The Church

The church is one of the most misunder- stood doctrines in the church today, especially in the so-called Federal Vision. The FV wants to erase the distinction between the visible and the invisible church. However, this distinction is quite biblical, as can be proved conclusively from Romans 9:6, where Paul makes a distinction between biological descent and the household of faith. It was God’s purpose in election that the promises of the covenant always be by faith and not by sight. This is the fundamental error of the Federal Vision: they want their belief to be by sight and not by faith. That is why they want to see the people of God. That is so very important to them. You just have to be able to see the people of God in order for faith to work. This is why baptism is over-emphasized among FV advocates: baptism is something visible to which one could point to say that they are a Christian. Now, I am by no means denying that baptism is one of the means of grace. But it is that: one of the means of grace. It is not the means of grace. And no saving grace comes by it apart from faith. Baptism does not bring us into the state of salvation. This is where the distinction between visible and invisible is so crucial. Baptism brings us into the visible church. If it is accompanied by faith, then also into the invisible church. Apart from faith, our baptism becomes condemnation in the face of rejection of Christ, just as circumcision did in the OT if someone cut himself off from the people of God. Circumcision did not make one of the invisible Israel, as Paul would say in Romans 9. Neither does baptism automatically make us a member of the invisible church.

Our assurance of salvation does not rest on baptism alone, for there are many baptized people who are cheerfully on their way to hell. According to the FV, heaven forbid that election might actually distinguish among people in the visible church before apostasy. They will usually say that the ontological distinction will only come about when people apostatize, and that there is no difference of any sort between the non-elect and the elect until the non-elect apostatize. Romans 9:6, quoted earlier, all by itself should have put the lid on such wanderings, but it doesn’t seem to have phased them much. One needs to ask about apostate churches here. Are those who are baptized into an apostate church regenerated? Baptism is not fully realized (that is, the reality to which the sign points) until the time point of faith, which can occur before, during, or after baptism itself. More on baptism in a later post.

That being said, it is important also to note that there is still only one church. The distinction of visible and invisible does not make two churches. This distinction is vitally important to maintain, but so also is the unity of the church. This is evident from the WCF 25, where both the visible aspect and the invisible aspect are both called catholic (not Roman Catholic, but universal, which is what the word actually means: hence Roman Catholic is a contradiction in terms: Rome being limiting, catholic being universal).

The Head of the church is Jesus Christ. We need no other Mediator between God and man. We certainly need no pope.

One of the most disturbing trends that I have seen in seminaries recently is a devaluing of the church. Professors are wanting to engage in academics not for the purpose of edifying the church, but for some other unstated purpose. They are not then in the business of training ministers, but academics. This should never be. Even academics, in the field of theology, should be wholly subordinated to the good of the church. Academics should not live and move and have its being outside of the church, but inside the church, subject to church discipline and oversight. Errors are much easier to correct in a seminary that way, than if the seminary considers itself autonomous, and beyond the criticism and oversight of the church. It breeds arrogance in the seminary.

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Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16
Do you ever have the feeling that you would like to influence the world around you but you just don’t have the skill? Or that you would if you could, but you can’t so you won’t? Well, join the crowd. That is how most Christians feel about being salt and light in the world around them. They wonder if they even are salt and light. They wonder if God can use them, as frail and immature as they are. Jesus knew that such doubts would plague the church. And so He gives us this word of encouragement. You are salt and light.

Notice first of all that Jesus says that YOU are the salt and light. This is emphatic in the Greek. He is implying that you only are the light of the world, and that the Pharisees and scribes are not the light of the world, contrary to their own opinion of themselves. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees and scribes are unsalty darkness. The world always thinks of itself as having some sort of Enlightenment going on. This happened in the 18th and 19th centuries, where people thought that man’s reason and logic could conquer all things. This happened in the Renaissance, when people discovered old Greek manuscripts of Plato and Aristotle, and people thought that they knew everything. The fact is that the world is blind to both the problem and the solution. The world thinks that the problem is our environment, or other people. G.K. Chesterton dismissed this kind of thinking in two words. In an essay competition about what is wrong with the world, Chesterton wrote two words, “I am.” The world looks everywhere else except in their own sinful hearts for the problem. As a result, they don’t have the solution either. They think the solution is more entertainment, or more money, or more environmental studies, anywhere but in Christ. Only Christ’s disciples have the answers. Thus, only Christ’s disciples are truly salt and light in the world.

The second thing that I want us to see about this passage is that Jesus does NOT say, “You are to be salt and light.” Instead He says, “You ARE salt and light.” That is a very key thing to notice. Jesus is not saying that you have to change yourself from being meat or fruit to being salt and light. Jesus is saying that if you are truly His disciple, then God has changed into salt and light. This is not a command so much as a statement of fact, a statement about what is true about believers. We’ll get back to this once we have seen what Jesus means by salt and light.

The first image that Jesus uses to describe believers is salt. There was a saying in the Roman world that went like this: “There is nothing more useful than salt and light.” It is important for us to know what salt was and how it was used in the ancient world. We use it primarily to flavor our food. That was not its primary use in ancient times. People in ancient times used salt to keep food from going bad. They didn’t have refrigerators, they had salt. Salt keeps meat from spoiling. It slows down the aging process. Salt kills germs. Ancient people used it to keep food from going bad.

So what Jesus is saying here is that the disciples keep the world from going bad. This has several implications. The first is that the world cannot help going bad. Meat by itself will go bad. The world without Christians in it would soon become unbearably wicked. So when something really bad happens, like 9/11, of which today is the anniversary, the question we must ask ourselves is not, “How could people be so wicked?” People are wicked. That is their nature. Left to themselves, they will become brute animals. That should not really surprise us. The question we really should be asking ourselves is, “Where was the church?” Someone has said that if the church was what it was supposed to be for one single day, the world would be converted by nightfall.

But why isn’t this the case? Why isn’t the church what it is supposed to be? Because of the second implication, which is that salt isn’t always pure. In our day and age, we get salt that has been purified. There is nothing in your Morton salt container that is not sodium chloride, which is the chemical designation of salt. But in the ancient time period, salt was always mixed with other minerals. When you add to that fact another tidbit, namely that salt is easily dissolved in water, it then becomes clear what Jesus says in the second half of verse 13. The sodium chloride could wash away when it came into contact with water. What was left after the salt dissolved was little more than dirt. It had no salt left in it. That is “salt” that has become unsalty. It is important for us to realize this difference between ancient salt and modern salt, because sodium chloride by itself does not become something else. Our Morton salt cannot become unsalty. But ancient salt could become unsalty. And when it did, it was good for nothing but to be thrown out to be trampled upon by men. When Jesus says this, He is talking about the final judgment. If we lose our distinctiveness, then we are useless. The key thing about salt is that it is different from the meat or whatever food it comes into contact with. But if the salt washes away, then it is no longer different. It isn’t really anything.

Salt, in order to be useful as salt, needs to be in immediate contact with the food. If you have salt just a millimeter away from the food, the salt is still useless. If you want to preserve your food, or to make it tasty, then you have to actually put the salt on the food. So also, Christians who are not in contact with the world, are useless. God made us into salt. And if we are not preserving the world from becoming completely and utterly sinful, then we are not being salt. So, we cannot isolate ourselves from the community, and expect our church to have an impact. We have to be out and about, rubbing shoulders with people in Hague, Pollock, Strasburg, Linton, Bismark, Mobridge, and Westfield and Hull. There are people around us who do not know Christ. And the first step is for us to rub shoulders with them, We cannot and must not ignore them.

But the opposite is also true. Salt, in order to be effective, must remain salt. When the waters of persecution or worldliness wash over us, we cannot be dissolved away. We must stay in the mix. Usually, culture has two ways of trying to make us unsalty. The first way is by persecution. We just looked at this last week. Persecution shows us where our true loyalties lie. But the second way the world makes us to lose our saltiness is by inviting us to become just like them. But why would we want to become like rotting meat? What is attractive about that? We who have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer? No, we are the salt of the earth. And so we should be what we already are.

Jesus also says that we are the light of the world. Now, what is the difference between salt and light? Well, salt has the primarily negative function of preserving the world from utter corruption. Light has the more positive function of allowing things to be seen that could not be seen before. Notice that Jesus has these in a certain order. We are to pique people’s interest, because we are like salt: we are not like them in going the way of evil. In preserving the world from corruption, people will start to ask the question, “Why are they different?” That is the perfect opportunity for us to show them that they are living in terrible darkness. The fact that they even ask the question, “Why are they different?” is proof of the fact that they live in darkness. So what is darkness and what is light?

Here again, our modern understanding of what light is can get in the way of our understanding the text. They did not have electricity in those days. They had lamps. Furthermore, most houses in that time period has only one room. So, if you had a lamp, you put it in the best part of the one-room house, so that it would give light to all who were in the house. If you didn’t have a lamp, then you were in pitch blackness. I’m sure that some of us here have experienced what happens when we are in an area without any electric lights nearby. If it is a cloudy night, then you cannot see your hand even if you put it right in front of your face. It is total and utter darkness. That is exactly what the world is like. It is complete and utter darkness. We are the only light that is in this pitch black world of sin.

But we need to to know something of our own light. It is a reflected light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Here is a great example of the principle that Scripture needs to interpret Scripture. Jesus is like the sun. He is the source of the light. What Jesus does is light us, and so then we have light. But our light is like the light of the moon. The moon reflects the light of the sun. So also, we reflect the light of Jesus. Sometimes our light grows greater, and sometimes our light grows less. The point is that we are to shine as brightly as we can. Are you being salt and light? Or do you hide your light under a bushel? What Jesus is saying here is that for a light to be covered up is absurd. Why would light a lamp only to cover it up? That is absurd. But as one author put it, “If a light is put under a basket, then one of two things will happen: either the lamp will burn through the basket, or the lamp will burn out.” If you are a Christian, then your light will either shine or be put out. But to hide a lamp contradicts what a lamp is supposed to do.

Let me ask you tonight whether you are salt and light, or whether you are just rotting meat sitting in darkness. You are either one or the other. There is no middle ground. Come to Christ and have Him change you into salt and light. As the Romans said, “Nothing better than salt and light.”

If you are salt and light, then be what you already are. It is a contradiction for salt to be unsalty, or for light to be hidden. These are not optional extras. Ultimately Jesus is talking about missions here. This is a missionary passage. But we are missionaries to those around us. There is no such thing as a Christian who does not witness to his faith to unbelievers.

One last thing: the salt and light that Jesus talks about does exist for itself. Salt does not salt itself. Light does not exist for other light. Rather, salt exists for the purposes of preserving food. Light exists so that you can see other things in the house. That is the purpose of these things. We do not exist for ourselves. We exist for the purpose of bringing glory to God. When people see us, they should see Christ. When people see how we salt the world, they should see how Christ has preserved the world from utter ruin by His sacrifice on the cross. When people see us shining out in the world, they should Jesus, who is the Light of the world. Hey should us a reflection of Jesus.

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