Thursday, August 4, 2016

Unsafe Worship

So my old church surprised me by having the secular comedian Michael Junior showcase his talents during their morning services. I shared this fact with my wife and she just shrugged, not being particularly surprised. I shared it with my dad and he seemed to find the thing unremarkable. In fairness, nobody seemed very surprised at Andy Stanley's church opening their service with boy band songs either, so maybe it's just me. Nonetheless, I found the idea of having a secular comedian perform during service an absolutely ghastly idea. It seemed to me a judgment from God; the people craved entertainment rather than the faithful exposition of the Bible, so to punish them He would give them their wish.

Making The Case Against A Comedian In Service

If a worship service was something God designed to bring Himself glory (rather than express our feelings) would that change the way we hold service?
I don't mean this in the superficial sense, since any good Christian will agree that we must do all things to the glory of God. I mean, practically speaking, doesn't that constrain what we can and can't do during a church service? 

Yet it doesn't. And why not? Because we may pay lip service to the idea but deep down we don't believe it. We think worship is really "our public display of affections toward God." Or, "that which is done toward God in sincerity and passion." And there are a lot of problems with that. 

The first problem is that we must worship by filling ourselves with passion and sincerity, which means all things which bring passion must be pursued, and all things which don't stir the soul must be jettisoned. In music this means the lights go down, the songs get loud, and the voices go silent. In prayer this means confessions of sins are forgotten, long prayers become short prayers, or better yet, no prayers. The preaching moves from exegetical, to topical, to long form stories, then finally to uplifting homilies on personal improvement. 

The second consequence of working out of a man centric definition of worship is that there's now no firm, rational, or substantial basis with which to have a discussion on this issue, as it makes personal preference law. Criticizing a worship style or liturgy or decision is tantamount to asserting the way someone feels about Christ is wrong. It not only makes no sense, it's fighting words worthy of ex-communication. Thus people are prevented at the outset from having a discussion, being boxed out of it by the definition. All that remains is to assign a label like judgemental or hater, because that's all that can be done.

The third consequence of defining worship in terms of the feelings it produces is that God is made irrelevant. In creating an open space where anything goes during church under the guise of glorifying God, God ultimately stops mattering. Plays, skits, movies, television shows, comedy routines, boy bands--all of that makes sense if I feel it makes sense. If my talent is to do rhythmic gymnastics to the glory of God and people enjoy watching me, why shouldn't I do that during service? Because broadly speaking, whatever moves someone to God is good, whatever makes them less passionate about Him is bad. 

Now I don't mean to say there's no place for style or preference. Some churches might want to clap their hands and sing their songs in a gospel style. Others might want a guitar and a drums to be contemporary, others might want a cello and be contemplative. I don't care about that topic, I'm not interested in discussing it, and that's not what this blog post is about in any case. The point I'm trying to establish is that there's a boundary between acceptable and non-acceptable acts during church services. Unacceptable acts can go too far and cause God to say, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." It is not the case that all things which moves our thoughts heavenward is good, and it's possible to conduct worship in a way that people think they are alive and pleasing to God while He says to them, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God."

Please, just for a moment consider what it would mean for us if church service wasn't our expression of love. If pursuing what makes us passionate and emotional wasn't worship.
God help us, what if that was actually the opposite of worship, and was something forbidden by God because He hates it? Doesn't the the second command forbid this very thing?
Now before you protest that idols represented demons and were never used to help people focus on God, consider that Israel made two bulls and bowed to them for hundreds of years in precisely this way. It was no less idolatry because it focused their thoughts on Him, and neither did their sincere desire to bring strange fire before Him endear them to Him. He stamped out the entire nation because of their offensive worship of Him.

Given then that both our ego-centric worship and their idolatry proceed from the same principles, isn't it possible that they amount to the same thing? Sure we don't fall down before metal or wooden figurines, but isn't it possible that in setting ourselves up as the most important figure in worship we've been disobedient to the second commandment? I hope you would agree it's at least possible to do this.

The Danger of it

Having established the existence of the second commandment, and the fact that we can break it, let's move to the next question--how would we know when we've broken it?

Here's my answer: I don't think we do, and that seeing the line is impossible. Consider Lot. He was a godly man and no fool, having risen to the status of a judge in the city. So why didn't he leave Sodom earlier? He stayed to minister and evangelize right up until it was burned to the ground, and lost everything. Why? Why stay when such a life leads you to a place where your daughters trick you into having your children? I think it's because being near to idolatry blinds you. Moving by inches and small steps into apostasy or heteropraxy happens so gradually, so gently, that it's almost impossible to see. Sin is a shutting of the eyes, a confusing of the mind, and a darkness that obscures what should be obvious. As the saying goes, the eye that looks outward sees the world, the eye that looks inward sees only blackness.

It reminds me of an anecdote in one of Philip Yancy's books. His friend was about to embrace the gay lifestyle and Philip warned him, begged him to turn back before it was too late. The response was a heartbreaking, carefree disregard for the necessity of holiness. "Oh don't worry, there's no sin I can commit that I can't be forgiven for. That's whats so amazing about grace isn't it, that it's always there for me? You don't deny I'll be forgiven do you? No? Then don't worry about me, I'll sin for awhile and just ask for forgiveness later."
Philip pointed out there was no guarantee he would want grace later. By being in, around, and among sin he would be fundamentally changed to shy away from God. Because that's how life is. It changes you.
You may think jumping into cool ocean water sounds nice now, but that's because you're in the triple digit heat. Go to the 50 degree overcast beach of the north coast and you'll stop wanting to get into the water. You may think when you're a kid that being an adult is going to be awesome because you could eat candy all the time, but when you get to be an adult you're different than you were, and it doesn't sound at all appealing.

How did the liberal churches fall into the pathetic state of unholiness they're in now? By small degrees. By being unable to see the big pictureThey moved into sin gradually, so imperceptibly, that the people who made a fuss about the next compromise seemed to be contentious troublemakers rather than faithful believers and were ignored. Each compromised deadened them a little more, lulled them to sleep a little more soundly than before. It habituated them to spiritual compromise little by little. The current sweeps you along without you even realizing it.
It's the same way with holiness too.
We're continually being made into the image of God by beholding His glory, but it's in such small increments that you have to read your diary from 10 years ago to notice it.

I may be wrong about that of course. There might be an obvious bright yellow line, a simple principle that if followed will let everyone see clearly no matter where they are or how committed to the subjective worship model they are. But I don't know what it is yet, and I don't think it even exists. I suspect therefore that the road to hell is not marked with signposts or sudden turns, but with one smooth gradual paved slope, and that by in large a people attending a church that's sliding downward will shrug and keep moving, no matter if it's a boy band or a comedian for service. "Doesn't look so bad from where I sit. What's the big deal?"

But what if it is? What if the sin that dwells in each of us causes blindness and the only safe thing to do is ask ourselves "what does the Scripture say?" rather than "what do I like?" What if serving God must be done in the way He's commanded and not with clowns, comedians, or secular boy bands?

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Giver, Feelings, and God

I watched The Giver last night, a movie about a society where people are numb to the consequences of their actions. Through the use of chemicals and behavioral modifications everyone has been prevented from internalizing the rightness and wrongness of their decisions, and as a result the people who live there are totally devoid of emotions. This isn't to say they're all psychotic sociopathic raiders who run around dismembering each other like it's Mad Max--no, no. Their society is very clean and precise. It just means they are numb to their own individual loves and hatreds, having been drained of all morality. To them murdering under-performing children is no different from trimming fingernails because they have no strong emotions about murder one way or the other.
Oh sure they still feel things; they feel heat and cold, hard and soft, which leads them to use the word comfortable to speak about a chair that fits their body well, but they don't have regret for an ill conceived action, nor do they pine, nor do they sorrow, nor do they draw from a wellspring of joy to make decisions based on. Instead they reflexively do what the supreme leader tells them to without further consideration. Something like a hive of bees or a very well programmed robots. The founders of their society set out to create ultimate equality and succeeded by draining the meaning from everything. 

But it's not total uniformity since there's a single exception. An advisor, a man who still remembers the old ways to better evaluate the impact of new policies. He's different because he doesn't just feel, he has his emotions to guide him, help him make sense of new proposals. In the most critical scene of the movie this man sits his replacement down at a piano and demands he embrace emotions. Not feelings which are more or less sensory data, but emotions. The deeper things. Feelings which have been remembered, internalized.

It made me think of my kids. When they were really young feelings were all they had, they constituted their whole world. A bit of candy is all the pleasure there is and can be, a stubbed toe turns their whole life into misery. They can't store the information for later because there is no later and there was nothing before to compare it to. They live in the experience of feeling whatever is happening now. Just like the goal of Big Brother from the book 1984. One minute Oceana is at war with Eurasia and has always been, the next at war with Eastasia and has always been. Whatever is in front of Winston is all there is, was, and will be.

I on the other hand have accumulated a number of experiences, and have a deep seated core of emotions by which I evaluate new information and feelings. Before making a judgement on what I'm experiencing I run my sensory data through the grid of my core convictions. And I've noticed that as I've gotten older my emotions make up more of my reaction to things and the sensory data makes up less. It's different even from a few years ago. I suppose it would be fair to say I've become harder to the world. More inflexible. But I'd hesitate to put it that way exactly because it's a much more positive thing than that sounds like. It's just that things I used to care about seem unimportant now, and as a result I'm happier as a disposition regardless of my feelings at the moment. I've reached a point in adulthood where I can no longer be tyrannized by every little feeling or social pressure which demands I orient my outlook based on what they suggest to me, and let me tell you, it's glorious. Becoming impassible to feelings may sound bad, but it's actually pretty awesome. It's not that I stop feeling things--on the contrary, I feel more deeply than I ever did--it's just that I control those feelings now, they don't control me. I hope I'm not telling this badly, because what really I'm trying to say is that the older I get the more impassible I become and the happier and more emotional I get. A little counter-intuitive I know, but I suspect everyone has the experience that the older they get the more their emotions show outward and the less feelings penetrate into the core personality.

It's an interesting model, framing our lives in terms of feeling vs emotions isn't it? And of course after grasping it I immediately put it to work on understanding God. It gives an interesting result, so kudos to you Giver, I'm indebted to you for offering me a fresh perspective on something I've been thinking about off and on for a few years. I'm even beginning to think it's categories of feeling and emotions is a better idea than passion versus emotion.

So can God feel? No, in this sense. He doesn't have hands to touch with, or eyes to see with. He doesn't hear. It cannot be that a beautiful sunset is pleasing to His eyes like it is ours, because He doesn't experience it the same way we do. His transcendence absorbs all the information at one time, but it doesn't do it through sensory apparatus. He doesn't learn and store the experience for later because He already knows everything. Whereas we experience daylight and then sunset and appreciate the transition and store the experience, God doesn't do that. God doesn't use the word comfortable or warm. What are those to Him? What would He know about how difficult things are for us? He isn't saddled with our limitations. (Until of course He was).

But does He have emotions? Yes, in this sense I think so. He has a deep reaction to things. He has a basis, a moral center by which He regards events. An action of ours can bring His moral disposition to the forefront, and it might look to us as though He's changing His mind, but the thing is actually reacting to a firm fixed emotion of His. He actually has a deeper emotion sense than anybody by an order of magnitude. He has a moral conviction so perfect that it's almost simplistically and holistically a part of Him. By being completely free of feelings He's also completely emotional, totally independent from external imposed changes. He is not however a great numbness devoid of regard for things--exactly the opposite is true. He loves and cares more deeply than anyone or anything for that reason.

This model of feeling and emotion intuitively feels right (forgive the expression). But the interesting consequence of it is that even though God is impassable, He is still the most emotive and expressive person in the universe. I'd have to think this over a little more, but the idea shows promise. It's a very straightforward model that seems to display a lot of horsepower.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Target's Bathrooms and the Tyranny of Boredom

My friend was lamenting to me the other day about the speed at which our common sense and basic grasp of reality has melted away. That Target would open all bathrooms to whomever wants to use them means more than "LBGT people finally have rights," it means if his daughter was in the bathroom and a creepy looking dude decided to go in after her he'd have to go in too in order to keep her protected. He was fine with a Transie using whichever one they wanted, but he was less than enthusiastic about being compelled into the women's bathroom from then on.
But his chief complaint was not that he would have to do things he despises now, nor was it even that we were rolling back to the middle ages or Muslim countries where every woman needs to be continually escorted and protected from men. He was most upset about how quickly it had all happened. A frog in water that's slowly brought to boil will die without ever jumping out, but this isn't a slow change that we're calmly accepting. No, we're pouring boiling water over the frog and he's just as content to sit and die. Why?

I think it's because God has made it so that pleasures grasped on a road that goes away from Him turn to ash in the hand. If you commit to fleeing from the true God you will find pleasure to be a mirage. Once you have the object of your desires, it vanishes without satisfaction and the hum drum of life takes it's place. You know what I mean. The ordinariness of life swallows everything novel. You may have a new toy, but eventually you get bored or tired of it and the pleasure is gone. Poor people think rich people must be very happy because they have a lot of stuff, but it no longer brings any joy because they've acclimated to it. Someone in the third world who has a very limited and terrible existence from your perspective is perfectly happy, because their world is normalized. Old people begin losing freedoms and abilities, but they're okay with this because life settles like that. The drug addict acclimates to the substance and begins needing more and more to get over his tolerance. The two passionate young lovers settle into a routine of marriage.
I was pushing the kids in the stroller on a run when suddenly I realized I wasn't winding all over the neighborhood, I was going forward, and only occasionally would I make a brief turn before resuming going forward. The times of change were small and fleeting, and the ordinary forward plodding quickly resumed. 

God made life ordinary, and made the ordinariness of life to swallow the novel. And He did this so that we could not flee from Him. We acclimate instantly because this keeps us from going off track and getting lost. It's a beacon, a sign, a warning. It's a buoy that keeps you headed toward God. It's not just the way things are that life is sucky and ordinary, it's actually a very great gift from God. Think about that next time you do your 10th load of laundry.

We are pursing one wildly insane porno idea after the other, stacking them on with increasing speed, because we are trying to serve the pleasure god in the hope that our life will be at least a little bit more interesting. We are chasing the novel to stave off boredom, but the second we get the newest treat boredom swamps us and we're back in chains. Gay marriage? Great. Until we get it. Bathroom selection based on a whim? Fabulous. Until it's achieved and then the idea becomes a yawn. Single bathrooms rather than divided by sexes? Whatever. We're so desperate for a fix of something new and interesting that there's no limit to what we will sacrifice on the alter to this god. "Oh baal, hear us" we cry, but there is no answer. The only result is that the radical becomes ordinary and we're left feeling restless again. And no amount of trying will change this, because this is how reality is apart from Christ.

But the good news is that in Christ there are pleasures forevermore.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Covenant of Redemption - Introduction

“Alright everyone that’s enough group time, let’s come back together and conclude our teacher training seminar.”
The noisy room immediately fell silent.
“Oh wow, that was fast. Uh, okay, well as you can see we only have a few minutes left on the clock, and for the remainder of the time I’d like to combine the best ideas from each group into one big take away. I’m sure you all did a great job on your analysis of Psalms 1, and I’ve got a marker here to write down what’s said, so go ahead, whenever you’re ready.”

There was a brief silence for the sake of politeness, then the groups began to shout out their observations:
“We discussed how we’re blessed when we avoid evil.”

“We noticed the progression of sin. Don’t walk, don’t sit, don’t be around it.”
“We noticed that the wicked will be blown away like chaff, while the righteous have weight about them and will endure. It was an encouragement for us to be strong during our trials.”
“We noticed that God compares us to a strong, continually watered tree.”

The instructor dutifully transferred the comments to the white-board until the clock showed 3:58, at which point everyone fell silent to signal to him it was time to wrap up. (Being teachers ourselves we already knew how to manage the clock.)
“Anything else?”
His tone indicated the question was more of a formality than a genuine request for information.
A quick backward glance showed it was a college student who had no respect for the unwritten rules of seminar time management.
“Go ahead young man.”
“Where is Christ in this?”
The instructor frowned, “I’m not sure I understand you.”
“What I mean is,” came the clarification, “isn’t the Bible about Christ? Any Jew or Muslim would have said what we just said. They think we need to obey God to receive blessings. But where is Christ? Why haven’t we tried to find Him here? Isn’t Christ what makes us Christians?”
Realizing what he was driving at the instructor raised his voice. “Not everything is about Jesus young man. He’s not hiding behind every rock or tree, or verse or story. What’s important is that we take these truths and put them to use—that’s what matters. That’s what the text here indicates, and as you’ll notice, that’s what everyone else realized as well.”
He paused briefly to consider if his off the cuff response was sufficient, and deciding it was, adopted a more business-like tone to address the rest of the class. “Well thank you for coming, we’re out of time now, but the next session is in three months and we’ll have more time then. Enjoy the rest of your day, I’ll send out a reminder email in a couple of weeks to follow up with you.”

And just like that the event lurched to an unsatisfactory end.

I walked to my car sullenly, taking the rebuke personally. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. Developing our ideas by asking the question, “What does this mean to me?” when we should have been asking, “What does this teach me about Jesus?” caused us to overlook the more excellent way.

The longer I thought about it, the obvious my mistake became. If I were asked, “How would you get your bearings in an initially unfamiliar place?” would I have answered, “look around for something familiar”? Not a chance. I’d have said, “Turn on a GPS and look at the map,” because doing so gives me a reliable, objective source of information that can become the basis for my subjective understanding. In other words the objective method imparts knowledge, the subjective uses it.

Despite the fact that the objective approach is clearly the superior way to handle the Scriptures the vast majority of sermons are constructed in the subjective fashion. Last week I listened to the radio ministries of David Jeremiah, Chuck Swindoll, and Robert Jeffers as they drew critical and essential life lessons from the book of Nehemiah. Each in their own way discussed how a Christian should expect resistance from godlessness, how good project management can be helpful in all areas of life, and how if God helps us we can overcome adversity, no matter how formidable. All good things. All true things. But like the Greeks who came to Philip in John 12:21, my heart cried out while listening to these sermons, “Sir, I would see Jesus.”

It may be unfair to say, but I don’t think the disciples who walked the Emmaus road would’ve turned to each other and said, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?” if the topic was “Encouraging lessons from the Old Testament.” I suspect the reason their hearts came alive was because Christ “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 22:27).

Because the fact is, I’m sick of practical tips and good advice. As an immoral sinner I’m desperate for a sovereign savior, not an upbeat life coach, and the thought of hearing another pep-talk from the pulpit makes me want to write a letter to the preacher that says, “Dear pastor, tell me less of what I need to do and more of what Christ has done for me. He must increase and I must decrease. ”

I say all that by way of introduction in order to say this: what you’re reading is a book on how the covenants in the Bible are principally objective, Christocentric revelations. Noah learned that the Christ would be a savior. Abraham learned He’d be a king. Moses learned He’d be a prophet. Israel learned in the New Covenant that He’d be a priest. The New Testament book of Hebrews is written to show us how Christ is the better promised mediator, priest, and prophet, the missing piece of redemptive history. The covenants in the Bible are not given so that we could have a stronger faith (although they have that effect), better self-actualization, or higher self-esteem, but so that we could know God.  Which was His plan from the beginning.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Phils Rules For Debating Baptists

So you want to debate your Baptist brother on the issue of paedo-baptism do you? Before you do, you'd better take a quick minute to remind yourself of the things you already know. Like...


Baptists Are People

I don’t mean “Treat everyone as an individual and with respect”—although that’s true. I mean, before doing anything else, check yourself. In a forum full of people shooting at each other it can be tempting to think you can fly in, carpet bomb the inhabitants with a bunch of winning arguments, and then have the other side helplessly converting against their will to the sound of thunderous applause. You can’t, and that’s a dumb fantasy anyway. Instead, you need to remember that your brother is a rational, but also an emotional and volitional creature and therefore will not be convinced apart from a personal touch over time. People resist arguments because they have an emotional preference for stability, and because of inertia, not necessarily because your argument is bad (though it might be). Many Baptists, perhaps even most, hold their belief because that’s what they were taught and because it’s working well for them, and this forms an incentive for them to go on holding it. Admitting they were wrong probably means more than providing intellectual assent; it also likely requires making some personal changes they don’t relish or welcome. It’s normal then that their first, second, and third impulse is to reject what you’re saying. If the Baptist you’re working with hasn’t really thought about the topic of covenants or infant baptism then it’s almost certain they’re going to have a strong negative emotion or reaction to your argument, particularly if they don’t have a good  intellectual answer to give. They might even turn on the cap locks or start talking about your mama. That’s okay. It’s the internet. Strong emotions are to be expected in a debate like this. Just give them some space, be polite, be charitable—or as they’d say in the old days, be Christian. There’s a lot on the line here whether you realize it or not, because it’s very possible you’re asking them to give up all their friends in accepting your stance. So don’t be pushy. Besides resisting change is a defense mechanism that bears a lot of good fruit in general. You do the same and it’s wise of you. Most decisions will happen later as they mull over what you’ve offered them.
If you’re working with a Baptist who has thought about it however, who’s bright but for whatever reason absolutely will not defend their own position (keep reading to see what I mean), then that’s okay too. Let it go. God will make them Presbyterians when they get to glory. 


Stop The Strawmen

A strawman argument is when you change what your opponent is saying to something slightly different so that you can knock it over and make yourself look good. The strawman is easy to vanquish because it’s powerless against you—thus making this debate maneuver impossible to resist. Seriously, I’m convinced this is fallacy is quite literally irresistible. PHD’s in theology keep them in their fancy coats for emergencies just as readily as the lowly internet troll who prop up those bad-boys right at the start of the discussion. Expect it.
99 out of 100 times this happens because your Baptist brother is attempting to run a reducto-ad-absurdum against you to show that the logical stopping point of your doctrine is folly. They will say, “If infants don’t need to have faith when you baptize then why do adults need faith either? Why not just round up everyone and baptize them?” Or, “Baptizing children will make them think they’re saved since they’re now in the covenant, so you’re harming them by baptizing them.” They think they’ve got a handle on your position and can show you the problem with it (normally a very powerful trick) while in reality they’re simply misrepresenting you. If this happens then do the following two things to get the discussion unstuck.
First, don’t straw man them, ever. I cannot stress this enough. If you hear the words “That’s not what we believe” then apologize immediately. Don’t try to argue that since they restrict the new covenant to the elect that they should baptize upon election rather than upon confession. They believe people are to be baptized upon a credible confession of faith so respect that. Answer what they’re saying, not what you’d like them to be saying because it’s easier for you. In fact, just don’t do reductos altogether.
The second thing to do once the Baptist trots out the scarecrows (assuming you are blameless because you took my advice above) is to abort the discussion. I mean that. Refuse to go on until they acknowledge your actual viewpoint. If they can’t articulate your position in a way that you agree with then wait there until they’ve made a U-turn and come back around. It can happen to the best of us so be gracious when it does, but be polite and firm about discontinuing your debate. This is because if they want to make strawmen and don’t want to acknowledge their error then you’re done anyway, and you may as well politely excuse yourself from the wheat field. If you do decide to stay then have the good sense to keep your mouth shut so you can better enjoy the comforting warmth of the burning straw your brother is graciously providing you.


Embrace the Asymmetry

No matter how smart the Baptist you’re talking to is—even if a medium conjures Spurgeon from the grave and channels him into your online discussion—don’t take it for granted that the Baptist probably thinks you’re an irrational actor. To him you’re in the grip of a strange and unhealthy set of doctrines propagated by circumstance, something like voo-doo, or Roman Catholicism, though probably less damnable. In other words, you’re holding opinions which are to him totally insane. The older, wiser, and more stable of your Baptist brothers won’t be in this bind so much, but default position of the Baptist means that both covenants and baptism are defined in such a way that your position is incomprehensible from the get go.
Again, this means two things.
The first thing is that your personal dealings must be more pure than your opponent for the sake of your testimony. He may call you names and think you’re stupid, but you may not do it back, not only because that’s not good Christian behavior, but because he already suspects you of being brain damaged to begin with. Even if you feel it’s unfair the Baptists can start a knife fight whilst you shout gentlemanly phrases like “I say sir” and “the constable shalt hear of this” you cannot afford to allow him an opportunity to think he’s right about you. You must show the most excellent Festus that your learning hasn’t made you insane but is both true and reasonable.
Secondly it means the place you fight will always end up at the definition of the word covenant. As long as you let the Baptist use his own definition of baptism there’s absolutely no chance of him seeing your position as Biblical, so it’s better to know that going in. The result of this is that he’s laboring to prove you’re holding unbiblical positions and are in serious error while you’re laboring to show he needs to go just a little further. Baptists think Presbyterians are holding wrong views, Presbyterians think Baptists are not wrong in their knowledge, just incomplete.


Get Them To Play Defensively

I’m not sure how to get this done as an internet nobody, but if you’re debating a friend or a charitable brother, this is a lot easier to achieve. When debating a Baptist your goal is to get your brother to demonstrate with Scripture the reason he holds to a covenant discontinuity. Your aim is not to show why Presbyterianism is right so much as make him show himself why Baptist theology is groundless. Ask him the question, “on what grounds are children removed from the new covenant?”
He’ll respond by saying “children are not explicitly included it in.”
“But children were in the others right?”
“Well yeah.”
“So why not this last one? On what Scriptural grounds are they now excluded?”
You need to offer a point that gets under their skin and causes them to hang up all the pat answers they’ve stored up for such a time as this and really dig into the things themselves. Ask them to prove their presuppositions from Scripture. The two most common answers will be a variation of dispensationalism, or that the child element was fulfilled in Christ. Both are easy to refute once admitted. It may of course take awhile, but if you can get a promise from the Baptist to give you a defense of his doctrines based on careful Biblical analysis, then you’ve won the church a shiny new Presbyterian.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The First Covenant

Before the universe existed, before there was time, space, or matter, the triune God existed in perfect happiness and contentment. Although He didn’t need to do it, being in fully pleased in Himself, He nonetheless decided out of His abundant love to create beings with which to share His joy. To this end He formulated a plan that would go on for all eternity, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Is 46:10). As a consequence, everything that’s ever happened since God said “let there be light” has merely been “whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4: 28). Every person born, every human decision made, every plant, star, rock, cloud, every tiny atom was known and placed and planned for an infinite amount of time before a single one came into being.

Why did He do this? The answer in a single word is revelation. God orchestrated everything in the universe to happen as it does in order to manifest His nature, His attributes, and His concerns. Desiring to show us who He is, He came up with the perfect way to progressively reveal more and more of Himself to creation. Or as the Bible says, glorify Himself.

The first part of Gods plan involved creating matter and energy, things which display “His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom 1:20b). As it is written, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1a) and “the heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see His glory” (Ps 97:6). The inanimate universe continually pours forth revelation about Him—which is why even if everyone were to cease acknowledging it, “the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40a).
Next God created the angels as servants (Heb 1:14), beings who would show His might (2 Peter 2:4), and be near Him to witness His works (Job 38:7). That’s why Isaiah records the angels nearest to God are continually “crying to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory’” (Is 6:3). Yet even as they watched the eternal plan of God unfolding before their eyes, even though they participate in bringing it to pass, they too do not fully understand it, though they long to (1 Peter 1:12).
Lastly, God made men so He could manifest His patience and mercy to all creation. Unlike the angels who are given no second chance, men enjoy the possibility of redemption, so that all can see how forgiving God is. As it is written, “God has concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32), and “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou may be feared” (Ps 130:4). God ordained (and in some sense desired) our disobedience because it was only after our fall that He could send His Son to the cross to demonstrate His glorious attributes of justice, holiness, loving-kindness, wrath, mercy, and unlimited grace together. Only once we became rebellious could we become humble, and only the humble can understand and appreciate who God is, which was His purpose from the beginning. This is why in speaking to believers Paul says in Ephesians 2:6-7, “He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” We have ruined much, and have been forgiven much, that we may love much.

So before the foundation of the world God planned to reveal Himself to His creation. The plan first called for revelation through matter, then angels, then men. As Paul says, Gods goal was “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:9-10).

When speaking of God’s purpose for men, Reformed theologians like to use the phrase The Covenant of Redemption to emphasize how God the Father and God the Son agreed to save some chosen among mankind. The terms of this covenant were that the Father would send the Son to save all those He’d predestined and the Son would willingly go and complete the task given to Him. John 8:42 for example testifies that Jesus was sent: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love Me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me.”

And John 6:37-40 says that the elect will certainly be saved, “All who the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will in no way cast out. For I came down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the Father's will which has sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in Him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Put the two together and you have evidence that the first covenant God ever made was with Himself, to save us. As it says elsewhere, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling—not according to our works—but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim 1:9).

But the problem with this classic formulation is that it makes it too easy to take the ego-centric, subjective part of God’s work for the whole. It can, and often does, result in the assertion that God’s purpose in sending Christ was no larger than saving the elect, and thus ignores the objective Godward component of the plan. Not that it’s untrue to say God will save His electon the contrary, it’s undoubtedly true He’ll do so—but this isn’t the whole truth. (Indeed, the classic definition of the covenant of redemption doesn’t even include the Holy Spirit but instead presents the covenant as an arrangement only between the Father and Son.)
We must therefore be careful to maintain that God’s plan is first and foremost to reveal His manifold perfections to all creation before addressing part of which involves saving elect mankind out of eternal ruin and misery. Otherwise we’ll lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our understanding must always go from the objective to subjective, from the universal to the particular, because going back the other way is both impossible and ineffectual. It’s God’s plan, not ours.

Now admittedly, using the mundane and generic word plan to speak of God’s glorious ongoing revelation of Himself which brings joy to creation doesn’t appropriately capture the majesty of the idea. Perhaps that’s why Paul calls it a “dispensation of the fullness of times” to emphasize the vastness and consistency of it, or why later theologians would call it a covenant to remind us that Gods plan is personal, relateable, and accomplished through the work of Christ. But call it however you please, it’s first and foremost an objective scheme; it begins with God, is about God, and finds its fulfillment in revealing God.

It goes without saying then that the history of our universe is merely the outworking of God’s eternal covenant of revelation. Our story, stretching all the way back to the beginning, is about the hidden council of God coming to light. And nowhere is this more plainly expressed than in the Bible, a book given to show us firstly who God is and then secondarily who we are.

Although much could be said about how this plan traces a bright line through the Scriptures, in the coming chapters we’ll confine our examination to the critical moments in the Biblical narrative when God reveals the work of Christ to us. We’ll keep a narrow focus on covenants, those moments when the light comes on and our understanding of God’s eternal plan leaps forward because that sets the stage for the book of Hebrews where Christ is seen to be the fulfillment of all Israel’s history. We begin therefore where the Scriptures begins, in the book of Genesis.