Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ekklesia Means "Assembly", pt. 2

When we get to Jesus' usage of ekklesia (will spell it either way, ekklesia or ecclesia), we haven't read one usage of ekklesia yet.  Some might think, "We have read it, because it's found in the Septuagint (LXX), which was completed a century or two before Christ."  I don't know that or believe that, so I don't argue with that in mind -- I write like all we know about ekklesia at that point comes from its common (koine) understanding in the Hellenistic culture, which is why we get the word ekklesia.  An LXX argument, I think, will back up a local only position, and perhaps I'll talk about that sometime here at What Is Truth in the future.  Previous understanding of ekklesia must come in to the first usage.  This is one reason I keep harping about the lack of a mystical, spiritual, or allegorical usage of ekklesia in the literature.  No one thought that way.  Since they had not, one would think there would be an establishing of that in the NT, but there isn't.

You have to wait until over a hundred years after the NT to start seeing a spiritual or allegorical usage read into the text.  The patristics definitely were influenced by Greek philosophy.  Philosophy and gnosticism both began having inroads, even as seen in the ante-Nicean fathers.  And then the context of those writings could or should lead you to see why they wanted the ekklesia to be bigger than local only.  When you read the patristics, you can see the development of allegorical interpretation, and spiritualizing of concepts.  They reacted to persecution, the clash with the Roman empire, and a desperation to survive.  You have a view of the kingdom that mixes quite nicely with the church to get something bigger, something that might compete with the state, that would be harder to stamp out.  I have found some value in the patristics to historical theology and word study, but anyone should ask, "Why did their writings survive and not others?"  They did last in a major way because they weren't a problem later to the state church.  The winning army often gets to tell the story of the battle.  They even get to name the battle.  The patristics tell a story that isn't all true.

Doctrine that originates after the completion of the canon can't be true.  If the definitions of words weren't established before the NT and then in the NT, then there shouldn't be any redefining that comes conveniently afterward to explain the moves being made by people who had motivation.  Men wanted something bigger and more than the ekklesia, so they could get that by spiritualizing.  They could even find some verses to read that in.  You find that a lot in historical theology, how that error enters into the line of truth.

This article (and maybe a next) will deal with two issues related to what I've written about already.  One, in Greek literature previous to the NT, which established the meaning of the word ekklesia before Jesus used it in Matthew 16:18, was an ekklesia an ekklesia even when it was not meeting or adjourned?  Put another way, did an ekklesia have to be in session or to be meeting in order to be an ekklesia?  Or did the Greek writers previous to the NT only use ekklesia for a gathering or meeting, period?

Universal church defenders seem to think they have something to gain from a pre-NT usage of ekklesia that was only an ekklesia during the time of gathering.  The idea, as I attempt to understand it, is that the meaning of ekklesia changed during the NT, because it seems that non-gathered ekklesia in the NT is still an ekklesia.  They (men like Charles Ryrie, it seems) take that from usages like Acts 9:31 and 1 Corinthians 10:32.  In this continued extrapolation, a non-assembled, non-gathered church is still a church.  Therefore, since there is a church in Hebrews 12:23 that is gathered, it is a church when it is not in fact gathered (before the folks gathering have arrived), so those that will gather are a church while they are scattered all over the earth.  A church can be a church when it is scattered, even if it has not yet gathered one time, because something of a non-gathered church has been established by Acts 9:31 and 1 Corinthians 10:32.  I'm doing my best to represent this argument.  Alright, but I'll be dealing with that first.  I might not get to part two, because this might take too much time by itself.

To be honest, and without attempting to disrespect those who bring up the above argument, it reads like a major stretch to me.  It's a thought about ekklesia, that seems forced.  No one would think it, I don't believe, unless they had to think it in order to find something that wasn't there.  Really, who would ask, "Is an assembly still an assembly when it isn't assembled?"  I'm a curious thinker.  I think some strange thoughts that get to the kind of detail equivalent to angels dancing on the heads of needles, but I couldn't get to that idea about assembling.  What I've found is that when something seems forced, it most often is, as a general rule.  We don't have to have secret code to understand the Bible, no lemon juice required.  I'm not saying we don't have to think, but we don't have to get creative.  If we were to think about assemblies in what seems obvious to me to be a unique way, it would seem that we would be told something about that sometime in the Bible.  If this is new thought, introduced in the Bible, because it wasn't found in Greek literature, it would seem that the Bible would explain it, so that the surprise wouldn't be on us.

Part two will deal with a question I was asked about this, that is related, namely, "Why is the idea of local church only so important? Or, to put it another way, why is the idea of the universal church dangerous?"  Before I even answer that question, I think it is important to consider how we come to positions or deal with issues.  I never, and I mean never, start with the effects of a particular belief as foundational to the reason for it.  You don't start with the results.  I'm not saying that results or the effects are meaningless.  I believe they are a great motivator for dealing with a doctrine or position or issue.  However, it's not where anyone should start.

I'm not at all insulted by the above question, but it doesn't buttress my position on the church, as was the speculation of someone I recently read on the subject, who wrote:  "In my experience, arguments for local only are often tied to accountability and authority, as well as tithing and attendance."  That is insulting.  I would laugh at it, except that it is despicable to me to think that we don't start with "what does the Bible teach about the nature of the church?'  We don't start with, "What kind of impact will this teaching have on the most favored status for me and my philosophy?"  No way!  Starting with results or effects just results in shoddy thinking about almost anything.  It's checking to see which way the wind is blowing before announcing what your position is.  No.  You start with what does the Bible say.  And if you are going to start with that, you might then have to move to what the words mean, so how people understood them in the day they were written.  I'm still going to answer the original question though (not the offensive later statement, I quoted, though).

Assemblies Assemblies Even When They Aren't Assembled

I don't think it is surprising that there is not any discussion in Greek literature, that I know of, about whether assemblies are still assemblies when they are not assembled.  Not finding that discussion is not an "aha" moment.  However, if one was looking for clues as to whether Greeks thought that the ekklesia was still the ekklesia when it was adjourned, there is plenty of evidence, I believe, to say "yes" to that.  I think it's a bit of a no-brainer.  Someone in a comment mentioned Congress still being Congress when it was adjourned, and someone argued against that, saying that Congress and ekklesia weren't the same.  Actually, Congress is supposed to be very close to ekklesia, because Congress is modeled after it.  The Roman Republic modeled its assembly after the Athenian assembly, and Western civilization took its clue from that -- this is common historical knowledge.

However, let's check out what history tells us in order to answer this question.  When I'm studying any literature, I look for verbal cues in the language.  For instance, in the NT, you get the "power of the Spirit," so that you know that the Holy Spirit isn't a power.  He has power, but isn't some impersonal force.  If you said, "the meeting of the ecclesia," you would be saying that the ecclesia existed between meetings.  And that is how that it is described with the language, the "meeting of the ecclesia"  or the  "ecclesia met"  (here too).   This relates to the understanding of the ekklesia.  There is a lot in Greek literature about it (see "the assembly" here).  The citizens, the men eligible for the ekklesia, were synonymous with the ekklesia.  The people (demos) is synonymous with the ekklesia  The assembly itself was the people; not the meeting even, but the people (p. 507, The Concepts of Demos, Ekklesia, and Dikasterion).  They would "call the ecclesia".  The ecclesia consisted of all citizens.

Demosthenes can chide his fellow Athenians for failing to recollect certain events, because they “were present at every assembly, as the state proposed a discussion of policy in which every one might join.” (Dem. 18.273) “Everyone”, in this context, refers to the body of citizens who were registered on the assembly list (πίνακα τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν) for their local district, or deme (Dem. 44.35). Under the Democracy of Aristotle’s time (after 330 BCE), young men were enrolled on this list when they were 18 years old (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 42.1), then spent two years as military cadets, or ephebes (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 42.4), after which they were members of the citizen body (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 42.5).

The body of citizens were registered on the assembly list -- this was the ekklesiastikos.  They were ekklesiastikos, even when they were not meeting. Sometimes you read the word ecclesiastics or ecclesiasts, the members of the ecclesia, who met.

Richard Trench writes:

Ecclesia, as all know, was the lawful assembly in a free Greek city, of all those possessed of the rights of citizenship, for the transaction of public affairs. That they were summoned, is expressed in the latter part of the word. That they were summoned out of the whole population, a select portion of it, including neither the populace, nor yet strangers, nor those who had forfeited their civic rights, this is expressed by the first.

The understanding of the Greek writers fits what James Graves wrote, "The assembly being a legal legislative body, duly registered as such, was a permanent body, and at all times an ecclesia, whether in session or adjourned."  I see that as plain meaning.

Is this any different than the meaning or usage of ekklesia in the New Testament?  I don't see it.  Of course, I think it is "churches" in Acts 9:31, making that a moot point.  Even if it were "the church," what would that prove?  I showed a quote from Plato's dialogue in part one that used the singular noun (he ekklesia) in the generic sense, and wasn't referring to any particular ekklesia, but it was clear that it still had to be local.  If "the church," singular, was only in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and "the church" referred to all saved people, then no saved people would be outside of those regions.  Where was the Ethiopean eunuch?  It doesn't work.  1 Corinthians 10:32 is talking about an individual church, the church at Corinth, so it's hard to see how that works for any argument.

Regarding Hebrews 12:23, I made an argument without interaction.  Isn't that assembly of the firstborn, all believers, both OT and NT?  If the church "in heaven" is all believers, there are some problems.  It would mean that the church existed in the OT, so there wouldn't be anything happening in the Gospels and Acts except for a continuation of what already existed.  Ekklesia  "in heaven" means "assembly."  It's not a NT ekklesia.  It's not a legislative body.  It's not an ongoing assembly, meeting every week or every forty days in a regular pattern of gathering.  It will only be that assembly when everyone is gathered, just like Jesus' assembly wasn't one until He gathered it together.  An assembly has to assemble to be an assembly.  Here is a passage to give motivation to Jews to be saved, and it is being turned into some kind of unique ecclesiological passage to justify the universal church.  If that's going to be a universal church argument, there is not a strong case, actually a very weak if non-existent case, for what universal church advocates call "the truth church.'

It's obvious we should get to part two next time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ekklesia Means "Assembly"

Ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the KJV, already existed in the Greek language before the New Testament was written under the inspiration of God by its human authors.  In Greek literature, it means "assembly."  Historians report that it means "assembly."  An ekklesia was only an "assembly."  There was no universal or mystical sense of "assembly" that would in fact make room for an unassembled thing.  There wasn't a hint of that.

For instance, when an ekklesia wasn't assembled, no one wrote that an ekklesia might not be an assembly because the people who did assemble were not assembled seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day.  An ekklesia must assemble because it was an assembly.  If it didn't assemble, it wouldn't be an assembly.  When it assembled, it was an assembly.  Men who didn't assemble were not an assembly.

If someone wrote he ekklesia, or "the assembly," no one would be confused about the singular noun.  They wouldn't assume the use of the singular, "the assembly," meant there was just one, or that there was one invisible assembly, and then there were the visible assemblies, which were merely visible manifestations of the invisible one, except as Plato might have talked about any visible thing.  However, Plato would have understood "the assembly" as the idea of assembly that would find its reality in an actual assembly (if he ever even did refer to ekklesia in a "Platonic" sense).  The idea would, however, be an idea of an actual assembly that found its reality in a visible assembly of people.  The idea and the real thing would not have been different in nature.

Plato uses ekklesia (ecclesia) in his Dialogues.  When not referring to a particular assembly, and yet still an assembly, he uses "the assembly" (he ecclesia).  We read this very usage in his Dialogues (click on link):

And I say that if a rhetorician and a physician were to go to any city, and had to argue in the Ecclesia or any other assembly as to which of them should be elected state-physician...

Notice that Plato uses the generic use of the singular noun, "the assembly" (the ecclesia).  It is still an assembly.  Notice that he says, "or any other assembly."  "The Ecclesia" distinguished one kind of assembly from another.  But both are still an assembly.  This is actually quite simple.  No one would think of turning even Plato's usage into something universal, invisible, and mystical.

When Jesus used ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, it's first recorded biblical usage, people hearing it in that day would have still understood it as an assembly.  However, Jesus differentiated His assembly from other assemblies by saying, "my assembly."  Despite saying "my" and using ekklesia in the singular number, an ekklesia was still an assembly.  Jesus' further usage of ekklesia would support that point.

Hebrews 12:23 uses the Greek word ekklesia:  "To the general assembly and church (ekklesia) of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."  People would have no contextual reason to think of this as anything but an assembly of people in a particular location.  There is the assembly of God at Corinth.  This is the assembly in heaven.  "Firstborn" are those who inherit heaven, saved people.  As saved people, their names are recorded at one point in time in heaven with the results of that recording permanent (perfect passive participle).  That sounds like the book of life.

Does the church in the New Testament include Old Testament saints?  No.  Are Old Testament saints included in the firstborn?  Are Old Testament saints in the book of life?  If the church is New Testament, then the assembly of all of the firstborn of both the Old and New Testaments could not be New Testament.  "Firstborn" itself is an Old Testament concept, very familiar to the Jewish audience of Hebrews.  It is not intended to communicate something universal and mystical.  An incentive for the audience of the book of Hebrews, in part unsaved Jews, was to be saved, to be converted, so to be in that assembly with all of the firstborn, both Old and New Testaments.  Will Old Testament saints also inherit His eternal kingdom?  Yes.  Are the Old Testament saints in "the church"?  If not, because Israel and the church are not the same, then how could "the firstborn" be the church of the New Testament? That ekklesia is merely an assembly in heaven, again as an incentive to unsaved Jews to get saved, so they can join the rest of the firstborn in their inheritance with the rest of the congregants in heaven, a congregation of Old and New Testament saints.

To be added to a New Testament church, someone must be baptized (Acts 2:41).  Salvation is not the only requirement.  Were Old Testament saints baptized?  No.  They were not baptized.  Baptism is not a prerequisite for being firstborn.  We inherit eternal life, the kingdom of God, by faith alone.  But Old Testament saints will be in the assembly in heaven.

All saints can assemble in heaven.  However, just because they are assembled doesn't mean that they are an ekklesia in the same sense as most of the usages of ekklesia, which are Jesus' assemblies on earth.  His assembly on earth is an organized congregation of baptized believers, having New Testament officers, practicing New Testament ordinances, and is actively engaged in carrying out the Great Commission.  The assembly in heaven isn't functioning like that.  However, what it has in common with that earthly assembly is that it is local and it is an assembly.  Not every use of ekklesia is an assembly in the sense of the church at Corinth or the churches of Galatia (cf. Acts 19:32, 39, 41), but every usage is still an assembly, because ekklesia means "assembly."

"Church" ("assembly") is a local and visible concept, which is why that word.  Some ask, is there anything more than local in the New Testament?  Yes.  You have the kingdom of God and the family of God -- those are two universal concepts.  They are both soteriological.  Church, which is ecclesiological, is not universal.  It is the opposite of universal.  It is mutually exclusive from universal.  If you are looking for something more than local, you've got it.  You have kingdom of God and family of God.  If you want universal, you don't need "church."  "Church" is "assembly."

When you refer to an assembly, you are referring to something that a certain people do.  They assemble together.  They are an assembly because they assemble together.  If they do not assemble together, then are not an assembly.  They are not assembly until they assemble.  If they are an assembly, they will continue to assemble.  An assembly in heaven has never assembled.  It will not be an assembly until people assemble in heaven.  It is an assembly in prospect, but it should not be confused with what is the assembly on earth.  That one is assembling now and it is made up of more than just saved people, but saved, baptized people, who gather to fulfill the purpose of the earthly assembly.  They have to be in a particular locale, because an assembly only occurs in a particular locale.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Applications of the Truth that the Just Shall Live by Faith, part 5--“The just shall live by faith”— A Study of the Relationship of Faith to Salvation in its Justifying, Sanctifying, and Glorifying Fulness, part 28

4.) Behold in the Word the glory of God in Christ.

            a.) Behold the glory of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God.  He has existed from eternity with His Father, rejoicing always before Him, participating in the ineffable communion of love and delight of the three Persons in the undivided Trinity.  Before the beginning, now, and to all eternity, He possesses in full the undivided Divine essence.  He is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, eternally begotten of the Father.  His throne, as God, is for ever and ever, and the scepter of His kingdom is a righteous sceptre.  He is the I AM, who was, and is, and is to come, the Almighty.  He is self-existent, immeasurable, and eternal. He is the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe—all things were made by Him, all things consist by Him, and all things are of Him, through Him, and unto Him.  He fully possesses the infinite Divine glory, and will receive, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, the worship and adoration of the entire redeemed creation, for ever and ever.

            b.) Behold the glory of Jesus Christ in His Mediatorial office.  Behold, in the eternal counsel of peace, the Father giving the elect to the Son, the Son agreeing to redeem them, and the Spirit determining to regenerate them.  Behold, and wonder at the mystery of godliness: God manifest in the flesh.  See the condescension of the Father’s express Image tabernacling among men, He who was always consubstantial with the Father as to His Godhead becoming consubstantial with humanity as to His manhood, uniting in His one Person the Divine nature and a true human nature.  Behold the eternal Word conceived in the womb of Mary, being born in a manger.  See the fulness of the Godhead embodied in a true Child who grew in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man.  Behold Him in His human identification with the sinful and extremely needy race He came to redeem.  See Him growing weary with a journey, and sitting on Jacob’s well to rest.  See Him weeping at the grave of Lazarus—and raising his beloved friend from the dead.  See His tender friendship with the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  See Him sorrowful and very heavy in light of His coming cross, agonizing in prayer to the Father, betrayed by a familiar friend and deserted and denied by the rest.  See Him unjustly condemned, mocked, spat upon, whipped, and crucified.  See Him saving the soul and bringing to Paradise the repentant thief crucified next to Him.  See Him bearing the sins of the world in His body, perfectly satisfying the demands of Divine justice through His one offering.  See Him rising from the dead and so destroying the power of death, and ascending to the right hand of His Father, being crowned with glory and honor, and having all power in heaven and earth given into His hand.  See Him interceding for His people as their Priest and Advocate, and by His omnipotent power preserving every one of them to everlasting glory.  See Him, with the Father, sending the Holy Spirit, reflecting the Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father and the Son in His temporal mission to indwell the church.  See the union His elect have with Him in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  See Him completing the work of His humiliation, and uniting to His immutable Divine perfections the human perfections that make Him the perfect and all-sufficient Savior of all who will come to Him.  See Him ruling over the church in the world, preparing mansions for His beloved people, and coming again to bring them to Himself.  See Him sitting on the throne of David and manifesting the righteous rule of God over the earth in the Millenial kingdom.  See Him as the Light of the New Jerusalem, and His people singing the praises of redeeming love and serving Him before the throne of God and the Lamb for ever and ever.  See Christ’s glory in John’s Gospel as the bread of life, the light of the world, the door to eternal life, the good shepherd who gives His life for the sheep, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine, the source of all grace, the font of spiritual and eternal life for all those brought into union with Him.  See the glory of the Lord Jesus in all Scripture, in type and in antitype, in promise and in fulfillment, and embrace Him, cleave to Him ever the more in all that He is and in all that He does.  The glory of God in Christ is an inexhaustible theme, the delight and glory of the saints to all eternity.  A few lines of application certainly cannot even begin to compass it in its beauty and glory.[1]  Oh Christian, set in motion the work of eternity now—through the Scripture, behold the glory of God in Christ!  In so doing, He will reveal Himself to you, you will partake in ever greater levels of spiritual life, and you will be transformed into the moral likeness of your incarnate Head.

5.) Consider also that the more true intellectual and experiential knowledge of God in Christ the Christian has, the more he longs for more such knowledge, and the more he hates his fleshly feebleness in seeking after it.  Does your heart and flesh, all the faculties of your who renewed person, cry out for God, the living God, as your own God?  What an awful evil is this faintness, this feebleness, is seeking after God your Father, His Son, and His Spirit?  How does believing meditation on Gethsemane, and on the cross, affect the heart!  For seeing the Lord Jesus in His glory enflames the believer’s soul with love for Him, with true sanctification as a result.  And yet the disciples failed to watch and pray, but slept while the Lord wept His infinitely precious tears of blood, and forsook the Lord when He went to the cross.  How often do I follow their faithless and criminal example, and fail to draw nigh to the Lord when He has come nigh to me?  My God, oh for grace to love and know Thee more!

6.) Consider the great privilege believers, and in particular ministers have, in proclaiming the mystery of God in Christ.  Oh Christian, you have the privilege and the duty to give the gospel to the unconverted, and to set forth the Lord Jesus before believers in all His glory and grace to stir up their holy affections for Him.  How much time do you spend proclaiming the gospel?  How many doors have you knocked on this week?  Is not Jesus Christ worthy of being known by all men?  Furthermore, Hebrews 10:24-25 commands you to provoke others in the church to love and to good works.  How better to do this than to set God in Christ before them?  Do you talk of your Father, and of His Son your Redeemer, on the Lord’s Day?  “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not”  (Malachi 3:16-18).

Furthermore, pastor, evangelist, and Christian preacher, you have the privilege and duty of setting forth the most stupendous of all truths in the proclamation of the Triune God and the incarnate, crucified, and risen Christ.  Am I to proclaim the “mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh”?  Who is sufficient for these things?  Employ the great privileges that God has given you and set forth the truth, and all the truth, with nothing added or taken away, with holy boldness and passion, and with holy fear and trembling over the fact that the Lord has chosen and commanded you so to do.  Earnestly contend for the faith, that nothing whatever of the glory of God revealed in Christ through the Scriptures, and committed to you for bold and public proclamation everywhere to all men, be lost.

7.) Do not turn aside from the full proclamation of God in Christ, as set forth from Genesis to Revelation, to any other and lesser message.  Do not turn from Christ to a merely “practical” message or mere moralism.  Doubtless the people of God must, and will, adorn their knowledge of God with good works.  Indeed, the greater their true spiritual fellowship with Christ, the greater will be their outward manifestations of practical holiness.  However, to take knowledge of the Lord Jesus away to focus exclusively upon what is “practical” is to rip out the soul from true religion and leave a lifeless corpse.  Any “piety” that does not lead men to behold, believe on, receive, and know Jesus Christ is false, fleshly, and devilish.

            What is more, as you strive against specific sins, do not let the Lord Jesus be removed from your view.  It is certainly proper to set yourself mightily against particular lusts and products of the old man and to strive to utterly put to death specific manifestations of indwelling sin (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5).  But do not remove the glory of God in Christ from its central place in your heart and mind.  Sweet fellowship with Him causes the vain allurements of sin to quickly fade.  Yes, your specific sins are awful, and a terrible problem—fight them with all your might.  But make sure that in your warfare you have the Captain of the hosts of the Lord with you—without Him you can do nothing.  Closer communion with Christ will end many a seemingly intractable battle with besetting sins.

            Also, you should expect God’s blessing to the conversion of sinners and the spiritual strengthening of saints when Christ is preached and plainly set forth.  Proper preaching of the Lord Jesus will have supernatural efficacy to produce spiritual results, while the employment of humanly devised marketing or salesmanship techniques will only detract from a real focus on the revealed glory of God in the incarnate Redeemer.  What is the chaff to the wheat?

            Indeed, in the instituted services of the church the worship of the Triune God through Christ must not be removed from its proper central place.  Since God’s own instituted worship is the best means of His own revelation, the Regulative Principle of worship must be consistently practiced.  What is more, in whatever music is employed, not only must all fleshly sounds be rejected, but even proper melody and harmony must not be allowed to overshadow the spiritual worship of God.  He must always remain the focus—let not the elements of worship, and especially the circumstances, attract attention to themselves and become ends to themselves.


This is the last part of the study on “the just shall live by faith.”  The entire study is available and can be downloaded as a single file here.

[1]           For what is arguably the preeminent treatment of this theme, see CRISTOLOGIA: or, a Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ, and Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, in His Person, Office, and Grace:  With the Differences Between Faith and Sight:  Applied unto the Use of Them that Believe & Applied unto Unconverted Sinners and Saints Under Spiritual Decays, by John Owen.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Faithful as a Pastor according to the Pastoral Epistles --- Separation?

So that there will be no doubt, I believe John MacArthur has taken the right direction with his Strange Fire Conference.  As that conference related to exposing Charismaticism and continuationism, it was superb.  It could do much to help those needing clarity on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Do not, however, take this as an endorsement of Grace to You, Grace Community Church, and John MacArthur.  They haven't done what is necessary to prove they are themselves ready even to deal with Charismatics in the biblical way.  They are heading the right direction though.  I hope they get there.

I didn't see it, but John MacArthur preached one of the final sermons, Strange Fire --- A Call to Respond (which has a transcript here).  At the end, after bullet pointing the problems of the Charismatic movement, MacArthur gets into what the title is about, the response, and he does this by surfing quickly through the pastoral epistles.  I'm happy about everything that MacArthur actually wrote.

From 1 Timothy 6, MacArthur says that the fight that he's fighting with the conference is guarding the truth, taking that from v. 20.  From 2 Timothy, he says that Paul is challenging Timothy not to be afraid from proclaiming the truth, not to coward from that.  He moves from there to v. 13 of chapter one to retaining and guarding sound words, because he had seen those who had abandoned the faith. The next point MacArthur picks out is 2 Timothy 2 with the passing down from generation to generation, four generations -- it's something historical, not creative.

MacArthur parks a moment on 2 Timothy 2:20 with the vessels unto honor and unto dishonor.  He goes on to say that this means cleanse yourself from unbiblical things.  OK.  Really?  It's good to cleanse yourself from unbiblical things.  But is that what it is to "purge himself from these"?  As MacArthur moves to 2 Timothy 3-4, he says it is about preaching the Word to the end.  That's good.

With complete certainty, from a positive standpoint, we've got to hold to the truth and preach the truth.  That is positively how someone guards the truth.  You guard it by proclaiming, by not backing down from preaching it no matter what the cost.  Despite parking briefly at 1 Timothy 6 and 2 Timothy 2, MacArthur misses an obvious point regarding "guarding the truth."   You don't guard the truth, just by preaching it and proclaiming it.  You guard it by separating from the teachers of error, those who practice error.  You separate from characteristic violators of the truth.

John MacArthur doesn't give this obvious response in the pastoral epistles.  That's mainly where the fight is, is with the separation.  Think about it.  In 1 Timothy 1, at the end, Paul delivers Hymenaeus and Alexander unto Satan.  He is separating and exemplifying separation to Timothy.  In 1 Timothy 6:5, Paul says to purge yourself from the people he describes in the first part of that chapter.  From 2 Timothy 2, MacArthur says that Paul is teaching to cleanse from unbiblical things.  Is that what Paul says?  No!  The vessels unto dishonor are people.  To be a vessel unto honor, you must purge yourself from people who are the vessels unto dishonor.  From 2 Timothy 3:5, speaking of those having only a form of godliness, "from such turn away."  Of course, in Titus 3, Paul speaks of separation from heretics, to reject them after the second admonition.

I listened to Phil Johnson's conversation with the Charismatic Michael Brown.  I felt sorry for him.  He talks about saying hello to his friends Sam Storms and Adrian Warnock, both Charismatics.  The lack of teaching on separation results in these awkward, uncomfortable situations.  Johnson has a conference.  They write books.  He calls on Michael Brown to repudiate certain people among the Charismatics.  So he gets some of these men to repudiate the worst examples among the Charismatics.  Then what?  Is Johnson now fine with the Charismatics?  No.  They should just separate from the Charismatics.  If it is what they say it is, they should separate from it.  You don't guard the truth by just proclaiming it, by having a conference, by repudiating people verbally.  You mark them, but you also need to avoid them.

By not separating from these men, MacArthur and Johnson leave themselves and their followers open to the error.  People who believe like these men know that they won't be separated from.  They can still be involved with the professed gateway to Charismaticism, the music.  I call on these men to practice separation, to obey the pastoral epistles, to teach their whole counsel.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Three Take-Aways from John MacArthur's Strange Fire Conference

Usually I write two columns a week.  The third one is on Friday and by Thomas Ross.  I wrote three last week, however, because what I saw in the live stream of the Strange Fire Conference in Southern California.  I was very interested in the conference and wish I could have watched more, but I saw most of the q and a on Thursday and Friday, and little of both of Phil Johnson's sessions in the afternoon.  Morning and evening didn't work for me, so that's all I saw.  I needed to let you know how much I saw, relating to what I write next.

When I read John MacArthur's Charismatic Chaos two decades ago, it was a very helpful book on the Charismatic movement.  There was nothing better on the subject.  I look forward to reading Strange Fire.  So my first take-away is the overall positive of teaching and preaching against the Charismatic movement, against continuationism, and for cessationism.  It would aid many in its uncovering of the Charismatic movement.  I don't think MacArthur was too tough on Charismatics.  It's as bad as he says.  It's worse, but at least as bad as he says, and he says it is very, very bad.  That's a positive take-away.

My next two take-aways are negative.  It's not personal against anyone.  As I've said many times before, I like John MacArthur and Phil Johnson.  I'm not making that up.  I don't say these things because I've even got it out against them.  I write this because I do love them and want them to change.  MacArthur said toward the end of his Q and A that he knows that he's wrong on something, and he wants to change.  I hope that's true.  I hope it wasn't said as his excuse for John Piper.

Even though a short term effect of Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire is against Charismaticism, the long term effect of John MacArthur is to send people that direction.  I believe that I can defend that accusation or assertion by things that MacArthur himself said in the conference.  Jesus warned about causing the little ones to stumble, about putting a heavy weight, a millstone, around your neck and throwing yourself into deep water rather than causing one of them to stumble.  MacArthur is causing people to stumble by these two negative take-aways.

I'm going to take these in what I consider reverse order of priority, the least first.  The first is the harm MacArthur causes with his treatment toward John Piper.  There are three parts to this harm.  First, he harms love, second, he harms the nature of truth, and, third, he harms the casualties of his not separating.

About love, MacArthur's dealing with these men is nothing more than sentimentalism.  He is in fact not loving John Piper with his treatment of him.  MacArthur says:

This is where love comes in to embrace faithful men. I know I’m wrong somewhere, and if you can show me where please show me, because I would change. I know somewhere I’m wrong, because none of us has a complete control of all truth. And I hope to have the same charity from them, that I would eagerly extend to them.

Piper advocates for Charismatics with his teaching, against what MacArthur says.  Piper would speak in tongues if God would allow him and he believes and teaches that God does give men this gift today, and he, Piper, pastors them.  Piper spoke with the Jesus Culture group, one of the main streams of Pentecostalism today at Passion 2013.  One one hand, MacArthur talks about immense destructive damage that Charismaticism does (and that MacArthur crushes here), but it's charity to embrace Piper anyway, says MacArthur.  He hopes for the same charity in the areas where surely he is wrong.  In other words, if you separate from them, that wouldn't be loving.  Is church discipline loving?  Is that separation not charitable?  This just turns love to mushy sentimentalism.

What MacArthur does with Piper, Mahaney, and Grudem, and especially Piper here, says "we're all going to be wrong about things" so you get a pass on some things, as long as you're faithful on enough.  Why should any Charismatics be expected to change if Piper doesn't have to change?  Shouldn't they just be embraced out of charity too?  You can either know the truth, or you can't, and if we're going to do a whole conference, then it is clear.  If it is clear, then we don't embrace Piper, because he's not in fact being faithful.

If MacArthur lets Piper go, then Piper can let so-and-so go, and those to the left of MacArthur can let someone to the left of Piper go, and then next generation just takes it a little bit further.  That's how we got to where we're at with the Charismatic movement in the first place.  Non-charismatic churches began accepting Charismatics as legitimate.  MacArthur still does too.  If it is as destructive as MacArthur says, and it is, even more so, then we've got to put out those enabling the destruction.  If not, then you are causing many, many to stumble.  That isn't charitable.  It isn't a biblical way to treat the truth, as if it's so many loose tomatoes on the back of a produce truck.

The second negative take-away is the music issue.  I agree with most of what they said.  MacArthur said this:

The contemporary evangelical church has very little interest in theology and doctrine, so you’re going to have a tough sell. It’s about style. And style is the Trojan Horse that lets Charismatics in the church. Because once you let the music in, the movement follows. It all of a sudden becomes common. We sound like the Charismatics, sing like they do, have the same emotional feelings that they have. It’s a small step from doing the same music to buying into the movement. So the tough thing is you’re going back to a church that is thinking like that. It’s hard to make sound doctrine the issue when style is much more the interest of the leaders of the church.

MacArthur said the following in the first Q and A:

I don’t think it has to do with what the teachers are saying. I think it’s the music. It’s like getting drunk so you don’t have to think about the issues of life. If you shut down the music, turn on the lights, and have someone get up there and try to sell that with just words, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have some way to manipulate their minds.

Justin Peters later says, same session:

The music is just an avenue to get them into their teaching. The music is popular and they’re wanting to draw people in.

John MacArthur follows:

I would go so far as to say that evangelical noncharismatic churches are using music that is unacceptable to draw people in. They’re using the music of the world to suck people in as if somehow people would get saved through the music. The two have no connection. This is so close to what’s in a normal evangelical environment that it’s a very small step to getting sucked in, because the style is the same.

Mike Riccardi, staff there, put together a quick transcript of the sessions, which was good, and he quoted from one of MacArthur's last sermons of the conference on Sunday:

I’m convinced that the contemporary style of charismatic music is the entry point for Charismatic theology into churches. If you buy the music, the theology follows. Because all of a sudden you’re listening to the same songs/artists, experiencing the same emotions. The church may be non-Charismatic, but all the style is exactly the same. That’s the entry point. Show me a church that has a strong doctrinal statement, and I’ll show you a church reluctant to embrace even the music. Show me a church that loves great hymns and theology put to music, I’ll show you a church reluctant to embrace the charismatic movement. And because the music doesn’t come in, the theology doesn’t either. That’s the seductive entry point.

I’m not talking about specific things, because there is contemporary music that’s beautiful and we can and should sing that. But when it its uncritical and not about the mind, but about the flesh, when it’s not about truth understood but emotion felt, it induces the same kind of feelings that are consistent with the Charismatic movement and opens the door. If we’re all singing the same music, how can we divide each other? I think the Charismatic movement has significantly diminished worship. It’s taken out of the arena of truth, out of the mind, and reduced it to feelings of the flesh.

All of these say that the entry point to the Charismatic movement is the music.  They say it is the style of music.  The style of music of the Charismatic is popular in evangelicalism.  It is popular and rampant with those of John MacArthur.  We've talked about this already.  MacArthur's church promotes the entry point to the Charismatic movement.

Why is it the entry point is a good question.  They nibble around the edges of this, but MacArthur especially gets into it, when he talks about the ecstasy, things we've talked about a lot here (it makes me wonder if MacArthur is reading What Is Truth).  It wouldn't surprise me, and if you are, keep reading John MacArthur, and welcome.  What especially had me wondering if John was reading something I've written (read it here) was this paragraph:

But you have to understand, this other stream of evangelicalism goes back to about 1966, when the hippies came out of San Francisco, joined Calvary Chapel, and we had the launch of an informal, barefoot, beach, drug-induced kind of young people that told the church how we should act. Hymns went out. Suits went out. For the first time in the history of the church, the conduct of the church was conformed in a subculture that was formed on LSD in San Francisco and migrated to Southern California.

That launches the self-focused church that winds up in the seeker-friendly church, that splinters in the Vineyard movement, which develops into the charismatic stream. I don’t go back to Lonnie Frisbee, who led the Jesus movement and died of AIDS as a homosexual. That’s not my stream. But that’s the stream that has produced the culturally-bound, seeker-driven church movement. And while there are good and bad and better and worse elements of it, that’s where it comes from. We are very different.

That's not his stream, he says now.  John MacArthur says it's his stream (quotes found at this link, which I had included above) and that it was a genuine revival.  Now he says it isn't.  Which is true?  Is he correcting the former few times he said this.  To critique MacArthur, however, the stream of which he writes is one that can be traced back further than the Jesus Movement, but back to Charles Finney and revivalism.  Iain Murray's book, Revival and Revivalism, is helpful here.  Out of the river of revivalism came various streams, a major one in the Charismatic movement, but also many other potently devastating, pragmatic ones.

Strange fire is false worship.  The music is the worship.  Half or more of MacArthur's music comes out of the stream he decries.  It justifies all of the music that is the professed entry point and Trojan horse for the poison and destruction all over the world.  Why should they change if MacArthur and the graduates of Master's College and Seminary are going to use the same stuff?  And believe me, it's all over and bad and worse.  All of this comes out of the earlier revivalistic stream and the Lonnie Frisbee and Calvary Chapel stream.  The strange fire is right there!!

For the Apostle Paul to change, he had to count his past as dung.  As it relates to these two take-aways, I pray that MacArthur and those he influences, will count his own strange fire as dung.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Applications of the Truth that the Just Shall Live by Faith, part 4--“The just shall live by faith”— A Study of the Relationship of Faith to Salvation in its Justifying, Sanctifying, and Glorifying Fulness, part 27

Do you wish for your faith to grow?  John’s Gospel teaches that your faith is strengthened and deepened through the exercise of believing receipt of greater revelations through the Word of the Triune God in His ontology and economy and through your response, enabled by grace, of fuller surrender to and entrusting of yourself to Him.  Therefore, while unbelievers refuse, to their eternal ruin, to see the Lord Jesus in the Word and entrust themselves to Him at all, you must seek to see more and more of Christ and the entire Triune Godhead in the Word, and entrust yourself to Him in an ever greater way as the revelation of Him in the Scripture is illuminated to your soul, through the supernatural grace decreed by the Father for your good by Christ the Mediator through the applicatory work of God the Holy Spirit.  See ever the more of the glory of the Lord Jesus’ Divine Person.  Wonder ever the more at the condescending love manifested in His incarnation.  Meditate upon all the aspects of His glorious saving work.  Think in amazement about His exercise of all the Divine attributes towards you for your good.  Rejoice with exceeding joy at His exercise of all the attributes of His glorified Human nature towards you for your good.  Fill yourself up with these things.  You will be worshipping and praising your Triune God through your precious Lord Jesus for them for all eternity.
1.) Passionately desire that God the Spirit will illumine to you the revelation of the Triune Jehovah, and of Christ the Blessed Mediator, in the Word.  How necessary it is that God reveals Himself to you!  Left to yourself, you are utterly unable to discover Him.  You will not know whether to turn to the right hand or the left.  Furthermore, your heart contains such corruption and wickedness within it that God would be perfectly just to immediately thrust you into the depths of hell, separated from His blessed face for all eternity.  Is the infinite King of glory obliged to show Himself to such a worm?  God forbid! Recognize that both the initial bestowal of faith upon you, and the increase of faith in its exercise in you, are supernatural gifts from God, not autonomous products of your fallen will, and look to the Lord to perform in you what you cannot perform yourself. Without the free, gracious, and sovereign work of the Spirit in revealing Christ to you, you will never find Him.  How necessary it is, then, that God takes the initative and reveal Himself to your soul!  

You certainly should have no such expectation of a gracious revelation, and you will not be looking to the Lord and seeking for God to reveal Himself to you in Christ, if you are not upright in heart—if you are wilfully choosing sin over Christ, you evidence that you do not desire a part in any of this glory, as you prefer your sinful abominations to that knowledge of and communion with God that is the greatest treasure of eternity. 

2.) Diligently apply yourself to the reading, study, memorization of, and meditation on the Word, praying for the illumination of the Spirit, depending on His sovereign grace alone, hungering and thirsting after knowledge of God in Christ.  The Bible is the very Word of God, the infallible, inerrant, revelatory speech of the Most High to man.  It is a more sure Word than even the audible testimony of the Father to Christ as heard on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21).  It is the perfect, unbreakably authoritative revelation of the Father to you through Christ by the Spirit.  Oh, the sureness, the power, the infinite value of the Scriptures!  Here is a sure anchor for your faith.  Here is pure knowledge of God.  Here is a genuine revelation, each jot and tittle of which is more sure and more lasting than the heavens and the earth.  Here is the spring from whence the waters of life flow.  Here is the love-letter of the Most High to His blood-bought people.  The Bible is the instrument that the Spirit uses to show God in Christ to those who cry out for knowledge of Him.  Do you treat the Bible as the invaluable treasure that it is?  Does your use of time reflect such a view of God’s Word?  What is your attitude when you read and study it?  “[T]o this man will I look . . . saith the LORD . . . even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).  Furthermore, read, study, memorize, and meditate upon the Word with the expectation that God will work.  He has promised that if you draw nigh to Him, He will draw nigh to you.  He both supernaturally produces initial saving faith and supernaturally strengthens faith through the instrumentality of the Word (Romans 10:17).  If you hunger and thirst after Him, He will certainly satisfy your longings for Him and will sup with you, and you with Him—for He Himself, in His gracious love, has placed those desires within you.  He will shine in your heart the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  Seek, then, oh Christian—seek your God in His Word!

3.) Indeed, the believer should seek for the highest intellectual knowledge of Christ’s Person, of his Triune God, and of the specific character of all their works.  Careful, detailed, and taxing theological work and careful study contributes, rather than detracts, from affective appreciation of God in Christ.  Carelessness or disinterest in careful thought about God is not piety, but ungodliness.  Do you love the truth represented by the Nicene homoousios? Do you love the truth represented by the Chalcedonian definition of Christ’s Person and natures?  Throughout John’s Gospel, learning and understanding more about Christ led to greater faith in Him.  Do you long to learn and understand more about the Lord Jesus Christ?  While the intellectual apprehension of facts is not enough—commital to Him, based on those facts, must follow (John 2:23-3:3)—unknowing determinations of the will without knowledge are also insufficient (John 9:1-34 vs. 35-41).[i]  The embrace of faith requires a properly known and apprehended object.  Do you seek God with your mind, as well as your will and affections?

            Furthermore, since the Biblical Christ is a real Person—the Creator and Redeemer of the world, and the only begotten Son of God—believing fellowship with Jesus Christ is both a product of and a means to a greater knowledge of Him, and leads to a holy abhorrance of every counterfeit “Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4) set forth by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Love for the living Christ and views of His glory will lead to a love of holy and spiritual worship and a rejection of the fleshly worship of fleshly “Jesus”;  a love for the Redeemer who boldly and plainly rebuked the false doctrines of the Pharisees and Saduccees will lead the Christian to reject the ecumenical “Jesus” that unites false doctrine with the true;  knowledge of the true Christ will lead one to reject the fanaticism of the charismatic “Jesus,” the annihilationist “Jesus” of sundry cults, the Arian or Sabellian “Jesus” of others, the wafer “Jesus” of Romanism, and all other false Christs.


[i]           That is, those in John 2:23-25 knew that Christ did miracles and had intellectual apprehension of various facts about Him, but did not commit themselves to Him, and were thus still unconverted (3:1-3).  The blind man Christ healed in John 9 was willing to get cast out of the synagogue for His sake, yet he did not know that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God (9:36), or that He was not a sinner (9:25), and was only converted at the end of the chapter when he found out the proper knowledge of the Person of Christ (9:35-41).