Response to "L’Abri" by Edith Schaeffer

Written for Dr. Richard Horner, Church and the World, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, November 2003.

This book is the tale of the Schaeffers’ nearly forty-year endeavor to demonstrate, through their lives and work, that the God of the Bible existed in the twentieth century and that his word is true. They did this by opening their home to “give honest answers to honest questions” to seeking people and in doing so “by living on the basis of prayer,” trusting God to provide for all their needs. Edith Schaeffer, in her homespun manner, provides detailed and copious evidence of the hundreds and thousands of lives who were touched by their ministry beginning in Switzerland and extending nearly world-wide over the many years as they sought to fulfill the calling to provide spiritual (and physical) nourishment for the hungry persons that God sent to their door.

But she doesn’t gloss over the many trials that attended their way. They struggled through “sicknesses [from the the polio that afflicted their son Franky to Francis’ eventual death due to lymphoma], accidents, depressions, discouragement, frustrations and exhaustion.” Prayer was the source of their strength and sustenance. They committed to prayer right from the beginning for all of their needs, and though they experienced lean times, God provided for their daily needs and for gradual expansion of the ministry into a large, though still family oriented, organization, through the prayers and financial support of the many people who believed in what they were doing without so much as a request.

Like some of her other books, this one included more detailed names and stories than I generally care to explore, but she succeeded grandly in demonstrating the value of living a life based “in reality” in dynamic relationship with a watching and listening world and dependent on God through prayer. Their extended L’Abri “family” is a testimony of God’s faithfulness to provide for a ministry that He has established and their faithfulness, in God’s strength, to follow the call they had received in spite of many setbacks, detours, trials and testings. She shows that ministry is a surprising and disappointing combination of excitement and pain, joy and sorrow, because we live in a fallen world. I loved the testimony of their children who thanked Francis for having long prepared them for the eventuality of his untimely death by “stressing the Fall and the abnormal history that will continue until Christ’s return.” We all place our ultimate hope in That Day, but in the meantime, we are to stand strong (and weak) in the calling we have received, in full dependence on him who called us and Who will bring every detail of our lives and ministries to fulfillment in His time.

The Pastor’s Family, Sloth, Jealousy, Competition, Sexual Lust, Ecclesiastical Politics, and Ministry Philosophy

by Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003.

1. The pastor’s family, its importance, difficulties and witness. Practical ways I will minister to my family.

IMPORTANCE. The pastor’s most important human relationships are in his family. There his true identity is revealed and his sanctification is improved. If he is a tyrant at home, he will be a tyrant in the church. He may put up a good front for awhile with his congregation, but eventually, his true self will come out. Conversely, if he learns to serve his family as a loving shepherd – guiding, protecting, feeding – he will do the same with his flock.

Before I had children, I didn’t understand why some parents came late to meetings from time to time or didn’t show up at all. I expected them to be on time every time and had little patience with their seeming negligence.

However, after our two children came along, I began to understand from experience that kids get sick and have emergencies that cannot be prevented. I became more patient with the flock as a result. Similarly, God has used my wife to knock off some of the rough edges in my life. Because I can’t hide my true self from her, she points out my weaknesses and faults so that we can bring them to God in prayer for his sanctifying work.

DIFFICULTIES. The pastor’s family is vulnerable in some unique ways. First, everyone in the church (and sometimes outside the church) knows who they are. This can have a positive and some negative effects. It can be a source of comfort but it can also feel as though the family lives in a fish bowl where everyone knows their business. Expectations can be very high and they feel like they own you. It can also cause the family members to feel that everyone owes them something. Second, there will be a sense of loneliness because the pastor and his family will never be like everyone else in their eyes. Some folks think that pastors don’t have sex or understand sin, lust, and temptation.

WITNESS. The most important thing is to be authentic. The pastor and his family will be a model for other families, so they must be the same at home and at church. If not, the kids will become confused and the wife hurt. The best thing a pastor and his family can do will be to bring their values and practices into the church where everyone can see them – treating one another with love and respect, serving one another, disciplining when necessary but doing so in a way that is not demeaning. This testifies to the grace of God in practical family living that others can emulate.

PRACTICAL WAYS. I will minister to my family in the following ways. I will not leave them. I will improve my sanctification. I will communicate with them by listening to their concerns and responding to them in a loving manner. I will be demonstrative in my love for them by telling them that I love them, hugging them, affirming them and disciplining them when needed. I will seek their highest good by helping them discover and live out God’s will for their lives. I will pray with and for them and teach them God’s word so that they learn to do it for themselves and their families. I will protect them from the church by not using them as a negative illustration and not insisting that they participate beyond what normal members do.

2. Why sloth is dangerous. How I am going to avoid the “twin demons” of obsessive work and sloth.

Sloth is dangerous because it leads to ruin. Scripture tells us that laziness leads to trouble, death, destruction, poverty, and want, among other things (Prov 15.19; 18.9; 21.25; 24.30). It often doesn’t show up right away in the pastorate. The slothful pastor can neglect his duties for some time before anyone notices because most people are not clear on exactly what his responsibilities entail. They think if he preaches a pretty good sermon on Sunday he is doing his job. However, some pastors have the ability to preach without working very hard to do it. They have a silver tongue that allows them to get by with a minimum of study and effort. The pastor may even justify himself in doing so since he “gets the job done,” and besides, people tell him he always looks tired and his family says he is never home in the evening.

Moreover, the pastor who avoids prayer, visitation, evangelism, and applying discipline in the congregation will pay the price in time. After a number of years, the congregation will begin to reflect the neglect. They will stop growing in their spiritual lives and will begin to slip morally because they are not receiving God’s word carefully preached and taught. They will feel emotionally neglected because the pastor has failed to visit them in times of need. They will not be challenged to evangelize those around them. They will not be called to account when they sin against one another and against God. They will lose their zeal for the Lord. In short, they will reflect the life of the pastor.

Avoiding sloth and obsessive work requires accountability. It seems the best way is to appoint a couple men to make sure I’m doing what is required, but not overdoing it. They should be people with whom I can be honest about the pressures and boredom of the ministry and who can be lovingly honest with me when I’m going too far in either direction. I should meet with them on a regular basis to evaluate my life and practice. This is not a performance evaluation, but more of a heart evaluation. Am I still zealous for the work? If not, what can be done to restore that zeal? Am I spending enough time with my family and away from the ministry? If so, am I trying to control the church or am I running from problems in my family? These men should pray with me and for me on a regular basis so that I might maintain a balance between the two “demons” and for recovery when I fail to do so.

3. The problems of jealousy and competition and practical ways to remedy those problems.

Jealousy or envy in ministry is covetousness (the desire for more) directed toward other people. Conversely, it is the failure to be content with the gifts, talents, and ministry that God has given me. It is the desire to possess that which God has given to someone else such as a larger, more influential ministry, larger buildings and resources, or the talent to write books or songs. A jealous person is continually striving to gain what someone else has. The result is that he takes for granted what he himself has received from God, and neglects that. Saul was the anointed King of Israel, yet when David began to win military victories for the king, Saul became jealous of David. He despised the fact that the people were acclaiming David over him. Rather than rejoicing in the victories over their common enemy, he became David’s enemy, even trying to kill him many times. As a result of this and other sins, he was deposed as king.

Similarly, when a pastor becomes jealous of another pastor’s influence or gifts, he becomes in effect that man’s enemy. He is joining forces with the devil in sin against the man, rather than rejoicing in that person’s ministry and joining forces with him against the devil. He is likely to lose his ministry because he is spending more time and energy trying to gain what someone else has than on his own ministry.

Competition is comparing oneself to others in an attempt to best the other person, or to stay one step ahead of him. It is one-upsmanship. If my fellow pastor or a pastor from another church accomplishes “A,” I must accomplish “A+1.” I am compelled to show him or myself that I can do something better than the other person. When I was a teenager, a friend and I had an ongoing competition in spring-board diving at the local swimming pool. If he learned a new dive and added it to his arsenal, I had to learn another one to keep up with him. When I learned a new one he had to do the same to keep up with me. We always tried to stay one ahead of each other. That is the nature of competition. In pastoral ministry, competition might consist of comparing the number of members in the church, the number of baptisms in a year, the number of buildings in the complex, or the amount of money spent on the last building project. However, such jealousy and competition are sin.

Instead of engaging in the devil’s work, I should be faithful to do the work God has given me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). If I have a relatively small church or ministry, I should concentrate on making it the best church or ministry it can be whatever its size. If I am primarily a church musician, I should not be jealous of the senior pastor. I should be faithful to use the musical gifts God has given me and rejoice when the pastor uses his gifts so that we complete one another for the glory of God.

Similarly, I should not be jealous of other church musicians who have larger or more influential ministries than I have, but make the most of the situation in which I find myself. I used this principle in high school. I went out for the cross country team in my junior year because the baseball coach made fun of how slowly I ran the bases the previous year. I wanted to prove to him and myself that though I could not run fast, I could run far. That whole year, I never beat anyone on my own team or any opposing team. I came in dead last in every meet. However, I was content with improving my own time with each successive meet. I was content comparing myself with myself because I knew my limitations. Similarly, each of us has limitations in our ministry gifts. We are faithful when we develop them to the best of our ability in the context God has given us to his glory.

4. Practical ways a pastor can deal with sexual lust. Comment on the spiritual disciplines one should exercise in avoiding moral failure.

Lust is evil desire. Sexual lust is evil desire in the arena of sexuality. In 2 Tim 2:22, Paul enjoins his readers to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Two points arise here. First, Paul says that we are to flee lusts, that is to run away from, to shun or avoid them by flight. Likewise, to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “flee immorality” (1 Cor 6:18). Second, we are instead to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. We are to seek after, strive for, or follow righteousness et al. Therefore, we are to run away from lust and run toward righteousness so to speak. We must be proactive like Joseph who ran from the room when invited by Potiphar’s wife to join her in bed.

Following are some practical ways a pastor can deal with sexual lust. First, the pastor should have two men he can be honest with in this area. He should share with them his own struggle and the situations he finds tempting and ask for their help.

Second, he should admit that he struggles in this area like everyone else and try not to be overcome by guilt. He should remember that he is a man with the same temptations and failures as others. This will prevent him from hiding his sin, because when sin is hidden it grows greater in strength. Bring it into the light to diffuse its power.

Third, he must remember that the thought life is the genesis of moral failure. Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat 5:28). If adultery is committed already in the heart, it is only a small step to commit it in the body.

Fourth, he should avoid viewing certain materials, such as that on Internet pornography sites, Playboy and similar magazines, and certain cable TV channels late at night. Some men avoid using the Internet altogether while others subscribe to services that periodically send their list of websites visited to someone who will review the list and hold them accountable. Traveling can be especially dangerous since the pastor can participate in activities of which his family, congregation, and members of his community are unaware. He can easily buy porn magazines in airport bookstores and view late night pornography on the motel TV or view Internet websites undetected on his laptop computer. To compound the temptation, the pastor, who is normally a pretty lonely guy anyway, is more so without his family. It is therefore best if he can travel with a male companion or with his wife to minimize temptation. He can also have the TV removed from the room if he is staying more than one night.

Fifth, the pastor should be careful of giving signals to women, such as looking too long or touching in the wrong way. Finally, it helps to use a Scriptural reminder that one can repeat to himself in times of temptation such as Job’s saying, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31:1).

Spiritual disciplines to avoid moral failure include the study of God’s word, meditation, prayer, confession, fellowship and worship. We should continually study God’s word on passages regarding immorality and purity. As we study these passages, we discover and capture God’s heart for righteousness and purity and his disdain for immorality. As we meditate on these passages, we memorize and internalize God’s will in this area and it becomes a part of us and a refuge in times of temptation. Prayer is a source of strength as well. In prayer we seek God’s strength to overcome temptation and we confess our failures.

We also confess our failures to other trusted people so that they can help us avoid the pitfalls of immorality and pray for us. True fellowship (koinonia) with other believers is a source of help as well. A pastor friend of mine says that addiction to pornography is a search for intimacy in the wrong way. Rather than delivering true intimacy, it delivers self-gratification that never satisfies and causes one to desire more and more. It is not surprising that intimacy is lacking in our self-sufficient society. We pretend that we don’t need one another, but we give ourselves away with our addiction to pornography. As we participate in true fellowship by opening ourselves more fully to a few people who can be trusted, our need for false intimacy will lessen. Moreover, as we open ourselves more fully to God in worship, it will have a similar effect.

5. The value of “chips” in pastoral and ecclesiastical politics. Give an ethical brief for the acquisition of “chips.”

“Chips” are personal political power or influence that is acquired by pastors when they minister to the needs of other people, whether in the local church or in higher church courts. When a pastor ministers to a person in the hospital, or who has a tragedy in the family, or some other valid need, the pastor collects “chips.” He is not only demonstrating love for the member, he is gathering influence that can be used later on. When the pastor has a need for political clout, he can “cash in” the chips he has collected with these people. Because he has ministered to them in a personal way, they are willing to help him accomplish his goals.

The essence of the principle is “I’ll scratch your back today so you’ll scratch my back tomorrow.” In ecclesiastical politics it may take another form. The pastor might support an issue of a group of elders on the session today. In return, those elders will be more willing to support an issue he holds dear later on. In the Presbytery or General Assembly, a pastor may speak in favor of a particular issue today and receive support from those he helped at another time when he has an issue before the court.

This is wrong when it is done by the pastor for personal gain (for me), but it is valid when the pastor does it for the good of the Body of Christ or the Kingdom of God (for us). What is at issue is the glory of God, and the purity and unity of the church. If the pastor’s aim in collecting “chips” is self-aggrandizement, gaining glory for himself, immorality or schism, then he is clearly in the wrong. The pastor must ask himself what his motive is in helping someone else. Is he seeking his own ends or is he seeking to further God’s kingdom?

For instance, it is common for a pastor who is visiting a member in the hospital to leave his card with a note if the person is asleep or out of the room when the pastor drops by. That way the person and his family knows that the pastor made a visit. Is this self-serving on the part of the pastor? If he does so only for more influential or wealthy members, then he would be showing favoritism, which is forbidden in James 2. But if he does so for every member, then he is preserving the peace and unity of the church.

Worse still is the pastor who fails to visit or tend to the needs of the less influential people at all, but spends most of his time hobnobbing with those from whom he can gather more “chips.” This pastor is obviously more concerned with his own welfare than that of the church. This can be the beginning of a schism in the church, the have’s and the pastor versus the have not’s.

On the other hand, as long as the pastor meets the needs of all the people in an even-handed way, if he spends more time with those who wield the power in order to get them on his side for the good of the entire church, this is valid. So long as his motive is the welfare of the Body of Christ and he does not show favoritism as he ministers, then he is doing well.

6. Why a personal ministry philosophy and a congregational ministry philosophy are important and how they are related.

A ministry philosophy describes the basic covenants, goals and plans a person or a church has for his/its ministry. Basically, this is a personal or church mission statement – “I/we will do this, I/we will not do that,” “I/we believe this, I/we do not believe that.” This is the line beyond which the person or church will not go on particular issues and practices such as doctrine, race, programs, polity, worship style, giving, and family. These are guided by Scripture first, then personal preference. No person or church can do all things, so they must choose what they consider the most important. These should be thought through and set down when a person or church leadership has a clear head, so that when the issues arise, it has already been decided what will be done.

If these are not decided ahead of time, the person or church will drift about and will be unduly influenced by those around them or among them who speak the most or the loudest. A person’s ministry philosophy should be in fairly close agreement with that of the church he serves in order for the relationship to work. Divergent philosophies can work together only if there is significant flexibility on both sides. Otherwise they will be pulling in opposing directions and the church will become confused and side-tracked by infighting. One group will want to follow the pastor while another group will want to follow the church’s philosophy and many will be caught in the middle.

The church I served had an established philosophy, but the new pastor’s was decidedly different, though this was not apparent at the outset. Over several years, he attempted to change the church’s philosophy, but because he did so in a covert manner, his efforts failed. He would have been better off never to have come or to at least to have registered his differences coming in and asked the church if they were willing to change.

The pastor must have his resignation prepared so that when he is asked to go beyond his philosophy he can tender it. The sooner the better. When a congregation’s philosophy violates Scripture, the pastor may be called to serve as a prophet. He may win the battle, but divide the church or he may win the battle for the next pastor. Then again, he may lose and have to leave.

However, most church ministry philosophies are simply a matter of taste. That is, in most cases, it is not wrong, it is just different. It is often simply a cultural issue that varies from one locale to another or one group of people to another. The wise pastor goes slowly when enacting change in a congregation’s philosophy so that he can maintain the peace of the church.

Originally written for Dr. Steve Brown, Theology of Ministry, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, December 2003.

Case Study: Women in Ministry

Written for Drs. Al Mawhinney and Reggie Kidd, Senior Seminar, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

The role of women in ministry is a significant issue in our day which deserves careful consideration in the churches. As a result of our discussion on this topic I realized that there are still quite a few issues that I need to consider on this subject. I had believed that the main issue for me (at least in my denomination) was whether I felt comfortable in a church with women elders or not. From what I have gathered so far, there do not appear to be any churches with women pastors, but there are a number who have opted for women ruling elders, especially in the western presbyteries. I believed, and still do, that Scripture supports a unity among men and women before God as persons created in his image (Gen. 1:27; Gal. 3:28), but assigns different functions under God.

Men and women are fellow heirs of the promise (Gal. 3:29), yet the creation ordinance and the teaching of the New Testament assign them different roles. Man’s role is one of authority while the woman’s role is service. God placed man in authority over woman in the family and in the church (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:3,8,9; Eph. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 3:1,5-6; 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:12). In contrast, woman’s role is that of service (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:9). Therefore, I conclude that Scripture does not seem to warrant women elders who would exercise authority over men (in the sense of authoritative, binding ecclesiastical teaching), based especially on 1 Tim. 2: 12. However, there may be warrant for the role of women deacons since their function is one of service. I had already concluded that I would not feel comfortable serving in a church with women pastors or elders. Yet now I am asking myself if I am wrong to serve in a denomination that allows such diversity, or whether it is permissible as long as I serve in churches who think as I do. I am also asking myself what I would do if I was serving as an Associate Pastor and the church called a woman pastor to serve as the Senior Pastor. I would not want to make a scene by leaving in anticipation of her arrival, but I would find myself in a compromised situation if I stayed. I plan to attend the EPC General Assembly this summer in Brighton, Michigan and will try to gather more information on these questions while I’m there. I noticed that the featured (female) speaker for the Women’s Ministries luncheon, Jan Juday, serves as an elder and Pastoral Associate at the host church. Her responsibilities, according to the brochure, include congregational care and oversight of the women’s ministries. She previously served the GA Office as the national Director of Women’s Ministries for seven years. (Incidentally, I look forward to seeing Mike Glodo there too!) However important this one question is, it seems from our discussion that the question of eldership is just the tip of the iceberg.

Three other issues we discussed that I noted for further study, consideration and discussion include the question of women deacons, women in other leadership roles in the church, and the issue of dignity and recognition of women in the home. Our presenter, Bruce Benedict, brought out the question of women deacons as discussed in Clowney’s The Church: Contours of Christian Theology. He noted Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Rom. 16.1 “who is a servant (diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea.” The passage does not make it crystal clear whether or not she holds the office of deacon or is simply a servant (diakonos) of the church in the same way as Epaphras and Tychicus are servants (diakonos) “of”, or “in” the Lord in Col. 1:7 and 4:7. It is notable, however, that she is explicitly called a diakonos “of the church.” Most other references in the Epistles associated with a person’s name like those of Epaphras and Tychicus use the designation diakonos “of the Lord” or “in the Lord” which seem to be much less likely a designation of a church office. Second, Clowney notes that 1 Tim. 3:11 is an ambiguous reference either to women as deacons or wives of deacons. The NAU translates Gunai/kaj w`sau,twj semna,j( mh. diabo,louj( nhfali,ouj( pista.j evn pa/sin as “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things,” while the NIV prefers “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” The NAU seems to be the better translation since the Greek lacks the possessive indicated in the NIV. The passage’s appearance in the middle of a discussion about deacons also leaves it ambiguous. It could refer to women deacons or the wives of deacons. One factor that mitigates the possibility of it referring to women deacons is the following verse which specifies that “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (3:12 NAU). Obviously, women deacons cannot be husbands. In summary, the Scriptural evidence for women deacons seems plausible but sketchy and may or may not warrant the role of women deacons in the church. This leaves the question open. I do not know whether my denomination allows for women deacons or not. That is something else I’ll need to check on this summer.

Another issue brought to the fore in our discussion is the role of women in other leadership roles in the church. Given the prohibition of women serving as elders which flies in the face of our egalitarian culture, there is a need to clearly communicate the biblical viewpoint, lovingly help people to understand, and then fling open the door for women to serve in a wide variety of leadership roles under the authority of the elders and pastors. As Dr. Mawhinney commented, many of our churches have exhibited a “restricted view of the office of believers” and therefore a restricted view of leadership under ecclesiastical authority. A broader view would allow women to teach not only children and younger women, but also men and women in mixed classes and in certain instances, from the pulpit; to lead worship through music and prayer; to prophesy (however that is defined in various settings); to exhort; to heal; and to administrate, in addition to serving in more traditional ways. Such a broader view of the office of believers would facilitate the extension of the kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, rather than restricting Phoebe, instead, commended her to the Roman church and asked them to offer their assistance in her ministry among them: “that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (Rom. 16:2).

This leads to the final point. One of the participants in our discussion said something like, “Men need help to give their wives the dignity they deserve in the family. Women are crying out for recognition.” It is likely that women are suffering as they are both because of the restricted view of the office of believers in the church described above, but also because of the restricted view of the office of “wife” among many husbands. Many men, including myself, have attempted to neutralize their wives, either out of fear of losing control in the current feminist-driven atmosphere of our culture, or simply out of personal insecurity. Instead, husbands should give their all for the sake of their wives, just as Christ did for the church. As Eph. 5:25-28 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.”

Pastors need to teach men to follow the example of Paul when he commended Phoebe (Rom. 16:2 above). First, Paul recognized her character. By asking the Roman church to “receive her in the Lord” he implicitly commended her faithfulness. His letter of recommendation implied his trust in her faithfulness to continue in the manner she had served in the past. Second, Paul recognized her accomplishments. He acknowledged what she had done. He called a “helper of many” and of himself. Third, he recognized her publicly. He acknowledged her accomplishments to the entire Roman church in the form of an open letter. Fourth, Paul recognized her worthiness. He asked the church to “help her in whatever she may have need of you.” Granted, Phoebe was not married to Paul. But how much more should the men of our churches build up their wives in a similar manner. Paul serves as an example of how men can build the self-esteem of their wives by granting them the dignity they deserve in the family and in the church.

Case Study: Right to Life – Abortion

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003. 

This case study deals with a pastor caught between two sides of the Right to Life – Abortion issue. One of his active elders came to him with a concern that the pastor spent too much time on the abortion issue in the church. In the same week, one of his active deacons came to him concerned that the pastor spent too little time on the abortion issue in the church. In both cases they reported that “a large segment of the congregation” was “very upset” about the pastor’s actions. Before Dr. Cannada explained more of the circumstances of the case, I suggested that the pastor begin by speaking with each man individually, then speak with any others who may be involved, and bring it before the elders and deacons if necessary. I also suggested a series of teachings on the abortion issue among the elders and deacons if warranted. However, according to Dr. Cannada, the second, third and fourth steps were not required in this case. Fortunately, the first meeting with each man revealed the problems. No other individuals in the church were apparently concerned with this issue. As a result, the pastor was obliged only to meet with the two individuals.

In the first case, the elder felt upset because of a friend whose wife had received an abortion many years ago on the advice of their family doctor. This couple also attended the church. The elder apparently supported the couple’s decision to have the abortion. As result, he took offense on their behalf every time the pastor spoke or wrote about his views against abortion. The couple in question had never voiced their concern or discomfort, if they had any, to the pastor. (Nor did they ever do so in the future). I am not sure whether the couple had ever voiced any discomfort about the pastor’s actions to the elder. In any case, the elder took offense on their behalf because he was convinced that they may be upset by the pastor’s actions. I can imagine the elder saying something to the pastor such as, “How can you condemn the actions of such a nice couple?” The pastor did not feel he should change his stance on the issue because of this man’s view. Nor did the elder change his stance. As it turned out, the pastor was forced in this case to simply live in the tension of knowing that someone did not like what he was doing, and neither man left the church over the issue.

In the second case, when the pastor met with the deacon individually, he discovered that the man’s daughter had previously been involved in an “Operation Rescue” event. As a result, she was arrested and incarcerated for a period of time during which her home church (in another city) had refused to pray for her because they did not believe in supporting civil disobedience. The deacon became upset with her church for failing to support his daughter in a time of need. Now the deacon was releasing his frustrations on the pastor of his own church by insisting that the pastor was not doing too little to uphold the Right to Life cause. He felt that the church service should include prayer every week concerning this important national issue. Once again, the pastor refused to change his practice based on one person’s view and was forced to live in the tension of knowing that someone did not approve of his actions. He felt he made the case clearly and frequently enough to make the congregation and leaders aware that Scripture forbade the practice of abortion.

On this issue the pastor was convinced that abortion was contrary to Scripture. Following are the data to support this premise. First, all human beings, including children, are created in the image of God, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), and as such are protected by God’s prohibition against murder, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen. 9:6; cf. Exo. 20:13). Second, the unborn are treated as persons in Scripture. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psa. 139:13; cf. Jer. 1:5). Here the Psalmist was speaking as a living person, looking back on his formation in the womb. There is no distinction between his person-hood inside and outside the womb. Compare Jer. 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah was known as a person whom God had chosen for prophetic ministry even before he was formed in the womb. Alcorn (238-239) has noted that the same Greek word, brephos, is used in Scripture of the unborn as well as those already born. For example, this word is used of the preborn John the Baptist who he leaped in his mother’s womb in response to the preborn Jesus in Mary’s womb. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby (brephos) leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit… As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby (brephos) in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:41, 44). This same word is used when the angel Gabriel referred to the new-born Christ. “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby (brephos) wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” … So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby (brephos), who was lying in the manger (Luke 2:12, 16). The same word in the plural is used in Luke 18:15 of “People [who] were also bringing babies (brephe) to Jesus to have him touch them,” and in Acts 7:19 of the babies (brephe) that Pharoah intended to kill after Moses’ birth. Third, God defends and protects the lives of the defenseless and needy. “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psa. 10:17-18). In God’s name, we should come to their defense as well. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). In fact, whatever we do for them, we do for Christ himself, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Mat. 25:40). Fourth, rape, incest and birth defects do not justify the taking of the life of a child, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16; cf. Is. 45:9-10). This is an important issue in our day, a practice soundly condemned by Scripture, not unlike a the forbidden practice of offering children in sacrifice to Molech which arose under certain evil kings in Israel’s history. “‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD”’ (Lev. 18:21). “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags” (Is. 57:5). Finally, God forgives the sin of abortion. For those who confess and repent, God’s grace sets us free from sin and leads to eternal life. “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21; cf. 1 Jn. 1:9; Gal. 6:1).

In regard to the abortion issue, several social and psychological dynamics should be considered. First is the fear of “laying a guilt trip” on those in our churches who have participated in abortions in the past. One might be concerned that speaking of a past sin may cause undue regret or sorrow. However, Scripture reminds us that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2Co 7:10). If the sinner remains unrepentant, this will lead to agonizing sorrow and death. However, the goal is repentance which leads to life and peace. So the caring pastor will preach against abortion with a view to healing those who have committed this sin in the past and warning those who may be considering it in the present or in the future. Someone has said that in fact, our fear that there may be more at this time next year should urge us on.

Some pastors and churches make the mistake of waiting for revival to come to solve the abortion problem. However, Scripture frequently reveals that the opposite strategy works better. Revival often follows coming to grips with our sin (Alcorn, 222). “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8-10). While it is good to pray for revival. It is well to repent and do works of righteousness as we wait. Defending the helpless should be ongoing.

Following is a tentative plan of action for the pastor in this case. First, when faced with a potential congregational uprising over a particular issue it is important to remember not to jump to conclusions out of fear. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11). It is best to remain calm. When a disgruntled person reports that others are upset about an issue, it may or may not be true, so don’t panic. The wise pastor may also seek counsel with another trusted elder or advisory team before beginning the process or may do so anywhere along the route. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Prov. 19:20). “Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22). The pastor should meet with each of the individuals to discover what issues and feelings are involved. If an understanding can be reached that may be the end of it. In these cases, the pastor did not need to meet with any others since no one else reported being upset. However, he did need to deal with the tension of living with a standing disagreement. This brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s treatment of “disputable matters” in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. Paul acknowledged that some issues in the early church were not life and death matters, such as eating foods sacrificed to idols, or the observance of sacred days. Now in the case of abortion it certainly is a life or death issue. However, as long as it is treated as sin and dealt with forthrightly, the relative amount of emphasis placed on it in the services is not. In such cases Paul says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom. 14:5-6). Therefore, in matters that are disputable, it should be between each man and the Lord. Each person should be convinced in his own mind according to his understanding of Scripture and his conscience. The pastor, as the spiritual leader of the flock, must remain true to Scripture in his teaching and practice on this issue, for “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23b). So the pastor should remain as he is in this case, contenting himself with allowing the men to share their feelings with him, but not feeling compelled to make any measurable changes based on their views.

The dangers of such a plan are several. First, the men may choose to leave the church. However, in an older church such as this, folks are more likely to stay and fight about the issue shifting the focus from ministry to infighting. If they feel strongly enough, they may draw together a group who agree with them to stand against the pastor to try to make him change or even leave. Fortunately, that did not happen in this case.

Bibliography

Alcorn, Randy. Pro Life Answers to Pro Choice Arguments. Portland: Multnomah, 1994.

Frame, John, M., Robert L. Malarkey, and Joseph Memmelaar. Report of the Committee to Study the Matter of Abortion, revised ed. Presented to the Thirty-eighth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, May 24-29, 1971. Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1984.

http://www.christianliferesources.com%2Fhome%2Fpdf%2Fscripref98.pdf

Originally written for Drs. Al Mawhinney and Reggie Kidd, Senior Seminar, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

Response to "The Israel of God" by O.P. Robertson

Written for Dr. Richard Pratt, Prophets, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, April 2004.

Chapter 1: The Land

This chapter was helpful in summarizing a number of things I’ve heard in various classes about “the land,” and especially helpful in understanding the current controversy among Evangelicals regarding the promise of land to the Jews. Robertson points out that the promise of land to Abraham and his spiritual inheritance is the promise of a restored paradise after its loss in the fall under Adam. Abraham understood, even in his day, that since he did not inherit the physical land that the covenant promised him, that he was to look forward to a heavenly city and a heavenly land that he and those who followed him by faith would one day inherit in the restoration of the entire cosmos. The land he was promised, with identifiable borders between the Euphrates River and Egypt, then, was merely a shadow of the restored heavens and earth he and other believers would inherit when Christ comes in judgment and glory as full Messianic ruler of the restored cosmos. Abraham’s descendants were not wrong to inhabit the land that had been promised them, though they never did so to perfection, but they too, should have looked forward, as Abraham did, by faith to the possession of the restored cosmos under the rulership of the Messiah. The modern-day controversy over the restoration of the physical land of Israel to the Jews is put into perspective by this. Those who believe that one day the Jews will receive the land of Israel as their inheritance are misinformed.

The land of Israel is only a shadow of what is to come. Moreover, the promise is not to the people of national Israel but to the “Israel of God,” spiritual Israel, that is, true believers from every tongue, tribe and nation. Therefore, the promise of land is not the real estate between the Euphrates and Egypt to national Israel, but the whole restored heavens and earth to all those who have professed faith in the coming Messiah throughout the ages and from every nation on earth. One question that remains in my mind is whether there will be a geographically central location in the new heavens and new earth where Christ will dwell and God’s throne will be located.

Chapter 2: The People

“The Israel of God” is identified as all those people who place their faith in the God of Abraham who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile regarding their inclusion into the family of God. In fact, it has always been the case since Abraham’s calling while he was still a pagan “Gentile” All who would one day embrace his God were welcomed into the body of believers, whether they were part of his family or outside of it. Today, only those who deny that there is a distinction between Jew and Gentile are part of the body of Christ. Jews still have the advantage of being descendants of those who inherited the law and the promises, yet must enter the family of God by means of faith.

The question of to whom the historical “promised land” belongs is addressed. This is tricky because those Jews who are not part of spiritual Israel claim the land on the basis of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants. They cannot understand that this is typological language for the whole cosmos that will be inherited by all true believers in the new heavens and new earth under Jesus as Messiah. Therefore, those who administer and negotiate the occupation of the land must be at once sensitive to the historic claim by the Jews and the claim by those who have occupied the land for centuries. Those whom the Jews would move out without just compensation or by force of arms, it seems, should be protected. However, this is contrary to what many Evangelicals have said in the past and would be difficult to defend.

Chapter 3: Its Worship

This helps me understand the controversy among some Jews and even Evangelicals today who promote the reestablishment of the temple on Mt. Zion and of its ritual sacrifices. It’s an example of something that would be “nice” for traditional Jews who are not Christians, so that they would be able to return to their traditional form of worship. However, it would not serve any true function in the spiritual realm and may even bring a further curse from God since in the new covenant He has superseded the typological temple and sacrifices by the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ’s body has taken the place of the temple. True worship is now in spirit and truth and its focus is the heavenly Jerusalem where Christ dwells at the right hand of the Father ever making intercession for us as our high priest. The place of Christ’s dwelling, the New Jerusalem, takes the place of the temple as the location of worship. Therefore, true worship can take place at any location on earth, because Christ, the high priest, has both offered the sacrifice and served himself as the sacrificial lamb in our place and thus has opened the way for us to eternally worship the living God.

Chapter 4: Its Lifestyle

Robertson’s proposal for the lifestyle of the new covenant community as similar to the wilderness experience of Israel is compelling. It certainly lends itself to an understanding of the “already/not yet” of our experience between the two comings of Christ. We are essentially freed from bondage to sin as Israel was free from bondage to servitude in Egypt. Yet we are still faced with the daily choices between obedience and rebellion, just as Israel was. Finally, we look forward to a “better place” in our heavenly home just as Israel looked forward to better conditions in the land of promise.

Robertson notes that this premise flies in the face of modern-day triumphalism that tells us we have already, or should expect to receive in this present age, all the promises of God. Instead, we should, like Israel in the desert, live in obedience and patience in the day to day world in which God has placed us, looking forward to that day when all the promises will be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ.

Chapter 5: The Coming of the Kingdom

This chapter addresses the question of the role of Israel in the coming kingdom. The long and the short of his conclusion in this chapter is that Israel’s role consists primarily of being the seedbed from which the kingdom was birthed through its Messiah, Jesus, and his twelve disciples, all sons of Israel. From them and from their base in Jerusalem, the gospel has been extended to all nations. Moreover, all those who become true believers are identified as the “true Israel.” This is consistent with the covenant with Abraham, that through him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Robertson emphasizes that the church does not “replace” Israel, rather, that a renewed, restored Israel of God is constituted as the church takes shape. I had always thought that the church’s role was to replace Israel, but I see his point here. The concept of a renewed, restored Israel in the church, that contains both Jews and Gentiles, maintains a sense of continuity between the old and new covenants that is reflected in Scripture. So, it is the church, but it is also still Israel in a renewed form.

Some have said that Jesus did not respond to the disciples when they asked about the restoring of the kingdom to Israel “at this time.” Robertson shows that Christ did in fact address all three issues by indicating that the Holy Spirit would bring in the kingdom, the domain was the whole world, and the timing would begin when the Holy Spirit’s power would be released, which turned out to be in just a few days at Pentecost.

Second, Robertson shows that, according to the book of Revelation, Israel does not seem to play a privileged role in the consummation except that all the subjects of the kingdom, whether originally Jews or Gentiles, are said to belong to the “twelve tribes of Israel,” the full manifestation of what God intended in the first place, a people with a new heart who are loyal to him in every respect. Robertson argues that Revelation 20 contains no reference to Israel playing a special role during the millennial kingdom, nor does it give evidence of a third stage of the kingdom, but only two, consisting of “this age” and “the age to come.” His argument for this contains the same elements we learned in Dr. Hill’s class last year.

Chapter 6: Israel of God in Romans 11

Romans 11 has been used by some to demonstrate that ethnic Israel will play a distinct role at the end of the church age. Some have contended that, among other things, there will be a massive turning of the Jews to Christ in a relatively short period of time close to the return of Christ, and that in some form, “all Israel” will be saved. There are at least four views as to what “all Israel” means, and Robertson argues that two are relatively viable according to Scripture. He supports the arguments that it refers to the salvation of either, 1) all elect Jews and Gentiles, or 2) all elect Jews; but rejects 3) the salvation of all ethnic Jews of all times, and 4) the salvation of all ethnic Jews living at that time. His argument seems plausible and likely according to Scripture. What seems sure from Scripture and history is that God has been using the interplay of Jewish unbelief leading to Gentile belief leading in turn to Jewish belief out of envy over and over through the generations at least since Pentecost.

The Reformed Roots of "Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship" by Hughes Old

by Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003. 


The prayers of the Lord’s Day in the Reformed tradition have been shaped by a number of writers since the 16th century. Hughes Oliphant Old’s Leading in Prayer has drawn together the principles and content of these prayers in a way that can be adapted to the modern worship service. This paper will examine several of these writers to discover the roots of Dr. Old’s pattern of prayer. In each section, I will begin with a summary of Old’s understanding of each particular type of prayer. This will be followed by how this type of prayer was understood or developed by other authors in the Reformed tradition such as John Calvin, William Perkins, the authors of The Westminster Directory, Matthew Henry, Samuel Miller and B. M. Palmer.[FOOTNOTE]

A reference to Samuel Miller’s Thoughts on Public Prayer (1849) provides a suitable introduction before we discuss the prayers individually. In the chapter “Characteristics of a Good Public Prayer,” we find a number of characteristics of public prayer that appear not in just one particular place but throughout the entirety of Leading in Prayer. Miller says that good public prayer should make abundant use of Scriptural language, should be appropriate to the occasion, should be orderly, yet not too formal or always in the same order, dignified and general in plan, comprehensive yet without too much detail, and should include adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition and intercession in an orderly, distinct arrangement, which, though varied in arrangement, should not be thoughtlessly intermixed. Old seems to have applied these principles wholeheartedly.

Invocation

The Invocation in Leading in Prayer serves as the opening prayer for the service of worship. Old points out that most of the Psalms begin with an Invocation. The Latin word invocare connotes calling upon, appealing to, or invoking in prayer. Old includes six elements that he feels are essential to an invocation: 1) the naming of God to whom we pray; 2) the hallowing of God’s name; 3) claiming God as our God; 4) praying in the name of Jesus; 5) the request that our worship be inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit and received through the intercession of Christ, that is, Trinitarian prayer; and concluding with, 6) a full Trinitarian doxology. Following are two examples of the naming of the God we are invoking. The first one uses the familiar Old Testament name “LORD”: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” The second uses another name for God: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth.” Jesus’ example teaches us to use the name “Father” when we call on God. He taught his disciples to say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” This verse serves also an example of the second and third elements above, the hallowing of God’s name and claiming him as our God. The fourth element necessary to Invocation is praying in the name of Jesus. Jesus taught his disciples to ask “in his name”: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Fifth, in the Invocation we should request that our worship be inspired by the Holy Spirit and received through Christ’s intercession. Not only do we worship by the power of the Spirit, that is, “in Spirit and truth,” but we worship through Christ who “entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” Finally, Old states that we should conclude our Invocation with a Trinitarian doxology. He points out that most prayers found in Scripture conclude more simply “in the name of Jesus” but he appeals for a “more festive” fully Trinitarian doxology to conclude the prayer. An example of the simpler form is found in the conclusion of the prayer in Acts 4:30: “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

John Calvin, in The Form of Church Prayers (Geneva, 1542) began the service very simply, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Amen.” This he did before moving on to the Confession. This short, simple sentence seems to include several of the elements found in Old’s Invocation. First is the naming of God, “in the name of the Lord.” Second is the hallowing of the name, “who made heaven and earth.” Third is the claiming of God as our God, “our help is in the name…”

In The Westminster Directory (1644) we find headings for prayer similar to those of Dr. Old’s. Corresponding to his Invocation we find an opening Prayer of Approach. In this prayer, God’s greatness and man’s unworthiness are acknowledged, with requests for “Pardon, Assistance and Acceptance in the whole service to be performed and for a Blessing” on the portion of the Word about to be read in the name and mediation of Christ.

In Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer (1712), his Address to God and Adoration of Him corresponds to Old’s Invocation. Here, Henry addresses and adores God, praises and acknowledges Him as Creator, Protector, Benefactor, Ruler of all, professes Him as our God, requests the powerful assistance and influence of the Spirit of grace and professes entire reliance on Christ alone for acceptance with God and comes in His name. All six of Old’s elements are found.

Table 1 (to be added).

 Miller says that a good prayer should close with a doxology. Doxology is found at the conclusion of Old’s Prayer of Invocation and again after the Benediction. Miller says further that God should be addressed with a variety of titles in conformity with the petitions that follow them. This element is found specifically in Old’s Prayer of Invocation and generally in all his prayers. In his treatment of the Parts of Prayer, B. M. Palmer’s Theology of Prayer (1894) refers to adoration as homage given to God in view of his “majesty, blessedness, and glory” which fills one’s soul with reverence and awe. Adoration focuses on God’s being and nature. Praise focuses on His works, that which is manifested outwardly by Him.

Prayers of Confession and Supplication

Prayers of confession and supplication are found throughout Scripture, both in the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms, but also in the prophets and narrative literature, and in both the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament. Old writes that a “full diet of prayer” should include: 1) lamentations; 2) confessions of sin; 3) supplications for forgiveness; and, 4) petitions for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He makes a further subdivision of the category of lamentations. He identifies five types of lamentations: 1) confessing our sins; 2) bemoaning to God our personal sufferings and sorrows; 3) prayers of complaint; 4) grieving the sins of others; and, 5) complaints of persecutions and hardships. An example of a lamentation-complaint is found in Psalms 42-43. “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ …Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.” Psalm 51 is a good example of a confession of sin and supplication for forgiveness. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”

John Calvin provides a Confession which includes both confession of sin and supplication for forgiveness. In addition, he requests an increasing measure of the grace of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of righteousness. William Perkins (1592) briefly identifies the deficiencies and sins of the people as one of the two subjects of prayer.

Corresponding to Old’s Prayer of Confession and Supplication, Westminster supplies what is called the Prayer before the Sermon. This is a prayer including confession of sin, supplication for deliverance and (optionally) intercessions for others. The intercessions may be placed after the sermon if desired. In the prayers of confession and supplication, the minister prays for the “original” sins of men, that is, acknowledging the sin of Adam in each of us. He also prays for the “actual” sins of men, that is, the sins which we commit ourselves. A catalogue of examples of these sorts of sins are supplied. Secondly, prayers of supplication follow in which the petitioners draw near the throne of God in hopes of a “gracious Answer” to their pleas for deliverance, for the assurance of God’s love and further sanctification by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew Henry separates Confession of Sin and Petition and Supplication into two sections. Under the first heading he confesses the original corruption of Adam and our depravity that flows from it; our present disposition to evil and reluctance to do good; our neglect of our duty; our actual transgressions in thought word and deed; and our repentance of sin and resolve to do better in the future. Under the second heading he requests the pardoning of all our sins; reconciliation with God, an inner sense of that reconciliation; and the operation of God’s grace to strengthen, equip, enable, direct, make wise, comfort, preserve, deliver, and fit us for heaven. The following table shows Henry’s correspondence with Old’s categories itemized above.

Table 2 (to be added).

In the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus appears as the Great High Priest, interceding for his disciples. He prayed not only for the disciples he was preparing to leave behind, but also for those who would believe through them, that is, for all believers on this side of the cross. But Christ’s ministry of intercession did not end there. The resurrected and ascended Christ continues this ministry at the right hand of the Father. Our prayers of intercession, according to Old, continue this earthly ministry of intercession which Christ gave to the Church. As a community in public prayer, we pray for the community and its concerns: for the coming Kingdom, the progression of the gospel, the reformation of society, and the growth of the Church.

The Apostle Paul wrote instructions to Timothy on the order of public worship: “I urge, then…that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…This is acceptable in the sight of God who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Historically, this has been understood by the Church to mean that public prayer should include petitions for those responsible for government, for preserving the peace in the world, for the general welfare of society, and for the spreading of the gospel among all the peoples of the world. Moreover, Paul gives instructions for public prayer in at least two other places in his Epistles. He instructs the Ephesian Church to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth…that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…” Similarly, to the Colossians he writes “…pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…” Old points out that by the fourth century, most of the churches had a definite list of what they should pray for based on Jesus’ and Paul’s instructions: 1) the Church; 2) the ministry; 3) people in special need; and, 4) civil authorities. However, because this practice later disappeared from the Roman Mass, the Reformers sought to restore it.

John Calvin placed what he referred to as the Common Prayers after the sermon. His prayer includes all five elements found in Old’s Prayer of Intercession. Old seems to have rearranged Calvin’s order to flow more logically. In one place, Calvin prays for “all the churches,” not while he’s praying for his local church, but while he’s praying for pastors. Specifically, he prays that all the churches will be protected from mercenary “wolves” who seek their own profit. Similarly, Calvin prays for the preaching of the gospel, not while he’s praying for the pastors, but while he’s praying for “all men.” See the chart below for these variations. McKee points out that Calvin’s prayer concludes with an extended paraphrase of the Lord’s prayer.

William Perkins says that “the (second) subject of prayer should be…the blessings they (the people) stand in need of.” He cites 1 Tim. 2.1 “I urge….that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…” and Tertullian, who urges prayer for “emperors” and for the welfare of the state and its subjects, for quietness and long life for all. He groups these items under six headings he finds in the Lord’s Prayer: 1) God’s glory; 2) God’s kingdom, 3) our obedience; 4) the preservation of life; 5) the forgiveness of sins; and, 6) the strengthening of the spirit. These seem to correspond roughly with Old’s headings listed below, though not as closely as several of the others.

In the Intercessions of Westminster the same five categories are found as those in Old, though in a slightly different order. Old’s order is: 1) the church; 2) the ministry; 3) all people; 4) civil authority; and, 5) special needs. Westminster’s pattern is 1) all people; 2) the ministry; 3) civil authority; 4) special needs; and, 5) the church. Westminster adds a further prayer for the minister when the Intercessions are offered before the sermon.

Matthew Henry’s Intercession and Supplication to God for Others corresponds to Old’s Prayers of Intercession. Here again we find a close correspondence with Old’s elements as seen in the following table. Old’s correspondence to Reformed writers of the past shows up especially well in this prayer. Calvin and Westminster are included in the table as well for the sake of comparison.

Table 3 (to be added).
Miller says that a good prayer should include a particular reference to the spread of the Gospel and that the prayer after the sermon (presumably the Intercessions) should seek to apply the preceding message tenderly and affectionately. Both these elements appear in Old’s Prayers of Intercession. For B. M. Palmer, Intercession involves three things: 1) obedience to the last five commandments; 2) a stewardship of our earthly responsibilities; and in part, 3) the fellowship of the saints.

Prayers of Thanksgiving

Old begins by drawing a distinction between praise and thanksgiving. Though the two are sometimes synonymous as in Psalm 100:4, more often they are distinct from one another. Praise, he says, results when the worshiper experiences a sense of awe in God’s presence. Thanksgiving, by contrast, is the worshiper’s acknowledgment of receiving God’s blessings. Therefore, it seems logical to Old to express praise at the outset of the service, and, after receiving the blessing of the sermon and sacraments, to express thanksgiving. Patterns for the prayers of thanksgiving come from several sources in Scripture. The Psalms include both votive and national thanksgivings. A votive thanksgiving is a public expression of thanks to God for answering the supplicant’s prayer during a time of distress. They are personal and particular, as exemplified in the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. A national thanksgiving recounts the mighty acts of God in Israel’s salvation history such as in Psalm 136. These national prayers were utilized during the major feasts of Israel. Other examples of prayers of thanksgiving include the Hebrew berakah or benediction, “Bless the Lord,” or “Blessed art thou,” exemplified in Psalm 103. These psalms commonly begin and end with a benediction or blessing to God surrounding the main body of the psalm. A third source of prayers of thanksgiving in Scripture is found in Paul’s Epistles. At the beginning of Ephesians 1.3-10 we find, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” At the beginning of Colossians 1.2-20 Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” In Philippians 1.3 we find, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Another example of a thanksgiving prayer is found in the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever…” based on David’s prayer of thanksgiving in 1 Chron. 29:11-12: “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory…Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom…” Old notes that the prayer of thanksgiving at the end of the service emphasizes the benefits of our redemption, and reflects God’s glory. As we bless God, we reflect His blessing of us.

As was mentioned above, Calvin seems to have reserved the Prayer of Thanksgiving for only those Sundays when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. Therefore, his prayer focused on two things. The first is a thanksgiving, the second is a petition. He thanks God for the benefits derived from partaking in the Communion, then asks God not to let him forget what they have just done.

Following the Sermon in Westminster we find the Prayer after the Sermon. This prayer corresponds to Old’s Prayer of Thanksgiving in its location and thrust. First, thanksgiving is offered for “the saving benefits of the Gospel: Election, Vocation, Adoption, Justification, Sanctification, and the hope of Glory.” Second, the main points of the sermon and their application are emphasized. This is followed by the Lord’s Prayer, also corresponding to Old’s pattern.

Matthew Henry’s Thanksgiving for the Mercies of God also corresponds to Old’s Prayers of Thanksgiving. Henry encourages us to be particular in our thanksgiving to God: for how God has shown us His goodness in His word, and for the many instances of His goodness. The latter includes two sub-categories: 1) the goodness of His providence relating to our physical bodies and the life that now is: and, 2) the goodness of His grace relating to our souls, and the life that is to come. In Old’s Prayers of Thanksgiving, we find both of these. Those prayers based on votive thanksgiving psalms focus more on this present life and particular examples of deliverance, whereas those based on the Lord’s Prayer and Epistle texts focus more the soul and the life to come. Both types reflect God’s glory as we bless Him for blessing us. B. M. Palmer regards Thanksgiving as appreciation for mercies given.

Benedictions and Doxologies

A benediction is a blessing given to the people by the minister in the name of the Lord. These are often followed by a doxology or short attribution of praise. First, we will look at benedictions. The most notable benediction found in Scripture is the so-called “Aaronic Benediction” in Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” These are the words God gave to Moses for the priests to use in blessing the people of Israel after the sacrifice was offered in worship. A second type of benediction found in Scripture is the so-called “Apostolic Benediction”: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Another New Testament blessing is the so-called “Covenantal Benediction”: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” A fourth kind of blessing is the so-called “Peace Benedictions.” There are at least three. The first is, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The second is, “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” The third is, “Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The pattern of benediction-doxology is found in Scripture beginning in Genesis. “…and he (Melchizedek) blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth’ (benediction). ‘And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand’”(doxology). Many other examples of doxologies are found in the Psalms. For instance, one of the shortest is “Praise be to God.” One of the longest is the entirety of Psalm 150, possibly as a final doxology to the whole of the book of Psalms. Other examples from the Psalms include: Pss. 145:21; 68:35b; 8:1,9; 135:19-20; 100:1-5; 103:20-22; 41:13; and, 72:18-19. Two other examples of doxologies in Scripture are found in Revelation. The first is, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” The second is the response to the heavenly Lamb of God by “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” when they sing: “‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”

Calvin concluded his service with the Aaronic Benediction from Numbers 6. In Westminster, after the singing of a final Psalm, unless the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the service is concluded with a Blessing which corresponds to Old’s Benediction. The directions are simply stated “let the Minister dismisse the Congregation with a solemne Blessing.” We do not know what words might have been indicated here except possibly to refer back to the Westminster’s predecessor, the Book of Common Worship, which concludes with “The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God almighty, the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen (spellings adapted for the modern reader).”

Matthew Henry concludes the service with a doxology, but instead of preceding it with a benediction as Old does, he prescribes a prayer which sums up all the previous requests and recommends us to the protection and guidance of God’s grace. The doxology, he says, should give honor and glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and end with “an affectionate Amen.” Matthew Henry follows this with the Lord’s Prayer.

Conclusion

The roots of Old’s Leading in Prayer are found in a number of works spanning four centuries in the Reformed tradition. He seems to have drawn on principles from later works like Palmer and Miller, while drawing heavily for his form and content especially from Matthew Henry and secondarily from Calvin and the Westminster Directory. There seems to be the greatest degree of agreement among the various writers in regard to the Prayers of Intercession. As mentioned earlier, Old noted that the Church came to an agreement on the elements of this prayer very early in its history. This seems to have been the primary prayer of the Church, and the Reformed tradition has restored and maintained the prayer’s importance in the life of its churches. Second in terms of agreement among these writers seems to be the Prayers of Confession and Supplication followed by the Prayers of Thanksgiving, Invocation, and Benedictions and Doxology in descending order. The churches of the Reformed tradition have sought to remain true to Scripture in their practice of prayer through the years. As a result, they have developed forms that seek to cover the range of the prayers found in Scripture for use in their worship on the Lord’s Day. Hughes Old provides us with a resource that draws on many of the works cited, but in a fresh, reproducible, modern style that will serve as a model and resource for meditation and the formulation of our own prayers in the churches for years to come.

Bibliography

Henry, Matthew. A Method for Prayer. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Heritage, 1994.

McKee, Elsie. Calvin: The Form of Church Prayers, Strassburg Liturgy (1545). Vol. 2, The Complete Library of Christian Worship, ed. Robert E. Webber, Nashville: Star Song, 1994.

Miller, Samuel. Thoughts on Public Prayer. Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1985.

Old, Hughes Oliphant. Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Palmer, B. M. Theology of Prayer as Viewed in the Religion of Nature and in the System of Grace. Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1980.

Perkins, William. The Art of Prophesying, revised ed. Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1994.

Thompson, Bard, ed. Liturgies of the Western Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Originally written for Hughes Oliphant Old’s, course “Leading in Prayer,” Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, March 2003.

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Inerrancy of the Bible

Written for Dr. Frank James, History of Christianity II, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

Historical Background of the Debate

There seem to be two lines of thought on the how the debate over inerrancy began. Not surprisingly, the two views of history appear to be divided down the lines of the parties in the debate. Both sides accuse the other of starting it!

Those who affirm infallibility, but not inerrancy claim that the first mention of an inerrant Bible appeared in the late seventeenth century in Francis Turretin’s Instituio theologiae elencticae. Turretin’s work and the concept of inerrancy became a mainstay of the Princeton Theology under Archibald Alexander during most of the nineteenth century and was further refined by Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, who affirmed inerrancy as to scientific, historical or geographical matters. Non-inerrantists contend that the influence of Scholasticism and Scottish Common Sense philosophy contributed to its move away from what they consider the traditional teaching of the church for nearly two millenia. Non-inerrantists, then, believe that inerrancy was a new idea introduced into the church by Turretin and passed down to the present day, especially in Reformed circles.

On the other hand, those who affirm inerrancy believe that the debate began in the twentieth century with G. C. Berkouwer, Herman Ridderbos, James Orr and others in reaction to pressure from those engaged in biblical criticism. When faced with a growing body of apparent contradictions in the Bible, they reasoned that these problems were due to the fallibility of the human authors. Inerrantists, then, view the concept of non- or limited inerrancy as a new idea, outside of the historic tradition of the church. They quote Augustine in support of inerrancy who wrote in the fifth century, “none of these (scriptural) authors has erred in any respect of writing.” However, limited inerrantists counter this by saying that what Augustine and his followers meant was that “it did not include any purposeful deceits. Therefore it could include technical mistakes in the areas of science and history.” So goes the debate over the history of the debate.

Definitions

Definitions abound over the meanings of the words infallibility, inerrancy and limited inerrancy. Some of the confusion arises from the fact that none of these are words found in Scripture, and therefore are more difficult to define precisely. The issue that is at stake in the debate is the authority of Scripture and in part the meaning of the Biblical word theopneustos found in 2 Tim. 3:16 translated “inspired by God,” given by inspiration of God,” or “God-breathed.”

As Evangelicals, both sides agree on the inspiration of Scripture in addition to other supernatural tenets of the faith such as the virgin birth, the incarnation, miracles and the resurrection. Davis rightly states that though infallibility is not a biblical term, it strongly sets Evangelicals apart from those who are more liberal or neo-orthodox. Liberal theologians view the Bible merely as a human text – “written, copied, translated and interpreted by fallible humans” which “contains contradictions…legend and saga, inaccuracies…not to be regarded as God’s word.” Neo-orthodox theologians present an “ambiguous view of Scripture” tending to “locate the word not in the Bible but in man’s experience of faith.” In contrast, Evangelicals on both sides of the debate at hand affirm that Scripture is God’s written word (plenary verbal inspiration) and is authoritative.

However, they are not agreed on the extent of this authority. Limited inerrantists are content to affirm that Scripture is inerrant in “matters of faith and practice,” but allow for errors in other matters, while inerrantists assert that every statement in Scripture is true, including matters of history, geography and science. On the question of infallibility, non-inerrantists follow Berkouwer who states, “the purpose of God-breathed Scripture is not at all to provide a scientific gnosis in order to convey and increase human knowledge and wisdom, but to witness of the salvation of God unto faith. Davis concurs, “The Bible is infallible but not inerrant – there are historical and scientific errors in the Bible, but none on matters of faith and practice.” However, inerrantists insist that infallibility entails inerrancy. To them, infallibility has to do with ability or potential. Infallibility is the inability to make mistakes or errors. An infallible Scripture is “true and reliable in the matters it addresses” and it is impossible “for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and inerrant.” Therefore, it is impossible for the Bible to contain errors. Sproul states it another way: “Scripture in its entirety is inerrant…free from all falsehood, fraud or deceit…” Inerrantists believe that inerrancy is a definitive aspect of infallibility, thus separating them from non-inerrantists.

Arguments

The foregoing describes some of the over-arching issues that separate these two groups. We now turn to some of the finer details of the debate. First, we will look at some of the arguments and counter-arguments against inerrancy. Due to space considerations we will focus our attention on only a few. One of the primary accusations leveled at inerrantists is their seeming lack of concern for irregularities in the so-called “phenomena” of the Bible. Some writers use the word phenomena to refer to all the facts about the Bible. But in this debate phenomena refer to the “irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another,” in other words, the apparent problems of the Bible for which there seem to be no plausible explanation. Such questions include the killing of innocent people in the Israelite conquest (human killing of innocent people normally is morally wrong); David’s numbering of the people (inconsistencies between the two accounts); the “mustard seed” problem (Mt.13:31, 32 – horticultural studies have shown that orchid seeds are smaller); Matthew’s quotation of Jeremiah (the words or thoughts contained in Mat. 27:9,10 are found nowhere in the extant works of Jeremiah); the “Enoch” problem (Jude 14,15 – words attributed to Enoch come from the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch ); and, the “staff” problem (inconsistent reports in Mk. 6:8; Mt. 10:9,10; Luke 9:3) to name a few. Inerrantists typically exhibit caution when dealing with these passages in hopes that future discoveries will decide these apparent contradictions. Beegle insists that this series of suspended judgments shows that the “totality of the Biblical evidence does not prove the doctrine of inerrancy to be a fact. It is still a theory that must be accepted by faith.” He believes that the true biblical view of inspiration must account for all the evidence of Scripture. Inerrantists counter that phenomenal use of language such as “sunrise” and “sunset” are still used today; approximations and non-literal quotations are understood as conventions of language; in regard to fragmentary information, absolute precision by modern standards is not required for something to be true; in regard to confusion over the dating of kings’ reigns, lack of uniformity of standards is not the same in our more scientific world; and, in regard to transcendent truths of Scripture, many paradoxes and antinomies are difficult to harmonize.

A second argument leveled against inerrantists’ is their appeal to the infallibility of the human authors and inerrant original autographs. Inerrantists reason deductively that God does not lie (Tit.1:2; 2 Tim. 2:13), God is not ignorant (Heb. 4:13; Ps. 33:13-15), and Scripture is his word (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, Scripture is inerrant. They believe that the texts of the original autographs contain the very words that God intended them to contain, yet without overriding the personality or literary style of the authors. However, there is no sense that God audibly “dictated” the words except in (obvious) rare cases. Rather, they wrote as they were “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21b). They reason that the original autographs contained no errors as a result. Inerrantists allow for subsequent mistakes in translation and copying but insist that the science of textual criticism keeps these to a minimum so the texts we read today contain very few true errors.

Non-inerrantists counter that the source of the technical errors introduced into the text is a result of their human authorship, that in the process of God’s “accommodation” of his word by using human authors so that man could understand it, inaccuracies were inevitably introduced into the text because all humans are flawed by their fallen nature. Yet, these inaccuracies are not so serious that the message of salvation is lost. In regard to the autographs, non-inerrantists further protest that these non-existent documents are “untestable and unfalsifiable.” Non-inerrantists accuse their opponents of holding a docetic view of Scripture which obscures the humanity of its authors and say that autographs do not play a role in the question of understanding Scripture insisting that Christ and the apostles did not appeal to the autographs but to the imperfect copies available to them. Inerrantists counter that unless we can be assured that the original writers and authographs were true, we cannot know what God has said.

A third argument is that inerrantists are overly precise and take an all-or-nothing view of Scripture as though all of Christianity hangs on defending a few words. Non-inerrantists believe that their opponents are emphasizing the wrong things, focusing on minutia rather than defending the overall salvific message. Rogers and Kim say that the “purpose of Scripture is to reveal salvation truths to man, not to give information about the natural world and history.” Moreover, non-inerrantists accuse inerrantists of being overly rationalistic in defending the Bible, so that “a single flaw in the Bible nullifies the whole thing and takes on “a fortress mentality of (an) orthodoxy in decline.” Pinnock echoes this sentiment when he writes, “The peril of conservative religion today as in Jesus’ day is to bolster up unbiblical behaviour behind a cloak of impeccable orthodoxy.” Innerantists counter that unless we are assured that Scripture is true in all that it says, including history and science, we cannot have assurance that it is true in any thing it says. Some historical details are very important, since our faith is based on what God has done in history. For example, some historical matters recorded in Scripture such as the death and resurrection of Christ directly affect our “faith and practice.” On this point Sproul asks rhetorically, “How do we escape dehistoricizing the gospel and relegating it to a level of supratemporal existential “decision?”

Conclusion. What is at Stake?

Some have asked if the matter of inerrancy will become a “test of Evangelical authenticity” and whether it might eventually lead to the excommunication of dissenters from certain institutions. I agree with Nichole who asserts that “important as this tenet is, we should say that it is not strictly either a sufficient or necessary standard of evangelical truth. It is not sufficient because there are many other tenets that need to be maintained if a person is to be seen as clearly evangelical. What is supremely at stake in this whole discussion is the recognition of the authority of God in Scripture. Are we going to submit unconditionally to the voice of God who has spoken? Or are we going to insist on screening the message….” Pinnock a non-inerrantist, insists that what is at stake is “maintaining equally the humanity and divinity of Scripture.” And he assures us that any hesitancy to embrace inerrancy does not correspond to a decline in respect for Scripture. I agree that it is important to maintain the human element in Scripture, just as it is important to maintain the human aspect of Christ, lest we fall into the sin of Docetism, denying the goodness of God’s creation. Both Scripture and God’s Word (logos) are given to us in part through humanity. But Christ’s humanity did not entail error. In like manner, God’s written word penned by the authors of Scripture does not necessarily entail error. In fact, Scripture tells us that it is “God-breathed,” not unlike what was written by the “finger of God” on Sinai, and therefore cannot be in error. I conclude that what is at stake is the authority of Scripture. As the Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy affirms, the result of moving away from the total truth of the Bible which God gave causes it to lose its authority, and “what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started…to an unstable subjectivism…We affirm that what Scripture says, God says.”

Works Cited

Beegle, Dewey. “Inerrancy and the Phenomena of Scripture.” In The Living God: Readings in Christian Theology, ed. Millard J. Erickson. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.

Berkouwer, G. C. Holy Scripture, trans. and ed. Jack B. Rogers. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1975.

Davis, Stephen. The Debate About the Bible. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977.

Frame, John M. Doctrine of the Word of God class outline, 2003.

__________. Is the Bible Inerrant? http://www.thirdmill.org.files/english/theology/51039~9 12 9911-37-35 PM~TH.Frame.Inerrancy.pdf.

Geisler, Norman, L. ed., Innerancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Nichole, Roger. “The Nature of Inerrancy” In Inerrancy and Common Sense, ed. N. L. Geisler. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Pinnock, Clark. “Three Views of the Bible in Contemporary Theology.” In Biblical Authority,” ed. Jack Rogers. Waco: Word, 1977.

Rogers, Jack. “The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority.” Biblical Authority. Waco: Word, 1977.

Sproul, R. C. Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary. Oakland, Calif.: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1980.

__________. “Sola Scriptura: Crucial to Evangelicalism,” In The Foundation of Biblical Authority, ed. J. M. Boice. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.

Woodbridge, J. D. “Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority, pt. 2: The Rogers and Kim Proposal in the Balance.” Biblioteca Sacra. v.142, 1985.

Footnotes to be added.

Open Theism

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003.

Open theism, as propounded by Sanders, Rice, Pinnock and others seems to be a hearty attempt to make God more palatable for the modern mind and to solve some long standing theological mysteries. However, Frame, Piper, Ware and others show that this system of thought is, in the end, untenable according to Scripture and potentially dangerous to the church. An evaluation of these two systems will demonstrate the present author’s agreement with the latter view.

At the outset, Open theists must be given credit, as classmate Rod Miles did in his presentation, for causing Traditional Theists to rethink their arguments on a number of issues and to consider how these arguments might be strengthened. It seems historically that some of our best theology results from challenges such as these. A concise summary of the views of the Traditional Theists and Open Theists as characterized by Rice is found in Frame. These lists do not include every aspect of the theology of each group, but rather the issues in dispute between the two groups. Frame summarizes what Rice calls the Traditional view and, in contrast, the main contentions of Open Theism. I will begin by arranging them contrasting pairs. However, in some cases, there will be an overlap of ideas. Again, these are some of the principle issues Open Theists raise against the Traditional model.

There seem to be six major points of contrast. First, TT (Traditional Theism) emphasizes the sovereignty of God while OT (Open Theism) emphasizes the love of God. A further distinction arises in regard to God’s love between what they call “care and commitment” (found in TT) in contrast to the added dimensions of “sensitivity and responsiveness” found in OT. Second, in TT, God’s decretive will is the ultimate explanation of everything, while in OT God’s will does not determine everything that takes place in the world. Rather, what takes place is a combination of what God and his creatures choose to do. Third, in TT God’s will is irresistible, while in OT creatures can influence God. Man is free in the libertarian sense. Fourth, in TT God is above or outside of time, knowing the past, present and future equally well, while in OT, God dwells in time and knows the past and the present, but learns about the future as it occurs. Fifth, in TT God is “essentially unaffected” by events in the world that impinge on human beings and their feelings about those events, while in OT God is in some ways dependent on the world. That is, he is contingent or dependent in some ways on the decisions of man. Sixth, in TT God is equally glorified by his benevolence toward the world and his destruction of the wicked, while in OT God is not held culpable for evil since it is attributed solely to man’s sinfulness. As you can see, there is some overlap in these pairings. But hopefully, they present these two views in summary fashion as antitheses.

Now, let’s look at some of these arguments individually from both sides. It seems best at this point to group some of these arguments together since they are somewhat interdependent. Open Theists reject the Reformed view of the sovereignty of God. This view entails, in Pinnock’s words, “meticulous providence, compatibilist freedom and exhaustive foreknowledge (a truly frozen project).” In contrast, he and others prefer what they call a more “open” view that entails “general providence, libertarian freedom, and a partly unsettled future (a truly dynamic world order).” Notice the emotionally loaded language he uses, eg., “frozen” vs “dynamic.” Another common term these writers employ for specific sovereignty is “static.” Open Theists prefer such metaphors for God as “Risk-taker” or “Gambler” even though they do not appear in Scripture. In the Traditional view, God is sovereign over his creation. Frame affirms Scripture’s thousand-fold attestation that God is both King and Lord over the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. As Lord, God controls everything that happens in the natural world (Ps. 65: 9), in history (Acts 17.26), including human decisions (Gen. 45:5-7), even sins (Ps. 105:24), faith and salvation (Rom. 8.29), and all things both good and evil (Lam. 3:37). So in this view, God is the ultimate cause of everything in detail, though some (such as the WCF) prefer to say that in the case of evil he is not its “author.” In contrast, within the “open” view, some things fall outside of God’s plan. He has a general providential plan that will prevail because he is omnipotent, but because he allows libertarian freedom, he gives over a measure of control to human agents.

In libertarian freedom, according to William Hasker, “an agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that time it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action.” Libertarian freedom is said by Open Theists to provide a more satisfactory motivation for prayer since man can actually influence God who is said to be “receptive” and engaged in a “give-and-take” with man in creating the future. Ascol argues, however, that this view actually undermines prayer. He says that if God does not know the future, then he cannot be trusted to accomplish what he has promised on our behalf. Why should we ask him for guidance or to do anything for us if he lacks knowledge of the future? Another arena of Christian life is affected by the Open Theist view: salvation. They propose a “relational model” of salvation in which sin represents a “broken relationship” with God that must be restored as opposed to sin as a “state of corruption” that must be changed in what they call the “no-risk” model of Traditional Theism. In the relational model, God is contingent on man. That is, he makes certain decisions and actions contingent on our actions because of libertarian freedom. However, Frame points out that though faith and salvation entail an aspect of man’s choice to repent and believe (Jn. 1:12), that God chose us first even before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5). Moreover, if salvation is based on a work of man (choosing), then we have reason to boast. However, since Eph. 2:8-9 tells us that it is a gift of God, not from ourselves, this cannot be true.

For Open Theists, this tenet is fundamental. If true, libertarian freedom would be beneficial in solving some of the mysteries to be mentioned shortly. However, it is unfounded in Scripture according to Traditional Theists. According to Frame, the biblical data noted above refute it; Scripture does not explicitly teach it; Scripture grounds human responsibility in God’s creation of man, not in this or any other type of freedom; Scripture does not indicate that God places any positive value on it; Scripture teaches that in heaven we will not be free to sin, so man’s highest state of existence will be a state without libertarian freedom; Scripture never judges anyone’s conduct with regard to it; Scripture contradicts the concept that only uncaused decisions are morally responsible (Gen. 50:20); and, Scripture denies we have any such independence (Luke 6:43). In contrast, Traditional Theists embrace compatibilist freedom, that is, freedom within the boundaries outlined by God’s decretive will. Man is not free to choose contrary to God’s foreordained plan. However, he is morally responsible for the choices he makes that they be in conformity to God’s Word. Here they make a distinction between God’s decretive and his preceptive will that Open Theists will not accept. This is one of the mysteries the Open Theists claim to answer: how man can be morally responsible when God decrees sin. Traditional Theists have learned to be content to live in the tension prescribed by Scripture. Another of these mysteries is the problem of evil, which attempts to explain how God can be both good and allow evil in the world at the same time. In contrast to the view of Sanders that there is “pointless evil” and Boyd who says one cannot find the “purpose of God in evil,” Piper points out that Scripture instructs us regarding the purpose of inflicting pain: the salvation of God’s people through the suffering of Jesus, and their sanctification through our own suffering.

A third tenet of Open Theists is used to assist in their attempt to explain this. They deny that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. He knows the past and the present because he has participated in them, but because the future has not yet occurred it does not exist. God can therefore still be considered omniscient since he knows everything there is to know about that which exists. In so doing, they claim that since God does not know for certain what will happen in the future, he is not responsible for any evil that may occur in it. Further, because men are free to choose contrary to God’s general providence via libertarian freedom, all sin and evil can be attributed to man. This is very tidy. However, once again, Scripture amply attests to the validity of Traditional Theists’ claim to God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. Many instances in the prophets can be given. Also, in Acts 2:23 God’s knowledge of the future is attested explicitly: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” This is similar to Ephesians 1:11, “ In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” (italics added). Moreover, in John 13:19 Christ predicted his own death when he said, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.” In doing so, he attested to his own divinity by stating that he knew the outcome of future events. By denying exhaustive foreknowledge Open Theists hope to reduce the “crisis of faith” in times of catastrophe, for example, by telling a mother whose child is killed accidentally that God did not foresee its occurrence. However, as Piper says, better counsel comes from the testimony of the saints of the past: believing that God knew from all eternity that it would occur, and therefore foresees our pain, “strengthens us for it, joins us in it, and designs good by it is comforting – and biblical.”

Another means Open Theists use to deny exhaustive foreknowledge is the so-called “straight-forward” reading of texts such as Gen. 22:12 that might appear to attribute “growth-in-knowledge” to God: “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (italics added). Another type of text that Open Theists use to deny exhaustive foreknowledge is the “straight-forward” reading of divine repentance texts such as Ex. 32:14: “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened”(italics added). They use this and other texts to show that when God met a situation he was previously unaware of, he changed his plans about what we was going to do. However, Ascol points out that in doing so, the Open Theists ignore a long standing principle of hermeneutics declaring that “passages which clearly assert a doctrine or principle are to be used to shed light on narrative passages.” By this principle, Traditional Theists can show that these are instances of anthropomorphism. Ware defines anthropomorphism: “A given ascription to God may rightly be understood as anthropomorphic when Scripture clearly presents God as transcending the very human or finite features it elsewhere attributes to him.” In contrast, if we used the “straight-forward” method prescribed by Open Theists to interpret these texts we could show that God has neither exhaustive knowledge of the past or the present and is not omnipresent. Obviously, this method does not produce the intended or correct meaning in such cases.

Space does not permit further discussion regarding other unconstructive aspects of the OT view including its view of the primacy of God’s attribute of love , its dependence on modern culture, Greek thought and Socianianism. Suffice it to say that Open Theism, for all its well-articulated and thought-provoking definition is not a viable option, let alone an improvement over the Traditional view. What it demonstrates in creativity, it lacks in conformity to Scripture. In fact, because it undermines confidence in Scripture, confidence in God, faith in Christ, prayer, and confident living, it should be considered anathema by the evangelical church because of its potential for harm among the flock. Pastors should warn their people to steer clear of these teachings.

Bibliography

Ascol, Thomas K. “Pastoral Implications of Open Theism.” In Bound Only Once: The Failure of Open Theism, edited by Douglas Wilson. Moscow, Ida.: Canon. 2001.

Frame, John M. No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001.

Pinnock, Clark et al. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994.

Rice, Richard. The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will. Nashville: Review and Herald, 1980.

Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998.

______________

See this article with full footnotes on my website.

______________

Originally written for Dr. Frank James, History of Christianity II, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

Old Testament Exegesis, Analysis of 2 Chronicles 15.1-19

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2002. 

Introduction

As Christians, we have received a measure of God’s blessing in our deliverance from sin and death by Christ on the cross. For some Christians, that is as far as they want to go. However, that is not God’s will for our lives. Scripture urges us to continue to press forward in a life of obedience. As we continue to seek to obey God’s will in our lives, he blesses us for the purpose of expanding His kingdom on earth. We have the high calling as co-participants in Christ’s rule and reign of the earth that will one day be fully completed. In 2 Chronicles 15.1-19, the Chronicler sought to convince his audience that a life of obedience to God is rewarded by God’s blessing.

This paper will begin by giving an overview of the writer of the passage and his audience and how this passage fits into the larger scheme of the writer’s purpose. This will be followed by an analysis of the structure of the passage and its dramatic symmetry. The third section will be an analysis of the individual parts of the passage summarizing their relation to one another, the basic content of each section, the main concerns of the writer’s original meaning, its relation to Christ’s work in the inauguration, continuation and consummation of the kingdom, and its relation to the lives of Christians today in light of Christ’s work. Because God allows those who seek him to find Him and forsakes those who forsake Him, we, like the post-exilic community, should spare no effort to live lives of obedience to God.

Overview

 Some have considered Ezra to be the author of Chronicles because it was composed near his lifetime and because of similarities in theology with Ezra-Nehemiah. However, there is a growing number who believe that another unknown writer is the author for even more compelling reasons. The purpose of the book of Chronicles was to guide the rebuilding of the Jewish kingdom in Palestine after their return from Babylon as they faced opposition from other nations, internal struggles and a weak economy. The narrative in 2 Chronicles 15.1-19 served the author’s purpose as a positive example of an obedient and therefore blessed King of Judah, a model he his wanted his audience to emulate.

Outline

The structure of 2 Chronicles 15.1-19 is a simple three-part scheme as seen below.

BEGINNING: PROPHET’S APPROVAL, WARNING AND PROMISE OF REWARD (1-7)

STEP 1: The prophet’s approval, warning and promise of reward (1-2a)

Phase 1: The Spirit came on the prophet who went out to meet Asa (1-2a)

Scene 1: The Spirit came on the prophet Azariah who went out to meet Asa, 1-2a

Phase 2: The prophet spoke to Asa (2b-7)

Scene 2: Prophet announced doctrinal principle. 2b

Scene 3: Prophet made historical illustration. 3-6

Scene 4: Prophet made contemporary application. 7

MIDDLE: ASA’S OBEDIENT RESPONSE

STEP 2: Asa removed idols and restored the altar (8)

Scene 5: Asa responded by removing the idols from the land, 8a

Scene 6: Then he restored the altar of the Lord at the temple, 8b

STEP 3: Asa called assembly and the people gathered for covenant renewal (9-15)

Scene 7: Asa called for an assembly of “all Judah”, 9

Scene 8: The people gathered at Jerusalem. 10

Scene 9: The people offered sacrifices and made oaths to seek God. 11-14

Scene 10: The people rejoiced in the sense of God’s presence among them.15a

Scene 11: So the Lord gave them rest from war on every side. 15b

STEP 4 Asa removed queen mother and destroyed Asherah image (16)

Scene 12: Asa removed his mother Maacah from her position as queen mother. 16a

Scene 13: Asa cut down, crushed and burned at the brook Kidron the Asherah image the queen had made. 16b

END: ASA’S REWARD (19) Developmental ending: cessation of war extended due to reforms

STEP 5: Asa pronounced blameless, rewarded with extended cessation of war (17-18)

Scene 14: Though the high places were not removed from Israel, Asa remained blameless all his days. 17

Scene 15: Asa brought the dedicated things into the temple. 18

Scene 16: And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign. 19

The beginning section describes the prophet’s announcement of approval, warning and promise of reward for obedience. The longer middle section describes Asa’s obedient response. The end section describes Asa’s reward for obedience. Upon returning from war after a period of ten years of peace, Asa is reminded by the prophet of God’s design of reward for obedience and retribution for sin (beginning section). In response, Asa administered reforms in Judah and other territories under his rule (middle section). As a result of these reforms, God blessed Asa with over twenty years cessation of war (end section).

Part by Part

The beginning section, vss. 1-7, containing one step in four scenes, describes the prophet’s approval, warning and promise of reward to Asa. It is naturally separated from the middle section, vss. 8-16, which describes Asa’s response to the prophet’s words and the end section, vss. 17-19, which describes the fulfillment of the reward. Step one, vss. 1-7, then, is divided into two phases. The first phase, vss. 1-2a, containing just one scene describes the prophet’s reception of the Spirit and meeting with Asa. The second phase, vss. 2b-7, describes the content of the prophet’s message. In it, he approves Asa’s past obedience, warns him of the consequences of disobedience and promises to reward his continued faithfulness.

The writer’s main concerns here were to remind the post-exilic community of God’s practice of immediate retribution which states, “If you will seek God, He will let you find Him. If you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” This so-called “Levitical speech” formula is found earlier in 1 Chron. 28.9 in the narrative of Solomon and David as well as other places. In contrast to the author of Kings, who held to a view that allowed for delayed blessing and curses, the Chronicler held a view of more immediate retribution that shows up in this account. Therefore, in his view, seeking God would result in immediate blessings, and forsaking God would result in immediate curses. Further emphasis is placed on seeking God by the use of the Hebrew verbs darash and biquesh, meaning to seek God himself. They are each found one time in this step. Darash appears in the prophet’s doctrinal principal in verse 2. Biquesh appears in the prophet’s historical illustration in verse 4. These verbs reappear three times later in the passage in verses 12, 13 (darash) and 15 (biquesh). To further highlight the importance of seeking God, the writer included historical references from before the time of Asa, which many commentators believe are accounts from the tumultuous time of the judges in which Israel had previously faced distressing situations such as those in which the post-exilic readers now found themselves. The post-exilic reader, then, was to be encouraged by the story of faithful Asa, who was in turn encouraged by those who were faithful before him. When Asa’s ancestors turned to seek the Lord’s help, His help was found. The post-exilic community, whose situation was as bad or worse than in the time of the judges, were reminded that restoration was still possible through seeking God. Another important concept brought out in the Hebrew is the word, ‘im, meaning “with.” The prophet pointed out in vs. 2 that “the Lord is with (‘im) you, when you are with (‘im) Him” to underline the importance of God’s presence in their midst. This word reappears again in vs. 9 in reference to those who defected from unbelieving Israel to faithful Asa because “they saw that the Lord… was with (‘im) him.” The prophet then concluded his message to Asa by promising a reward for his continued faithfulness. In so doing, the prophet urged Asa to apply what he had learned in his contemporary setting.

We find the word “with” (‘im) appearing once again in the inauguration of the kingdom in the birth of Christ who was referred to as Im-manuel, translated “God with us” (Mat. 1.23, cf. Is. 7.14). Christ was the ultimate form of help sent by the Father to deliver mankind from sin and death. In the continuation of His kingdom, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to live in His people to comfort and strengthen them, and as the Great High Priest Jesus ever intercedes on behalf of his bride. In the consummation, Christ will rule completely as King, having fully conquered temptation and suffering and utterly defeating our enemies.

In light of the work of Christ, the contemporary believer also receives help from God when He is sought in times of distress. The Apostle Paul taught that believers are to pray for help (1 Tim. 5.5). Jesus sent His Spirit to help us (Acts 1.8). The believer is to seek God’s kingdom (Mat. 6.33) and remember that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb. 11.6). We look forward to the hope of living forever with God when His kingdom comes in its fullness.

The middle section, vss. 8-16, describes Asa’s obedient response to the prophet’s words. It contains steps two, three and four. Steps two (vs.8) and four (vs. 16) describe Asa’s individual reform efforts, both of which involved removing idols. This pair stands in contrast to step three, located between them (vss. 9-15), which describes reforms led by Asa that included the entire faith community. Certainly he did not accomplish steps two and four single handed, but in contrast to the assembly in step three, the whole nation was not involved in these two. As stated before, step two describes Asa’s individual responses, two in particular. He removed the idols from the land and restored the altar of the Lord at the temple.

The main concern of the writer in step two (vs. 8) involved restoring proper worship in the post-exilic community. The actions of Asa, along with other exemplary kings of the past found in Chronicles, were intended to initiate worship reforms in the post-exilic community.

In the inauguration of the kingdom, Christ emphasized the importance of worship in his attendance at the temple as a young boy (Luke 2.46), in His encounter with Satan in wilderness (Mat. 4.10) and with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4.24).

In light of Christ’s work, Christians today are to offer themselves as living sacrifices in worship to God (Rom. 12.1). In the consummation we will see and participate in worship of Christ the King (Rev. 5.14).

Step three (vss. 9-15), which is symmetrically in the center of the middle section, is separated by the corporate nature of Asa’s reforms in contrast to the more individual nature of the two surrounding steps. This step describes Asa’s calling of the assembly for covenant renewal, the gathering of the people at Jerusalem, their offering of sacrifices and making of oaths, and the two-fold results of renewal. The first result was rejoicing. The second was rest from war on every front. The central position of this portion of the passage highlights its importance in the message to the post-exilic community. The call to assembly is seen as the “climax” of Asa’s response to the prophet.

The main concerns of the writer for his original audience were to impress on them the importance of corporate covenant renewal, to offer them a model of religious assembly for how it might be done in their day and to present the benefits of such renewal: rejoicing and rest from war. To re-establish the unity of the divided kingdom under one Davidic ruler was felt to be part of Judah’s mission. One method of accomplishing this was assembling for worship. The assembly recorded here during “the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign” likely coincided with the holy celebration of the Feast of Weeks or Ingathering or Booths previously recorded in Ex. 23.16 and Lev. 23.15-43 in which the nation assembled in Jerusalem to commemorate the exodus from Egypt by living in tents and offering sacrifices to the Lord. The Chronicler’s report of music and rejoicing at the assembly were intended to encourage the post-exilic reader to seek the same through whole-hearted covenant renewal in their own day. Secondly, the reference to rest from war at the conclusion of the assembly stands in contrast to the warning of the prophet in vss. 5 and 6 for those who forsake God: “no peace” and “nation was crushed by nation”. The Chronicler uses the device of contrast to highlight the benefits of seeking God. The Hebrew brings out another aspect that highlights the author’s point. By repeating similar terms, biqesh (seek) matsa (find) here in vs.15 found previously in vs. 2 darash (seek) and matsa (find) the writer intended the readers to notice that rejoicing and rest from war was a result of the assembly’s seeking and finding God. The Chronicler wanted them to model their lives after Asa and his people who obeyed the word of the prophet and did in fact receive the blessings of God.

A number of these themes appear in the work of Christ. In the inauguration, Jesus invited all who would come to assemble into His church as worshipers. Regardless of their station in life or national or religious heritage, He bid them to enter into the Kingdom. Christ came to build His church, the assembly of those who belong to God (Mat. 16.18). Jesus instituted a New Covenant that stood on the shoulders of Abraham, Moses and David which fulfilled the hopes of complete covenant renewal after the exile. Finally, the angels rejoiced at his birth (Luke 2.10)

In light of Christ’s work, when the contemporary church gathers to worship there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ (Gal. 3.28). Where two or three are gathered He is in their midst (Mat. 18.20). He is “with” us and we look forward to worshipping with the heavenly throng in the consummation (Rev. 21.1-4). Believers participate in and benefit from the covenant blessings of eternal life (John 3.16), assurance (1 Tim. 3.13), protection (John 17.11), and abundant life (Rom. 5.17). We rejoice in the blessings of God (1 Thess. 3.9). In the consummation we will rejoice together at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19.7).

The middle section concludes with step four (vs.16) which returns to Asa’s more individual response against idol worship symmetrical to step two and in contrast to the corporate response between them in step three. This step is more personal than his actions in step two and may have been accomplished individually since it involved Asa deposing his mother, Maacah, from the position as queen mother because of idol worship. Not only did he remove his mother, he completely destroyed the idol at the brook Kidron.

The writer’s emphasis here is to demonstrate the proper mode of dealing with idol worshippers and idols: remove and destroy. The writer communicated his revulsion toward idols to his audience through descriptive language, using the term “horrid” (miphletseth) twice in one verse. This passage is parallel to 1 Kings 15:13.

The same references to proper worship as stated in step two apply here as well in Christ at the inauguration, continuation and consummation of the kingdom. Contemporary believers are warned to guard ourselves from idols (1 John 5.21).

The final step (five) stands alone as the end section in symmetry with step one in the beginning section. This step is set apart from the previous step by its frequency of authorial comments and its summary statements that contrast with the description and visual imagery of step four. In this step, Asa is rewarded for his reforms by being pronounced blameless and with a cessation of war over twice as long as he had previously enjoyed. Between these two authorial remarks stands one final demonstration of Asa’s obedience in his return of the dedicated things to the temple.

The main concerns of the writer here are to impress on his readers the rewards of obedient living. Two are identified. The first is a good reputation – Asa was said to be blameless. The second was rest from war for an extended period of time. The Chronicler concluded this passage with an idealized messianic view of a Davidic king who is “blameless and glorious, all-conquering and enjoying the undivided loyalty of the people of God.” By doing so, he answered the question of the post-exilic readers concerning God’s continued interest in them as His people after the judgment imposed by the exile. The Chronicler reassures them that they can once again achieve the same blameless reputation, victory over their enemies and national unity by continuing to seek God. Also, emphasis is placed once again on restoring proper worship in the temple.

These characteristics of a messianic King find their fulfillment in Christ. Through His blameless life and victory over sin and death through the cross and the empty tomb, He was granted all authority to rule and reign in heaven and earth (Mat. 28.18). And he will reign as an eternal King (Rev. 11.5).

Contemporary believers receive the benefits of Christ’s reign as King. As subjects of His Kingship, we benefit from His kingly “governing, bestowing grace, rewarding obedience, correcting sin, preserving and supporting under temptation and suffering, restraining and overcoming enemies, ordering all things for His glory and [our] good…”
Conclusion

This paper has sought to explain the Chronicler’s purpose in writing this passage to his post-exilic audience and in turn to the modern reader. The message of the prophet to Asa was the message of the Chronicler to his readers. God blesses those who seek Him and forsakes those who forsake Him. The Chronicler used King Asa as model for his readers. Asa heard the words of God through the prophet. He responded in obedience to that word. As a result he received the promised blessings. The Chronicler is telling the post-exilic community that the same is true for them. If in their own day, they will rid themselves of idols, assemble for covenant renewal and restore proper temple worship, they will enjoy the blessings of national unity, a good reputation, and rest from their enemies. The message is equally clear for the modern audience. If we will put away our own idols, give ourselves whole-heartedly to renew our covenant with God in the assembly of the church and restore proper worship, we will enjoy the blessings of unity within the church, a good reputation inside and outside the church, and rest from our enemies.

Bibliography

Ackroyd, Peter R. “The Theology of the Chronicler.” Lexington Theological Quarterly. 8 (October 1973) 101-116.

Braun, Roddy L. “A Reconsideration of the Chronicler’s Attitude Toward the North.”
Journal of Biblical Literature. No. 1 (1997) 96, 59-62.

DeVries, Simon J. 1 and 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989.

Dillard, Raymond B. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol 15. 2 Chronicles. Waco, Texas:
Word Books, 1987.

________. “The Reign of Asa (2 Chronicles 14-16): An Example of the Chronicler’s Theological Method.” Journal of the Evangelical Society. No 3.
(September 1980) 23, 207-218.

________., “Reward and Punishment in Chronicles: The Theology of
Immediate Retribution.” The Westminster Theological Journal. 46 (1984) 164-172.

Hanks, Thomas, D. “The Chronicler: Theologian of Grace.” The Evangelical Quarterly.
14 (1981) 16-28.

Johnstone, William. 1 and 2 Chronicles: Volume 2, 2 Chronicles 10-36, Guilt and
Atonement. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Footnotes to be added.


Written for Dr. Richard Pratt’s course in Hermeneutics, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2002.  

Position Paper: Hebrews 6:4-6

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

Theological and Pastoral Issues at Stake

The central theological and pastoral issue in Hebrews 6:4-6 is whether true Christians can lose their salvation. This is an aspect of the doctrine of the application of redemption, the way in which the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to the lives of believers and unbelievers. Particularly, this refers to the perseverance of the saints. Historically, Wesleyan/Arminian theology has maintained that it is possible for Christians to lose their salvation because “election is conditional on man’s response, dependent on God’s foreknowledge of his faith and perseverance.”1[1]  They say that man has free will and can therefore resist God’s grace either before or subsequent to salvation. A Christian who turns his back on the faith can therefore be eternally lost. By contrast, Calvinist/Reformed theology has maintained that true Christians will be sustained to the end by the power of God, not by human will. Those who persevere to the end of their earthly lives in faith prove that they are true Christians, and those who only appear to be saved but fall away never had saving faith.

Summary of Major Positions

There appear to be at least four major positions on this passage.

The first is what we will call Saved and Lost.2[2]  This group believes that the passage refers to those who have truly been born again, but are in danger of falling into apostasy. They maintain that it is possible for believers to lose their salvation. This group includes Lane and Attridge.3[3]

Second is what we will call Pseudo-Christians. This group believes the passage refers to those who have had significant contact with the blessings of God, but are not true believers and who are in danger of finally falling away into apostasy and therefore never able to gain salvation. This group includes Calvin, Nichole, Hughes, Kistemacher and Grudem.4[4]

Third is what we will call Hypothetical. They believe that this passage warns of a hypothetical case of apostasy that may or may not be an actual possibility. They say the author of Hebrews is warning true believers of the possibility of falling into apostasy. Some in this group are assured that they never will do so. But others believe that it is a real possibility. This group includes Guthrie.5[5]

The fourth is what we will call Persistently Rebellious Christians (PRCs). They believe that this passage refers to persons who are saved and in danger of lapsing into a sustained state of rebellious immaturity for which they will lose significant temporal blessings of God but still maintain their eternal security. This view is represented by Gleason.6[6]

Summary of My Own Study

The adjective “impossible” (adunatov) should be taken in the stronger sense. It is placed at the beginning of vv4-6 in Greek for emphasis. Only the Louw-Nida lexicon (71.3) of the five surveyed allow for the weaker TEV translation ‘it is extremely difficult to’ saying that this “seems to be an instance of hyperbole in view of the warnings of apostasy” between 5:11and 6:12. However, the other three uses of adunaton in Hebrews (6:18; 10:4: 11:6) seem to use the stronger sense. Based on its placement at the beginning of the sentence, the testimony of the majority of the lexicons and the other uses by the same author, I conclude that the stronger sense of “impossible” is indicated here. At some point, those in view, reach the point after which they are unable to repent.

The sense of parapesontas in v6 likely should be taken as adjectival “and they have fallen away” rather than conditional “if they have fallen away.” According to Wallace, vv4-6 very closely approximates the Granville Sharp plural construction rendering each of the participles adjectival.7[7]
This tends to rule out much of the sense of the Hypothetical category above.

The persons spoken of in vv4-6 seem not to be the primary audience to whom the author is writing. There is a change of tense from first and second person in vv1-3 (“we” and “you) to third person in vv4-6, 7-8 (“those,” “themselves,” “it”) and back to first and second person in vv9-12. This seems to indicate that the author is speaking of a separate group from those to whom he is writing. Wallace says, “In the Greek New Testament there is most likely no indefinite second person as there is in modern colloquial English. That is, the use of the second person for either the first or third person.”8[8]
In his view, this separates believers from those who have not attained salvation in the present passage and others like Jn 15:5-6. Those he is referring to could either be unbelievers among them, or those of the Exodus generation referred to in chapters 2, 3, 4 and 10.

I find compelling the arguments by Gleason and Mathewson for the connection of this passage with the Exodus generations.9[9]
It is interesting, however, that they come to different conclusions. Mathewson believes the Israelites who died in the desert were unbelievers, and therefore those in the present passage must be unbelievers as well.10[10]

Gleason notes that Moses and Aaron died without entering the land and that God forgave the sin of Israel according to Num 14:20. He concludes that the Israelites lost only the temporal blessings of God and therefore those in the present passage are believers but PRCs.11[11]

It seems unlikely to me, however, that all the Israelites could have been believers. It is more likely that they were a mixture of the two, just as most, if not all, churches are today. Mathewson shows that each of the four other warning passages in the epistle include an OT example, and suggests the passage in view implicitly depends on “bleed over” from previous passages.12[12]

Thus, all five passages, when speaking in the third person of “they,” “them,” and “those,” refer generically to the persons of the Exodus generation that died in unbelief in the desert. Mathewson suggests parallel experiences to each of the first five adjectival participles among the Exodus generation: those who 1) “have been enlightened” – the pillar of fire; 2) “have tasted the heavenly gift” – the manna; 3) “have become partners with the Holy Spirit” – see Nehemiah 9:20; 4) “have tasted of the good word of God” – the word preached to the community; and 5) “the powers of the coming age” – the signs that accompanied the word.[13]

I would add the sixth, “have fallen away” – the death in the wilderness after the incident at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13, 14) of all those over the age of twenty. Moreover, the first six participles are in the aorist tense indicating completed action. Thus, the author of the epistle is likely connecting those in vv4-6 with those in the Exodus generation. Compare this with Heb 10:39 “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe are saved.”

We know from other passages in the New Testament that some who experienced the grace and gifts of God will not enter into the kingdom. The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:13-23) tells us that of the four types of “gospel” seeds that are sown, only one produces true fruit. Each of the other three experience some measure of the grace of God, but do not ultimately bear fruit. Matthew 7.21-23 affirms that some will prophesy, cast out demons and perform miracles in Christ’s name, but he will say to them at the judgment that he never knew them. Judas Iscariot spent three years with Christ, but went down to destruction.

More difficult to explain are the present participles in v6. We know from Scripture, that the lost dwell among the saved in the world. We see this throughout the Old Testament, and in parable of the wheat and the tares (Mat 13:24-43) we see that it is possible only for God to distinguish definitively between the lost and the saved and that he intends to allow the two to grow side by side until the judgment. So we should not be surprised to find those who are lost among the saved in the church and in relationship with those in the church. Therefore, it is appropriate to issue warnings to the lost among the saved in a passage such as this. So, it may be that the present participles connect the author’s audience to the past, those who by their continued dullness and sluggishness, after having received sufficient exposure to the light of Christ, do not, by surrendering, allow themselves to turn to Christ, but rather, persistently turn away until they decisively reject the offer of salvation and thus are disabled from repenting.

Conclusion

Most authors seem to generally agree that the main body of the epistle is addressed to a group made up mostly of Jewish Christians, true believers who are tempted to forsake the faith and return to Judaism because of persecution. The purpose of the epistle is to show forth the superiority of Christ over Judaism to convince them not to abandon the faith.14[14]
At least five warning passages appear in the epistle (2:1-4; 3:7-4:1; 6:4-8; 10:26-31, 38, 39; 12:25-29).15[15]

In each case, the consequences of forsaking Christ’s work on the cross are dire indeed. The author offers no false hope if one sets his heart on rebellion after receiving sufficient knowledge for repentance. The passage in view seems to refer primarily to those in the Exodus who rebelled and died in unbelief in the desert and analogously to those like them among the congregation of the Hebrews, though other passages warn believers as well (10:26 “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left…”). The author seems to warn of destruction for anyone who so rebels. Therefore, the warnings should be taken seriously by believers and unbelievers alike. If God grants anyone the opportunity to repent and he willfully keeps on sinning, that opportunity will be removed so as to not to metaphorically disgrace Christ by offering him a second time on the cross. This is the human side. We are to be responsible not to trample that which God freely offers to us.

However, we know that God’s promise is sure. Those who persevere to the end prove that they are his (Heb 10:36). He will in no way cast out those that belong to him. “God is not unjust” (Heb 10:10). He will fulfill his promise to those he has chosen to inherit eternal life. “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath” (Heb 6.17). “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (Heb 10:39). All who come to the point of repentance are responsible to respond in faith and to persevere to the end. This is human responsibility set over against divine sovereignty. God is faithful. Jesus said, “‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.’”

Translation

Heb. 6:

1. Therefore leaving behind the elementary word of Christ let us persevere towards maturity, not laying once more a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God,

2. of instruction regarding baptism and laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment.

3. And this we will do if God allows.

4-6. For it is impossible to restore to repentance those who once have been enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift and have been made to be partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age and fell away again, who crucify again the Son of God to their own disadvantage and expose him to public ridicule.

7. For ground that drinks the rain that often falls upon it and yields a useful crop for the benefit of those for whom it is also being cultivated, receives a blessing from the Lord;

8. but [ground that] yields thorns and thistles is worthless and close to being a curse, which ends itself in burning.

Footnotes
1New Dictionary of Theology, 1988 ed., s.v. “Arminianism.”

2I will use the categories offered by Randall C. Gleason, “The Old Testament Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8,” Biblioteca Sacra. 155 (January – March 1998), 69-71.

3W. Lane, Hebrews 1-8; Hebrews 9-13 WBC 47A; 47B (Dallas: Word, 1991). H. W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989).

4John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, D. W. Torrance and T. R. Torrance, eds, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963). Roger Nicole, “Some Comments on Hebrews 6:4-6 and the Doctrine of the Perseverance of God with the Saints,” in G. F. Hawthorne, ed., Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation. Studies in Honor of Merrill C. Tenney presented by his Former Students( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 355-64. Hughes, P. E., A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1977), 1-32. Simon Kistemaker, Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984). Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 794-803.

5Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983).

6Gleason, 62-91.

7Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 391-92.

8Wallace, 633.

9Gleason, 62-91. Dave Mathewson, “Reading Hebrews 6:4-6 in Light of the Old Testament,” Westminster Theological Journal, 61 (1999), 209-225.

10Mathewson, 224.

11Gleason, 91.

12Mathewson, 210f.

13Ibid., 215-219.

14Gleason, 91.

15The New Bible Commentary, 1965 ed., s.v. “Appendix III.”

Works Cited

Attridge, H. W. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989.

Calvin, John. Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, D. W. Torrance and T. R. Torrance, eds, vol. 12. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963.

Gleason, Randall C. “The Old Testament Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8.” Biblioteca Sacra. 155: January – March 1998. 62-91.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Guthrie, Donald. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.

Hughes, P. E., A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1977.

Kistemaker, Simon. Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984.

Lane, W. Hebrews 1-8; Hebrews 9-13 WBC 47A; 47B. Dallas: Word, 1991.

Mathewson, Dave. “Reading Hebrews 6:4-6 in Light of the Old Testament,” Westminster Theological Journal, 61: 1999. 209-225.

New Dictionary of Theology. 1988 ed., s.v. “Arminianism.”

Nicole, Roger. “Some Comments on Hebrews 6:4-6 and the Doctrine of the Perseverance of God with the Saints,” in G. F. Hawthorne, ed., Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation. Studies in Honor of Merrill C. Tenney presented by his Former Students. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, 355-64.

The New Bible Commentary, 1965 ed., s.v. “Appendix III.”

Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

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Originally written for Dr. C. E. Hill, Hebrews to Revelation, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, December 2003. 

Critique of PBS Documentary, “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians”

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2002.
 The PBS Documentary, “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians,” although demonstrating high production quality and detailed research into early Christianity, contains a number of misrepresentations and cannot conceal its writers’/producers’ presupposition that scripture does not speak authoritatively on matters of faith or history.
The high quality of the production of this series is obvious from beginning to end. Although there does not seem to much actual footage of the Holy Land itself, the extensive use of scale models, footage of landscapes and statues, computer graphics, sound effects and other special effects, underlain by Near Eastern sounding contribute to a very Mediterranean ambiance. Even the scholars were not filmed in the Holy Land setting, but in locations that appear to be historic buildings (likely on their own campuses), often with palm-like foliage in the background which blend well with the aforementioned segue effects. The scholars appear to represent a variety of ethnic backgrounds, represent both sexes and are distributed among a large number of universities and seminaries. (However, they do seem to represent basically one presupposition that the scriptures are not authoritative). The seamless character of the audio and video, shifting from scholar to scripture reader to narrator, kept my attention throughout. I was impressed with the depth of scholarship (however misguided in places) that went into the production of this series. They brought out little known historical elements attested to by the first century Jewish historian, Josephus as well as recent archaeological finds and dealt with a number of literary issues such as the dating of the writings of the New Testament, their intended audiences and the motivations of the writers. Of particular interest to me were such historical elements as the alleged city of Sepphoris, said to have existed four miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth; the party and community of the Essenes who were said to inhabit Khirbet Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; the detail found in the accounts of Josephus as an eyewitness to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; the Jewish Diaspora communities that developed after that fall; and the so-called Second Revolt of the Jews against the Roman authorities, to name a few.
All that said, there were a number of things that disturbed me about this series. The first is actually the one I noticed last. As the credits rolled, I noted that there was a script writer. Just one. Well, one and a half. Marilyn Mellows wrote and produced the entire series. Her boss, senior producer and director, William Cran, helped write the “Narration.” I assume the Narration is the text read by the person called Narrator that weaves its way through the script. So that means two people wrote the entire script. Then I began to wonder about the scholars from the various universities and seminaries and the way the script flowed. When they spoke, it appeared they were having a casual conversation with some producer off camera discussing a variety of subjects offering their own insights into the issues being discussed. However, the script flowed from one scholar to another without a break as though they were all having a conversation on the same subject in the same room. But they weren’t. They were in different cities! Could it be that they were simply reading the script being held for them off camera, pretending to have a discussion with someone, maybe offering an insight or two of their own, but mostly keeping to the script, to keep the flow going on to the next person? I assume these scholars generally agree with the presuppositions of the script writers or they wouldn’t have wanted to participate (or been asked to do so). Could these knowledgeable people have simply been talking heads like a newscaster?
The second problem for me is that the views represented a bias against the authority and divine inspiration of the Bible. Prof. Michael White, University of Texas, Austin, who according to the credits, served as the Principal Consultant, started it off in the first five minutes when he said, “The problem for any historian in trying to reconstruct the life of Jesus is simply that we don’t have sources that come from the actual time of Jesus himself.” So much for the Gospel accounts. They seem to be dismissed as having no historical accuracy at all. In this production, the works of Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, “Q,” and other unnamed archeological and historical research are portrayed as authoritative, but the Bible seems to come up short on authority. They are represented as “very improbable stories,” “construct[s] of the early Church,” and “words put in Jesus’ mouth.” The Narrator asserts regarding the birthplace of Jesus, “The Gospels claim Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Historians think it more likely that he was born and grew up near the sea of Galilee in the village of Nazareth.” The Biblical accounts are represented as constructions of either the individual writers themselves or the early Christian communities to meet their own needs. Prof. Harold Attridge claims that the early Church constructed the concept that Jesus was the one predicted by John the Baptist to account for the embarrassing text that tells us Jesus was baptized by John. Prof. Paula Fredriksen states that little is known about the crucifixion of Jesus beyond the Gospel “stories,” implying that these are merely stories, more like myths, not based on fact. [Italics mine.] She claims that the Gospel writers “shaped their narrative presentation of the crucifixion” based on the texts quoted in the Psalms to help their readers gain meaning in their own lives. Further, she refers to “…words …put in Jesus’ mouth in Mark, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’…” implying that Jesus did not utter these words himself. [Italics mine.] Rather, she alleges, Mark took them from the Psalms and built the story of the crucifixion around them. Later, Prof. Fredrikson asserts, “What they do is proclaim their individual author’s interpretation of the Christian message through the device of using Jesus…as a spokesperson for the evangelist’s position.” Prof. Crossan follows with “they [are] all intended…symbolically and we’re so dumb that we’ve been taking them literally[.]” [Italics mine.] Later he comes right out and says, referring to the difficulty of harmonizing Jesus’ “agony in the garden” in Mark and John, “Neither of them are historical. I don’t think either of them know exactly what happened.” The words of these two professors are illustrative of others in the documentary who hold to the view that the Bible is not authoritative, nor divinely inspired, but simply stories fabricated to help the early Christians cope with their situation.
Finally, there seem to be several factual inaccuracies either stated or implied in the piece. First, after the discussion of the alleged construction of the crucifixion narratives, Prof. White states, “The plaque that was nailed to the cross is one of the few pieces of historical evidence that we have.” Wow! Does this plaque exist in a museum somewhere that I haven’t heard about? Second, they seem to possess a large volume of knowledge about “Q,” the alleged source behind some of the texts common to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke not found in Mark. At first, Prof. Elaine Page states, “Nobody ever found this source written,” then talks about reconstructing it based on guesswork. Immediately, the Narrator intones, “’Q’ was composed before the war. It would have presented Jesus as an apocalyptic figure, the very image of the messiah…” This is followed immediately by two alleged quotations from “Q” which in the transcript read, “‘Q’ 13:28… There will be weeping and gnashing teeth…” and “’Q’ 12:27…Consider the lilies…” Then the Narrator says, “’Q’…only contains his [Jesus’] sayings….” The section concludes with the assertion that “Q” was likely written in Palestine, but that scholars disagree on where Mark, Luke and John were written. This gives the impression that “Q” is an extant document in spite of the disclaimer that began the discussion.
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Originally written for Dr. Allen Mawhinney, Gospels, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), May 2002.

A Corporate Prayer for Christian Worship

Written for Dr. Steve Brown, Communication II, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, December 2003.

O God, you are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in his life, death and resurrection, reached out to us in love to pay the price for our sins. We glorify your name. We have sinned against you in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We have forgotten you, we have ignored you, and we have deliberately disobeyed you. Forgive us our sins today and draw us near to yourself. We need you, and we love you.

We are gathered here in the name of your Son because he is the only true source of life, of truth, of healing for our souls. We are afraid of many things that are happening in our world. We fear attacks by terrorists, we fear losing our jobs, we fear that our families will break apart, we fear that we may never have a family of our own, we fear that we will not become all that you have called us to be. Calm our fears and give us your peace.

Give wisdom to those in authority over us that we might live in peace and freedom to proclaim the gospel in our community and throughout the world. Give wisdom to our church’s leaders that we might serve you faithfully and lovingly among your people. Help your people to live in unity and love with one another so that others might see Christ among us. Help us together to fulfill our calling to make disciples of all the nations, to minister to the poor and needy, and to stand up for righteousness wherever we are.

Lord, remember those among us who are sick, hurting, depressed, struggling with doubt, or lonely. Comfort the troubled. Strengthen the weak. Lift up those who are cast down. Give joy to the sorrowful.

O God, you are our deliverer and our salvation. We look forward with hope and joy to the coming of the fullness of your kingdom, when every tear will be wiped away and when Christ will reign forever and ever and we will reign with him as his glorious bride. Thank you for your matchless grace and mercy on our behalf. All glory be to you now and forever, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Study Guide for Chapter X: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in "Paul: An Outline of His Theology" by Herman Ridderbos

Written for Dr. Reggie Kidd, Acts and Pauline Epistles, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, May 2003.

Section 64: Different Definitions of Baptism (396-406)

I. Introduction

A. Paul nowhere gives a detailed treatment of the meaning of baptism, but presupposes an understanding of it

B. Yet a very important doctrinal element is implied through traditional formulations and descriptions

II. Baptism as a cleansing bath OR cleansing from sin

A. Texts

1. 1 Corinthians 6:11: ”Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

2. Ephesians 5:26: “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”

3. Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost”

B. This traditional definition points to baptism as a symbol of and means of salvation for the washing away of and cleansing from sin

1. In 1 Cor. 6:11 both in the ethical and forensic sense

2. In Eph. 5:26 this washing is attended with “the word” that comes from God to the baptized

3. Faith is presupposed on the ground of the middle voice: “you allowed yourselves to be washed”

4. 1 Cor. 6:11 contains an allusion to the baptismal formula “in the name of” and a connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit

5. Eph. 5:26 tells us that Christ is the author of the cleansing and that baptism functions as the instrument

6. Tit. 3:5 is to be understood in the context of the saving, eschatological activity of God (“the appearing” of his mercy) and represents the total renewal of the life of man resulting from it

7. The mention of the Holy Spirit is to be understood in this way: the washing with water of baptism represents the new birth as the transition from the old mode of existence dominated by sin to the new mode which derives its character from the Spirit as the eschatological gift of salvation

III. Baptism of the Spirit OR communication of the Holy Spirit

A. Paul concurs with the early Christian view of baptism found in the following texts

1. Mark 1:8: “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

2. Acts 2:38: “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

3. John 3:5: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

B. Clear reference in Paul referring to baptism in or with (not by) the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

1. There is an eschatological significance to the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13) is “poured out” by God in accord with the promise concerning the last days (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:4, 17; Rom. 5:5; Tit. 3:6), and the Spirit therefore may be understood as the “firstfruits” and as “earnest” of the future inheritance (cf. Eph. 1:14; Tit. 3:6, 7; 2 Cor. 1:22; Rom. 8:16, 23)

2. The connection of the Holy Spirit and baptism does not consist of the pouring out of unusual gifts of the Spirit, but in the transition of the baptized to the new life brought about by Christ, in which the guilt and uncleanness of sin is washed away and the new government of the Holy Spirit prevails

3. Baptism is not only a preparatory sacrament, but also a sacrament of fulfillment

C. Does the “sealing” and “anointing” of the Holy Spirit in Paul refer to baptism?

1. References

a. 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”

b. Ephesians 1:13, 14: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”

c. Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

2. Evaluations

a. In favor

(1) In the early church, baptism was explicitly qualified as a seal (cf. 2 Clem. 7, 7; 8, 6; Herm. Sim. VIII, 6, 13; IS, 16, 3ff.; 17, 4)

(2) The idea that underlies the baptismal formula: “baptizing in(to) the name of …,” indicates that the one baptized is “stamped” by baptism as the property of Christ and under his protection

(3) Sealing would be understood as an eschatological act in which the baptized passes over to the ownership of him in whose name the act takes place

(4) Some say that the expression “who anointed us” [2 Cor. 1:21?] refers to baptism

b. Opposed: others consider it uncertain that “sealing” and “anointing” refer to baptism

c. Ridderbos’ evaluation of the “anointing” and “sealing” of the Spirit

(1) “Anointing” refers to the gift of the Spirit (cf. Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38; 1 John 2:20, 27)

(2) “Sealing” also refers to the gift of the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30)

(3) The importance of sealing is not in sacramental appropriation or “stamping” in behalf of Christ, but in the evidence that the gift of the Spirit itself produces in him who receives it.

(4) The believer is furnished with the seal that he belongs to God, just as the gift of the Spirit is accounted as the firstfruits and earnest of the inheritance.

IV. Baptism as incorporation into the order of the life of Christ OR into his body

A. For Paul, incorporation into the order of life represented by Christ is even more characteristic of baptism than cleansing from sin and the gift of the Spirit

B. Baptism binds one to Christ and the order of life represented by him.

C. General references

1. Especially Gal. 3:27: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” By “putting on Christ” Paul means union with Christ by baptism”

2. Closely related is Col. 3:9: “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

a. Undoubtedly an allusion to baptism

b. With this old and new man one is not to think first of the conversion of individual believers, but of the common mode of existence of “the many” in Adam and in Christ respectively

c. The “new man” is put on by baptism and can be called “putting on” Christ

d. Though the derivation of this phrase is uncertain its meaning is clear

e. Baptism makes one participate in Christ as him who, as the one seed of Abraham and as the “second man,” represents and contains within himself those belonging to him. In that sense one can speak of being “baptized into his body”

D. Special references

1. The texts

a. Rom. 6:4: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

b. Col. 2:11-12: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

2. Comments

a. There is a peculiar connection between baptism on the one hand, and dying, being buried and raised with Christ, on the other, so that baptism can be qualified as a baptism into Christ’s death, etc

b. It is not demonstrable that this concept enters Paul’s thought as a result of exposure to the mystery religions

c. Neither is the symbolic interpretation valid

(1) This symbolism is said to lie in the going down of the one baptized into, and the emerging again out of, the water of baptism, which pictures dying and resurrection

(2) So far as the water of baptism is concerned, its symbolic significance in the whole NT is that it purifies, not that one can sink down into it and drown

(3) Likewise there is no basis for the notion that the posture of the one baptized suggests such a symbol

(4) Not only is one not buried in water, but it is difficult to symbolize burial by immersing oneself for an instant in water.

(5) As far as resurrection is concerned, if Col 2:12 were intended to denote coming up out of the water as a symbol, surely the preposition “out of” (ek) and not “in” (en) would have been used.

d. Correct interpretation

(1) Those who are baptized into him may now know that they are included in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and that they ought to no longer live in sin.

(2) The function of baptism is that it incorporates or implants the one baptized into this corporate (“bodily”) unity between Christ and his own (Rom. 6:5)

(3) It is this meaning of baptism as incorporation into Christ which is denoted in v5 by the expression “are implanted” (symphytoi gegonamen). Believers are implanted or incorporated by baptism into what has taken place with Christ.

(4) It means to participate by baptism in that death and that grave, that we are laid in Christ’s grave, not that baptism would be the grave in which we, just as Christ once died, now die as well.

(5) Baptism is not a grave and resurrection, rather, baptism incorporates us into, makes us participate in, Christ’s death, burial and resurrection

e. Putting off the old and putting on the new man in baptism

(1) Baptism signifies the departure from the old mode of existence that goes on after baptism in the “mortification of the members that are upon the earth (Col. 3:5; cf. Gal. 5:24)

(2) The same applies to putting on the new man (Col. 3:10) because in baptism believers are raised together with Christ in a redemptive-historical sense (Col. 2:12)

(3) Putting on is a choice, an act, carried on through the whole life of the believer (cf. Eph. 4:24; Rom. 13:14).

(4) Baptism is not a parable of Christ’s death and resurrection in the life of believers, a symbol of conversion. Baptism connects the believer with Christ’s death and resurrection.

(5) To be crucified and raised with Christ in baptism does not denote conversion. But the one is not without the other, for to be baptized into Christ means not only to have died to sin, but also to live and serve in the new state of the Spirit (Rom. 6:12ff; 7:4)

E. Analogy of baptism in 1 Cor. 10:2 in which he compares the NT church with ancient Israel: “and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”

1. Not symbolic – The cloud was a shining cloud, and Israel went through the sea on dry ground

2. Rather, the cloud and sea represent the redemptive event by which Israel escaped the tyranny and slavery of Egypt

3. In this event all the fathers shared because they were “baptized into Moses”

4. There is no real baptism here, rather it is a type of baptism

5. Moses is a type of Christ in v. 4 (“that rock was Christ”). Here many are brought under the one – Moses (“baptized into Moses”)

6. Just as God has baptized and incorporated the church in Christ, so Israel’s salvation lay in the fact that it had Moses as leader and head and was contained in Moses

Section 65: Baptism as Means of Salvation (406-414)

I. The relationship between the sacramental aspect (in particular) and the redemptive-historical aspect of the participation of the church in Christ

A. Erroneous views

1. “Mystery theology” – a Roman Catholic error in the footsteps of O. Casel.

a. Takes Rom. 6:5 as point of departure in the word homoioma. “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness (homoioma) of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection…”

b. Christ’s death is said to be made present at the time and place of the sacrament, in which the one baptized is taken up and involved in mysterio

c. Error corrected – Ridderbos’ view

(1) Baptism is not the moment or place of dying together, etc. with Christ.

(2) If this were so, Christ would continue to die, if not anew, yet in mysterio.

(3) The death of Christ is not prolonged in baptism and brought to believers, rather, believers are in baptism brought to Christ’s death and made to share in what has occurred once for all

2. “Contemporaneity” – a Protestant error

a. The historical redemptive death of Christ is not (as in the previous error) located in the present in baptism, but, conversely, the one baptized is made “contemporaneous” with Christ, so that the whole existence of the Christian is taken up into this redemptive event.

b. The believer becomes “contemporaneous” with the cross and resurrection of Christ in the sense that he has a real share in this unique event with the elimination of all that separates him from this event spatially and temporally.

c. Error corrected – Ridderbos’ view

(1) In Paul’s teaching, it is not that time falls away, or that the one baptized is made contemporaneous with Christ in his death, but that by baptism the believer becomes a sharer in what has taken place with Christ.

(2) Baptism does not make us die anew with Christ, but rather rests on the fact that he has died for us and we with him, who as the last Adam, died and rose substitutionally and representatively in order to unite the many with himself.

3. In summary, to have died and been buried with Christ neither comes about in baptism in the sense of mystery theology nor becomes an actual occurrence in baptism in the sense of the doctrine of contemporaneity, but that dying with Christ has been given with 1) incorporation into Christ, and is thus 2) appropriated to the one baptized as a given reality by baptism as the rite of incorporation. Therefore, to have died once with Christ on the cross and to be baptized into his death do not coincide, but form two points of view. Both have reference to the same matter, that is, participation in the redemptive event.

B. Two foci in baptism that are distinct but inseparable

1. Believers are regarded as “the many” who were already included in the death and resurrection of the one and thus into his death and resurrection

a. Baptism has the noetic significance of a personal confirmation and assurance of what took place in a corporate sense in Christ.

b. The evidence and cognitive ground of the church’s share in Christ

c. Because believers have been baptized they may and must know that they have once died, been buried, and raised with Christ (Rom. 6.3; Col. 2.12).

2. By baptism they become incorporated into this solidaric relationship

a. Baptism is the means by which communion with the death and burial of Christ comes into being (Rom. 6.4), the place where this union is effected (Col 2.12), the means by which Christ cleanses his church (Eph. 5.26), and God has saved it (Tit. 3.5), so that baptism can be called the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.

b. What is here attributed to baptism can elsewhere be ascribed to faith. See II below.

c. Baptism accomplishes in its own way what is already obtained in another way

3. The relationship of these two foci

a. It is incorrect to say that the incorporation of the church in Christ takes place only by baptism, such that baptism merely symbolizes or confirms “after the fact” what has already occurred.

b. Rather it is that what in God’s election and in the redemptive event in Christ has in a corporate sense already come to be reality which is effected in the preaching of the gospel and the individual choice of faith corresponding to it.

c. Baptism is the individualizing application of what once happened in Christ.

II. The relationship between baptism and faith

A. Baptism can in no sense be detached from faith. Paul is in accord with the whole of the New Testament in that everything ascribed to the members of the church in virtue of their baptism is represented no less clearly as the fruit of faith

1. Gal. 2:19ff and 6:14 speak of having died together with Christ without any allusion to baptism

2. Col.2:12 says that being raised together with Christ in baptism takes place “by means of faith”

3. Tit. 3:5 tells us that baptism is the means by which God has saved us

4. Eph. 2:8 says it is by faith that God has saved us

5. 1 Cor. 6:11 says we are justified by baptism while nearly everywhere else in Paul justification is based on faith

6. Misconceptions clarified

a. Faith is not merely preparatory to baptism in the sense that only baptism would bring us into full communion with Christ

b. Baptism is not simply the visible preaching or promise that awakens faith in the one baptized

B. Since baptism is the baptism of believers, faith is presupposed.

1. Therefore, faith can be spoken of apart from baptism and baptism can be spoken of as relatively unimportant.

2. However, faith does not give baptism its power nor that baptism can be reduced to an act of faith or to the baptismal experience

C. The subject of baptism is God, not faith

1. Passive pronouncements point to this

2. Explicit passages

a. “he [God] saved us through washing with water” (Tit. 3:5)

b. “he [Christ] cleansed it” (Eph. 5:26)

3. Baptism is the means in God’s hand, the place he speaks and acts

4. This excludes any sense of baptismal salvation ex opere operato apart from God

5. Also excluded is the operation of baptism dependent on the condition of the recipient

6. God is not dependent on baptism, but rather exercises his control over baptism and maintains the correlation between faith and baptism

D. Baptism adds nothing to the content of faith

1. Both are a means to appropriate the content of the gospel

2. Faith is an act of man

3. Baptism is an act of God

4. There is a sequential order only in part. Though faith is prior to baptism, it operates in baptism and after it as well

E. Baptism is once for all

1. It marks the transition from the old mode of existence to the new

2. It is a rite of incorporation, and thus expresses the corporate communal character of salvation given in Christ

3. Faith is not without baptism, just as baptism is not without faith. For faith responds to the call of God through the gospel, and in baptism God takes the one called under his gracious rule and gives him a share in all the promises of the gospel

F. Support in Paul for infant baptism

1. The meaning of 1 Cor. 7:14, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”

a. With reference to the parents

(1) The meaning is that the continuation of the marriage is not objectionable as something taking place outside of Christ.

(2) The faith of the one is determinative for the acceptability of the whole.

(3) “Sanctified” implies being taken up into the relationship of life dedicated to God.

b. With reference to the children

(1) Problems with the phrase “now they are holy”

(a) This may refer to the children of the mixed marriage who are intended, or the children who have gone over to Christianity with their parents, or the children born after the conversion

(b) The conclusion of most is that this refers to the children of believers in general

c. Conclusion: 1 Cor. 7:14 does not have baptism in view

2. Linking 1 Cor 7:14 with the so-called “house” texts in which it appears that on the conversion of believing parents the “household” was also baptized, that is, their family (1 Cor 1:16, cf. 16:15)

3. Paul also addressed children as belonging to the church and to the Lord (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20)

4. Meaning of the children “are holy”: that they, together with and belonging to their parents, were incorporated into the church by baptism and in this way participated in the gifts of Christ and the liberating rule of his Spirit

5. However, this does not mean that faith was superfluous

a. The criterion for infant baptism, unlike adult baptism, does not lie in the personal faith of the one baptized, but in the fact that the children belong to the parents and to the solidaric relationship represented by them

b. The “implantation” takes place on the ground of the bond that joins the children to their parents, “natural” and “Christian,” according to the rule of Rom. 11:16, “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.”

6. The absence of an express mention of infant baptism in the NT is to be explained from its “self-evidentness” rather than its not yet having come into existence

7. One the other hand, Paul’s pronouncements on baptism presuppose faith confessed before baptism. This is not characteristic of infant baptism. The correct view of Paul and the New Testament doctrine of baptism must maintain faith as a co-constituting factor of baptism.

Section 66: The Redemptive Significance of the Lord’s Supper (414-425)

I. Introduction

A. Context: warnings against abuses in Corinthian church

1. 1 Cor. 10:14-22. Paul considered the freedom some permitted themselves in continuing to take part in heathen sacrificial meals to be irreconcilable with the Lord’s supper

2. 1 Cor. 11:17-34. Paul considered the shameful lack of a sense of Christian fellowship between the rich and the poor to be incompatible with the supper of the Lord

B. These two will be taken together to consider the redemptive significance of the Supper

II. The Lord’s Supper as a sacrificial meal (416)

A. “Body” and “blood” do not speak generally of Jesus “himself” or of his “personality” but are to be taken as terminology of the sacrifice

1. They speak of the body of Christ given in death and of his blood shed sacrificially, as related to the New Covenant, which recalls first, the making of the covenant at Sinai which also involved the shedding of sacrificial blood, and second, the prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31

2. Eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood are the eating and drinking of the sacrifice at the sacrificial meal

3. Participation in the sacrificial meal is not a continuation of the literal occurrence at the altar or sacrifice. Rather it is the appropriation that comes about through the meal of the sacrificial act by eating and drinking of the victima (that which was sacrificed)

B. How does Paul communicate this?

1. Express reference to the night in which Jesus was “delivered up”

2. The modification of “this is my body” with the addition of “for you”

3. The direct connection in vv. 26 and 27 between the bread and cup and “the death of the Lord”

4. In 1 Cor. 10 he sets the eating and drinking of the Supper over against the participation in heathen sacrificial meals, and in v. 18 brings in the Jewish sacrificial meal (“behold Israel after the flesh…”)

a. In so doing he shows that one cannot have to do with idols or demons and with Christ at the same time

b. Specifically, eating and drinking at both tables is irreconcilable because they both involve eating a sacrificial meal and signify fellowship with demons and with the Lord respectively

c. In 10:6 he refers to Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf, alluding to a sacrificial meal in connection with it: “the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” The heathen meal at that early date was the antithesis of eating and drinking the “spiritual food and the spiritual drink” (v. 4)

d. Similarly, at Corinth whoever sits down at an idolatrous sacrificial meal enters the domain of demons. Paul speaks of becoming “companions of demons” as well as to the “cup of demons,” and the “table of demons” and thus exposing himself to a more than human temptation

e. To clarify his point Paul brings in the Jewish sacrificial meal, noting that he who participates in the meal enters into fellowship with God

f. By eating that which has lain on the altar one has fellowship with that which has occurred on the altar

5. The basis of the meal is the sacrifice. Its atoning character opens the way for the eating and drinking with joy in the favor of God

6. The Supper then is communion effected through the medium of the cup and bread with the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood given in death, just as those who in Israel ate the sacrifices has communion with the altar.

a. Eating and drinking presupposes the sacrifice, in the deliverance and joy Christ has obtained for his people

b. At this table Christ is the host who makes his people participants in his sacrifice.

C. The words of institution: “This is my body…for you”

1. The “is” links Christ’s self-surrender in death in the bread and the cup

2. Participation in the bread and cup, as a sacrificial meal, represents participation in the sacrifice, not magic, detached from the Lord, because as host, as Lord of the table, he gives his table companions in the bread and wine a share in his body and blood given up and shed for them

3. The bread and cup are not a means of salvation, in that they effect the presence of the Lord, but conversely, the presence of Christ as the Lord of his table, by means of the bread and wine, effects communion with his body and blood, participation in his sacrifice

D. The Supper relates not only to what has happened once of Christ’s death on the cross, but is also an entering into communion with the living Lord

1. Therefore, Paul warns those who would become “companions of demons” by participating in heathen sacrificial meals

2. Moreover, he warns in 1 Cor. 11:27ff against “unworthy” eating and drinking, being “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord,” and “not discerning the body”

III. Spiritual food and drink (419)

A. Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-4: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”

B. The words “spiritual food and drink” in 1 Cor. 10:1-4 are very likely borrowed from the terminology of the Supper

1. In the preceding verse Paul qualifies the redemptive significance of the cloud and the sea as the “baptism” of old Israel. He also sets this eating and drinking of spiritual food over against the eating and drinking at the idolatrous sacrificial meal in the wilderness

2. He then says it has a typological significance and serves as the basis for the argument that sitting down to the heathen sacrificial meal is irreconcilable with the table of the Lord

3. The OT situation is thus intended as a (warning) example to the NT

4. Thus, the deliverance in Moses through the sea can be called Israel’s baptism, and the feeding with manna and water from the rock, Israel’s Supper, and the eating and drinking of spiritual food and drink, Christ (cf. John 6:31ff., 35, 51ff) where Jesus calls himself the bread from heaven and defines this as his flesh and blood, which are to be eaten and drunk

C. This analogy also applies to the NT Supper

1. As Israel was in Moses once led out of Egypt and further kept alive in the wilderness by God’s miraculous power, so for the church not only does its once-for-all deliverance lie in Christ’s death, but its continual food and drink as well

2. The sacrificial gift becomes sacrificial food

3. Therefore this food and drink may be called “spiritual,” pneumatic not only because it comes out of heaven but also because it makes us live out of Christ’s self-surrender and thus imparts his Spirit (Rom. 5:5)

4. Unlike baptism, it is repeated again and again and accompanies the whole Christian life.

5. There is therefore every reason to understand 1 Cor. 12:13b “and were all made to drink of one Spirit” after the reference in 13a to baptism as a reference to the Supper

6. Thus in the Supper the church shares not only in the body and blood of the Lord, but also in the gift of the Spirit

IV. The anamnesis (421)

A. Remember

1. Jesus’ command to anamnesis is found in the words of institution: “this do in remembrance (amamnesis) of me”

2. Not the anamnesis of the Hellenistic world observing the anniversary of one’s death

3. More like the anamnesis in the ritual of the Jewish feast days, especially in the Passover meal, the occasion of which the Lord’s Supper was instituted

4. The Lord’s Supper is therefore a redemptive-historical commemorative meal

5. It is not only commemorative of what has taken place in the past, but also of its abiding, ongoing, actual redemptive significance

6. Christ’s surrender is the new and definitive fact of redemption which in the eating of bread and drinking of the cup the church accepts again and again from the hand of God

B. Proclaim

1. A further understanding of anamnesis appears in v. 26: “as often as you eat this bread…you proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.”

2. This verse does not pertain to the Israelite Supper tradition

3. It is not merely a subjective recalling to mind, but an active manifestation of the continuing and actual significance of the death of Christ

4. “Proclaim” has a prophetic, declaratory significance. The meal preaches the redemptive significance of the death of Christ

5. It connects past, present and future

a. It is a proclamation “till he come”

b. It is the connecting link between the last supper of Jesus and the glorified eating and drinking in the kingdom of God (Mark 14:25; Matt. 26:29; Luke 22:16)

c. Everything is directed not only to the past but also toward the future

d. It is the proclamation that in the death of Christ the new and eternal covenant of grace has taken effect, if still in a provisional and not yet consummated sense

V. The Lord’s Supper and the church (423)

A. The relationship between the Supper and the church as the body of Christ

1. Primary text: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 in part: “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

2. The abuses surrounding the Supper in Corinth point to the self-evident nature of the relation of the church and the Supper

a. Making oneself guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27)

b. Despising the church (v. 22)

c. The cup is called “the New Covenant in my blood”

3. The new relationship between God and his people, promised in prophecy, rests on the sacrifice of Christ in which the church receives a share in the Supper

4. The Supper is not a personal affair between the individual believer and Christ. Rather it is a covenant meal, the congregational meal par exellence which points to the sacrifice made by Christ as the only ground of communion between God and his people and the unity of the church

B. The unity of the Supper and the body of Christ

1. The Supper is the foundation for the unity of the church as the new people of God

2. Paul infers the unity of the church as the body of Christ from partaking of the one bread

3. It is not in the fact that the church mysteriously eats the physical body of Christ or receives a share in his divine-human nature and thus becomes the body of Christ

4. It is partaking of the one bread, in the one gift and blessing of the meal, that constitutes that unity.

5. In the common eating of the bread the unity of “the many” in Christ is constituted, manifested, and experienced anew again and again, a unity that brings the diversity together into one body

6. It is an imperative means for safeguarding the church against alien and false unity

VI. The Lord’s Supper and baptism (424)

A. Texts

1. 1 Corinthians 10:2-3: “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat”

2. 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

B. Both the Supper and baptism are means of salvation especially in the framework of the church as the body of Christ

C. Both are means of salvation, which, along with preaching, establish contact with the death of Christ

1. Baptism as baptism-into-his death

2. The Supper as communion with the body and blood of Christ

D. Both attain to the unity of the body of Christ

1. Baptism as entrance to and incorporation into the body

2. The Supper as the unity of the body repeatedly received and manifested afresh in eating one bread

E. Distinct functions of the two

1. Baptism incorporates, represents the transition from “dead to sin” to “alive to God” (Rom. 6:11) and from the old to the new man. Therefore it is once-for-all, not capable of repetition.

2. The Supper is the continuing proclamation of the redemptive significance of Christ’s death; it is spiritual food and spiritual drink. It spans the time in the present world, until he comes. It represents the “already” and the “not yet.”

Section 67: The Critical Significance of the Lord’s Supper. Self-Examination (425-428)

I. Self-examination

A. Eating and drinking in an “unworthy manner” and thus standing guilty of the body and blood of the Lord

1. “Unworthy” – inadequate, inappropriate eating and drinking, in a manner unsuited to it and not in harmony with it

2. A failure to respect the true character of what is called the bread and cup of the Lord, i.e., the sanctity of his table fellowship (cf. 1 Cor. 10:21)

B. “Not discerning the body” (v. 29)

1. Not recognizing the offering in its separateness and sanctity and not recognizing the sacrifice of Christ itself

2. The elements are the bread and cup of the Lord, i.e., by virtue of his institution and the living relationship in which Christ as Lord of his table stands to his own gifts. Whoever does not respect the sanctity of this table fellowship, will be guilty of Christ’s body and blood, that is to say, sin against the sacrifice made by him (cf. Heb. 10:29; 6:6)

3. For this reason he eats and drinks judgment to himself

C. The Supper does not bring automatic blessing or judgment

1. Participation in the Supper does not automatically communicate the salvation given in Christ or the gift of the Holy Spirit to the members of the church

2. Likewise, it does not automatically bring judgment on those who partake in an “unworthy” manner

3. Israel in the wilderness, although they were all baptized into Moses, and all received the same spiritual food and drink, serves as a warning example to both.

4. The gift or the judgment comes from the hand of the giver himself, who is Christ

II. Different kinds of judgment one can eat to himself in the Supper

A. The essence and intent of the Supper, as well as the rock Christ, and the sacrificial meal of ancient Israel, is the saving activity of God in Christ

B. For this reason, there is a differentiation in the judgment one can eat to himself in the Supper.

1. Judgment is not always immediate or to condemnation.

2. As in Corinth, the large number of cases of sickness and death in it, served a warning purpose

3. As does 1 Cor. 11:32 in this context: “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”

III. Conclusion

A. Self-examination prevents “unworthy” eating and drinking

1. Everyone should examine himself and so (that is, after having examined oneself) eat of the bread and drink the cup (1 Cor. 11:28)

2. The purpose of this self-examination is further revealed in verse 31: “if we, however, rightly judged ourselves, we should not be judged.”

3. This judging of self is preventative, lest we be judged by the Lord of the table

B. Self-examination clears away impediments to the observation of the Supper

1. The purpose of this self-examination is positive, to promote the right reception of the gift: “…and so let him eat….”

2. Paul does not warn against the Supper itself, but against a lack of self-criticism in partaking of it

3. To discern the body of Christ, that is to say, to recognize it in its holy and saving significance, also means to discern oneself

4. Self-appraisal is for the purpose of doing full justice to the divine and holy character of the gift

5. Verses 33 and 34 are not negative, but positive, not keeping back the church from the Supper, but stirring it up to its observance as commanded by Christ

Interview With a Retired Pastor

An interview with Rev. Horace and wife Tennie Hilton of Wrightsville Beach, NC for Dr. Jim Coffield, Introduction to Counseling, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, October 2003.

I spent a couple of hours with a retired pastor and his wife this past week. We are on a first name basis, so I will refer to them as Horace and Tennie. Horace mentioned with pride that this year marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of his ordination. It is obvious that they both consider their years in the ministry well-spent in spite of some negative aspects, though they rarely focused their conversation on the negative. Horace retired from pastoral ministry at age sixty-five (he’s now eighty-two), but has continued preaching regularly in various pulpits during the intervening years. However, his health is failing now, so he is less able to get around. His first love is preaching, but he hated administration. He says that he developed clearer boundaries within his ministry in the later years, simply telling church leaders that they would have to find someone else to uphold the administrative end of things. Tennie learned a similar lesson. In the early days, she tried to involve herself in a variety of ministries all at the same time – women’s ministry, singing in the choir, serving in the nursery – but in later years, she realized that her energy was best spent one-on-one with people. She usually attended every service, so she adopted the strategy of sitting near the back so that she could slip out at the end of the service to greet people on the front porch when they came out. She said that that may be the only time she would see them and get to know them. They both noted that “people need a personal touch” from the pastor and his wife. The people need to know that you care about them. Horace made a practice of phone calling people on their birthday to wish them a “Happy Birthday,” and he still calls many people today.

When I asked them about how they recovered from failures such as in their ministry in Knoxville, TN where they said things didn’t go very well,

they told me that Horace was always able to simply let things go, to not let the past bother him, and to move on. Tennie said that it wasn’t quite as easy for her. However, she found that when she began investing herself in other people in the new place, she was able to let go of the past as well. Tennie noted that though there were many issues over which they disagreed with folks through the years, they made a point to maintain their friendship in spite of those disagreements as much as possible.

I took away from that meeting a sense of the importance of the people in ministry. Horace and Tennie have based their ministry on investing in people and feel a sense of satisfaction at the end for having done so.

Response to "The Healing Path" by Dan Allender

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003.
I really wanted to like Allender since Dr. Coffield said he was one of his favorite authors. But I found him difficult to read – all the way to the end. Like [John] Eldredge, he uses parabolic, poetic language to express himself in prose. I’ve been reading so much theology, it seems I would enjoy a change of pace, but I didn’t. However, once I got past the elusive, non-concrete “desire,” the “embrace,” the “dream of hope,” the “dance of love,” and the “wildness of God.” I was finally able to understand the thrust of his theme. And it’s great!

God’s perspective on pain and suffering, says Allender, is different from ours. It is the rare person, he says, who anticipates pain, let alone embraces it on arrival. We must learn to live in this fallen world with God’s perspective “from above” while living here below. God would lead us on a healing journey through this evil world, but we often stray from the path, missing out on the redemption he has in store for us in this life. Healing, he says, is not “the resolution of the past,” rather, it is “the use of our past to draw us into deeper relationship with God…”


We should consider the path of suffering a sacred journey, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Pet 2:21). We mistakenly believe that all pain “ought to be relieved,” and think something is wrong when it is not. We should not try to escape, but to embrace the pain. I think of Jesus, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, considering its shame of no consequence, because he knew it to be the will of his Father. If God intends for us to learn from our suffering, then in trying to avoid it, we are missing something very important, the righteousness and peace that result from it. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12.11). The following quote seems to get at the heart of the issue, “If we are closed to sorrow, we will also be closed to true joy.” Jesus endured the sorrow to embrace (there, I did it too!) the joy set before him. My own life has included a flight from the pain of childhood. I chose, at some point, to shut down many of my emotions (except anger), to no longer feel, or at least to no longer admit feeling. I rejected what seemed to me to be my mom’s overly emotional nature. She alternated from happy and loud to angry and loud. It was embarrassing! I learned to be stoic from my dad. My wife and a few close friends loved me enough to break through my stoicism and helped me learn to feel. Though it has been difficult, as I have opened up to sorrow, I have also experienced joy. Allender confirms my experience, “Most of us make our inner world off-limits to even our most intimate companions or spouse, because to open our heart is to reveal the confusion, disgust, arousal and shame within…Instead, we remain alone.”

Because we live in the time of tension between Christ’s cross and his coming again, we must wait in anticipation. Yet, as Allender asserts, it is a time of ambivalence, a time of tension. “When we lose hope, we stop remembering and telling stories that arouse our desire and anticipation. Our thoughts become narrow, focused on loss rather than on what will one day be sure and true.” Losses suffered in my adult life that have resulted in depression have been due to a loss of hope. I became so mired in the losses of the “here and now” that I have lost sight of the “not yet” of Christ’s return. As Allender says, “Hope focuses not on circumstances, but on Christ’s coming and the redemption of our character.” “Hope is not the absence of sorrow but a refusal to allow powerlessness to silence our cry or to shake our confidence in God.”

In our work as church musicians before coming seminary, my wife and I had lost desire. We had given up on the church, on the leadership, and on God. But not completely. There was still a flicker of hope, a flicker of the knowledge of God’s love. We believed that he was using this pain to push us out of the nest. Allender says, “It is desire that creates our future. And it is desire that draws us to love…” “Love is the most profound risk of life.” We risked packing up our children and all our belongings to find hope and love once again. And we have not been disappointed. “The great discovery of the healing journey is that in getting a glimpse of God we see our past, future, and present from the perch of an eternal now.” “The healing path takes us beyond self-discovery to God-discovery.” We have discovered, once again, the goodness of God, not because we no longer have pain. In fact, we have experienced intense pain since we’ve been here. But through repeated suffering, somehow we have discovered the faithfulness of God and hope for the future.

Allender concludes by showing that God’s healing path is not self-serving. It involves relationship with and service to God and others. “The healing path does not lead directly to healing, but to engagement…into relationship with him…also to service for him.” He says, “I exist for God and his purposes, not my own.” As we become more like Jesus through suffering, we are able to reach out to others has he did. “Our calling is to become more human, more like Jesus Christ…to be more in awe of, more willing to risk entry into the stories of others.” I find it difficult to enter into conversation. Allender seems to do it so easily. “The goal of a redemptive conversation is…to comprehend what the other loves.” This requires vulnerability on my part, a willingness to take risks that I would rather not take. Finally, Allender suggests that we seek to lead others onto the healing path not alone but in community. He challenges us to band together in entering the lives of others and to do so in non-traditional ways and places – in bowling leagues, coffee shops, food banks and wherever people gather. This banding together is also to risk pain because we can’t control the people around us any more than we can control God. We will be hurt once again by those we would join as we work together in redemptive community. Yet, Allender contends, we must “move together into a world of betrayal, powerlessness, and ambivalence for the sake of more stories, more awe and gratitude, and more God.”

_________________

A reading response originally written for Dr. Jim Coffield, Introduction to Counseling, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, November 2003.

The Ethics of Killing and Letting Die

by Daniel L. Sonnenberg
Introduction

Ethical questions regarding end-of-life care may seem to be a recent phenomenon based on late-breaking developments in biomedical technology. However, such cases have existed since the advent of Western medicine over two thousand years ago under Hippocrates (c.460-370 B. C.), the father of medicine. The ancient Hippocratic Oath attributed to him states in part, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” Cases such as that of Terry Schiavo, a Florida woman forty years of age said by some to be in a “persistent vegetative state” for nearly fourteen years, are illustrative of this dilemma that has been faced by medical personnel, ethicists, legislators, courts, government leaders and society for millenia. Ms. Schiavo had no advanced directive to indicate her wishes and her family is currently in disagreement over whether her life should continue to be sustained through medical intervention via a feeding tube or allowed to die of starvation since there is said by some to be little hope of recovery. Persons like Terry Schiavo, Karen Ann Quinlan and Jack Kevorkian have become household names in recent years as this debate has reached the American public in the news. The ethical issues regarding euthanasia (Greek for “good death”) are complicated. Those in favor of euthanasia say that there is no moral distinction between killing and letting die, while those opposed to aspects of euthanasia say that there is a moral distinction between the two. The U. S. Supreme Court, in its rejection of challenges to the constitutionality of laws which prohibit physician-assisted suicide, cited this distinction in explicit terms, but did not explain or defend it. In contrast, the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals had previously stated that there was no distinction, reasoning that, if it were so, it would discriminate between those on life support who would be allowed to end their lives by removing such support, and those not connected to life support who would be denied similar access to death. Scripture indicates that killing of any kind apart from capital punishment, just war and self-defense are immoral, so it is important to make distinctions between modes of death both morally and legally.


Definitions and Principles

It is important to define terms for purposes of this discussion. Euthanasia is divisible into at least four categories: 1) voluntary passive euthanasia, in which the physician abides by the patient or patient’s family’s refusal of extraordinary means or withdrawal of treatment; 2) involuntary passive euthanasia, also called physician assisted suicide, in which the physician provides the medical means for the person to kill him/herself but does not cause the death directly; 3) voluntary active euthanasia, in which the physician causes the death of the person by medical means with rational consent of the patient/family; and, 4) involuntary active euthanasia, in which the physician causes the death of the person without the patient’s/family’s consent. See chart below. The first is commonly referred to as “letting die” while the other three are variously referred to as “killing.” However, even the first is controversial, and some would consider it killing as has occurred in the aforementioned Schiavo case which involved removal of treatment via a feeding tube.

Chart 1. Forms of Euthanasia

Passive Voluntary

  • Refusal of treatment; no extraordinary means or heroic treatment

Passive Involuntary

  • Withdrawing of treatment primarily on defective neo-nates, incompetent patients, and those in a persistent vegetative state

Active Voluntary

  • Induce death with consent; mercy killing of hopeless cases with pain

Active Involuntary

  • Induce death without consent; mercy killing; incompetent; deformed neo-nates

The principles involved in cases of euthanasia include autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and double effect. Autonomy is the right of a person to make decisions concerning his or her own life, e.g., the right to forego resuscitation or terminate life-support. Beneficence is the obligation to help those in need, e.g., to prevent the death of a patient, while non-maleficence is the duty to do no harm, e.g., not prolonging a patient’s suffering through extraordinary means if the patient has issued a “do not resuscitate” order. The principle of double effect is the justification of a harmful effect from a procedure if the harmful effect is an incidental byproduct or unforeseen event, not the direct intended effect, e.g., the administration of morphine to a terminal patient to relieve pain in spite of the fact that it may hasten death.

Some choices in this regard on the part of the patient have always received legal and ethical sanction. These include a patient’s refusal of life-support technology, such as a respirator or artificial nutrition, or a patient’s request that it be withdrawn. The administration of drugs primarily for pain relief when the secondary effect may cause death also has received legal and ethical sanction for many years.

Distinctions Between Killing and Letting Die

In Scripture, the life of a human being is considered sacred because all people are created in the image of God, and the killing of innocent life is prohibited. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6). “You shall not murder” (Exo 20.23). “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty” (Exo 23.7). For a Christian, death is the last enemy (1Cor 15.27), yet we live and die to the Lord, not alone (Rom 14.7-8). In fact, to die is gain (Phil 1.21). However, the Christian should not seek the premature death of himself nor that of another. The time of death is in the hands of God. “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven– A time to give birth and a time to die” (Eccl 3:1-2). However, every case of “mercy killing” in Scripture is seen in a negative light: 1) those who either killed themselves or had themselves killed by others; 2) the command against murder includes the murder of self; 3) suffering does not render a life meaningless or valueless; and, 4) our lives are not our own, not at our own disposal.

In the ethical debate, “killing” is generally defined as causing someone to die. “Letting die” is generally defined as allowing someone to die of “natural causes.” The following scenarios are typical examples of the difference between killing and letting die outside the medical field. Scenario 1: If a man is swimming in a pool and another man drowns the first man, that would constitute killing. Scenario 2: If a man is drowning in a pool and another man tries to save him but is prevented by circumstances beyond his control, even if it was to save his own life or the life of another, that would constitute justifiable letting die. Scenario 3: If a man is drowning in a pool and another man who stands to gain a great deal from the first man’s death does nothing to help, even though it is in his power to do so without causing any harm or danger to himself, that would arguably constitute unjustified letting die because the intent was the same as that of killing. The American Medical Association distinguishes cases of unjustified killing from cases of justified letting die. Justified actions in medicine are confined to (passive) letting die (item 1 on page 1). “Mercy killing” (items 2, 3 and 4 on page 2) is always unjustified. According to the AMA, a physician has the right to stop treatment if the case meets all three of the following conditions: 1) The life of the body is being preserved by extraordinary means; 2) there is irrefutable evidence that biological death is imminent; and, 3) the patient and/or family consents. Physicians are bound to the duty of beneficence (to do good and prevent harm) and non-maleficence (to do no harm) in the Hippocratic Oath, so are prohibited from killing, but are not morally bound to aggressively preserve life in every case. The AMA House of Delegates has stated that the “cessation of treatment is morally justified when the patient and/or the patient’s immediate family, with the advice and judgment of the physician decide to withhold or stop the use of extraordinary means to prolong life when there is irrefutable evidence that biological death is imminent.” This authorizes some instances of allowing to die by withholding or stopping treatment but excludes killing. Even if the distinction between killing and letting die is morally irrelevant in some cases, it is not always morally irrelevant as some proponents of “mercy killing” allege. The most important arguments for the distinction between killing and letting die depend on a distinction between acts and practices. Justifying one act in a particular case is easier to do than to justify a general practice. To allow “mercy killing” as a practice can lead to a number of serious consequences: 1) abuse – presuming a “request” from the comatose or demented; 2) error – some will die unnecessarily because of uncertainties of medicine; 3) slippery slope – voluntary euthanasia will lead to involuntary euthanasia for those who cannot consent; 4) distrust – the patient will lose trust in the doctor whom he knows can kill; and, 5) coercion – elderly, handicapped and dying may feel subtly or directly encouraged to request euthanasia. The opponents of euthanasia allow for acts of letting die under certain circumstances because they make a distinction between acts of letting die that are morally justified and those that are not.

Those who favor euthanasia in most forms generally agree that there is no moral distinction between killing and letting die. For example, philosopher James Rachels writes,

“the bare difference between killing and letting die does not, in itself, make a moral difference. If a doctor lets a patient die, for humane reasons, he is in the same moral position as if he had given the patient a lethal injection for humane reasons. If his decision was wrong – if, for example, the patient’s illness was in fact curable – the decision would be equally regrettable no matter which method was used to carry it out. And if the doctor’s decision was the right one, the method used is not in itself important.”

Rachels compares two scenarios in which a child drowns in a bathtub. In both cases an older cousin is involved in the drowning, both with the same motive to inherit a large sum of money if the child dies, but performing different acts. In the first, the older cousin (Smith), actively drowns the child. In the second, the older cousin (Jones), intends to drown the child, but upon entering the bathroom, sees the child accidentally fall into the tub hitting his head and passively watches while the child drowns. In the first case, Smith actively drowns the child. In the second case, Jones passively watches him die. The result is the same. Though in both scenarios the older cousin is culpable, the mere difference between active and passive involvement is morally irrelevant according to Rachels, since the motivation and the result is the same. Therefore, he says, the AMA is inconsistent in its policy concerning the withholding of end-of-life treatment. They should allow active as well as passive euthanasia. Another euthanasia proponent, Patrick Hopkins, asserts that removal of a machine is not a passive act. He says human organs are very much like machines. In fact, some organs can be replaced or assisted by machines internally. Turning off or removing a machine attached on the outside is no different than turning off or removing a machine on the inside, e.g., blowing out the computer chip in a person’s pacemaker. The case can only be made if one makes a moral distinction between machines and bodies. Therefore, he concludes, if removal of a machine is not a passive act, but rather is active, then it is not morally distinct from other active means of ending a life. Similarly, Michael Tooley argues in favor of no moral distinction from the moral symmetry principle when he writes, “…it is as wrong intentionally to refrain from interfering with a causal process leading to some morally significant result as it is to initiate the process. It does not assert that it is wrong to refrain from preventing someone else from initiating a causal process as it is to initiate it oneself.” This principle implies that, all things being equal, it is just as wrong to intentionally refrain from administering an antidote to someone who is dying of poisoning as it is to administer the poison, provided the same motive is operative in both cases. Thus it follows that the distinction between killing and intentionally letting die is not morally significant. In sum, proponents of euthanasia contend that a patient’s request for a fatal medication is analogous to a patient’s refusal of life-sustaining medication.

These arguments fail in several ways. First, euthanasia is not a truly autonomous act. It always involves another person left behind to cope with the responsibility, guilt, morality and remorse. Second, building into medical practice an explicit exception licensing physicians to kill their patients to relieve severe pain is not necessary. The physician may be able to relieve pain short of killing. Much progress has been made in recent years in pain management. We should not build a social or professional ethic on borderline situations and extreme cases. There are ways to “accept” acts of killing in exceptional circumstances without altering the rules of practice, e.g., guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Third, much of their argument is based strictly on “rights” language which is about the extent to which the principle of autonomy may be exercised. It sees moral problems only in terms of competing interests, e.g., “my rights” vs. “your rights.” Virtue ethics, on the other hand, asks questions about the effect of our moral choices on our character: who are we going to become if we follow this path of action? Fourth, Rachels seems to make no distinction between intentions. He focuses only on acts. To him, if the acts are the same, the morality is the same because the outcome is the same. This is wrong. If two persons perform the same act, one intending to kill and the other not intending to kill, there is a moral difference according to Scripture. Those who committed unintentional killings in Old Testament Judaism were protected from acts of vengeance in cities of refuge, while those who committed murder were put to death. Fifth, the intent in euthanasia is to cause the patient’s death. By contrast, most patients who desire to discontinue treatment do not want to die, but to live out their remaining time without dependence on medical technology.

Conclusion

First, it is important to make a distinction between killing and letting die. Those who see no distinction between the two seem to do so to justify hastening the death of those who are suffering severe pain or lingering with a low quality of life, but are not dependent on machines from which they might be removed. Though this is regrettable, it does not justify killing innocent life. Establishing a practice of allowing physicians to terminate life or to provide the means for others to terminate their own lives is morally wrong and will lead to a host of even worse consequences.

Second, though it is important to make a distinction between killing and letting die, the acceptance or rejection of the distinction does not necessarily determine moral conclusions about particular cases. There are some cases of letting die that are immoral. It is not as simple as determining whether it is a case of killing or letting die to determine an action’s morality. We must distinguish between unjustifiable killing and justifiable letting die. To do so requires following the principles found in Scripture, much care, much wisdom, and much courage on the part of legislators, judges, pastors, ethicists, physicians, families and individuals. The times ahead will likely become more complicated and more challenging for all of these in our technology-oriented society. May we be found faithful as a society to follow the righteous paths laid out for us in God’s Word regarding end-of-life issues such as this so that we might not incur his wrath but might experience his blessing.

Works Cited

Beauchamp, Tom L. and James F. Childress. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Emanuel, Ezekiel. “Whose Right to Die?” The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 279, No. 3, Mar 1997, 73-79, in http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97mar/emanuel/emanuel. htm.

Frame, John M. Medical Ethics: Principles, Persons and Problems. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988.

Hopkins, Patrick, D. “Why Does Removing Machines Count as “Passive” Euthanasia?,” Hastings Center Report, 27:29-37 My-Je 1997.

Orr, Robert, David Biebel and David Schiedermayer. More Life and Death Decisions: Help in Making Tough Choices About Care for the Elderly, Euthanasia, and Medical Treatment Options. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990, reprint 1997.

Pojman, Louis P. Life and Death: Grappling with the Moral Dilemmas of Our Time. Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1992.

Rachels, James. “Active and Passive Euthanasia,” in May, Applied Ethics, pp. 589-593: http://www.montgomerycollege.edu/faculty/~bsoderbe/public_html/rachels.text.

__________. “Active and Passive Euthanasia,” The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 292, January 9, 1975, 78-80, reprinted in http://web.acc.qcc.cuny.edu /SocialSciences/ppecorino/DeathandDying_TEXT

Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Sulmasy, Daniel P. “Killing and Allowing to Die: Another Look,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. Vol. 26, No. 1, 1998, 55-64, in
http://www.aslme.org/pub_jlme/26.1f.php.

Thomasma, David C. and Glenn C. Graber. Euthanasia: Toward an Ethical Social Policy. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Tooley, Michael. “An Irrelevant Consideration: Killing versus Letting Die,” http://web.acc.qcc.cuny.edu/Social Sciences/ppecorino/DeathandDying_TEXT/ Tooley.htm

Westley, Dick. When It’s Right to Die: Conflicting Voices, Difficult Choices. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1990.

_____________

Originally written for Professor John Frame, Pastoral and Social Ethics, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Spring 2004

The Application of the Church’s Suffering to the Suffering of the World

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg, 2003.

Introduction

It is common for Christians to ask in times of personal suffering questions such as, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Does God really love me if he is allowing this to happen to me? How long, O Lord?” Not only these, but perhaps a deeper question is asked by believers and unbelievers alike: “If there is a God and he is said to be good and all-powerful, then why does he allow suffering in the world?” This is the so-called problem of evil.[1] As human beings, we ask questions and seek answers in an effort to understand the causes of evil and suffering and the proper response for the individual, the family, and the community affected. As Christian leaders, we seek to help others understand their suffering and to respond properly to it. Popular stories of triumph and comfort in suffering such as that of Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident as a young person, and Horatio Spafford, the author of the beloved hymn “It is Well With My Soul,” who lost much of his family in a shipwreck at sea, encourage Christians to turn to the Lord and one another for comfort and strength in times of pain. Numerous books address the question of understanding the causes and meaning of suffering. Many address primarily how one might recover a sense of balance in life after suffering times of trial or pain. Many seem to treat the subject primarily in relation only to the person himself, how he might understand his own experience of suffering.[2] But I would suggest that this does not go far enough.

What the Scripture Says About Suffering

 In the beginning, God created all things in heaven and earth and pronounced them “good.” The culmination of his creation, man and woman, God pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1, 2). He created man in his own image and purposed to have eternal unbroken fellowship with mankind in holiness and righteousness. However, we are told in Genesis 3 that Adam, as a result of his and Eve’s conversation with Satan, chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden and the result was that sin reigned in mankind and in the entire creation. Evil and pain entered into the lives of men and they suffered the effects of sin and death. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son to live a perfect life and to die a sinner’s death in Adam’s place to redeem mankind and all of creation, all that had been condemned to decay under the law of God (Gal. 4:4). We live now in the time between the inauguration of the kingdom (his birth, death, resurrection and ascension), and the consummation of the kingdom when Christ will return and establish the new heavens and the new earth in which God will dwell with men and wipe away every tear, banish all death, mourning, crying and pain, and make all things new. Those who have overcome, who have persevered to the end of their lives with faith in Christ, will inherit these things (Rev. 21). Clearly, when Christ returns for his own, all that we call suffering, pain and affliction will be separated from those who are in Christ by faith.

However, until then, we live in the continuation of Christ’s kingdom, in the “already” and the “not yet,” where sin and pain and death still dwell among us. Jesus affirmed the tension and hope of this in-between period when said to his disciples, “’I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’” (Jn. 16:33). Though Christians are righteous in the sight of God through faith in Jesus’ death, we remain in a fallen world and struggle with sin and evil, first of all, in our own lives. “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (Rom. 7:22-23).” Second, we suffer because of other people. “The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright” (Ps. 37:4). Third, we suffer because of political, social, and economic oppression such as that in Mt. 20:25 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” (cf. Mar. 10:42; Luke 13.1ff).
Four points of interest may be found in this passage. First, God’s purpose in comforting us is so that we might be able to comfort others in their distress. Notice the purpose statement in the middle of verse 4 – “so that.” This indicates God’s intention. He does “A” for the purpose of “B.” Here, he comforts us for the purpose of our comforting others. It is his way of working through us to accomplish his purpose in others who need comfort. Second, we are able to comfort others who are suffering. The word “can” in verse 4 tells us that we have the ability to comfort others based on our experience in being comforted by the Lord in our own troubles. When we doubt our ability to comfort others, we understand from this that God has enabled us to do so through our own sufferings. Third, God intends for our lives to be a kind of conduit through which comfort flows to others. Notice the comparison in verse 5, “just as – so also.” Just as Christ’s sufferings flow over into our lives, so also Christ’s comfort flows from our lives into the lives of others. We are God’s instrument, through suffering, for the comfort of Christ to be administered to others. Fourth, we are enabled to comfort all those whom God gives us the opportunity to comfort. Verse 4 says “comfort those in any trouble…” It may be pressing the point too much to say that we are enabled to minister to all needs, but the same Greek word is used when it says that God comforts us in “all” our affliction so that we may comfort those in “any” trouble. There is a definitely a parallel between the two indicating a sense of comprehensive comfort in both cases. It may be fairly said that we, as the complete body of Christ, are able to comfort others to the degree and in the manner in which we ourselves have received comfort. To summarize, because of our sufferings in Christ, we are enabled to comfort others comprehensively as God’s conduit to fulfill God’s purpose.

This (ideally) comprehensive comfort and aid we are to offer others includes those inside and outside of the community of faith. There is a distinction between the two, yet not an exclusivity. We offer ministry to all but most of all to believers “[W]hile we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10) just as God in Christ offers himself to all mankind but most of all to believers: “the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (1 Tim 4:10). Believers are members of one body so that when one member suffers, all the members suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26). We are to suffer hardship with one another (1 Tim 2:3) We are to contribute to the needs of the saints as well as to give food and drink to our enemies who are hungry and thirsty (Rom 12:13, 20). We are to share in and with the sufferings of other Christians. “[Y]ou endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated” (Heb 10:32-33). Moreover, we are to comfort other Christians regarding their believing loved ones who have died. “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him… Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes 4:14, 18). At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared that he “was anointed to preach good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…(Luk 4:18; cf. Is 61:1). Jesus’ ministry was wholistic in that he relieved temporal suffering as well as bringing eternal salvation to mankind and the cosmos. Similarly, we are to minister broadly. In Isaiah 58 we are commanded to “loose the bonds of wickedness…undo the bands of the yoke…let the oppressed go free… break every yoke…divide your bread with the hungry…bring the homeless poor into the house…cover the naked…[and] satisfy the desire of the afflicted.” In the resurrection, true believers will be affirmed because they fed the hungry, gave the thirsty something to drink, invited the stranger to come in, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned (Mat 25:37-40).

The Scripture is clear that just as simply understanding the meaning of life is not enough, neither is simply understanding the meaning of suffering. Just as we must apply life’s meaning to the living of it, so we must apply the meaning of suffering to the application of it in comfort to others in their distress.

Resources That Shed Light On The Challenges Presented By Our Contemporary Cultural Setting

As in Biblical times, our contemporary cultural setting reveals a wide variety of issues regarding suffering. The modern project, for all its idealism, may have reduced the scope of suffering only a little if any. Modern suffering includes various forms of child abuse including battering, sexual abuse and child slavery; women’s issues such as spousal abuse, forced prostitution, widowhood and single motherhood; pain and suffering through accidents and illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS; religious and political persecution and unjust imprisonment; refugees fleeing war and famine; racism; and unjust treatment and death of the unborn and the elderly and infirm through abortion, abuse and euthanasia.

Modern efforts to stem the suffering of others includes a variety of groups and individuals, both Christian and non-Christian. The American Pain Society and others are discovering ways to minimize chronic physical pain. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine assists people and their families through the final stages of life into death. Childhelp USA and Parents Anonymous investigate and prevent child abuse. The National Catholic AIDS Network assists patients with AIDS. The Human Rights Watch serves as a watchdog on global issues of children’s rights, international justice, prisons, refugees, women’s rights, and racism. International Christian Concern intervenes in issues of religious persecution, especially for Christians. Life Line Pregnancy Centers counsel and prevent abortion. Habitat for Humanity builds homes for the needy. The Church and many parachurch organizations meet the needs of those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty in every locale. These and many other organizations and individuals serve the needs of the afflicted, the needy, the weak, the poor, the orphan, the fatherless, the widow, the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the persecuted, the homeless, the alien, and the downtrodden of our own day.

Consideration Of Ways Other Thoughtful Christians Have Answered This Question

Suffering results in a sense of solidarity with, sympathy and practical help for others’ pain. Schaeffer refers to our suffering as God’s “school for comforters” in which he allows us to experience suffering so that we might be able to comfort others.[8] As we learn “what comfort is all about ….time after time and instance after instance…we are meant to be learning…how to comfort other people who are going through similar difficulties.”[9] Gerstenberger and Schrage point out that as Christians we are responsible not only to comfort, but to combat the suffering of others. They say that Jesus’ implication in his teachings about healing on the Sabbath (Mark 2:25-27; 3:3-5) [and the story of the benevolent Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)] is that it is the obligation of God’s people to oppose suffering in the lives of others, even in the face of cultural taboos, and to fail to do so is morally wrong.[10] Therefore, Christians’ response to suffering is to overcome the sufferings of others or to share in them, motivated by the commandment of love and one’s own experience of suffering, both in the community of faith and outside of it.[11] This ministry of comfort and aid includes not only solidarity and sympathy, but also material assistance (1 John 3:17; James 2:15-16), healing of the sick (Mk 3:15; 6:7,13; Mat. 10:8), and prayer and supplication (Acts 8:15; Acts 4:29; Acts 12:15; James 5:14-15).[12]

With suffering comes the power to minister to the needs of others. Elizabeth Elliot, whose husband was murdered as a missionary to Ecuador, points to suffering as a gift from God not only to us, but through us to others.[13] She notes numerous Scriptural examples that demonstrate that suffering serves others: the seed fallen to the earth that dies and brings forth fruit, the light that is shed abroad when the vessel is broken, the widow of Zarapheth giving out of her poverty to sustain the prophet, God giving power to Joseph through his sufferings to save the lives of the brothers who hated him, Paul’s thorn in the flesh giving him joy in service to others, and Jesus’ ministry to others through his own suffering on the cross.[14] All these illustrate God’s power in weakness.

Comfort comes best from those who themselves have suffered. Schaeffer is convinced that experiencing comfort from God oneself is essential. “No one can really comfort anyone else unless there has been a measure of the same kind of affliction or some kind of suffering which has brought about an understanding and in which we have ourselves experienced the Lord’s comfort.”[15]

Relationship is vital in ministering to the needs of others. As a result of a study on medical nursing care, Hitchens and Snow conclude that “[r]elationship is what differentiates caring fidelity and promise-keeping from an approach based solely on principles, which tend to produce decisions made at a distance. Caring at its heart happens in the context of relationship.”[16] They emphasize the importance of the caregiver entering into the world of the sufferer just as Jesus did when he
“saw the crowd harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd, he felt with them in the center of his being (Mt. 9:36)… saw the blind, the paralyzed, and the deaf being brought to him from all directions, he…experienced their pains in his own heart (Mt. 4:14)…[likewise, when he saw] the two blind men who called after him (Mt. 9:27)…and the widow of Nain who was burying her own son (Lk. 7:13).”
[17]

In this study, four basic elements of caring were identified: “attending to others with respect, knowing them well enough to understand what to do, doing for them what they need, and simply being with them, without any particular agenda.”[18] The importance of valuing the sufferer without judgment is emphasized as well as the necessity of self-care for the provider to prevent burn-out. But most important, in our “bottom line” based society, is to beware of the trap of doing for without attending to the person, knowing the person in the context of his community. This type of care is incomplete and leads to devaluation in the sufferer.[19]

Triumphalism is a modern problem in the Church that causes believers to feel confused, lonely and not comforted. This is the mistaken belief that in the present age we are to be living in perfect health and prosperity and an implicit denial of the fallen nature of ourselves and the world in which we live. This attitude goes back as far as the Corinthian church who were “already filled…already become rich…have become kings.” This leads to the modern fear of discussing depression among Christians because it is antithetical to “victorious living” of triumphalism.[20] What is needed is to understand that periods of depression is not to be unexpected in a fallen world, and that even Jesus experienced depression in the Garden of Gethsemane and none of his companions advised him to “claim the victory.”[21] Akin echoes this idea saying that weakness is God’s modus operandus. Christ was crucified in weakness and made alive by the power of God (2 Co 13:4). Similarly, when servants of the Lord humble themselves and acknowledge their weakness, the power of Christ can flow through them and make itself evident in service, humility, conviction and spiritual depth.[22]

Conclusion

To be true to Scripture in our life as the Church in the world, we must press on past the immediate questions of the meaning of suffering “for me” to discover how God intends us to use the suffering we have experienced for the benefit of others. Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Mt. 20:28), so we too should serve others even in our suffering, perhaps especially in our suffering. God revealed his power through the weakness of Jesus Christ in his earthly suffering and especially on the cross. So too, he reveals his power in his Church through our weakness in suffering. Our suffering brings us into solidarity, into fellowship with the suffering of Christ. Thus we receive his comfort. The Father enabled the Son to suffer for the benefit of others. We in turn are enabled by the Son through our suffering, to bring comfort and aid to others from the overflow of that which we have received from Christ. Just as Jesus, our high priest, is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 5:15), we are able to sympathize with the weaknesses of others to the degree and manner that we have suffered as they have. In so doing, we accomplish God’s purpose in the world to comfort the afflicted, give justice to the needy, vindicate the weak and fatherless, satisfy the hungry, and visit the lonely.

The world around us contains no shortage of suffering to which we may apply ourselves, but we should not become overwhelmed. The experience of our own suffering should prompt us to look, to listen and to discover the downtrodden, the afflicted, the needy, the hungry, the thirsty, the storm-tossed, the orphan, the widow, the alien, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner, the lost, the grieving, the dying, the poor, the lowly, the overcome, the oppressed, the distressed, the troubled, those who are treated unjustly, the helpless, and the lonely of our own day. We should not be overwhelmed by the size of the task for it is Christ’s task. He is the exalted Lord and Redeemer of his creation and the head of the Church. We should simply be his body, doing what we can do according to the grace he has given us through our own suffering. We should begin with those closest to us, in the body of Christ itself and then extend ourselves to those beyond. In so doing, we should remember that caring is most effective in the context of relationship. May we be found faithful stewards of all that he has entrusted to us, especially our sufferings and their application in the lives of others, until that great day when he comes again to right every wrong, heal every wound and wipe every tear of those who belong to him.

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Footnotes

[1] Margaret Clarkson, Destined for Glory: The Meaning of Suffering (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 6.
[2] Excellent examples include Dan McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt? The Meaning of Christian Suffering; Margaret Clarkson, Destined for Glory: The Meaning of Suffering; Charles Ohlrich, The Suffering God: Hope and Comfort for Those Who Hurt; and D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil.
[3] Clarkson, 11.
[4] E.S. Gerstenberger and W. Schrage, Suffering, trans. John E. Steely, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977), 157-58.
[5] Gerstenberger and Schrage, 162-63.
[6] Clarkson, 44-46.
[7] Dan McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt? The Meaning of Christian Suffering (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 59-60, 71-77, 82-89, 97.
[8] Edith Schaeffer, Affliction (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1978), 169-170.
[9] Ibid., 170.
[10] Gerstenberger and Schrage, 252.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Gerstenberger and Schrage, 259-268.
[13] Elizabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1990), 170-71. [14] Ibid, 170.
[15] Schaeffer, 175.
[16] Emily Hitchens and Lilyan Jane Stewart Snow, “The Ethic of Caring: The Moral Response to Suffering,” Christian Scholar’s Review 23, no 3 (1994), 308.
[17] D.P. McNeil, D.A. Morrison, and H.J.M. Nouwen, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1982), p. 17 in Hitchens and Snow, 308.
[18] Hitchens and Snow, 312.
[19] Ibid., 316.
[20] Virginia Stem Owens, “Naming the Darkness: To Banish Forever Easy Triumphalism,” Christianity Today (January, 19, 1979), 23.
[21] Ibid., 23, 25.
[22] Daniel L. Akin, Triumphalism, “Suffering, and Spiritual Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 In Its Literary, Theological, and Historical Context,” Criswell Theological Review, 4.1 (1989), 140-43.
[4] Fourth, we suffer from illness and death, such as the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5:25, the man born blind in John 9, the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8:26ff and Lazarus in John 12. Fifth, suffering is manifest in the lives of widows and orphans (James 1:27), in grief (1Thess. 4:13) and weeping (Luke 7:13) and the fear of death (Heb 2:15).[5] Sixth, Satan brings suffering in temptation (Gen. 3:16), deception (2 Cor. 11:3,14), accusing (Rev. 2:10) and devouring (1 Pet. 5:8).[6] Finally, God brings suffering for several primary reasons: as fellowship with Christ’s suffering (Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13; Col. 1:24); as testimony to unbelievers (1 Pet. 5:1; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), ourselves (1 Pet. 1:7) and other believers (1 Cor. 12:26); as training in righteousness (Ps. 32:3-5; Ps. 139:23-24; 2 Cor. 12:7-10); and in preparation for glory (1 Pet. 1:6-9; 2 Cor. 4:17-18).[7] Suffering is a reality in a fallen world.

We should respond to suffering in two ways. First, to our own suffering we should respond in faith to God, crying out for his help and trusting in his promise. Over and over in Scripture, he promises to deliver the afflicted (Ps. 18:29; 34:19; 72:4; 119; 147:6; 149:4) though at times he makes them wait for that deliverance (Ps. 44:24) and wonder if he will afflict them beyond measure (Ps. 64:2). But this is not enough. The next step is also necessary.

Second, Scripture tells us we should reach out with comfort and aid to others who are afflicted. Let us begin by looking at the life and ministry of Jesus, the God-Man. Isaiah foretold that the Christ himself would suffer in order to relieve the suffering of others.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering… Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet…he did not open his mouth. (Isa. 53:3-7).
Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was for the benefit of others. As God and Man he suffered to bring deliverance from sin and death to his own, and therefore, eternal comfort in heaven. Though other men cannot suffer in a substitutionary sense as Jesus did for all mankind, our suffering can nevertheless can bring us into solidarity with the suffering of others. This is the second sense in which Jesus suffered, one that brings him into solidarity with other sufferers in order to provide help. Since his resurrection and ascension, he serves as our great high priest in heaven, offering to us consolation in our earthly trials: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). His own suffering permits him to help fellow sufferers. He “sympathizes” with our weaknesses because he suffered the same, and offers mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Heb 4:15-16).

In a broader sense, God joins in suffering with those who suffer and in so doing, brings comfort by carrying them through times of affliction: “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isa 63:9).

As God’s image bearers, Christians are to do likewise when we “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). This is illustrated in the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” (2Co 1:3-6).6


Originally written for Dr. Richard Horner, Church and the World, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), November 2003.

The Apologetic Method and Presuppositional Apologetics

Written for Professor John Frame, Apologetics, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), December 2002.

Introduction

A presupposition is a belief or “basic commitment of the heart” which takes precedence over another belief and becomes a criterion for that other belief or commitment. Ron Nash writes that presuppositions are like a train running along a track with no switches to control it. Once the train is started down that track, its direction and destination is predetermined. Henry Van Til and John Frame refer to presuppositions as “colored glasses” through which we “see” everything. If our glasses are colored red we see everything with a red tint. If they are green, everything has a green tint. We can’t help but see things this way as long as we wear those glasses. Our most basic presuppositions take precedence over and “color” all other beliefs. John Calvin urges a particular ultimate presupposition – Scripture.

He urges Christians to view everything through the “spectacles of Scripture.” By this he means that we are to view everything as though looking through the Scriptures to see it. Therefore, we view everything: ourselves, the world, and God, through God’s interpretation of that subject found in Scripture. For the presuppositional apologist, Scripture is his most basic presupposition. All his beliefs will founded on Scripture. The reason the apologist does this is because he believes that in the Fall, man’s intellect also fell, becoming totally depraved along with his will and emotions. Therefore, neither the Christian nor the unbeliever can reason correctly. So he needs God’s interpretation found in Scripture to have a correct interpretation. Presuppositional apologetics presupposes God before seeking to prove Christianity is in accord with reason and fact and argues that unless reason and fact are interpreted in terms of God they are unintelligible. Sin makes man the final reference point. Scripture makes God the final reference point. This paper will begin by outlining a biblical epistemology or theory of knowledge, then will proceed to discuss the noetic effects of sin and conclude with a discussion of apologetics using the transcendental argument.

Biblical epistemology

Epistemology examines two things: what we know and how we know it. That is, it investigates the objects of knowledge and the justification of knowledge. The objects of knowledge – God, the world and ourselves – are perspectival. That is, we know one by knowing the others. They are interrelated or correlative. Because they are perspectives on the same thing, we can begin anywhere. However, since we are saying that Scripture is foundational to the presuppositional apologist, let us begin with God who is the author of Scripture.

As Lord, God is the head of the covenant in relation to his subjects. In the Old Testament, Yahweh is Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus is Lord. As Lord, he exercises his control, authority and presence. He controls everything that happens, he serves as the authoritative judge of everything and is intimately involved in everything that happens. As such, he is “absolute personality.” It is not possible to challenge his power or his authority because they are ultimate. Yet he is personal.

God is both knowable and incomprehensible. We can know what he has revealed to us in his Word and by natural revelation. Romans 1:19-21 tells us that everyone knows God, even unbelievers. “…[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Unbelievers know God, yet they suppress that knowledge. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…” (Rom. 1.18). Christians, on the other hand, have a knowledge of God that leads to eternal life. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17.3). However, we cannot know God comprehensively. “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor” (Rom. 11.34)? So God is knowable, but we cannot know everything there is to know about him. For to do so we would need to be omniscient as God is.

We know about God as Lord and have a knowledge subject to his Lordship. Through his control, authority and presence in the world he makes himself known to us. Moreover, he exercises his covenantal control, authority and presence in regard to that knowledge. It is based on his revelation to us; it is an obedient knowledge; and it is a befriending knowledge, respectively.

Knowing God involves knowing the world. According to Frame, God acts in the world in creation, providence and redemption. God reveals himself in the world through Scripture, through his prophets, miracles, theophanies and supremely in Christ. Also, God wants us to apply his word in our own situation in the world.

Knowing ourselves involves knowing the world and knowing God. Since we are part of the world, we know ourselves by knowing (interacting with) the world. Every fact is inseparable from its interpretation. Facts are interpreted by God and by man. God is the ultimate judge of facts; his is the ultimate interpretation. Man also interprets facts. His is a derived judgment. There are no neutral or “brute” facts without an interpretation. All facts are interpreted facts. Knowing ourselves involves knowing God because we are made in his image.

In the foregoing section, we have attempted to answer the question, “What do we know?” Now we will move on to the question of “how we know” or “on what basis we know.” This is called the justification of knowledge. It has been said that knowledge is “justified true belief.” As Christian apologists we must justify or give reasons for our beliefs. “…[B]ut sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…(1 Pet. 3.15). The purpose of epistemology, according to Frame, is to become as self-conscious as possible about our reasons for believing. He further states that epistemology is a subdivision of ethics. As such, justification requires that it be in accordance with an ethical standard, that it produce a desirable consequence and that it be a product of a good motive. A justified belief, then, obligates us to act upon it. It carries an ethical “ought.”

There are three traditional epistemologies in which the basis for knowing is autonomous man: rationalism, empiricism and subjectivism. These three operate separately or in concert. In rationalism, human knowledge is ultimate. In empiricism, human sense experience is ultimate. In subjectivism, internal human criteria are ultimate.

A fourth and alternative basis for knowing is God and his Word. God is the ultimate basis of knowledge and supersedes all those enumerated above. Scripture tells us that knowledge and wisdom begin with the “fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1.7; 9.10). There are several ways of examining justification: the normative, situational and existential perspectives. As Lord, God’s normative authority is supreme in every area including knowledge. Therefore, he is the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong including what we believe. We can have right beliefs and wrong beliefs according to God’s judgment. Moreover, the facts of our situation are based on God’s interpretation of them. Finally, to be justified, our knowledge must include an ethical “ought, ” a persuasive element that leads to “cognitive rest” or Godly satisfaction warranted by Scripture. These three perspectives are mutually dependent and neither is ultimate. In apologetics, we must reason with the unbeliever on the basis of Scripture even though he may not be willing to accept it. The only other alternative is to reason on the basis of human autonomy which amounts to idolatry.

Noetic effects of sin

As mentioned earlier, in the Fall, Adam’s intellect, along with the rest of his being, became totally depraved. He was not as bad as he could possibly be, but nevertheless every aspect of his humanity was sinful, including his intellect, his reason. In Adam, the mind or reason of all his descendants, except Christ are fallen. That is why the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1.19-20 that man sins with his mind. “…[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Man’s intellectual disobedience is sin. He knows the truth but suppresses it. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness… For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1.18,21). Suppression of the truth leads to irrationality. The sinner’s basic presupposition is that man is autonomous. He makes his own judgments on what is true based on human knowledge, sense experience or inner criteria, which, because they are fallen, can be mistaken. Those judgments are not only mistaken, in the case of the unbeliever, they are rebellious.

Fortunately, because of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, through conversion we can experience a renewal of our reason. It will not be totally renewed until the final judgment, but as Frame says, our reason takes a new direction. It begins to move toward God and his Word, accepting his judgments in matters. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove that the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12.2). “But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16).”

Apologetics using the transcendental argument

The presuppositional apologist believes that the issue between the Christian and the non-Christian cannot be settled by an appeal to the facts which can be agreed upon by both parties. Therefore, a transcendental argument is employed. First, I will define a transcendental argument and then outline a procedure for using it in an apologetic encounter. A transcendental argument is one which presupposes that all facts, thought and meaning logically presuppose the God of Scripture. That is, without God, nothing has any meaning at all. Therefore, the apologist not only presupposes the reality of a self-contained triune God and his self-attesting revelation through Scripture to prove Christianity, but also to make sense of any fact in the world. God is the final reference point required which makes the facts intelligible. In the apologetic argument, the God of the Scripture is at the beginning, is everything in the middle, and at the end of the argument for the apologist. According to Van Til, this type of argument may begin with any item of experience or belief and then ask what conditions or beliefs need to be true for that original experience or belief to make sense to us. Frame makes a similar statement when he says that a variety of arguments can be used to prove and defend Christian theism. This can include the traditional teleological, cosmological and ontological arguments since, according to Mavrodes, apologetics is “person variable.”

Once the encounter begins, literally anywhere, since God controls, judges and is present with all facts, the apologist should proceed to do three things as needed: proof, defense and offense. These may be done in any order that makes sense in the argument. There is not a necessary order as in the Classical method. The apologist may present arguments to positively prove Christian theism. He may make a defense of apparent contradictions such as the problem of evil or divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Finally, he may attack the weaknesses of the unbeliever’s system of thought.

The method for proof entails showing that Christian theism is consistent within itself. Since the apologist is presupposing God, he does not need to prove God, but only to show that every fact about God, the world and ourselves makes sense when considered from a biblical point of view. Since the unbeliever is not likely to accept the Christian’s presupposition, the believer should ask the non-Christian to consider the Scriptural presupposition “for the sake of argument.” Then the Christian should proceed to argue from whatever starting point they began since every fact leads to God. Defensive arguments should be carried out in the same manner, always presupposing the Scriptural point of view “for the sake of argument.” When it comes to offensive or negative arguments, two methods may be used. The apologist may ask the unbeliever to demonstrate how any given fact makes sense within the unbeliever’s system of thought in an effort to show him that it will end in irrationality by a reduction to absurdity. Or the apologist should presuppose the unbeliever’s system “for the sake of argument,” again using any fact, demonstrating that it will lead to a logical contradiction. In so doing, the apologist demonstrates that on the non-Christian’s presupposition of chance occurrences in an impersonal universe, one cannot account for any order or rationality. The apologist should also continue to press the moral question of where the unbeliever’s moral values come from, because at its heart this is a moral issue. God is personal and is personally offended by the unbeliever’s rebellion. The unbeliever’s world-view is impersonal in order to avoid responsibility for his sin. By these means the apologist seeks not only to intellectually persuade the unbeliever that he cannot get along without God and that all facts make sense only in the Christian theistic world-view, but to evoke or strengthen his faith in the covenant Lord.

A Corporate Prayer for Christian Worship

Written for Rev. Larry Osborne, Communication Lab I, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), September 2002.

Our great and loving heavenly Father,

May your name be praised today above all people, nations, powers and authorities in heaven and in earth.

We pray that you would bring forth your peace, your justice, your righteousness, your mercy and your love among us gathered here, throughout this land, and in every nation on earth.


We ask your guidance for our President, Vice President and all those in authority at the federal level of government in these perilous times. We pray for our Governor and all those in state government. We pray for all our leaders at the local level. Give them wisdom and courage, that we might live our lives in peace for the purpose of spreading the good news of the Gospel.

Father, you know our needs today. We ask you to provide for those among us, and in this city, who need food, clothing, shelter, financial assistance and jobs. We ask your healing for those among us in need of physical healing and for others among us who are in need of emotional healing and spiritual renewal. Thank you for the life of our sister who recently passed away. Comfort and strengthen all those among her family and friends in their loss this week. We pray as well for the families of those in our nation who perished in terrorist attacks just one year ago. Provide for all of their many needs. And we pray for our missionaries and college students who have gone out from among us. Keep them in your grace and grant their every need.

We give you thanks and praise for your forgiveness in our lives through the death and resurrection of your son Jesus. By the power of your Spirit, give us grace to examine our lives and to repent of anything that causes us to be separated from you. As you have graciously forgiven us, give us grace, even today, to forgive each person who has sinned against us in any way.

Father, we are surrounded by evil from without and we are so easily led astray by our own evil desires within. We thank you that your strength is made perfect in our weakness. Deliver us, by your grace, from the temptations we will face this week.
Now to you who are the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. And all God’s people said, Amen.

Four Reasons Preaching is a Supernatural Event

Written for Dr. Steve Brown, Communication II, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), 2003.

Preaching is a supernatural event for at least four reasons. First, preaching is the proclamation and application of Scripture which is God-breathed. Scripture itself tells us that it is metaphorically spoken out by God and therefore his own speech by which he effects his purpose in the world. “All Scripture is inspired by God (theopneustos – God-breathed) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Scripture does not come from man, but rather through men from God by the Holy Spirit. “[F]or no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). Therefore, God’s activity is evident in the text on which preaching is based. Preaching that is based on something other than Scripture will fail because it lacks God’s power found in his written Word. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).


Second, preachers are God-ordained. Paul points out to Timothy that he himself was appointed by God as both a preacher (kerux – a herald) and an apostle. “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher (didaskalos – an instructor) of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim 2:7). Paul was appointed by God as a preacher. Moreover, this passage tells us that preaching and teaching are somewhat synonymous in the mind of Paul. This leads us to another passage in the writings of Paul that tells us that preachers/teachers are ordained by God by virtue of his gifting in their lives. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” (Eph 4:8, 11-12). Preachers/teachers are ordained and gifted by God.

Third, preaching is God-ordained. To his protégé Timothy, Paul writes, “[P]reach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim 4:2). The implication here is that God’s will, as expressed through the Apostle Paul to Timothy, and thus to all preachers, is for His word to be proclaimed (kerusso – to be a herald, proclaim). Preaching is thus God-ordained. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes, “[F]or ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? …So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:13-14, 17). When salvation through Christ is preached, those whom God has elected respond in faith to the message. Faith to believe the message is itself a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8; cf. Jn 4:10; Rom 6:23). By contrast, for those whom God has not elected, preaching, though still a work of God, is in vain. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Preaching is one of God’s ordained means of communicating the gospel message.

Fourth, preaching is God-empowered. Paul indicates in his first letter to the Corinthians that the preaching of the cross of Christ is accompanied by God’s power for those who are elected to salvation. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he declares that the preaching of the gospel is accompanied by power and the Holy Spirit. The implication here is that it is the power of God. “[F]or our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thes 1:5). Preaching is God-empowered.

The Problem Post-Moderns Have with Meaning and How a Preacher Can Speak to That Problem

Written at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), 2002-2004.

Post-moderns say two things about texts. First, they say that texts do not have meaning in themselves. Rather, the meaning of a text “emerges only as the interpreter enters into dialogue with the text.” Therefore, a text “has as many meanings as it has readers…” Similarly, reality is “read” differently by each person who experiences it. There is “no one meaning of the world, no transcendent center to reality as a whole.” Therefore, according to post-modernists, for a person such as a pastor to insist that a text has one meaning for every person is ridiculous. For a person to insist that understanding what the author meant is important is preposterous. For a person to insist that there is one transcendent reality is ludicrous. Second, post-modernists say that texts are used to manipulate.

A preacher can respond in three ways. First, he can counter the post-modernists’ claim that texts do not have an intended meaning by asking one of its authors if the words the author wrote have an intended meaning. In so doing, the pastor can show that their claim is absurd. If the author did not intend to convey a given meaning with the words he wrote, he would be wasting his time and energy in writing at all. All words have a meaning intended by their author unless they are intended to be gibberish, to have no meaning.

Second, the preacher can respond by saying that the words of Scripture are symbols that God uses to communicate with man through human vessels. God has condescended to use human language in order for us to hear and understand the gospel message. And if God is the author, then he intends to convey a particular message, the message of the gospel centered in Christ, first, to the original audience, and second to all succeeding generations. There is some disagreement among theologians whether each Scripture text has only one meaning or whether a particular text can have more than one meaning. In either case, God, through human authors, intended however many meanings to each text. Therefore, it is up to the readers to determine what meaning(s) God intended for a particular text rather than assigning the readers’ own meanings to the text.

We can agree with the post-modern rejection of the Enlightenment model of a universal truth based on reason alone, but we reject their view that there is no meta-narrative at all. We proclaim that the many local narratives of the various human communities all fit together into the grand narrative, “the story of God’s action in history for the salvation of fallen humankind and the completion of God’s intentions for creation.” We can trust God’s Word to do its work in the hearts of post-modernists as we faithfully preach the gospel to them because it penetrates the heart.

Third, the preacher can respond by saying that texts are not meant to manipulate but to motivate. Manipulation is an attempt to convince someone to do something that benefits the manipulator(s). Motivation is an attempt to convince someone to do something that benefits the church and the kingdom of God. When a preacher speaks in a motivational manner, he is attempting to convince someone to do something that benefits “us” not himself.

Written and Oral Communications

Written and oral communications are alike and different in a number of ways. First, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes different from spoken communication. Spoken communication contains partial sentences, inflections, and nuances that are heard differently than when they are read silently. On the other hand, written sermons are sometimes similar to oral communication. Most people who can speak well, can learn to write well; most who can write well can learn to speak well. One who can organize his thoughts for one can do so for the other.

Second, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes more dangerous than oral communication. It is like leaving a “paper trail.” When something is written down, it can be traced back to the author for good or bad. If a passage is found incorrect or inflammatory, it can do harm to the author, his organization, or to others for many years to come. It is harder to retract a written statement. If a retraction is necessary it must be done in written form as well. When it is not written it can be denied or taken back more informally. On the other hand, written communication is sometimes less dangerous than oral communication. The author can think through what he is going to say more carefully during the writing process and therefore more easily protect himself from error.

Third, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes more satisfying than oral communication. Oral communication often receives little feedback, whereas, written communication, since it is longer lasting, can be responded to for generations. On the other hand, written communication is sometimes sometimes less satisfying than oral communication. There is a supernatural and person to person dynamic in preaching that is very rewarding, while there is no face to face element in written communication.

Fourth, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes more difficult than oral communication. It is a painstaking endeavor, especially for publication, to make sure that what is written is what is meant and only that. On the other hand, written communication is sometimes less difficult than oral communication. It is done in private, rather than in front of a group of people, so that when mistakes are made, they can be corrected without embarrassment.

Most often I prefer written communication, First, I tend not to think as well on my feet and tend toward perfectionism, so I appreciate the opportunity of written communication so that I have time to think through the issues. The writing process helps me clarify my thoughts without embarrassment.

Second, I gain a sense of accomplishment when I write something down. In the intangible world of ideas, it is something tangible that I can see, touch, and give to another person. Someone has said, “Until you get something ‘down’ it’s only an idea. Lots of people have ideas, but don’t get it ‘down’,” whether it’s a sermon, a screen-play, a song or whatever. Moreover, so much of ministry is intangible, I need the “tangibleness” of writing as a balance. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finish a paper for school, an article for the church newsletter or even my daily journal entry. As a church musician, I often felt frustrated that when I did a service or a musical event, it simply “went into the air” never to be heard again except in the hearts of the hearers since we didn’t have the proper equipment or personnel to make good recordings. I imagine that a pastor may feel the same frustration about preaching. This relates to the next item.

Third, I like being able to refer back to written communication. When I write something down, I can go back to it later to see what my thinking was at that point in my life or ministry, to see where I’m making progress spiritually, emotionally or intellectually, or whether I’m in a holding pattern. I can see the strengths, the weaknesses, and the inspiration in my life at that time.

Fourth, I discover thoughts I didn’t know I had and can preserve them for consideration later on.

I need to stretch myself more in the area of writing and speaking. I have been reluctant to try to prepare something for publication and reluctant to speak for at least two reasons. First, I am afraid of the evaluation of others. Second, I am afraid of my own self-evaluation. This is an area in which I need to grow in faith.

The Practice of Private Prayer

Private prayer is a difficult occupation. Our communication with God is vital. Therefore, the devil aims to keep us from it in any way he can. Not only that, the world tells us that we are foolish to believe in and pray to an invisible God, and our flesh is weak and undisciplined. The most common form of distraction is busyness in life, work and ministry. Especially in church work, there is always more that can be done. The next sermon or newsletter article is always waiting to be written, someone always needs a visit or a phone call, the last Session meeting must be followed up and the next one prepared. There is so much to do and think about that it is very easy to justify skipping private prayer in order to “get on with God’s business.” We justify ourselves, thinking that doing God’s work is more important than communicating with the God of the work. Often it is because we believe we see more tangible results from work than from prayer, when in fact, prayer connects us with God, who is the source of any lasting result in our work. Martin Luther once told a friend that he had so much to do the next day he had to get up earlier to pray longer in order to accomplish all that he had to do. Therefore, we must make an appointment each day with God as part of our plan for the day or it will get pushed out of our schedule. Even five minutes a day is better than nothing. We must make an appointment until we can’t live without it.


My practice has been primarily to write my prayers in a journal. I began years ago writing them by hand but mostly switched to the computer in recent years. Writing my prayers has several benefits. First, it helps me clarify what I’m thinking and feeling. Emotions are fleeting, jumbled and confused much of the time. When I write, I take the time to sort out one emotion from another. For example, am I feeling angry, sad, disappointed or joyful? I bring those feelings to God for his ministry. Then, sometimes as in many of the Psalms, they turn into praise of God because he is the only answer to my problems. Thoughts are similar. As I write them out, they become clearer. I bring them before God. Second, it helps me organize my thoughts. I don’t try to put them in a particular order as I write, but when I look at what I’ve written I see patterns and recurring themes in my thoughts and feelings that I can seek God about. Third, it serves as a spiritual diary. I can look back to what was happening in my heart a year ago, a month ago, or during the past week, to see how God is working in my life. If I’m still struggling with the same thing, I ask God to show me why and try to go deeper in that area. Fourth, it allows me to recall what I’ve prayed for so that I can give thanks when my prayers are answered. Many of the Psalms recall the psalmists’ previous requests and give thanks to God for his mercies in answering those prayers. If I don’t write them down I often forget what I’ve asked for and don’t give thanks where it is due. I have done this now for so long I really miss it when I don’t make the time to do it.

One of my goals for the future is to speak my private prayers more often, to combine writing with speaking. I have tended to resist speaking my prayers because of the several benefits of writing noted above as well as the possibility of being overheard by others with me in the house or office. Following are some of the benefits of speaking my prayers. First, there is a greater sense of immediacy. It is like the difference between writing someone a letter or email and actually talking with them in person or on the phone. It is communication right now, not something waiting in the mailbox to be read later and to be responded to even later yet. Moreover, speaking out loud emphasizes to me the fact that God’s presence is really with me. He is not in some remote location that requires writing. He hears and speaks and acts, sometimes right away. Second, there is a greater sense of pathos when speaking. The best I can do to emphasize a point when writing is to use various fonts or underlining, while when speaking I can raise or lower the volume or pitch of my voice, or I can speak more rapidly or slowly, among other things. Hearing the pathos in my own voice helps me realize my condition, whether I’m buoyant or flat, clear or dull, thankful or thankless, repentant or obstinate, so that I can bring that to God and let him deal with it. Third, spoken prayers can be done more quickly and in various locations. They don’t require turning on the computer, sitting down, or even total quiet (though that is helpful). I can spend a brief time praying aloud if I have only a short while, or I can do it while I am walking about the room, the house, or the neighborhood.

A Prayer for the Opening of a Civic Gathering

Written for Dr. Steve Brown’s course, Communication II, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), December 2003.

O God, we acknowledge today that you are our Creator and that you order the affairs of our individual lives, the life of our community, our nation and even the whole world. Your strong hand provides for us, guides us, protects and preserves us. Nothing happens without your knowledge, participation and permission.

Therefore, we ask that as we gather today, you would lead us as we consider, discuss and make decisions that affect our community. Guide our thoughts, temper our tongues, and bring us into unity over the matters before us. May the decisions we make serve the needs of the members of our community and serve as a model for other communities around us. May our community reflect your goodness, your grace, your righteousness, your compassion, your justice and your glory. Thank you for hearing our prayer. Amen.

A Corporate Prayer for Christian Worship

O God, you are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in his life, death and resurrection, reached out to us in love to pay the price for our sins. We glorify your name. We have sinned against you in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We have forgotten you, we have ignored you, and we have deliberately disobeyed you. Forgive us our sins today and draw us near to yourself. We need you, and we love you.

We are gathered here in the name of your Son because he is the only true source of life, of truth, of healing for our souls. We are afraid of many things that are happening in our world. We fear attacks by terrorists, we fear losing our jobs, we fear that our families will break apart, we fear that we may never have a family of our own, we fear that we will not become all that you have called us to be. Calm our fears and give us your peace.

Give wisdom to those in authority over us that we might live in peace and freedom to proclaim the gospel in our community and throughout the world. Give wisdom to our church’s leaders that we might serve you faithfully and lovingly among your people. Help your people to live in unity and love with one another so that others might see Christ among us. Help us together to fulfill our calling to make disciples of all the nations, to minister to the poor and needy, and to stand up for righteousness wherever we are.

Lord, remember those among us who are sick, hurting, depressed, struggling with doubt, or lonely. Comfort the troubled. Strengthen the weak. Lift up those who are cast down. Give joy to the sorrowful.

O God, you are our deliverer and our salvation. We look forward with hope and joy to the coming of the fullness of your kingdom, when every tear will be wiped away and when Christ will reign forever and ever and we will reign with him as his glorious bride. Thank you for your matchless grace and mercy on our behalf. All glory be to you now and forever, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.