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The Signs of the Times

Matthew 16:1-4


The signs of the times. I wonder, can we read them? I just saw an expose on cell phones. It is possible to bug cell phones in such a way that someone else can listen to what is happening in the room even when the cell phone is turned off. This technology has been used for people stalking other people. There are entertainment centers being manufactured today where you don’t even need a remote control, because the television reads your body signals and has facial, vocal, and body recognition software. Of course, we already know about GPS, and satellite technology that is accurate to within inches anywhere in the world. On the internet, Google, the popular internet search engine, is currently putting every single book whose copyright has run out on the internet for free download. That is a revolution in education that will match the invention of the printing press. We live in an incredible age of discovery, invention, technology, and utter, complete, spiritual blindness. It is difficult to imagine an age more saturated with information. We call this age the information age. And yet, what are people doing with this information? Do they recognize the signs of the times, and are they using this information for the glory of God? Or are they building castles in the wind, imaginary kingdoms for their own glory and honor? Our passage tells us that there is basically one sign of the time to which we should pay attention, and that is Jesus Christ.

It is quite remarkable, really, how stupid the Pharisees and Sadducees are in this passage. Jesus just got done with feeding four thousand people. He and His disciples filled 7 huge hampers full of leftovers, and the Pharisees and Sadducees walk up to Him and say, “Could you give us a sign?” So already we know that their intentions were anything but honorable. If curiosity were their motivation, they could have had it filled simply by listening to some of the four thousand people who had just been fed! But the text leaves us in no doubt about their intentions, for it says that they came to test Jesus. This is not a neutral word, like a scientific experiment. It is a word that means entrapment. What they want is for Jesus to do a sign, and if it is sufficiently miraculous, then they will accuse Jesus of sorcery. If Jesus does not do a sign, then they call Him a fraud.

Another fascinating thing about this passage is that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were banded together against Jesus. The reason this is remarkable is that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were normally at each other’s throats. The Pharisees held that the entire Old Testament was Scripture, that there was a resurrection from the dead, that the study of the Torah was the main issue of the Jewish faith, and were made up of people from all walks of life. The Sadducees, on the other hand, only believed that the first five books of the Old Testament were actually Scripture, didn’t believe in the resurrection, that the Temple was the main issue of the Jewish faith, and were made up of the aristocracy, the upper class. So the fact that they came together (Matthew is quite clear about this: he lumps them together quite deliberately) speaks volumes of how much they saw Jesus as a threat. The Pharisees saw Him as a threat because Jesus opposed their teaching. The Sadducees saw Him as a threat probably because they feared that Jesus would lead a rebellion against the upper class. Jesus mixed with the wrong people, you see.

Jesus’ response starts out with a discussion about signs, specifically about weather. He tells them that they are good at meteorology. They can predict the weather, probably with about as much accuracy as today’s weatherman! What Jesus is talking about is preserved in a little rhyme: “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky at morning, shepherds take warning.” Why does Jesus start talking about the weather? What does that have to do with signs? Well, it has everything to do with the definition of what constitutes a sign, and where that sign originates. Jesus is being ironic here. The Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a sign “from heaven.” That really means “from God,” but the word they use is “heaven.” Jesus tells them about the signs in the heavens that they can read, the physical heaven. But Jesus is saying that they can’t read the signs that have to do with the spiritual heaven. And the reason for that is very simple: they wouldn’t read the sign right, because they don’t know what time it is. Understanding one of Jesus’ signs has nothing to do with how smart you are, or how much theology you’ve read. It has everything to do with how receptive you are to the message of Jesus, which is that the kingdom of heaven has arrived. In other words, the Pharisees and Sadducees wouldn’t believe Jesus even if He did perform a sign for them. But of course, Jesus never simply performs. He does a miracle when it will help people, and when they already believe. He never performs a miracle simply to put on a show.

However, Jesus does tell them about one sign, a sign that has already happened, long before Jesus’ time, in fact. It is the sign of Jonah. Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, and then was resurrected onto land on the third day. And just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so also was the Son of Man, Jesus, three days and nights in the belly of the earth. In other words, the sign of the times was that someone greater than Jonah had arrived on the scene, but the Pharisees and Sadducees were not receptive to the idea. They couldn’t see it. In verse 4, we hear why: they are an evil and adulterous generation. You know, sometimes I just laugh when I hear people talk about gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Here he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees evil and adulterous right to their very face! In another place He calls them a brood of vipers! He took a whip of leather thongs and drove out the moneychangers in the temple! No, the kingdom of God had come, and we had better recognize that fact!

For us, then, it is not about being able to talk about the new cellphone bugging technology, or about GPS, television, internet, or any other amazing new technology or knowledge acquired by mankind. For all such information is obsolete the minute it has been acquired. Or, for ladies, take fashion. I remember seeing a movie where (I kid you not), someone was chastised for wearing something that was out of fashion two entire weeks ago! The press to keep up with fashion and technology, and everything else is really a futile endeavor. But even more crucially, if we do such frenetic activity to keep up, we are actually behind the times. The really big news that has not become old or irrelevant like changing fashions, but instead has ushered in a completely new era of human history, is the person and work of Jesus Christ. We see this in our reckoning of years. Why do we say that it is 2009 A.D.? A.D. stands for a Latin phrase “anno Domini,” which means “the year of our Lord.” And we say “B.C.,” also, which stands for “before Christ.” This is because the coming of Christ was the most profoundly earth-shattering event that humanity has ever witnessed. That is the true sign of the times: the birth, life, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and what that means for humanity. The point is this: are we receptive to this sign? Are we receptive to the idea that Christ’s coming constitutes an entirely different view of history than most humans can even contemplate? Now, of course, we have the added difficulty of 2000 years separating us from Christ. Do we really think that Jesus can ever go out of style? That Jesus is ever irrelevant? Beware of judging Christ by today’s standards of history, fashion, internet, technology, news, or anything else that is here today, gone tomorrow. Jesus is not going away. He is with His church even to the very end of this age.

Now, this does not mean that everyone has to dress like a weirdo, and not participate in any of modern technology, internet, or any of the rest of it. The information age has many wonderful things about it. The question is this: how do we use these temporary things, these ever-changing aspects of culture, how do we use them in service to the never-changing kingdom of our Lord? We need to realize that this is the only way Christians should make use of these things. We should use them to enhance the reach of the Gospel, enable us to do our work more efficiently, so that we have more time for ministering to other people. The main problem for us is that we tend to use these things very selfishly. We like to be entertained, and so we will sit for hours in front of a television, letting our brains rot, because it’s easy. Do you realize that your brain is more active when it is asleep than when it is watching television? Not to mention the unbelievable amount of trash that is on television these days. Television is one things, I fear, that Christians should probably ditch entirely. Our family’s television is not hooked up to an antenna, so we do not watch any television at all. We watch movies occasionally, but only if we have energy for nothing else.

So what we also need, then, is discernment. Culture is not something to believe in whole hog. It is something that has good things and bad things. We must test everything by whether it is conducive to the kingdom of God or not. Is what I’m doing going to further the kingdom of God, or hinder it? We should bring every single activity we do to this touchstone, this barometer, this acid test: does it serve my Lord the King? Does it further the only kingdom worth our membership?

Let us not, then, be an evil an adulterous generation that is always asking God to come to our level and prove to us that He is who He says He is. Let us not put God to the test, as the Pharisees and Sadducees did. We have a sign. It has marked the times with indelible ink. It has posted a placard large enough for the whole world to see. It says this: “Someone greater than Jonah has come; the kingdom of God has broken in to human history; Jesus Christ is the Savior; believe in Him.”

A Response On Roman Catholicism

Here is a brief response to Bryan, and a somewhat longer response to Taylor. First Bryan.

Truth is not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking about authority. Here is a quotation from Lumen Gentium that argues precisely what I said the RCC is arguing for:

And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith. (I have removed the footnotes; the passage comes from paragraph 25).

This is saying that even the Bible cannot be a final court of appeal against an official ex cathedra statement from the Pope or from the supreme magisterium. They have infallibility. This is claiming infallibility for the words of mere men, and putting their words on a par with Scripture. It doesn’t matter if that isn’t what they think they are doing, that is what they are doing. On an ex cathedra matter, there is no court of appeal beyond the Pope, not even Scripture. To say that this paragraph says otherwise is to deny the plain meaning of the text. And this paragraph is cited in section 891 of the Catechism, which says the same thing. In fact, the Catechism even claims that “this infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself” (then it references Lumen Gentium 25). That phrase is explained by another section of paragraph 25 of LG:

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded.

As to the intercession from dead saints, I agree that it depends on the prior question of the canon. A subject for a different post.

As to transubstantiation, the Catechism clearly states that the substance of the bread and wine change into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (see paragraphs 1374-1377). The substance of the bread and wine are therefore transformed. But the form of bread and wine remain. How is this not saying that the substance has changed, but the accidents of bread and wine (the outer form) remain? In which you have the substance of Christ taking the place of bread and wine, and yet the accidents of bread and wine remaining. As I have said, this is a misappropriation of Aristotle’s categories. And Aquinas, in question 75, most certainly does assert that the substance changes into Christ’s body and blood, while the accidents of bread and wine remain (see especially article 6, where he responds to the objections levelled against that doctrine: it should be noted that the objections come first, and then follow his response to those objections). Therefore, my original comment stands.

As to the death of Christians, I do not believe that a non-believer would be freed from sin at death, because his soul is not raised from death to life. Only those whose souls have been raised from death to life (see this progression in Ephesians 2 especially) will have the guarantee that their sin nature will die at their death. So, Bryan’s comment does not follow, because he is forgetting the requirement of the prior resurrection of the soul.

Now, on to Taylor’s comments. First of all, the difference between the words “inspired” and “infallible” is not relevant to my argument in the slightest. If they claim infallibility, then they are setting up the words of men as on a par with Scripture, regardless of whether or not they regard the human words as inspired or not. Secondly, the three verses have everything to do with “Scripture alone,” because they claim that the words of Scripture are sufficient for the Christian to be well-equipped. This is the doctrine that Taylor does not understand. Is the church helpful? Sure. Is the church necessary for the Christian to be a member of it? Sure. Does this necessity mean that Scripture is not sufficient? No. Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith and practice. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 draws a contrast between the words of men and the words of God. This means that the words of men do not effective work in a person to believe, as the end of the verse says. Only the Word of God does that. One is reminded of the words of Isaiah: “they teach as doctrines and commandments the words of men.” This is a stinging rebuke. No word of man has the authority that the word of God has. 1 John 5:9 indicates that the word of God is greater than the word of men. Period. There can be no parity. There can be no claim of infallibility on the part of any man, acting in any capacity whatsoever.

On the issue of Mary as Mediatrix, Lumen Gentium (paragraphs 60, 62, quoted in Catechism 970) does say what Taylor says about the position of Mary: it’s still wrong. Those who are dead cannot intercede on behalf of the living. That is why it is so important for us to see that Christ is alive. He can intercede for us, because He’s alive. As Hebrews says (I’m sure he had a smile on his face when he wrote this), the Old Testament priests were many, because death prevented them from continuing in office, Heb. 7:23. Yes, death would be a substantial disqualification from ministry. But if they could still intercede on our behalf, then they could still be priests.

On justification, of course the Roman Catholic church teaches a repeatable justification: this is because it is conflated with sanctification. But justification does occur at baptism. My words did not imply that that was the only time it happened in Catholic teaching. One cannot say everything every time one issues a summary. But Catholics do teach that one is justified at baptism, and so my words were not a lie of any sort.

On 1 Corinthians 6:11, of course justification is associated with washing: the blood of Christ cleanses us from the guilt of our sin, and that happens in justification. The verb, however, does not mean baptism in and of itself. Paul could have said “you were baptized.” Instead, he says “you were washed.” There is nothing in the context to indicate baptism. And the use of three terms does not mean that they should be conflated. The aorist use of these verbs does not help Taylor’s position, since they do NOT indicate a process. Paul is emphatically contrasting the previous state of his readers with the subsequent state. That change was marked by three verbs that describe different aspects of that change. So Paul is NOT talking about progressive sanctification here. By the way, Calvin can treat sanctification before justification too, as he in fact does in the Institutes. What’s the point? The beginning of sanctification occurs at the same point in time as justification. But they are distinct, because works play no part in justification, and yet are the distinctive fruit of sanctification. I do not think that Taylor has done justice to the careful exegesis of this passage. I will treat the remaining questions in another post.

Women’s roles/deaconesses in the PCA revisited

Posted by Bob Mattes

Things have been a bit busy since returning from the 37th PCA General Assembly. A lot of the post-assembly talk has centered on the the overtures considering women’s role in the church. You may recall that last year, Philadelphia Presbytery put forward an overture to study the issue of deaconesses in the PCA which was rejected by the Assembly. As I reported in this post, James River and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries submitted identical overtures calling for a more general study committee to study the role of women in the church. Although this apparently was thought more palatable than an outright call for deaconesses, most commissioners saw through the thin veneer.

The Overtures Committee debated these overtures at some length. I tip my hat to TE Phil Ryken who chaired the committee this year. Although his church, 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, has deaconesses, you would never have guessed that from his moderation of the debate. TE Ryken did an excellent job of keeping things moving and on track.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Examination of Roman Catholicism

It occurred to me today (in preparation for speaking to some folks about this) that it might be very helpful for people to have a handy chart for easily comparing the Reformed faith with official Roman Catholic teaching on a number of doctrines (comparing the Roman Catholic catechism with the Reformed confessions), and then seeing what Scripture has to say about it. So, references in the Roman side are to paragraph numbers in the RCC Catechism, and the standard abbreviations in the Reformed standards should be easily recognizable. I have concentrated on the most important issues. No doubt there are others I have missed. The format is first the Roman Catholic teaching, then the Reformed teaching, then the Scriptural teaching.

I. On Scripture: while Scripture is inspired by God, tradition and the pope have equal authority. See 891 of the Catechism.

Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith and practice. See BC, article 7, WCF 1.

2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 John 5:9

II. On Mary: She is Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix (Cat. 969). She continues to intercede for us in heaven.

Jesus is our one and only High Priest. We need no other Mediatrix save Christ. (BC 21, HC 18, WCF 8, LC 36)

Phil. 3:1-9, 1 Cor. 2:1-2, Heb. 7:26-8:6, 9:11-14, 9:25-10:14

III. On justification: happens at baptism (1987, 1992), involves sanctification (1989, 1995), can be lost (1446).

Justification happens at time-point of faith, does not involve sanctification, and cannot be lost (BC 22-24, HC 60, WCF 11, LC 70-73)

1 Peter 3:21, Romans 3-4, 8

IV. Baptism regenerates (1213).

Baptism is a sign and seal of salvation, not salvation itself (BC 34, WCF 28). We are saved by the thing signified (Christ’s blood), not by the sign itself.

1 Peter 3:21, Colossians 2:11-13

V. The Lord’s Supper: transubstantiation (1373-1378), which results in the worship of the bread and wine.

The Lord is present spiritually only (HC 78-80, WCF 29)

Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22ff., Luke 22:19ff, 1 Cor. 11:24ff.

VI. Purgatory: further purification might be needed after death (1030-1032)

Only two places for souls separated from the body (WCF 32.1)

Luke 23:39-43, 1 Cor. 3:10-15

A New Commentary On Isaiah

Good conservative commentaries on Isaiah are somewhat difficult to find. There is Alexander, Young, Oswalt, Grogan, Calvin, Keil/Delitzsch, Motyer, Webb, Thomas, and Barnes. To these we can now add the tome of John Mackay, one of my four favorite living OT commentators (the others being Iain Duguid, John Currid, and Dale Ralph Davis). John Mackay has put an enormous amount of effort into his Isaiah commentary, and it shows. First of all, it is massive. This is just volume 1, which goes through chapter 39, and it is 864 pages. Secondly, it is focused on the meaning of the text. Thirdly, it is aimed at pastors and teachers, not primarily scholars (although scholars should definitely not ignore this work). Fourthly, it is practical (he has, in keeping with the rest of this series, a practical reflection at the end of each section). Fifthly, it is Christ-centered. Mackay does not shy away from Messianic interpretation, although he does not allow typology to run haywire. It is responsible exegesis. Sixthly, it is helpful. It would be very difficult to say which is the very best commentary on Isaiah. But certainly this commentary is one of the better ones. I have read every page of this commentary, and have derived great benefit from it. By “conservative” I mean that he believes that Isaiah actually wrote the entire book that has his name on it, and that Mackay is firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. Here are a couple of excellent insights I picked up from his book:

On Isaiah 23:16, here is Mackay’s comment:

‘Forgotten’ picks up the same word in the previous verse. After being out of the public eye for a time, she has aged and been neglected. If she would ply her trade once more, she must attract attention by walking the streets and playing her harp. She must do so really well, and one song will not be enough to reinstate her in favour and lure her lovers back. It is a forlorn picture of someone trying to recapture the past and not realizing how pathetic she looks in the eyes of others. Her conduct is really an invitation to deride and mock (p. 494).

And on 29:4, he says this:

She will not be able to speak in strident tones, but only in the piteous whisper (cf. ‘chirp,’ 8:19) of those who are not really part of this world at all, as they make squeaking sounds like those produced by spiritists (perhaps using ventriloquism) when they claimed to conjure up the spirits of the dead (p. 603).

Spiritual Amnesia

Matthew 15:29-39


How easily we forget things, especially spiritual things! The early church father Origen once said in frustration, “How come it is that I can remember the figure of a woman seen only once, but cannot remember a Bible passage I have seen hundreds of times?” Ah, this is what we might call spiritual amnesia. We so easily forget what God has done in Jesus Christ. We so easily forget what God has done in our lives. And there is no easy cure for this malady. This is perhaps why the Bible has so many places where it tells us to remember the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, and tell them over and over again to ourselves and to our children. Well, in our passage, the disciples are suffering from the spiritual amnesia. Jesus deals with it very graciously, for He knows how weak we are, and how forgetful.

As we should know, in chapter 14, Jesus feeds five thousand people, and here He feeds four thousand people. Liberal scholars have tried to say that it is only the same event told twice in order to make a slightly different point. However, it is quite obvious from the text itself, and from other places, that this is not the case. For one thing, the numbers are different. Instead of five thousand people, we have four thousand people. Instead of five loaves, we have seven. Instead of twelve small baskets full of leftovers, we have seven large baskets of leftovers. And most importantly, instead of Jews, we have Gentiles, as we can gather from verse 31, when it says that they glorified the God of Israel, which would be an odd way to put things, if it were actually Israelite. It feels like someone who is not an Israelite saying what they believe. Another reason these two events should be seen as distinct is that, in chapter 16, Matthew speaks of these events as two separate events.

As we saw recently in the account of the faith of the Canaanite woman, Jesus’ primary mission was to the Jews. However, there were a few crumbs that fell off the table, as it were, and the Gentile doggies could make use of those crumbs. Now here, in the feeding of the four thousand, we can see just how many crumbs are left: enough to fill seven large baskets.

As Jesus had done with the Jews, so also He has done with the Gentiles. The feeding of the four thousand, just like the feeding of the five thousand, comes at the end of a long session of healing. Jesus has compassion not only on people’s souls, but also on their bodies. Physical health is certainly not something that Jesus ignored.

Jesus had been with these people for three days. It is quite certain that He had not been doing only healing in those three days, for that would not have taken three days. Instead, it is obvious that He had also been teaching them. They had probably brought some food with them, but they had obviously exhausted all the food they had brought. Jesus is cautious about sending them home, because if He does send them home, then they might faint on the way. This would be very dangerous, actually, since there were many bandits and robbers on the way. And so it is important here to notice just how caring Jesus is of the people. Most would probably have made it home. But Jesus does not even consider that. Instead, He is thinking of abundant health, not just a “let’s get by with little” kind of health.

The disciples suffer from spiritual amnesia at this point. They had completely forgotten about the feeding of the five thousand, which had occurred about six months earlier. Add to that the fact that they were in a desolate place, a wilderness of sorts, and you can imagine that they might feel astonished that Jesus would want to feed such a large crowd, when they had practically no resources at their command. They still think that they have to come up with the resources. But they should have known all along that it would be Jesus who would provide this manna in the wilderness.

This is really another miracle along the lines of manna in the Old Testament. For the people of Israel were in the wilderness as well. They were fed miraculously by the provision of their God. That is what Jesus is now doing. Several important implications follow from this.

Firstly, Gentiles can now become part of true Israel. These Gentiles are part of the same group as Israel. They have the same needs, and Jesus will fulfill their needs just as He will fulfill Israel’s needs. The only way for that to happen, of course, is for Gentiles to believe in Jesus Christ. When that happens, the promise made to Abraham will be fulfilled, and all the people of God will become one family. Remember the first parts of this chapter. It was a discussion of cleanness and uncleanness, followed by the faith of a Gentile woman, followed by the healing of Gentile people, and climaxed by the feeding of Gentile people. What we have here, then, is a progression. First of all, Gentiles start out as unclean, then they are dogs who are inside the house, but not yet part of the family. Then at the end of the chapter they become part of the family, being healed first. This is a gospel progression. As Peter says, once we were not he people of God, but now we have been called the sons of God. Once we had not been shown mercy, but now we have been shown mercy. And now it is the same for Jews and Gentiles. They both come to the table the same way: they have to be cleansed of their diseases, and then brought to the table. Notice that Jesus healed the Jews before the feeding of the five thousand, just as He healed the Gentiles before the healing of the four thousand. Healing comes before eating at the table. Have you been healed by the blood of Christ? Has your soul been brought into the family of God by adoption into the name of God’s family, His Son?

Eating at the table has a development all its own as well. The Old Testament Israelites ate manna n the wilderness. The four thousand here are also in the wilderness, according to verse 33. Jesus provides manna for them from Himself. And, as John would say, Jesus is the true bread from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die eternally. And we feed on Christ spiritually now, as the church is in the wilderness of this world. We feed on Christ in the Word and in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Isn’t that an amazing thing to be invited to the table of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? I think sometimes we undervalue the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but we have to remember what it meant to eat at someone’s table in those days. It meant that you were part of the family, even if it was only temporary. We know that it is not temporary, and that our feeding on Christ now is bringing us ever closer to that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, which will take place in the new heavens and the new earth, and will never end. We are given, however, a foretaste of what that Supper will look like when we commune with the living Lord now.

There are four main points of application. The first point of application is compassion. We often object to liberal denominations in their formulation of the social gospel. They do indeed have it over-balanced in favor of people’s physical needs. However, we need to be aware that it is more than possible to over-react in the opposite direction, and pay no attention to the physical needs of people. But here we see Jesus having compassion on these people’s very physical needs. I think we need to show a similar compassion, even if we cannot do similar miracles. For people’s physical needs are part of (not the whole of it, but a part of) the sin problem of this world. We need to care for the whole person, and not just a part only. So I would challenge us all to think of some way in the next week that we could take care of someone’s physical needs while keeping in view their spiritual needs as well.

Secondly, we need to know that we are in the wilderness. Just as Israel was between Egypt and the promised land, so also is the church caught between redemption and consummation. We too are in the wilderness of this world. This means that we need to be aware of the temptations that assault people in the wilderness. For Old Testament Israel, the temptation was grumbling and complaining. And we face these temptations as well. But our God is kind and compassionate. Why should we have to complain and grumble? Usually, grumbling and complaining is a sign that we have too much, rather than not enough. Let us not be grumblers and complainers.

Thirdly, we need to know where satisfaction can be found. It says here that they all ate and were satisfied. The only way we can be satisfied in life is to find that satisfaction in Jesus Christ alone. We can try to find satisfaction in jobs, relationships, possessions, pleasure, even bitterness, and other forms of sin. However, they are all empty. They promise great things, but never deliver. Jesus is almost the reverse. He doesn’t look very promising at first. It looks like we have to deprive ourselves of everything fun in life. Of course that is not true, but it is what our sin nature likes to tell us, that God is a great cosmic killjoy. However, it is not true. God created joy, and He also created the only way to get there, which is through the holiness of the Gospel: first the holiness that God gives us as a free gift in Jesus Christ, and then through the holiness that God creates in us through the Holy Spirit. Holiness is the only true way to happiness.

Fourthly, and lastly, we need to remember where the resources are that keep us going in the Christian life. You know, a great deal of what the pastor does in a congregation has to do with reminding people. And the pastor has to remind himself every bit as much as he has to remind the congregation. Where does our strength come from? Where does the power come from? What has God done for us in the past? What does that mean for what God will do for us in the present and in the future? We all need to remind ourselves of God’s mercy and love constantly. Otherwise, we will suffer from spiritual amnesia.

Inerrancy vs. the god Objectivity

In light of the conversation here, I’ve been planning this post for a few weeks now. Frankly, I’ve been concerned that “younger” evangelicals are bothered by the appearance of secular sourced evidence that “proves” the Bible contains errors. I’ve been there and continue to face this challenge.

I note in many of their questions and comments an underlying angst. They are frustrated, in part, because the old inspiration-inerrancy-infallibility triad seems fatally broken by unquestionable secular evidence. They try to couch this in terms of “determining how the Bible is authoritative,” all the while dismissing the intra-Biblical evidences for its inerrancy.

In reality, it seems at least to me, they are bowing before the Secular god of Objectivity. I read in them an unacknowledged (somewhat unaware) allegiance to the supremacy of rationalism over God himself. I realize they will argue differently. Still …

I simply want to remind them, or possibly introduce some of them, to the wisdom of our forefathers who already faced the challenge of the god Objectivity, and found the Bible’s own answer to slay it. It is found in the Westminster Confession’s first chapter, on the Bible:

WCF 1.5 We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture, (1Ti 3:15 1) and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God;

yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts. (1Jh 2:20,27; Jh 16:13,14; 1Co 2:10,11,12; Isa 59:21.)

Note that we can acknowledge the “under the Sun” rational evidences for the Bible’s claim to being God’s word. Yet our only full assurance of this fact, the only objectivity we have if you will, is subjectively sourced – it is the Spirit’s own witness in our hearts that we (objectively) know these things to be true.

What this means for inerrancy (and inspiration and infallibility) is at least:

1. We will always find our convictions here fatally challenged by any system which assumes man is the ultimate authority.
2. We can only be assured in our convictions by the Spirit’s work in us as individuals.

This is a curse: Objectivity went out the window when our first parents rebelled against the Author of Objectivity. It is because of the fall that we cannot, as mere men, know for sure. It is because of the fall that Secularism will always rise up with new, seemingly insurmountable challenges to the Bible as God’s word.

And a blessing: God graces his children with the removal of the curse, and restores to us a surety that surpasses mere knowledge. No antagonist, no enemy, no person set on destroying your faith can touch such surety. You will not find comfort in trying to come up with a scheme where God uses error to speak truth – it is in the end irrational because God has said so (in the Bible in particular.) You will, however, find comfort in resting in God’s own witness.

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible (affirmed by the Spirit) tells me so.”

– Reed DePace

Post-script: after reading some blogs of neo-errantists, I expect some will laugh at my assumption of their naivety concerning the Spirit’s inward witness. They will respond, “of course, and that’s how we know we know what we know (about the Bible) is right.”

Fair enough. The real question is not whether or not you or I say the Spirit confirms, especially that which we disagree on (inerrancy.) The question is what does the Bible say? After all, it is the only judge of who has the credible right to claim the Spirit’s amen to their convictions.

Two final thoughts I hope the neo-errantists will consider. 1) I’ve yet to see serious interaction with the biblical claims to inerrancy. Rather, you’ve offered little less than a dismissive comment or two.

2) Consider that in principle you have no basis for assuming anything in the Bible is inerrant. Or, putting aside the inerrancy angle for the sake of the discussion – your position has left you with no basis on which to affirm infallibility. Your position leaves no place for the objective work of God to authoritatively show itself. In principle, everything in the Bible, and therefore in the ministry of the Church, is left up to the autonomous opinion of the individual.

Your’s is a position which has removed the mantle of sacredness from the sacred Scriptures, and has lain it across the shoulders of the individual. Be ware the “demons” you let loose; they will not easily be re-caged.

I’ve Been Waiting

For this book for a LONG time. It was originally scheduled to be released last year, but has had delays. This is understandable, since nothing quite like this has ever been published before. It is nothing less than an attempt to combine exegetical, systematic, and historical theology all together in an account of what the Bible teaches. How successful he is at it awaits determination, especially since he has two volumes still to come.

In Living Color

Danny Hyde has written an excellent little book on the second commandment. Ministers commonly take exceptions to the standards with regard to the second commandment, and this little book should give everyone pause who does so. It is a very helpful, clear, and concise laying out of the arguments why the confessions are correct to prohibit all images of Christ.

Probably the most helpful thing about this book is its conscious focus on the means of grace. Preaching and the Sacraments actually receive half of the entire book. The reason this is important is that Rev. Hyde wants to scratch where we really itch. The desire to have images comes from a desire to have grace given to us. Therefore, it is necessary to prove that the means of grace that we actually have are indeed sufficient. The timeliness of the book can hardly be greater, as many Reformed folk are asking questions about this issue. Furthermore, this is not an unimportant issue, since we are asking the question about the correct interpretation of God’s law.

Rev. Hyde notes (with Neil Postman) that our culture has gone visual (p. 41). This already makes the confessional position difficult for modern man. After expositing this aspect of culture, Rev. Hyde goes to scripture (the second commandment itself, Deuteronomy 4, Psalm 115, Isaiah 40, 46, Jeremiah 10, and, most importantly, Acts 17). The argument from Acts 17 is not only an open and shut case, but it is surprising how few people seem to make the connection. Here is the relevant passage (Acts 17:29): “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” The context of this statement is so important, and it leads me to my one minor criticism (an easily fixable thing in a second edition): Rev. Hyde has omitted one key argument against images of God. In the context of Acts 17, there is a reason why we should not make any images of God. That reason is that we are to BE the image of God. Notice the beginning of verse 29: “being His offspring.” The reason we ought to know that God cannot be imaged in stone or gold or silver is that God has already made images of Himself: us, His offspring! I was longing for Rev. Hyde to make this point in his book, and I never saw it. Nevertheless, this is a small criticism, since I agreed with everything he actually did write. He certainly connects Acts 17 with the arguments that Jeff Meyers (among others) have used in favor of making images of Christ for artistic and educational purposes. I believe that the passage quite effectively dismantles Meyers’s position.

I would also recommend his chapters on preaching and the sacraments, which are both outstanding, and show why it is that those means of grace are sufficient for us. In short, this book is well worth the read for anyone who takes the exception as a biblical, exegetical, and confessional challenge to that exception, and also for those who are examining the argument one way or the other. Tolle lege! For your information, Rev. Hyde has done a video interview about his book here.

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