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Calvin on the Christian Life

Calvin on the Christian Life“Be warned. This looks like a book on how Calvin thought about living the Christian life. But open it and you will discover that Mike Horton is driving you on a grand Calvin tour of the whole of theology. And that, of course, is Professor Horton’s (and John Calvin’s) point: it takes the whole biblical gospel to make a whole Christian life. By employing the classical formulation of the two natures of Christ (‘distinct but not separate’), Dr. Horton provides readers with a key to help unlock Calvin’s teaching. But more than that, he shows why the Genevan Reformer’s vision of the Christian life remains unsurpassed. Thoroughly satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable, and thoroughly recommended.”Sinclair B. Ferguson

“Learned and lucid, masterfully organized, and vigorously expressed, this full, solid, and exact study of Geneva’s reforming pastor is an outstanding piece of work. In all four sections Calvin comes to vigorous life. Calvin’s reputation for godly wisdom, and Horton’s for vivid writing, will certainly be enhanced.”—J. I. Packer

Michael Horton’s newest book, Calvin on the Christian Life, is now available. But before you read the excerpt that Crossway has made available (and while you wait for the Amazon drone to drop it off at your house), take a moment to read about Dr. Horton’s very personal engagement with John Calvin’s theology of the Christian life:

Most people who think of Calvin think of him as a (grumpy?) theologian who cares more about what you think about God than how you live in relation to God. Is that wrong?

It’s wrong.  You just have to open the Institutes to the first page to see that he thinks of our knowledge of God and of ourselves as inseparably intertwined.  His commentaries, sermons, and private letters show a man who was obsessed with God’s Word and its saving and edifying impact in every area of life.  Grumpy?  No.  Sick?  Yes, all the time.  He had several illnesses that plagued him, any one of which could have been fatal.  Yet he used his own suffering to help other sufferers.  For Calvin, “piety” was the word.  Today, piety is associated often with life as opposed to doctrine.  But for Calvin piety encompassed doctrine and life.  It was all of one piece.  You can’t live “the Christian life” without knowing the God who has revealed himself in Christ as he is clothed in his gospel.  And there’s no point in knowing the doctrine if it “merely flutters about in the brain,” as he put it himself.

You’ve studied Calvin and the Reformation for years, what surprised you most as you researched this book?

I’ve studied Calvin mainly as a student learning from a professor.  For this book, though, I pored over his letters and first-hand accounts of his friends and enemies.  I came to know him more as a fellow human being who frankly faces his sins and weaknesses because he has an all-sufficient Savior.  His warmth, humility, and love not only for God but for other people struck me again and again.  Calvin loathed talking about himself, but I think I was able to find enough material to reveal something of the man as well as his message.

Did Calvin advocate for a particular kind of spiritual life that we can emulate in our modern world?

Yes.  I think in especially two ways he stood over against a medieval piety that in many ways resembles contemporary evangelicalism.  First, he’s convinced that the arrow of activity points down, from God to us.   Like Luther, he emphasized over against the medieval model that God descends to us because we cannot rise to him.  Knowing God is really knowing God in Christ “as he is clothed in the gospel.”  That means that all good gifts come down to us from God and then out, through us, to the world.  We don’t bring our good works to God, but to our neighbor.  Therefore, the source of the Christian life is the gospel as it’s proclaimed and ratified in baptism and the Supper.  Second, and because of this first point, the Christian life moves from the public to the private rather than vice versa.  “If I can just get away from the world, family life, and my worldly job, I can finally focus on my sanctification.”  No, Calvin says, it’s precisely in marriage, family life, fellowship with believers, and engaging in daily callings that God shows us our warts and drives us to Christ for both justification and sanctification.   The public service shapes our private disciplines.  So even when we’re by ourselves, our meditation on Scripture is shaped by the church’s public confession and we pray with and for the whole church.  In short, Calvin emphasizes an extroverted piety: looking outside of ourselves to Christ in faith and to our brothers and sisters as well as our neighbors in love.  In his view, our relationship with Christ is always personal, but never private.  I might also add his emphasis on the Spirit.  His writings are suffused with Trinitarian thinking, and he had a rich understanding of and appreciation for the Spirit’s person and work.

What’s the relationship between spiritual habits or practices/disciplines and the Christian life?

It’s interesting that whenever Calvin recommends daily habits, he typically adds, “Not that this should be done superstitiously, as if to place God in our debt.”  As I said above, Calvin talks a lot more about public disciplines than private disciplines.  Yet what actually happened was that those were shaped by the common worship of the church carried Christ and his benefits with them in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces.  They sang Psalms out in the field, would stop to pray with a neighbor whose child was sick, and witnessed the gospel freely to unbelievers.  There was daily Bible reading, prayer, and catechism in the home.  In all these ways, there was a seamless transition from Sunday to Monday.

Did your understanding of or practice of the Christian life change in any way through writing this book?

Yes, especially with respect to prayer.  Calvin wrote a lot about prayer. In fact, his treatment of prayer in the Institutes is far longer than his discussion of election.  What particularly struck me was how much God’s fatherhood in Christ dominated his piety.  We crawl up into our Father’s lap when we pray and “give him knots that we cannot untie.”  There are myriad expressions like that that I draw upon, especially from his Psalms commentary.  He also talks about praying not only in Christ as our mediator, but with Christ.  He prays with us and his Spirit prays within us.  We can even “remind” God of his own promises, claiming the covenant as the basis for bold requests that accord with his revealed Word.  I keep coming back to these points and, when I do, find myself wanting to pray.

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Get 15% Off the New Logos Reformed Package

Our friends at Logos have announced a new package for their digital library, which they are calling the “Reformed Base Package.” If you use the White Horse Inn partner page, you can get 15% off! We’ve taken a peek and it looks to be packed with great resources–some of which haven’t yet been available either as stand alone titles or in other packages.

There are more than 1,100 titles included in the Platinum package! Here are a few of the key resources that stood out to us:

Commentaries
Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)
Crossway Classic Commentaries (25 vols.)
Preaching the Word Commentaries (26 vols.)

Church History
Early Church Fathers Protestant Edition (37 vols.) (edited by Philip Schaff)
History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (5 vols.)
History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (8 vols.)

Theology
Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 vols.)
Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.)
The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) (Includes Owen’s 8 vol. commentary on Hebrews)
The Works of Charles Hodge (29 vos.)
B. B. Warfield Collection (20 vols.)
Select Works of Geerhardus Vos (14 vols.)
The only English translation of Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.)
Louis Berkhof Collection (15 vols.)

There are five levels of pricing available:

Reformed Starter
Price: $294.95
Print value ~ $3,700

Reformed Bronze
Price: $629.95
Print value ~ $8,100

Reformed Silver
Price: $999.95
Print value ~ $13,000

Reformed Gold
Price: $1,549.95
Print value ~ $21,000

Reformed Platinum
Price: $2,149.95
Print value ~ $30,000

If you’re not familiar with Logos, check out a few videos that detail the value of their features here.

The new Reformed Package is available for the first time today! Remember, if you order through the White Horse Inn partner page, you’ll get 15% off!

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What Really Drives the Christian Life?

Especially as Americans, we are often given to over-simplification. We like bumper stickers and sound bites. Problem is, sound bites get forwarded, linked, tagged, “liked,” and tweeted. And then the “aha!” moment passes as quickly as it struck.

Even confessional folks have slogans. I’m quite sure that mainline Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde didn’t intend “Sanctification is getting used to your justification” as a slogan. The place where I first saw it was in Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification, edited by Donald Alexander. There is a lot that Professor Forde says before and after this sentence. Nevertheless, in my view at least, it’s all making the same point in different ways.

Sinclair Ferguson contributed the Reformed chapter in that volume. Not surprisingly, his chapter is distinctly Reformed. Yet what becomes intriguing is the way in which Forde and Ferguson become obvious allies over against other approaches to sanctification in the remainder of the book.

And yet, with Ferguson, I have a mixed response to Forde’s statement, especially as it has become a widely-used slogan. It’s certainly an important part of what Scripture says about sanctification, right? Through the gospel the Spirit gives us faith, and that faith in Christ bears the fruit of love and good works. The more that we hear the objective accomplishment of Jesus Christ for us, the greater our heart swells with joy and love for God and neighbor. If it’s nothing less than “getting used to our justification,” sanctification is also something more than this aspect. God’s marvelous work of sanctifying us can’t be reduced to a single thesis, much less a slogan.

By the way, even more conservative/confessional Lutherans have offered a similar critique. For example, the Rev. John F. Brug of Wisconsin Synod says that Forde’s presentation doesn’t quite represent confessional Lutheran teaching. Pastor Brug offers a series of his own theses, supported by numerous scriptural passages.

  • “True Lutheran teaching emphasizes the importance and necessity of sanctification, Christian living, and good works in the life of every Christian.”
  • It “emphasizes the distinction of justification from sanctification.”
  • “It clearly distinguishes the roles of the law and the gospel in sanctification.”
  • “Lutheran teaching emphasizes the priority of the means of grace as the tools God uses in producing sanctification in the lives of his people.” These means are preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. “Nevertheless, in our preaching and teaching we should also refer to other means which God may use in a secondary way to strengthen and encourage us in our sanctification. Foremost among these is prayer.” Prayer is not a “means of grace” because it is our activity toward God. Yet prayer is indispensable to our growth in Christ.
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification emphasizes God’s power, rather than human effort, as the source of sanctification.”
  • “Lutheran teaching, nevertheless, emphasizes also the importance and necessity of our cooperation and effort in our sanctification. Unlike Christ’s work in justification, the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification does not substitute for our efforts.” He adds (again, with key passages), “Scripture often admonishes us to be eager participants in Christian living. Sometimes it does this with general admonitions…. At other times it encourages zeal or dedication in specific acts of sanctification…. Although the Holy Spirit is the creator of our faith, he does not believe for us. In the same way though God is the source of our sanctification, he does not do our good works for us.”
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification also warns of the struggle and difficulty that every Christian will face in sanctification.”
  • It “recognizes the sanctification will never be perfect in this life” and… we are to “thank God for progress in sanctification and commend Christians for the gains that have been made. A Lutheran preacher assures his people that God is pleased with the works which they do as a result of their faith… A Lutheran preacher should not hesitate to praise and commend Christians for the good works which he sees in their lives.”
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification urges people never to rest on their laurels, but to keep striving to advance.”
  • “Lutheran teaching of sanctification keeps believers’ eyes on the goals of sanctification. Present goals are the glory of God, assurance of faith for ourselves, testimony to others, and help to others.”
    (http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BrugLutheran.pdf)

Pastor Brug then contrasts this view with other positions. He offers traditional Lutheran critiques of the Reformed position. Nevertheless, he recognizes that Lutheran and Reformed confessions are allied in opposition to other approaches. “Often trends that are decried as ‘Reformed’ influences on Lutheran theology are not ‘Reformed,’ but Wesleyan/Arminian.  In fact, of all of the views commonly held in American Evangelicalism, the Reformed view of sanctification is closest to the scriptural teaching. Generally, it is more orthodox than the view of heterodox Lutheranism.” Pastor Brug especially appreciates Sinclair Ferguson’s presentation in Christian Spirituality. “At least the response of Ferguson, the Reformed spokesman, refers to ‘Dr. Forde’s edition of the Lutheran teaching.’”

Reductionistic sloganeering happens on the Reformed side, too. Part of the story—indeed, a major part of it—can become the whole story. Sometimes we’ve employed the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism—Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude—as if it said everything.  “Grace is the essence of theology,” said Berkouwer, “and gratitude is the essence of ethics.” Get the gospel and everything else falls into place. If you understand the indicatives, the imperatives will make sense. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 35) defines sanctification as “the work of God’s free grace.” Similarly, John Murray wisely exhorts,

It is imperative that we realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We must not forget, of course, that our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent in the process of sanctification. But we must not rely upon our own strength of resolution or purpose. It is when we are weak that we are strong. It is by grace that we are being saved as surely as by grace we have been saved. If we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification. We must rely not upon the means of sanctification but upon the God of all grace. Self-confident moralism promotes pride, and sanctification promotes humility and contrition (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 147).

Again, this is entirely true and it needs to be said—again and again—because we are living in an age of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” Besides, Jesus said this first, as did Paul (Rom 12:1-2). Our default setting is to think that we need the gospel for justification and then turn sanctification into a fear-and-anxiety-driven enterprise.

The Apostle to the Gentiles assumed that the first thing to do in a crisis of church discipline is to remind the Corinthians of the full power and extent of the gospel. When a church forgets this and reacts to over-simplification, it does not to “preach the whole counsel of God,” but submerges the core motivation for Christian living in a sea of contradictory messages. After all, both legalists and moralists downplay the seriousness of the law and the expansiveness of the gospel. In Romans 6, Paul answers the charge of antinomianism by explaining that the gospel is the answer not only to sin’s condemnation but to its dominion as well.

It is certainly true that Scripture—specifically, the New Testament—exposes us to a multiplicity of reasons and motives for growth in Christ. Nevertheless, some motives are more obviously “core” in the NT than others, and the good news of who we are in Christ is always the major driving force in the Christian life. For example, we are not to be driven by fear of a judge, but by the favor of a Father (2 Tim 1:7).

The problem, then, is not making the gospel the source and gratitude the primary motive for the pursuit of godly living. Rather, it is reducing the gospel to one of its gifts.  There is no divine gift greater than justification. We never “get over” or “move beyond” the wonder of that gift we have in Christ. Or at least we shouldn’t.

And yet I wonder if we are forgetting sometimes that regeneration, adoption, and sanctification are part of that same gift that we receive when Christ himself is the Gift par excellence. That’s the way Paul handles the charge of antinomianism in Romans 6, after celebrating and explaining our justification by Christ’s imputed righteousness. He doesn’t take back or tone down anything that he has said before. Rather, he says, “Wait, but that’s not all!  If you share in Christ, you are a beneficiary of regeneration as well as justification.” In other words, it’s more gospel!

Of particular concern, in my view, is the way in which the marvelous doctrine of glorification has fallen off of our radar in recent decades. It used to be a major doctrine in Reformed treatments of sanctification. Our motivation for the Christian life is anchored in what Christ has accomplished outside of us in history. But it is also anchored in the Spirit’s act of uniting us to Christ here and now, so that we are actually made beneficiaries of these blessings. Still, we haven’t taken in the whole vista until we recognize that the future glorification of the saints penetrates our lives here and now. We are driven by the gospel, with justification at its heart, but the gospel is more than justification.

So sanctification is not just getting used to your sanctification, but to your election, regeneration, adoption, suffering, and the hope of glory. Sanctification is a lifetime of getting used to God as a Father rather than a Judge, the law as a friend rather than an enemy, the new creation as a reality that makes us uncomfortable in this passing evil age, the Spirit as the indwelling presence of God that not only comforts and assures us but keeps us longing for the “more” up ahead.  Those who are united to Christ himself will become increasingly restless until they share in the glory of their Risen King.

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Al Mohler on Horton’s “Pilgrim Theology”

Al Mohler wrote up a series of reviews on books that were released in 2013 for Preaching.com and included Michael Horton’s Pilgrim Theology:

MichaelHorton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Zondervan, 2013)

In this new book, Michael Horton provides a unique service that should be appreciated by every preacher. He previously wrote a massive and worthy systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan, 2011). Two years later, he has come out with Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples. Why two books? The answer presents us with a dilemma. Would we really want to read the shorter version of a massively important book?

Oddly enough, the answer is often an honest yes. Actually, this two-book project by Horton represents the kind of gift to the church that should serve as a model for others. Preachers are aware of the temptation to start a massive and worthy volume only to discover the demands and interruptions of ministry often make the completion of that book very difficult. Many preachers have expressed the need for a more accessible approach that could fit within the actual reading practices of a disciplined preaching minister.

So, here’s good news: Every preacher should have the time and opportunity to read Pilgrim Theology and benefit from this powerful distillation of Horton’s very important theological work.

More good news in this volume: Horton not only believes theology is anything but a dry and abstract intellectual discipline, but he proves the vitality and relevance of theology for the Christian life. After all, he has written these works as guides for pilgrims, not as literary monuments.

The readers of this volume will find it to be a very helpful and well-organized approach to Christian doctrine—and to be an ongoing discussion with so many of the people and issues driving our contemporary conversations. Furthermore, Horton demonstrates a very substantial engagement with Scripture and the biblical narrative. Every preacher—every pilgrim—will find much health in this volume.

To read his reviews of other great books that were released in 2013, click here.

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The End Times Are Finally Here!

Kim Riddlebarger responds to the latest end times nuttiness over at the Riddleblog. Here’s a preview:

But there are two significant problems with this approach to Ezekiel 38-39.  First, as Edwin Yamauchi (a noted evangelical archaeologist and historian) has pointed out in his book, Foes from the Northern Frontier:  Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker, 1983), this identification is based upon a number of unsubstantiated assumptions.  For one thing, Gog and Magog cannot be directly tied to the Scythians.  Yamauchi believes that their identity is not certain at all.  Furthermore, he contends that Meshech and Tubal cannot be tied to Moscow or Tobolsk in any sense.  He believes these are references to ancient Assyria which did invade Israel from the north.  This means that Ezekiel is speaking of Israel’s immediate future when writing his prophecy (an Assyrian invasion from the north), which also prefigures an end-time event.

How do we know that to be the case?  If you follow the basic hermeneutical principle that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament (something dispensationalists are not willing to admit when it comes to interpreting biblical prophecy), then in Revelation 20:8-9, John speaks of Gog and Magog as symbolic of the nations of the earth, gathering together to make war on the saints (the church).

Read the rest here.

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The Week That Changed History

It’s a week that changed history: the week that began with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ended with the birthday of the new creation.  Our Lord’s entire life—indeed, the whole Bible—is riveted to the events that unfold in these days.  A new book by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor walks us through this week with terrific effect.  The title is The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived.

The authors’ combined skills of New Testament scholarship and faithful story-telling are put to great use in this riveting account.   It is a great resource for personal or family devotions, but it also makes a terrific gift for friends and family who need to hear the greatest story ever told.  At a time of the year when the historical details of the Gospels’ accounts are subjected to critique by the media, this book is a rare gem.

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Repent of Lent? No!

Over at The Federalist, Todd Peperkorn, a Lutheran minister, is engaged in a point/counterpoint discussion on Lent with Reformed pastor, Brian Lee. Rev. Peperkorn’s main point is that in an age of information inundation, we need the opportunity to focus less on many things in order to focus more on one thing: the person and work of Christ. Here’s a preview:

Historically, there are three practices associated with Lent: Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving or works of mercy. It is a time when Christians mourn over their sin (called repentance) and learn again to trust in their Savior, Jesus Christ. Just like you don’t only go to a doctor once, in the same way a Christian can benefit from a “checkup” on their faith, to remind them who they are as baptized children of God.

In connection with this, Lent can be a time of great focus for the Christian. Our culture is inundated with input. As I sit here writing this on my iPad, I am watching my son do his homework, listening to another child crying, checking Facebook on my phone, all while drinking a Diet Coke at McDonald’s. Sometimes it’s a wonder we can think at all!

But in order to focus more on one thing, one must also learn to focus less on other things. In our secular culture, we can see this with the rise of minimalism in everything from apps on our phone to architectural design to how we lay out our kitchens. Great design leads to simplicity, not complexity. And because our lives are increasingly complex, something has to change in order for us to get out of the continual spin cycle of life. While these ideas are often held up as Buddist in our day, they really belong to the Christian tradition just as much.

 Read the rest here. Read the counterpoint here.

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Repent of Lent? Yes!

Over at The Federalist, Reformed pastor Brian Lee (longtime contributor to Modern Reformation) is engaged in a conversation with Todd Peperkorn, a Lutheran minister, over the propriety of Lent. Dr. Lee’s article says that some “spiritual disciples” (especially those not commanded in Scripture) can cause more damage than good. Here’s a preview:

Lost amid the ashes and sausages, King cakes and shrove pancakes — can’t forget about the pancakes — is Zwingli’s deeper concern about the nature of Christian sanctification. As a cradle Catholic whose done the ashes, and a former evangelical whose fasted to the point of fainting, at this point in my life I find myself increasingly concerned that Lenten abstinence, obligatory or not, can in fact be bad for one’s soul.

Note that I am not a Puritan who is opposed to all observance of the church calendar, nor do I deny the value of learning practical piety from Christian tradition. With Zwingli, I affirm the Christian’s freedom to fast, or not to fast, and thus obligatory observance of Rome and the East remains beyond the Protestant pale. Yet I believe that this tradition — the spiritual discipline of seasonal fasting and abstinence — is more often than not detrimental to our faith.

Read the rest here. Read the counterpoint argument here.

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Even Rod Dreher Gets It

From Rod Dreher at the American Conservative:

We Orthodox, Catholics, and Reformed Christians can look down our noses all we like at charismatics and Evangelicals for not having a strong and systematic theology, but what good does our theological depth do us if we don’t teach our young people how to think as Christians, and how to discipline their feelings with reason?

The issue? The rising tide of ex-evangelicals who are losing a faith built on emotions over the issue of gay rights and same sex marriage. Read the letter from an ex-evangelical and Rod’s poignant observations after them. Then, do what he says: forward it to every Christian leader you know.

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The Ministry IS A Gospel Issue

My friend Kevin De Young wrote a helpful post addressing the question, “Who can baptize?” It’s succinct. His position is standard practice for Reformed churches as well as others. Laypeople are not to baptize, he argued.

But what surprised me were some of the comments. Wow, did it open up the floodgates! Kevin’s post was seen as advocating sacerdotalism, denying the priesthood of all believers, majoring on minors, and other notorious evils of our age. It’s hardly a gospel issue, said one brother.

I’ve offered exegetical arguments for the importance of church office—and how it serves rather than undermines the priesthood of all believers. (If you’re interested, it’s in The Christian Faith, 190-221, and People & Place, 872-905.) It is remarkable to me that evangelical pastors and even theologians can regard as “sacerdotal” the view that some believers are called to the public ministry as pastors who administer the Word and sacraments, others as elders who govern the spiritual life of the flock, and others as deacons who serve their temporal needs. It is especially odd that for “Bible Christians,” the culture of egalitarian individualism could trump clear biblical passages.

Sacerdotal? This term refers to the idea that the minister is a priest like the Old Testament priests who continue to offer propitiatory sacrifices on behalf of the people. It is clear in the New Testament that Christ is the only mediator (1 Tim 2:5, for instance). So “sacerdotal” is a pretty serious charge.

Kevin offered some of the relevant passages on church office.  I’ll add my own comment on Ephesians 4, because contemporary translations of verses 5-16 have become the basis for “every-member-a-minister.” While the New Testament affirms that every believer is united to Christ and shares in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” by “one Spirit” (Eph 4:5-6), it just as clearly teaches that the ascended Christ “gave gifts” and that these gifts are specially-called leaders: “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v. 11). According to newer translations, these leaders have been given for the purpose of equipping everyone for the work of ministry.  Even if one took that view (and there are plenty of solid exegetes who do!), the rejection of special office is hardly justified.  After all, pastor-teachers are still preparing them for service! In my view, older translations are more reliable in translating the following verses (11-16). For example, according to the King James Version, these offices are given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  There’s no reason to imagine that these three purpose-clauses have in view someone other than the officers he mentions.

The gift-offices that Christ gives in verse 11 are for the purpose of building up and edifying the whole body by the work of the ministry. When this happens, the whole church is brought into “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” and into maturity—“the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” “no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Through the ministry that Christ carries out by his Word and Spirit through these ministers, every member has what he or she needs for “speaking the truth in love,” so that “the whole body fitly joined together” will “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” When we see this passage in the light of others, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that these officers are special gifts to the whole church. Their calling is not to lord it over the sheep but to shepherd them under Christ so that they will all truly be “a kingdom of priests” (Rev 5:9).

When pastors preach and teach and elders govern, there is no autocratic leadership. It is hardly “clericalism” when the governors of the church are elders rather than pastors. The New Testament teaches a mutual accountability with checks and balances. Ironically, movements and churches that downplay or even denounce biblical teaching and advertise themselves as freewheeling and egalitarian, with an every-member-a-minister philosophy, usually end up being far more totalitarian.

Take just one example. In the past few days, an exposé of Elevation Church in North Carolina revealed that the group’s “spontaneous baptisms” are manipulated by having “plants” in the audience rush forward for baptism even though they are baptized members of the church already. But if you check out their website, you’ll find what the church calls “The Code.”  Number 9 partly explains the Finney-esque methods: “We are all about the numbers.”  But number 4 is even more sinister: “We are united under one vision.  Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” Indeed, they do defend it aggressively. One of the Sunday school booklets for youth sports a drawing of Pastor Steven on the cover. The book instructs the children of the church to “support the vision” of Pastor Steven by being “united under the visionary.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the history of American revivalism (and its historical precedents), the clever and successful evangelist proclaims traditional churches ineffective or apostate. There are the usual declamations against “clericalism”—in other words, a trained and ordained ministry. And then, eventually, the movement becomes a sect and the leader becomes a lord.

Even in “Young, Restless, Reformed” circles, crucial teachings in Scripture are put on the back burner or even silenced by the line, “It’s not a gospel issue.” But in the Great Commission our Lord called the apostles not only to preach the gospel but to baptize and to “teach them everything that I have commanded you.” And that “everything” includes what he taught through the apostles concerning the ordained ministry.There are many things that may not be “gospel issues” that we are nevertheless commanded in Scripture to embrace and practice. Furthermore, how can one say that baptism and the public offices are not gospel issues, when Christ applies his gospel to us in Word and Sacrament?

I miss the good old days when paedobaptists and Baptists used to hold baptism and the Supper as well as the offices seriously enough to disagree about them. Today it seems that they have become silly trifles. If that’s what unity in the gospel means, then it is a far cry from the gospel according to Jesus.

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