptism was an important entry into the church and break from the world of Satan, just as crossing the sea was an important event for Israel as forming of a common people of the baptism and breaking from the world of Egypt.

This is why Baptism ought to proceed the Supper. Baptism should be an instrument of teaching entry into the covenant and community of faith (Acts 2:38-39) and the Supper should be an instrument of teaching the lasting need of continual sustaining by God (Psalm 104:14-15; John 6). To allow eating the Supper before Baptism teaches a dual loyalty and dual mastery the Scriptures do not. One cannot eat the manna from God while under the slavery of Egypt. One also cannot eat the food of Egypt after being redeemed by God. If baptism teaches the need of new birth, and the Supper the need of spiritual feeding, one must be born before one can eat. To allow the Supper before Baptism teaches that one can be enslaved to Satan and receive the saving benefits of God. In other words, it confuses the person who eats while unbaptized for it does not conform to Jesus who taught one must either be for or against him. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. " (Luke 16:13) One cannot be identified with Egypt and eat the manna of God. One cannot be slave to Satan, and receive the blessings of God. One must be identified as a slave to God in order to receive His benefits. One must be in covenant with God in order to receive the benefits of that covenant.

That is why I believe, like the picture above, one must go to the baptismal before one can go to the table. It is not a matter of legalism or nit-picking, but a matter of what Scripture teaches and what we teach with the catechetical tools that God gives to us with Baptism and the Supper. Do we teach a dual loyalty to two slave owners? Do we teach service, loyality and identification to Sin, Satan and what Egypt represents can continue at the same time as receiving taking what identification with God, Christ and His Righteousness gives us?

Or, do we teach that God fully redeems us from our former slave owner, though a Stockholm Syndrome may still exist, we identify and receive our sustenance from our Redeemer and new Master, Jesus Christ? The matter should not be too difficult, however, for if we determine that a person is ready for the sacrament of the Eucharist, then they are certainly ready for the sacrament of Baptism. Just let them be born before they eat, and let God be their slave master before they take food from Him.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Calvin Finds God's Glory in Interesting Places

As I work my way through Calvin's Institutes, he never fails to amuse me:

"The Creator of nature himself abundantly arouses this gratitude in us [for our abilities in art and science] when he creates imbeciles. Through them he shows the endowments that the human soul would enjoy unpervaded by his light..."

-John Calvin. Institutes 2.2.14

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pelikan on Church and Doctrine

“What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses on the basis of the word of God: this is Christian doctrine. Doctrine is not the only, not even the primary, activity of the church. The church worships God and serves mankind, it works for the transformation of this world and awaits the consummation of its hope in the next. The church is more than a school...but the church cannot be less than a school.”

-Jaroslav Pelikan
Introduction to Christian Tradition