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Back to the good ol’ days? – Thoughts on this world and the means of grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 20, 2014 at 11:13 am

Means of Grace

Should believers try to bring back the good ol’ days in order to combat worldliness in our own day and make it easier to live in this world? I do not think there are any good ol’ days to bring back. There are no good ol’ days, except prior to the fall and even those days were not the best of days (Adam could, and did, fall into sin.). The best of days are yet to come. The end is, after all, better than the beginning (and the middle). As bad as our day may appear to be and actually be, in essence, it is the same as always, since the fall into sin.

The hope (i.e., confident expectation of something in the future based on what God has said) of the Christian is that better days, way better, are coming. But there’s more. We do not have to wait for help to come in the form of the eternal state of affairs after Christ’s second coming. There is help in the now. Our Lord Jesus entered into His glory at His resurrection. Human nature in a sinless representative Person was exalted to a status it had never experienced before. The virtue, the power, the glory of Christ becomes Christ’s people’s in installments. We receive some of the benefits of redemption – the forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption, and sanctification – now. We get consummated glory in our own persons when He comes again. In the mean time, grace from our exalted Mediator comes to souls via the means of grace (I am thinking primarily of the Word of God, prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper) instituted by God. The means of grace are conduits through which world-to-come blessings are delivered by the Holy Spirit from the exalted, glorified Mediator to elect souls now.

Should believers try to bring back the good ol’ days in order to combat worldliness in our own day and make it easier to live in this world? No. Easy living as a believer now is a myth. So what should we do? On the private level, we should read our Bibles and pray, then obey God in all spheres of life. On the public level, we should go to church (and join one), where the Word of God is sung, read, and preached, prayer is offered, and the sacraments are employed, then obey God in all spheres of life. The grace that comes through the ordained means is able to keep us from being consumed by consumerism, no matter how consumeristic our surroundings might be.  The more grace we have, the more clearly we are able to see the world (and its trappings) for what it is and the more clearly we are able to see that the real problem is within not without. Growth in grace in the midst of this world is a slow but sure (and often painful) process. It is only possible with the due use of means. Our only hope for godly living now is God’s blessing upon the means of grace. The end (i.e., growth in grace) is God’s to give; the means (i.e., the Word of God, prayer, etc.) are ours to use.

In conclusion, 1) there are no good ol’ days, 2) this world (in the Rom. 12:2 and 1 John 2:15-17 sense) is essentially the same in all places and times since the fall into sin, and 3) believers, use the means of grace, praying God’s blessings upon them. In light of this, we urge any unbelievers to believe the good news of the gospel (i.e., that God has provided the way back into His favor through Jesus Christ) and join yourself to a faithful church.

Richard Barcellos

Grace Reformed Baptist Church

Palmdale, CA

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Direction for Church Prayer

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 19, 2014 at 11:16 am

Prayer

2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; 3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Col 4.2-4)

Paul’s next to last piece of advice in his letter to the church in Colosse regards the ministry of prayer, the last being the way Christians should relate to unbelievers (4.5-6). The rest of the letter contains personal greetings and an exhortation to Archippus who may have been a pastor to them.

While couched in a specific personal and historical setting, Paul’s sentiment still conveys considerable implications which remain relevant for all churches today. All are called to pray as Paul describes, and to pray for preachers, and to pray for the gospel.

Pray (v. 2)

This direction is addressed to the whole congregation, not just its leadership.

A very strict rendering reads, “(untranslated article) / in prayer / steadfastly continue, / watching / in / it / with / thanksgiving” (ILTGNT, Greek words separated by /). The main subject is a noun, “prayer,” the main word for prayer in the New Testament (TDNT), which means “to speak to or to make requests of God” (LN 33.178). The first verb exhorts to persistence; the second, to alertness. This implies that we are prone to neglect prayer, or to become weary in it. Our experience sadly confirms this. We are just like Jesus’ first disciples (Matt 26.40-41).

Paul adds that dutiful, persistent, alert prayer must include “thanksgiving,” the expression of gratitude for benefits or blessings (BDAG; LN 33.349). We also need this reminder as we are more prone to pour out our hearts about our problems and to ask for deliverance from them, than to rehearse in prayer what the Lord has done for us to His praise. Remember the ten lepers (Luke 17.11-19). Matthew Henry devotes a whole chapter to biblical thanksgiving language in his classic, A Method for Prayer, saying, “We must be particular in our thanksgivings to God,” and giving specifics from literally hundreds of Scripture texts.

From this we gather that our church must strive toward faithfulness in our corporate ministry of prayer. We must practice it, and that requires faithful attendance upon prayer meetings. We must offer prayer conscientiously, and we must keep at it. Let us also purposefully focus on the prayers being offered, resisting wandering thoughts, or napping because eyes are closed. We must never imagine that saying thanks to God, even with protracted examples of His mercies to us, is a waste of our time together. Pleasing God must be our aim, and Paul’s direction is a revelation of His will for us.

Pray for Preachers (v. 3)

“Withal” has the sense of, “together with this: besides” (MWCD). Here Paul moves from general counsel about prayer to its matter. Many other legitimate prayer requests can and ought to be made by the gathered church, but this cannot be omitted. We must pray for preachers, of whom Paul and his associates are representative here. “Pray for us” was a frequent request of the apostle (1 Thess 5.25; 2 Thess 3.1; Heb 13.18).

Paul writes as one bound in prison seeking opportunities for the proclamation of the Word. The prayer request very subtly implies that it is not his own liberty that concerns Paul, so much as the liberty of the Christian message. “I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2.9). Paul desired release himself especially for the freedom to spread the word of God to more people. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith” (2 Thess 3.1-2).

Preachers still are, and will remain until Christ returns, a major and indispensable means of God for the propagation of His biblical truth. They face all kinds of hindrances, not just imprisonment, in doing their work, both physical and spiritual. Faithful preachers are kept active in their ministry by the church’s intercessory prayers. Let the names of many trustworthy ministers of Christ be conspicuous in our gatherings for prayer.

Pray for the Gospel (v. 4)

“The mystery of Christ” is an exalted reference to the gospel as most clearly revealed by Christ Himself and His apostles in the NT age (cf. Rom 16.25-26). Paul asks the churches to pray “that I may make it [the mystery = the gospel] manifest, as I ought to speak.” This rich expression behind the word “manifest” has been understood variously, as to make it known, to show people what they could not see or did not know before, to declare fearlessly, openly, boldly, clearly, and fully, and to explain the deeper implications (An Exegetical Summary of Colossians, M. King). Whichever was the specifically intended sense, all these are valid concerns of our intercessions for gospel preachers.

It is not an easy or natural thing to preach the gospel as it ought to be preached. Unbelievers are generally hostile or apathetic to it. Even Christians may foolishly fail to appreciate gospel preaching, imagining it is superfluous in the church of believers, when it is really central and vital to our spiritual life and a sound ministry. While the basics of gospel history and interpretation are plain, it is very challenging to present the whole counsel of God clearly so that most will be able to hear it profitably. Then there is the matter of the Spirit’s blessing even upon the delivery of the most faithful content, so that saints will be edified and sinners captured for the Savior. The prayers of the gathered church must be harnessed to these great ends of the ministry. Ω

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

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How Can We Know If Our Children Are Christians?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

children

Christian parents want our children to know Christ because we want what is best for them. Many parents, however, struggle with how to know whether their children have come to a saving knowledge of Christ. While there’s no way to give a complete answer in a short blog post like this, I’ll try to offer you a handful of basic principles. No child gives evidence of salvation in a vacuum. These are things a child has to learn from faithful parents who teach him the Word of God. And these are lessons of the heart that only the Holy Spirit can truly teach. A child may certainly be saved before his parents can see it, but there are some evidences that point to our child’s salvation.

  1. Growing awareness of God’s goodness. Even before they begin to trust in God personally, our children will start to express that God is good, that He loves us, and that we should love Him back. They know that the Ten Commandments are God’s good standard, which we should all obey. While by itself, this isn’t proof of their salvation, it is the foundation of all the other evidences of salvation in our children. “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn 1:5-6).
  1. Increasing sense of personal sin. Your child may notice when another person does something wrong, and say, “That’s a sin.” That shows that your child is thinking about God’s standards. But there’s evidence of personal conviction when your child himself does something wrong and freely admits that “God does not approve of what I did.” The tenderest of consciences will agree with God: “What I did was wrong. I should not have done that. I disobeyed Jesus and did not show love for Him.” The Bible tells us, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God . . . through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19-20).
  1. Leaning on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. Leaning on Jesus is the very basis of assurance of salvation. A child who leans on Jesus doesn’t just change his behavior after he sins. He doesn’t just say, “What I did was wrong. I’ll try to do better next time.” Instead, he might say, “What I did was wrong, and I need Jesus to forgive me of that sin. Jesus had to die to pay the price for my sin.” I hesitate to describe the exact words of a child because different children will express things differently. But he leans on Christ. He’s not just trying to do better to please his parents or to avoid discipline. He recognizes that he has no hope but Jesus, no way to fix things himself. His only hope of mercy is Christ, His death and resurrection. Scripture says, “For we who have believed enter that rest . . . whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works” (Heb 4:3, 10). Paul said, “I [the old unbelieving Saul] have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I [Saul] who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I [believing Paul] now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20).
  1. Growing desire to know the Bible and pray. When God saves a child, that child wants to know the One who saved him. When God rescues a child from the guilt and shame of sin, that child will have an increasing, sincere desire to know what the Bible says about God and to talk to God in prayer. He’ll want to read the Bible so that he can know who God is. He’ll want to pray to express his heart to God. Parents should set an example in these things and encourage their children in them. 1 Peter 2:2 says believers “long for the pure milk of the Word,” and according to Acts 9:11, one of the proofs of Saul’s conversion was “behold, he is praying.”
  1. Faithful repentance of sin and increasing obedience to Christ’s commands. While #3, “leaning on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation,” is the basis of assurance of salvation, faithful repentance and growing obedience strengthens that assurance. When children begin to turn from their habits of sin to Jesus, and when they start obeying Christ in ways they didn’t used to obey Him, they grow up into full assurance of salvation. They honor and obey their parents more faithfully out of love for Jesus. They turn away from idols in their lives, and they sincerely want to be with God’s people, the church. All of these are signs of salvation. The Apostle writes, “By this we may be sure that we are in Him, whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 Jn 2:5-6).

No child (or adult for that matter!) does any of these things perfectly. But if your child has a pattern of these evidences of salvation, you should bring him to the pastors of your church for baptism and church membership.

 

Pastor Tom Hicks

Morningview Baptist Church

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Means of Grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

sheddWGT

.The means of grace are means of sanctification. They suppose the existence of the principle of divine life in the soul: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation” (Westminster Larger Catechism 154). The means of grace are administered within the visible church and to its members.1 Consequently, church membership is requisite to obtaining the benefits of the means of grace and sanctification. Some of these benefits cannot be enjoyed at all outside of the visible church: those, namely, connected with the administration of the sacraments and the fellowship and watch of Christians; and none of them can be enjoyed in their fullness by one who has not separated himself from the world by confessing Christ before men.2[1]

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1 WS: When the world of unregenerate men are said to have the means of grace, the means of conviction under common grace, not of sanctification under special grace, are intended: “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ” (Westminster Larger Catechism 155).

2 WS: Respecting the nature of the church, Calvin (dedication to the Institutes) presents the Protestant view in two fundamental positions: (a) That the church may exist without a visible form, because it is both invisible and visible. The former is composed of all who are really united to Christ; the latter, of all who profess to be united to Christ. The former has no false members; the latter has, as the parables of the tares and the net show. (b) That the visible form of the church is not distinguished by external splendor, but by the pure preaching of God’s word and the legitimate administration of the sacraments. The Romanist contends that the church exists only in a visible form and that this form is in the see of Rome and her order of prelates alone. Rome makes the invisible and visible churches identical and coterminous. For a concise and able statement of the prelatical theory of the church, see Jeremy Taylor’s consecration sermon.

[1] Shedd, William Greenough Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Ed. Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003.

Whither Reformed Baptists? Part One

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 9, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Jim

It has often been stated that the Lord Jesus referenced only the church twice in His earthly ministry. The first time is in Matthew 16 wherein he stated that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church and the secondly in Matthew 18 wherein He envisions the necessity of church discipline against an impenitent member. In these two statements, it has been said, we have the church triumphant and the church militant (struggling). The history of the Church bears both these marks. There are glorious stories of triumph and grievous stories of shame, infidelity, and retreat.

For over thirty years I have been part of Reformed Baptist Churches. I have pastored one church for nearly 25 years and have sought to help other churches get planted. I have been involved in ministerial training in the US, Africa and the Far East. In recent months I have been thinking through the trajectory we, as churches, seem to be on. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. My plan, in these blogs, is to identify four areas of concern and articulate some course of action.

The first area of concern is that of future leadership. While there are numerous Calvinistic Baptist movements marked by vigorous and youthful leadership, our churches are not yet among their number. There are many of our churches where there are sole pastors and some of those churches are pastored by men of advancing years. Not only can they not find a fellow elder to bring about a biblical plurality, they do not know who will lead their flock in the decades to come. No pastor I know wants their churches to fade away when they are gone. They desire that God will replace them with robustly confessional men who love the Lord and His people and who will lead them to the green grass and cool waters of His Word for decades till they themselves are replaced.

What kind of men? We desire biblically qualified men who have a passion to selflessly shepherd Christ’s flock. We desire men of giftedness who will be able to feed the flock. We desire men of confessional conviction. That means, for us, men who embrace the truths of historic confessional Christianity with firmness, conviction, knowledge and joy. Men who embrace Baptist Covenant Theology. Men who love the Lord’s Day and are not ashamed of its place in the Moral Law. Men who believe in the centrality of the church and the commitment of members to it’s life together. If our churches are to remain committed not only to Orthodox and Reformed Christianity but to 1689 Confessionalism then we must do at least three things.

The first we must do is pray that the Lord of the Harvest will raise up laborers (Matt 9:38). As one has well said, only the God who made the world can make a gospel minister. Secondly we must invest in our youth. We must lay bare afresh what we believe and why we believe it and pray that the Lord will instill in them a passion for these truths they have grown up with in a way that does not lead to pride, judgmentalism towards brethren who differ, and isolation. We can and must be a people of narrow convictions and broad affections and associations. Thirdly we must act. Encourage young men to consider the ministry. Pastors need to look for men to mentor and invest time and resources in. Look to give younger men opportunities for ministry—prison ministries, nursing homes, homeless shelters, youth gatherings, Sunday School classes, and eventually morning or evening worship services. Lead the people of God in prayer for the rising generation with hope that God will own and bless His truth till His Son returns in glory.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville
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Fatal Sincerity

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on November 22, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Fatal

Sincerity is a popular god. Intentions are all that matter, not the objective truth, rightness, or goodness of what is done. Except Sincerity-worshipers repent, they will suffer disastrous consequences on the Day of Reckoning.

1 Chronicles 13 is the perfect Bible chapter to illustrate and vindicate my pastoral concern about this. It recounts a dark day in Israel’s history, when God’s holy people were very sincerely wrong and suffered for it. The shocking death of Uzzah stands in the sacred record as a neon warning sign about fatal sincerity.

One test of our own perspective on this matter is our internal response to the story. Idolatrous devotees of Sincerity are bound to be deeply offended—even enraged—by the story and the way it portrays God’s startling act. One example of offense taken is this profoundly blasphemous paragraph:

Well, well, well, look at how gracious God was for Uzzah’s loving attempt to keep the ark from falling to the ground. Does it surprise you that God killed Uzzah for trying to do a good dead [sic]? It doesn’t surprise me one bit because I’ve come to see God for what he really is; a hateful, unforgiving tyrant with no appreciation for his own creation.

http://noreligionrequired.com/tag/uzzah/ (accessed 19 Nov 2014)

See how this blasphemer characterizes the sinful act as “Uzzah’s loving attempt” and then arrogantly condemns God’s holy indignation and righteous judgment as evil! Good intention combined with effort are supposed to be good enough for God, and if not, then He’s at serious fault. Also notice the subtle suggestion that God is obligated to be perpetually “gracious,” failing to appreciate that grace is always given or withheld according to God’s sovereign pleasure. Every single instance of divine forbearance, forgiveness, and delight toward sinful people ought to be a matter of perpetual amazement to us. Uzzah’s death was just, and that is enough. Instead of changing his mind, this God-hating blogger just digs in because his warped perspective does not accord with God’s true nature and His ways with men.

On the other hand, if we approach this story in the fear of God, we must be deeply impressed with His holiness, Word, and true worship.

We would not for a moment denigrate sincerity, as far as it goes. Scripture emphasizes its importance, especially in divine worship (e.g., Josh 24.14; 2 Cor 1.12; Eph 6.24). Of course insincere worship is an affront to God who knows our inner motives better than we do.

But the Uzzah story makes the point with a vengeance that sincerity is not enough. For one thing, the record says they were careful to transport the ark in “a new cart” (v. 7) made just for this sacred service. Further, “David and all Israel played [were celebrating, ESV] before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets” (v. 8). Their intention was to honor God, and they went at it with much zeal and holy boldness. And even Uzzah, by extending his hand to steady the Ark (v. 10), surely purposed in his heart to please God and promote His glory. All this is granted, and emphasized here.

That is what makes the insufficiency of sincerity and God’s severe judgment stand out in bold relief. The sin that provoked God was a lack of faith, and perhaps of knowledge, and certainly of reverence. One writer aptly calls it “pious disobedience,” and explains,

The Levites, or, more particularly, the Kohathites, were expressly commanded to bear the ark. The manner of bearing it was also commanded. Rings were appended, through which staves were run. These poles, covered with gold, were to be supported on the shoulders of the bearers. They were forbidden to touch the ark upon pain of death (Num 4.15). Such was God’s command. In transporting it from the house of Abinadab, David infringed the divine command by directing the ark to be borne on a cart drawn by oxen (John Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, 1888).

Incidentally, God was gracious to His people on this occasion. Though the guilt of the sin was shared by all, only one man was struck dead. Then the Lord blessed them in their reformed worship (cf. 1 Chron 15.12-15).

Religious zeal without a spiritual knowledge of God’s Word is characteristic of the unconverted who are lost in their sins, like apostate Israel in Paul’s day (Rom 10.1-2). They persisted in an impossible ambition—to be righteous enough by themselves, without Christ, to earn God’s favor and blessing (Rom 10.3-4).

When it comes to religion, that just is what the fallen human nature is still inclined to do. It seems that the masses today tenaciously cling to the illusion that it does not really matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere in it. It does not matter how you worship, as long as you worship in your own way. All the religions of the world are “faiths,” rather than massive systems of idolatry and immorality resisting the one true faith of biblical Christianity (Eph 4.5). Just like the Jews of old, they are “ignorant of God’s righteousness,” the only righteousness that can justify a sinner, even Jesus Christ, given by grace alone and received by faith alone, plus absolutely nothing.

The Lord must be worshipped, then, “in sincerity and in truth” (Josh 24.14). If this phrase is not mere hendiadys, it may be adding biblical conformity to sincerity as a description of what the Lord requires of us—a conformity that is explicitly required in many other passages. Even as Reformed churches have confessed for centuries:

The acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures (1689 LBCF XXII.1).

The world hates this truth, but humble believers are grateful to escape the eternal punishment due to sincere but unscriptural worshipers. Ω

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

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Some Hermeneutical Principles of Seventeenth-Century Federal Theology

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on November 22, 2014 at 2:07 pm

IMG_2013

We will now identify and discuss four principles utilized by the federal theologians.[1]

1. The Holy Spirit is the Only Infallible Interpreter of Holy Scripture.

As an example of this principle, John Owen says, “The only unique, public, authentic, and infallible interpreter of Scripture is none other than the Author of Scripture Himself…that is, God the Holy Spirit.”[2] Nehemiah Coxe says, “…the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the new.”[3] This meant that they saw the Bible’s interpretation and use of itself as infallible and with interpretive principles embedded in it. When the Bible comments upon or utilizes itself in any fashion (e.g., direct quotation, fulfillment, allusion, or echo in the OT or NT), it is God’s interpretation and God’s understanding of how texts should be understood. This often means that later texts shed interpretive light on earlier texts. Or, we could put it this way, subsequent revelation often makes explicit what is implicit in antecedent revelation. This principle led to three more related concepts.

 2. The Analogy of Scripture (Analogia Scripturae)

Here is Richard A. Muller’s definition of analogia Scripturae: “the interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event.”[4] An example of this would be utilizing a passage in Matthew to help understand a passage dealing with the same subject in Mark. This principle obviously presupposes the divine inspiration of Scripture.

The principle of analogia Scripturae gained confessional status as follows: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…” (2LCF 1.9).

 3. The Analogy of Faith (Analogia Fidei)

Muller defines analogia fidei as follows:

the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci…, as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae…, the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture.[5]

An example of this would be interpreting texts that speak of the humanity of Christ in the wider textual-theological context of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. For example, in Acts 20:28, God is said to have purchased the church “with His own blood.” “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” From other texts of Scripture, according to the principle of analogia fidei, we learn that Christ, according to his divine nature, is invisible (John 1:1, 18). So, according to the analogy of faith, we can affirm that God has blood, in so far as the person of the Son has blood, according to his human nature.

The inspired and infallible rule of faith is the whole of Scripture whose textual parts must be understood in light of its theological whole. This insures that the theological forest is not lost for the textual trees.

The principle of analogia fidei gained confessional status as follows: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…” (2LCF 1.9).

 4. The Scope of Scripture (Scopus Scripturae)

Terms such as Christ-centered and Christocentric are used often in our day. But what do they mean? The older way of describing the concept these terms point to, the target or end to which the entirety of the Bible tends, is encapsulated by the Latin phrase scopus Scripturae (i.e., the scope of the Scriptures). This concept gained confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and the Second London Confession of Faith in 1.5, which, speaking of Holy Scripture, says, “…the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God)…”

Reformation and post-Reformation Reformed theologians understood scope in two senses. It had a narrow sense–i.e., the scope of a given text or passage, its basic thrust; but it also had a wider sense–i.e., the target or bull’s eye to which all of Scripture tends.[6] It is to this second sense that we will give our attention.

Scope, in the sense intended here, refers to the center or target of the entire canonical revelation; it is that to which the entire Bible points. And whatever that is, it must condition our interpretation of any and every part of Scripture. For the covenant theologians of the seventeenth century, the scope of Scripture was the glory of God in the redemptive work of the incarnate Son of God.[7] Their view of the scope of Scripture was itself a conclusion from Scripture, not a presupposition brought to Scripture, and it conditioned all subsequent interpretation.

William Ames said, “The Old and New Testaments are reducible to these two primary heads. The Old promises Christ to come and the New testifies that he has come.”[8] Likewise, John Owen said, “Christ is…the principal end of the whole of Scripture…”[9] He continues elsewhere:

This principle is always to be retained in our minds in reading of the Scripture,–namely, that the revelation and doctrine of the person of Christ and his office, is the foundation whereon all other instructions of the prophets and apostles for the edification of the church are built, and whereunto they are resolved… So our Lord Jesus Christ himself at large makes it manifest, Luke xxiv. 26, 27, 45, 46. Lay aside the consideration hereof, and the Scriptures are no such thing as they pretend unto,–namely, a revelation of the glory of God in the salvation of the church…[10]

Nehemiah Coxe said, “…in all our search after the mind of God in the Holy Scriptures we are to manage our inquiries with reference to Christ.”[11]

Their Christocentric interpretation of the Bible was a principle derived from the Bible itself and an application of sola Scripturae to the issue of hermeneutics. In other words, they viewed the Bible’s authority as extending to how we interpret the Bible. Or it could be stated this way: they saw the authority of Scripture applicable to the interpretation of Scripture.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA
 
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[1] This is taken from a lecture to be delivered at the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference 2014.

[2] John Owen, Biblical Theology or The Nature, Origin, Development, and Study of Theological Truth in Six Books (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994), 797, referenced as BTO here on out.

[3] Coxe and Owen, Covenant Theology, 36.

[4] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985, Second printing, September 1986), 33, emphasis added.

[5] Muller, Dictionary, 33. Cf. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward An Exegetical Theology (1981; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, Sixth printing, January 1987), 134ff., where Kaiser fails to distinguish properly between analogia Scripturae and analogia fidei and advocates what he calls “The Analogy of (Antecedent) Scripture.” In the conclusion to his discussion (140), he says, “However, in no case must that later teaching be used exegetically (or in any other way) to unpack the meaning or to enhance the usability of the individual text which is the object of our study,” emphasis Kaiser’s. This is, at worst, a denial of the historic understanding of analogia fidei and, at best, a very unhelpful and dangerous modification of the doctrine. It seems to me that this would mean, for example, that we cannot utilize anything in the Bible outside of Gen. 1-3 to help us interpret it. Since there is nothing in the Bible antecedent to Gen. 1-3, interpreters are left with no subsequent divine use, no subsequent divine explanation of how to understand that passage. This method ends up defeating itself when we consider that Genesis (and all other books of the Bible) was never intended to stand on its own and that the Bible itself comments on antecedent texts, helping its readers understand the divine intention of those texts. Kaiser’s method seems to imply that the exegesis of a given biblical text is to be conducted as if no subsequent biblical texts exist. We must realize that, in one sense, we have an advantage that the biblical writers did not have–we have a completed canon. But we must also realize that the Bible’s use of itself (whenever and wherever this occurs) is infallible. If this is so, then the exegete, using tools outside of the biblical text under consideration, ought to consult all possible tools, which includes how the Bible comments upon itself no matter where or when it does so. If the Holy Spirit is the only infallible interpreter of the Bible, then certainly exegetes ought to utilize biblical texts outside of Genesis to aid in the understanding of Genesis. It seems to me that Kaiser’s proposal would give warrant for exegetes to consult commentaries on Genesis to aid in its interpretation, but deny the use of the Bible itself (which contains inspired and infallible commentary) to that same end.

[6] See the discussion in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, Volume Two – Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003 [Second Edition]), 206-23, where he discusses these distinctions.

[7] See my forthcoming The Doxological Trajectory of Scripture: God Getting Glory for Himself through what He does in His Son – An Exegetical and Theological Case Study, chapter 5, “Christ as Scopus Scripturae – John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe on Christ as the Scope of Scripture for the Glory of God.”

[8] William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Durham, NC: The Labyrinth Press, 1983), 202 (XXXVIII:5).

[9] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 23 vols., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987 edition), 1:74.

[10] Owen, Works, 1.314-15.

[11] Coxe and Owen, Covenant Theology, 33.

The Reformed Baptist Trumpet. July-September 2014 RBT.Vol 5. No.3

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on November 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Trumpet-Book-of-LifeThe Reformed Baptist Trumpet. July-September 2014 Vol 5.No 3 is available online – Click here

The Proud Doomed (Prov 16.5)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 15, 2014 at 10:37 am
 
Proud1 
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord:
Though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
 

Evil is popular. The general rejection of this simple statement illustrates it. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20.6). Evil is prevalent, and the corollary is that true godliness is rare. This present, wicked generation is bad in its parts and as a whole. We all swim in a societal soup of sin. True, biblically-minded Christians are like specks of gold in a dunghill. The stench would be overwhelming except for our desensitization by prolonged exposure.

More than ever I realize this. God is helping me become more familiar with the whole biblical message. I trust He is sanctifying me by His Spirit. And like no generation before us, we are bombarded with others’ intimate thoughts, and with events around the world. The filthiness must be more conspicuous to mature Christians.

Just this past week, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case related to so-called “gay marriage,” sending a clear message that the status quo of popular legalization may continue unabated. An article in The New York Times undermines an evaluation of pedophilia as immoral. The University of California, San Francisco, is offering an online course to promote “safe abortions and abortion access worldwide.” Dr. Albert Mohler has provided excellent Christian commentary on these developments in his daily podcast for yesterday, “The Briefing.”[1]

I want to call widespread attention to this Scripture text in Proverbs 16:5. It constitutes a sober warning about the present conspiracy of antichristian ungodliness and immorality. I pray some may be saved by divine mercy now from the impending vortex of the world’s ruin by divine justice. Its two lines set forth two interrelated truths we all need to hear.

TRUTH #1: God Loathes the Proud

God’s disapproval can be conveyed in many ways. In 1935, Georgia blues guitar legend Blind Willie McTell took a public position against moonshine with a song entitled “God Don’t Like It.”[2] Here is the chorus:

Now God don’t like it and (I don’t either)
Now God don’t like it and (I don’t either)
Now God don’t like it and (I don’t either)
It’s scandalous and a shame.
 

Our biblical text exposes something worse than moonshine: being “proud in heart.” To condemn pride cuts across the sensibilities of proud men left to their own judgment. The ancient philosopher Aristotle (384-322 bc), still highly regarded, wrote, “Now the man is thought to be proud who thinks himself worthy of great things, being worthy of them. . . . Pride, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them more powerful, and it is not found without them.”[3] Modern praise of personal autonomy, high self-esteem, and boasting of immorality (e.g., “gay pride”) is wicked pride on display infecting our whole culture.

And it is not just that “God don’t like it.” The language here is stronger than moonshine—“an abomination to the Lord.” None of us have more than an inkling about the fullness and intensity of God’s holy wrath.

The pride of sinners sets God against them. He that, being high in estate is proud in heart, whose spirit is elevated with his condition, so that he becomes insolent [showing a rude and arrogant lack of respect] in his conduct towards God and man, let him know that though he admires himself, and others caress him, yet he is an abomination to the Lord. The great God despises him; the holy God detests him (M. Henry).

TRUTH #2: Popularity Is No Escape

The proud person, then, “shall not be unpunished”—a striking way of putting it, being in negative and understated terms. “Be assured, he will not go unpunished” (ESV). A proud man’s fantasy of escape from severe and eternal punishment, or total oblivion to it, lets him continue in his wicked way (cf. Psa 50.16-22; Amos 9.10; Zeph 1.12). And when we Christians forget the certain and jaw-dropping horrors awaiting all the impenitent, we are apt to feel discouraged in the lonely way of righteousness.

“Though hand join in hand,” this punishment shall surely come to each individual guilty party. “To give the hand is the token of amity; to join hands, that of combination.”[4] Again, Matthew Henry nails it,

Though there are many that concur by their practice to keep wickedness in countenance, and engage to stand by one another in defending it against all the attacks of virtue and justice,—though they are in league for the support and propagation of it,—though wicked children tread in the steps of their wicked parents, and resolve to keep up the trade, in defiance of religion,—yet all this will not protect them from the justice of God (on Prov 11.21).

The “Supreme Court” is not really supreme, because even it must give account to the Judge on high. Each proud “Justice,” without the fear of God and faith in Christ, has his or her own place in hell except he or she repent, with each and every member of our proud society. Ω

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

[1] http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/10/07/the-briefing-10-07-14/
[2] http://www.lyricsmania.com/god_dont_like_it_lyrics_blind_willie_mctell.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride#Ancient_Greek_philosophy
[4] Eadie, J. (Ed.). (1857). An Analytical Concordance to the Holy Scriptures.

The days of special visions and voices and prophesyings have passed away

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 1, 2014 at 3:28 pm

spurgeon

“Now the hand of the Lord was upon me in the evening.”—Ezekiel 33:22.

Perhaps, in the special sense in which Ezekiel uses this expression, we shall not expect to feel “the hand of the Lord” upon us. God may not call us to prophesy as Ezekiel did, although in the Scriptural use of the word “prophesy” the preacher of the Word is still called to deliver the message which he has received from his Lord’s lips. The days of special visions and voices and prophesyings have passed away, but we can still say with Peter, “We have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”[1]

 

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 58. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1912.

 

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