On the OPC GA and Apologies

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently concluded. No one could say it was uneventful. While I was not in attendance this year, an incident occurred that I believe needs some comment. Eastern University hosted the GA this year. Very near the beginning of GA, Eastern alerted the OPC to four alleged incidents of egregious racism. Two of them were by an OPC minister (I do not know who at this point, and it doesn’t really matter, anyway, in terms of what I wish to say), attempting to make jokes, and achieving what I would call “an unsuccessful attempt at humor.” The third incident, if it even happened at all, was not by an OPC delegate or member. The fourth incident was a misunderstanding in the cafeteria later cleared up, as I understand. This is what I understand second hand, let the readers be clear, and this evaluation of the four incidents was only possible later.

At the beginning, Eastern would only tell the OPC that there were these four incidents, and that if another such incident happened, EU would enforce its zero tolerance policy (which would have the effect of nullifying the contract). Eastern conducted no thorough investigation before the communication that was read on the floor. The OPC’s reply was an immediate statement:

“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct. The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and seek reconciliation.”

As I understand it, no amendment was effectively allowed to occur, and very little time allowed to dissent or object. This “apology” (I put this in quotation marks since, as I understand it, the intent was not an apology, though it seems to have been interpreted as one by EU) was issued on the basis of witnesses, but not a thorough investigation to examine whether there might have been mitigating circumstances, or whether the alleged offences amounted to what Eastern thought they did. As it turned out (from where I sit, admittedly looking at this from a distance), there was little to apologize for in the end. The most egregious was the third, which was not committed by an OPC member/delegate at all. The first sentence is one I still regard as problematic, even though my understanding of what was meant has been tweaked by people in the know. The “disgust” of the first sentence is at the sins reported, and is not meant to imply that the alleged offender was automatically guilty. While this is the intended meaning, it could easily be interpreted as an actual apology. It seems to have been so interpreted by EU, which pronounced the matter as closed upon receiving this communication. This whole situation raises some very important questions in my mind.

Why did we make an apologetic sounding statement before conducting a thorough investigation? Why did Eastern University shoot first and ask questions later? While I am told they cooperated with the OPC in a cordial fashion afterwards, why the ultimatum at all? The ultimatum makes it sound as though they already believed the initial reports. The statement of the OPC (which kinda sorta looks like an apology, or at least has an apologetic tone to it) in its effect, is easily misunderstood. I am getting lots of different reactions as to what it means already. Why was no amendment effectively allowed to the apology? Why was pressure exerted to pass this “apology” with no dissent? The whole thing was rushed in its adoption. Apparently, the “apology” was enough for Eastern, and they thought the matter closed. Why, when no thorough investigation had been done up to that point? From where I am looking, there were no incidents of egregious intentional racism, only misunderstanding, and possibly lack of wisdom, certainly not intentional racism. At the very least, it seems clear that the OPC GA should not be held at Eastern University again, if “guilty until proven innocent” is going to be their mindset.

UPDATE: I am getting lots of valuable feedback from members of the GA who were present, and they are refining my understanding of what went on. I have already updated the post twice, and I expect to update it more to achieve greater accuracy. There are many different perspectives already on what went on that I have heard, many of them contradictory of each other. It will probably take some time before a final understanding of what happened is actually possible.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 8 Final Thoughts

Posted by R. Fowler White

As we close out this fairly lengthy series, it might be useful to conclude with several overarching observations.

Recurring patterns. Looking back over these Eschatology Outlines, it may have struck the reader that the biblical writers teach us and therefore expect us to see recurring patterns as God works in history, not least as the future is presented as the past reconceived and finalized. Remarkably, this “patterning” discloses to us both the organic unity in God’s revelation and the consistency in God’s governance of history. In it we see the signature of the Bible’s Divine Author, transcending the particular contributions of the individual human authors. All of this moves and induces us to a high and reverent esteem of Holy Scripture that takes all the more seriously the Bible’s own claim to be inspired by the Spirit of God.

Trajectory, boundaries, and consensus. As it relates to eschatology, a full review of early church history (as found in, e.g., C. E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity (second ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) would show us where the trajectory and boundaries of orthodox eschatology were set, but we can only summarize those points here. Before the Council of Nicea in AD 325, the church expressed a broad consensus confessing Christ’s second coming, the general resurrection and judgment, the programmatic oneness of God’s people, and the eternal state. There was no consensus on the belief in a 1,000-year earthly kingdom after Christ’s return and before the eternal state. Interestingly, affirming or denying that millennial era was tied to one’s doctrine of the intermediate state of the righteous dead. The question being asked was this: where do the souls of the righteous dead go when they die? There were, in general, two answers. On the one hand, those who believed that the righteous dead occupied an intermediate state underground (“in the lower parts of the earth”) also affirmed the doctrine of the 1,000-year kingdom. On the other hand, those who believed that the righteous dead occupied an intermediate state in heaven denied the doctrine of the 1,000-year kingdom. As the church came consistently to confess the doctrine of the heavenly intermediate state, the doctrine of a millennial kingdom after Christ’s return faded from view. After the Reformation, however, divergent opinions on the 1,000-year kingdom reemerged. Then, in the 1830s, three closely related views—premillennialism, pretribulationism, and dispensationalism, with their programmatic distinction between Israel and the Church—congealed into an eschatological framework. Over the next century that framework grew to dominate in Bible-believing circles, as the spread of dispensational-pretribulational premillennialism tracked with developments in the fundamentalist-liberal controversy. Over the last 50 years or more, differences among sincere, well-meaning Christians on all sides seem to have moderated. Yet in church pews, popular discussion, and media, dispensationalism and its entailments are widely presumed. Thankfully, the Bible-believing church maintains its adherence to cardinal doctrines at the heart of its historic confession, focusing on Christ’s return, final resurrection and judgment, and life everlasting in the world to come. Granted our continuing differences, however, we can only help ourselves by thinking about how to manage them. What follows are some suggestions.

Burden of proof. While acknowledging that certain cardinal doctrines distinguish the church’s confession, new (novel) beliefs, which the church through its shepherds and teachers has never confessed, do occasionally emerge. To be taken seriously, these novelties must bear the burden of proof and demonstrate that the weight of the relevant biblical, historical-theological, and systematic-theological evidence is not only with them but is, in fact, weightier than usual. This is the case because it is unlikely, though it has occurred and is certainly still possible, that the church’s devout and learned shepherds and teachers, along with the great majority of serious Bible students, would for centuries have missed the Spirit’s teaching in Scripture.

Common duties. Meanwhile, our continuing duties to others in the church include obligations to take seriously the historic consensus of the church and to seek further unity beyond that consensus where possible. Such obligations require us to love those with whom we differ, trying to understand not just what they believe but how they reach their conclusions. Gaining answers to both the “what” and the “how” questions, we just may discover where our facts or conclusions are wrong or incomplete and uncover reasons for greater agreement. Overall, sticking to these duties, we’ll likely find that our emphasis will fall on doctrines held in common and expressed in the church’s confessions across the centuries.

God has given His people hope. Ever since our first parents were banished from Eden, God’s people have looked to the future in hope for a new city in a new garden on a new mountain where God will dwell forever with man. We long for that city’s security and purity, for a new creation ruled, filled, and at rest. We ache for the Last Adam—our Bridegroom, God’s Dragon-Slayer and Temple-Builder—to complete the rescue of His bride. The Bible’s eschatology sustains and nurtures those expectations in us, as it declares the vindication of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death, of blessing over curse. Because our God is the one true God, singularly sover­eign and wise, we know that final destinies of blessing or curse are traced to His one beneficent purpose (Lam 3:37-38; cf. Gen 50:20). With that purpose, God obliged Himself to resolve our liability as sinners to judgment that resulted from His decree to permit man’s fall into sin. His resolution of that liability was to make the death of a Substitute the way to life for His chosen people. Thereby He has assured us that the Bride chosen for the Last Adam, though presently corruptible, will ultimately put on incorruption. Through the Lord Christ, she will witness the death of death and the issue of all things into the glory of the one true God. In the end, then, the Bible’s eschatology—God’s eschatology—is a true moral optimism in which our God will be no frustrated Deity, nor will our Bridegroom be defeated in His mission to rescue His Bride.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 6B Israel and the Church (conc.)

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Typological Significance of Israel:
Hebrews 3-12

I. Doubtless the clearest example of how God’s covenants testify to Christ is Moses, Israel, and the old covenant. In summary, God fashioned Moses and Israel as a shadow and type of Christ and the church (1 Cor 10:1-11; Heb 3:1-6; 8:1-6; 10:1). According to Heb 3:1-6, God has one house (not two or more) in history, and that one house was once in the care of Moses the servant of God, but now is in the care of Jesus the Son of God. Hebrews also tells us that Moses was a testimony of the things to come in Christ. Later, in Heb 7–10, we’re told that the entire old covenant arrangement—from its covenant to its sanctuary, to its priests, to its sacrifices—was a shadow and type of the new covenant arrangement with its sanctuary, priest, and sacrifice. The following points will allow us to elaborate on this summary.

II. Periodization of history—The author of Hebrew divides history into two periods: the time before reformation and the time of reformation, 9:10. He also divides history into the time before the last days and the time of the last days, 1:1-2. In the context of his epistle, the time before reformation (i.e., before the last days) is the time of the old covenant; the time of reformation (i.e., of the last days) is the time of the new covenant.

A. God’s house: Israel and the church are presented as two covenantal administrations of one and the same house of God. Jesus the faithful Son over God’s house is greater than Moses the faithful servant in God’s house, 3:1-6.

B. God’s promise and warning: Israel and the church are the one house of God to whom He addresses His promise of rest and His warning against wrath. God’s people under Moses forfeited the promise of God’s rest preached to them, 3:7-19. We’re to heed, therefore, the warning in Ps 95: don’t be like the exodus generation, 3:7-11. The promise of rest and the warning of wrath still apply, 3:12-19. God’s people under Jesus have had God’s promise of rest reaffirmed to us, 4:1-13. Therefore, we’re to respond in faith to the promise of rest (in the New Canaan-earth), 4:1-2. The promise of God’s rest, issued at creation and reissued by David after Joshua, remains, 4:3-10. Therefore, we should remain diligent to enter the rest God still promises in the New Canaan-earth, 4:11-13.

III. The Levites’ priesthood, covenant, sanctuary, sacrifices, and ministry were all copies, types, and shadows of Jesus’ Melchizedekal priesthood, covenant, sanctuary, sacrifice, and ministry; the antitypical reality is better than the types, Heb 7:1–10:18.

Key: As God moves His house through the history of His revelation and redemption, He shifts our attention from earthly, temporary copies and shadows (pictures, models, patterns, types) of heavenly, eternal realities (archetypes, antitypes) to the heavenly, eternal realities themselves. The shadows are not simply replaced by the realities; they are fulfilled in them. The earthly was patterned after the heavenly. That is, the heavenly was the pattern for the earthly. The temporary was changeable and transitory; it pointed above and ahead to the unchangeable and permanent.

A. Jesus the Melchizedekal priest has replaced the Levitical priests, 7:1-28. As we should have anticipated from Ps 110 and Gen 14, the Levitical priesthood was not permanent. Melchizedek’s powerful and effective priestly order preceded (Gen 14) and has now replaced Levi’s weak and ineffective priestly order. Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, the father of Levi, 7:1-10. Melchizedek’s priestly order has therefore replaced Levi’s priestly order: Melchizedek’s order is a priesthood ministering with God’s oath; it has replaced a priesthood ministering without God’s oath, 7:11-28.

B. The new, better covenant has been enacted; the old covenant is now obsolete, 8:1-13. (Note: the old covenant was temporary, provisional, 9:8-10.)—Jesus is now ministering as a high priest in the heavenly sanctuary, 8:1-3. He cannot minister as a priest on earth, 8:4-5. He has obtained a better, heavenly ministry than the earthly ministry of the Levites, 8:6.—The new covenant is better than the old covenant, 8:7-13. The introduction of a second covenant shows that the first is “faulty,” 8:7. The new covenant is not like the old, in which the people did not continue, 8:8-9. The new covenant creates a new people, 8:10-12. The announcement of the new covenant shows that the old was to come to an end, 8:13.

C. The old sanctuary, sacrifices, and service were not fully and finally powerful to purify, 9:1-10. The old sanctuary—the tabernacle—was prepared, 9:1-5, and the old sacrificial ministry (liturgy) was performed, 9:6-10, to show that before Christ there was no direct access to God.

D. The new sanctuary, sacrifice, and ministry are fully and finally powerful to purify, 9:11-28. The new sacrifice and ministry of Christ our High Priest are powerful to purify, 9:11-14. The new sacrifice of Christ was necessary to put the new covenant into effect, 9:15-28.

E. The new sacrifice is fully and finally powerful to purify; the old sacrifices were not, 10:1-18. The Law’s sacrifices were powerless to purify sinners to meet God, 10:1-4. Christ’s sacrifice has replaced the sacrifices made according to the Law, 10:5-10. The finished work of Christ has superseded the endless work of the Levites, 10:11-14. As Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy told us, “forgiveness granted” means “sacrifice has ceased,” 10:15-18.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7A How Rev 19:11-21 Relates to Rev 20:1ff.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 6A Israel and the Church

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Typological Significance of Israel:
From Having a Temple to Being a Temple

Summary: God has one program in the history of redemption, and its unity and focus are found in Christ and the church, the Last Adam and His bride (Gen 3:15; Eph 1:10; 3:11). God does not have two (or more) programs, one for Israel, one for the Church (nor does he have a third program for the nations). In other words, the Bible is Christ-centered, not Israel-centered, and Israel, not the church, is God’s “parenthesis” in history.

I. In the beginning, God gave Adam and his bride Eve the commission to rule and fill the earth under God’s blessing, to God’s glory, and according to God’s word (Gen 1:28; 2:15-17). Since the first Adam failed (Gen 3), God in His grace promised to send a second man—the Last Adam—to succeed where the first Adam had failed (Gen 3:15; 1 Cor 15:21-28, 45-49). God promised, in effect, that Christ and His bride would succeed where Adam and his bride had failed. God has carried out His promise in history through a succession of covenants.

II. 1 Cor 10:6, 11—Now these things took place as examples for [i.e., types of] us, that we might not desire evil as they did. … Now these things happened to them as an example [i.e., a type], but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Certain parallels between Israel and the church get our attention.

A. Exodus, first and new: Israel under Moses offered the Passover Lamb, a lamb without physical spot or blemish, for their deliverance from Egypt. Christ is the greater and true Passover Lamb sacrificed for His people, Heb 2:10-13, a lamb without moral spot or blemish, 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; John 1:29; Rev 5:6-9. His death brings about the New Exodus, Luke 9:31.

B. Baptism into Moses and into Christ, Meal with Moses and with Christ: Israel was baptized into Moses; the church has been baptized into Christ. Israel fed on the manna from heaven and drank the water from the Rock in the wilderness. Likewise, the church feeds on Christ the true bread of life (the true manna) and drinks the true water of life, the Holy Spirit, from Christ the living Rock.

C. Warning of wrath, past and present: Israel’s exodus generation in the wilderness set a bad example for the church. They fell away from the living God into unbelief, and God denied them entry into Canaan (Heb 3:10-19; 1 Cor 10:5-6). The church, now also in the wilderness, should therefore take a warning that, if any in the church should fall away as Israel did, God will also deny them entry into New Canaan.

D. Faith and apostasy, past and present: It was said of Israel’s exodus generation that they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses (Exod 14:31). Moreover, to them Moses preached God’s promise of rest in earthly Canaan. Nevertheless, the faith of most of them (1 Cor 10:5; aka all those whose bodies fell in the wilderness, Heb 3:16-17) failed when temptation and trial came in the wilderness. The promise of rest preached to them did not profit them (Heb 4:2, 6). The faith they expressed at the beginning of the exodus proved to be temporary. Despite the faith they confessed at first and the blessings they had in common with all who belonged to that community, most proved in the end to have an evil, unbelieving heart when they fell away from the living God in the wilderness.

E. Rest promised in the first Canaan and in the New Canaan: Israel’s exodus generation had God’s promise of rest in earthly Canaan preached to them. So the church has had God’s promise of rest in the New Canaan (new earth) preached to them. See Heb 4:1-13; 12:26-28.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 6B Israel and the Church (conc.)

Who are the 144,000 in the Revelation to John?

Posted by R. Fowler White

I. Two proposed answers

A. The Christian remnant of ethnic Jews either at the end of the 1st century, or in the future tribulation, or at the 2nd Coming; the number is usually interpreted as figurative, occasionally as literal.

B. The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles; the number is figurative.

II. My answer: The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles, the Church; the number is figurative.

A. The list in Rev 7 is a military census list, and the vision in Rev 14 describes the army of the Lamb. Both chapters in Rev follow the pattern of the military census lists in the OT: see Num 1; 2 Sam 24.

B. The number “1,000” is technical terminology for a military division, as it was in the OT. – It is comparable to the name Legion, which means “thousands,” a word taken from a Latin term for a large group of soldiers that could vary in number from as few as 3,000 to as many as 6,000 men.

C. The 144,000 are an all-male army, 14:4, as the armies of the OT ordinarily were.

D. The 12 tribes of Rev 7 are the 12 tribes of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. The New Jerusalem is the Church Triumphant, the True Israel composed of the innumerable remnant from all nations, 21:12, 14, 24; 22:2-5. Gentile Christians receive the name of the New Jerusalem, 3:12. These tribes are the Israel of God from whom the idolatrous tribe of Dan (Judg 18) has been omitted. They are Israel according to the Spirit, not Israel according to the flesh.

E. The number “144” is evidently the number of apostles (12) multiplied by the number of tribes (12) of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. It represents the complete number and perfection of the Church, the whole of God’s people, 21:9-10.

F. The number “144,000” describes the totality of the army of the redeemed, conscripted, and made ready by Christ the Lamb to fight in His holy war.

G. In Revelation John takes OT labels (names, epithets, titles) for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, which included both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

1. Rev 2:9; 3:9 – John takes the name “Jew” away from unbelieving Jews and gives it to believing Gentiles, 2:17; 3:12. They are Israel according to the flesh; they are not the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth.

2. Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10 – John takes the label of “kingdom of priests” from Israel and applies it to believers from all nations, regardless of ethnic origin.

H. This is consistent with the rest of the NT.

1. Christ Jesus declared that the kingdom would be taken from Israel and given to a new nation and people, the Church, Matt 21:43. Israel forfeited its kingdom identity in the fall of Jerusalem.

2. The Apostle Paul takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, in which Jews and Gentiles together are the one new people of God, Rom 2:28-29; Gal 6:15-16; Phil 3:3; Eph 2:14-21.

3. The Apostle Peter takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, 1 Pet 1:1; 2:9.

I. This is consistent with the OT.

1. Unbelieving Israelites, who didn’t share Abraham’s faith, were declared “Not My People” – they lost the labels of Israel. They lost their national identity in the exile.

2. Believing Gentiles, who like Rahab and Ruth shared Abraham’s faith, received the labels of Israel.

III. Summary: The 144,000 is a symbol representing the Lamb’s army of holy warriors from among the Jews and the Gentiles. They are the Church Militant who becomes the Church Triumphant, the “overcomers” of Revelation. They are not Israel according to the flesh, but the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth. They are the true Israel sealed by Christ the Lamb to keep them from apostasy. As many as believe in Christ alone for salvation are among the 144,000.

Discipline in PCA BCO 27-3: Its Proper Usage and Ends

Posted by R. Fowler White

Elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirm that they “approve of the form of government and discipline of the denomination, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity” (The Book of Church Order 21-5). Consequently, they affirm the following statement that appears in the BCO of the PCA, Part II The Rules of Discipline, Paragraph 27-3:

27-3. The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. In its proper usage discipline maintains:

a. the glory of God,

b. the purity of His Church,

c. the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners. Discipline is for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7); therefore, it demands a self-examination under Scripture.

Its ends, so far as it involves judicial action, are the rebuke of offenses, the removal of scandal, the vindication of the honor of Christ, the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church, and the spiritual good of offenders themselves.

There would be wide agreement that the above statement is a good and faithful expression of what Scripture teaches. When reading that section, however, the question might arise: as good and faithful as the statement is, does it say all that it should say? Posing that question does not disparage the care with which the BCO generally or paragraph 27-3 specifically expresses “the general principles of biblical polity.” It is understandable and agreeable that the statement should in fact be both general and principial and not exhaustive. Even so, it might be asked if the statement has in fact identified all the general principles that are necessary and sufficient. For example, two related questions emerge: 1) Does the statement above contain what is necessary to express the proper usage of discipline? 2) Does the statement above contain what is necessary to express the ends of discipline?

Scripturally speaking, the statement is accurate … as far as it goes. But it is, arguably, not complete. Here is what I mean. In WCF 15.6, we affirm that “he that scandalizeth his brother, or the church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended, who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.” It seems reasonably clear here that the Confession envisions a usage of discipline that BCO 27-3 does not mention, namely, the recuperation of those whom the offender had scandalized and their reconciliation with the offender. Is it not the case, then, that the proper usage of discipline will maintain not only the glory of God, the purity of the church, and the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners, but also the wellbeing of the offended parties, whether they be the church generally or the injured church members specifically (e.g., 2 Cor 2:5-11). Is it not the case also that the ends of discipline will include not only the rebuke of offenses, the removal of scandal, the vindication of the honor of Christ, the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church, and the spiritual good of offenders themselves, but also the spiritual good of the offended parties (e.g., Matt 18:15)?

In answer to the question about discipline’s proper usage, we might say that the wellbeing of the offended parties was meant to be implied in the words “the … reclaiming of disobedient sinners.” In answer to the question about discipline’s ends, we might say that the spiritual good of the offended parties was meant to be implied in the phrase “the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church.” Neither reading seems to be plausible, however. The phrase describing the reclaiming of offenders seems distinctly insufficient to convey the idea of the wellbeing of the offenders’ victims. Likewise, the words describing the ends of discipline seems to have omitted consideration of a necessary element of biblical judicial action, namely, the spiritual good of the offended. As a result, the statement found in BCO 27-3, though good and faithful as far as it goes, looks to be incomplete.

Would PCA BCO 27-3 not be improved if it included explicit reference to the benefits that discipline holds for those offended and injured?

What’s an Exile to Do? Trust in Your God, Stand Firm in His Grace

Posted by R. Fowler White

With this post we come to the end of our series on the Apostle Peter’s first letter, his survival manual for Christian exiles. His letter is as relevant now as it was in the 1st century because, in the ebb and flow of God’s providence, we Christians find ourselves increasingly pushed to the margins of public life, relegated to social-cultural, if not geographical exile. There’s little doubt that we who confess the historic Christian faith are increasingly viewed as terribly outdated by some and as simply insufferable by others. In that light, we ought to know how Peter would have us live life in this world. His closing message to us in 5:10-14 is as fundamental as it gets: mistreated by the world, embattled by indwelling sin, and threatened by the devil, trust in your invincible God (5:10-11) and stand firm in His grace (5:11-14). We should take a closer look at each of these closing exhortations.

First, continuing his theme of humility under God’s mighty hand (5:6-7), Peter urges us to keep trusting God, casting all our anxieties on Him, because He truly cares for us. Trials, even from the devil, are His “provide-ence” for us, meant to purify us, not damage us. Those whom our God calls to glory He brings through suffering. Our destination is not in the valley of the shadow of death. With Him, we walk through that valley, yes, suffering along the way but only for a little while. You see, our suffering is not eternal. It won’t last forever. Only glory is eternal; only glory is forever. Though we’re broken and hurt, stumbling, the God of all grace … will Himself restore us, putting all that was out of order in order, repairing whatever is damaged. He will Himself confirm us, placing us in a firm and fixed position, causing us to stay the course and remain constant in our faith. He will Himself strengthen us, making us courageous to endure all suffering without stumbling beyond recovery. He will Himself establish us, fortifying us to withstand whatever assaults may come. Peter knew this promise in his own life, for after the ordeal of his infamous threefold denial Christ had restored him, so that he reemerged as that first apostle, that rock of foundation, fixed and solid. No wonder Peter is moved to a doxology: to Him be dominion forever and ever! The promise that Peter had lived applies to us, his fellow exiles, as we make our way through this world. The God of all grace permits our suffering but overrules it to purify us. The God of all grace allows the devil to rage, but his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure! The God of all grace is the Divine Warrior, not only gracious but also omnipotent. The power to accomplish His will is forever His. He will ultimately triumph over evil. What a promise this is from our God! How can we not trust in our invincible God and join Peter in his doxology?

Second and last, Peter exhorts us to stand firm in God’s grace (5:12-14). Here is Peter’s letter in one phrase. Through Silvanus (aka Silas), Peter’s courier, this letter would be circulated among the churches of the Roman provinces in Asia Minor as an exhortation and declaration to them of God’s true grace. As an apostle of Christ, he has laid out the doctrinal and moral truths we need as exiles. He has told us what God has graciously done for us in Christ. Based on Christ’s work, we’re commanded to live holy lives in keeping with that grace. And so, Peter exhorts us one final time to stand firm in grace, to resist all temptations to apostasy. Remember: despite suffering and trial, we’ve been born again to a living hope. We must live therefore in the holiness of that hope. Jesus, having Himself conquered all evil through His suffering, has called us to follow in His steps through suffering into glory. All who do so will be vindicated with Him. Stand firm, then; stand fast in the knowledge of His grace. As we do, we take courage from her who is in Babylon, that is, from our fellow exiles in the church-at-large throughout the known world (in Peter’s time, the Greco-Roman world). Peter may even be referring to the church in ancient Rome, the center of the then world empire and regime as ancient Babylon once was. But here’s Peter’s point: we’re not alone as we stand at the margins. While standing there, we do so firmly, taking courage from others, like John Mark, Peter’s son in the faith (5:13). Peter had known Mark from the earliest days of Jesus and His Church. This same Mark had traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their 1st missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Though Mark had turned back when they got to Asia Minor (Acts 14:24-28) and Paul had rejected him as a co-worker for the next journey, his relationship with Paul had later been restored for ministry together. Having learned of this reunion, Peter had seen the grace of restoration at work. We should see it too and be sure to take encouragement from it. Lastly, while standing firm, we should take courage from each other (5:14a). As we exchange the legendary “holy kiss”—here called the kiss of love, Peter’s point is not a kiss itself, but any outward expression of communion with and affection among us saints as we share in the love and peace of Christ. Fittingly, in that communion of love, we find peace in our God (5:14b). As Peter’s readers, marginalized or worse, we know ourselves to be under some stress, even in distress. How timely it is, then, to hear a benediction of peace from the Apostle who would have us persevere to the end.

So, what’s an exile to do when pushed to the margins of public life, relegated to social-cultural, if not geographical exile? Trust in our invincible God, and stand firm in His grace. The hatred of the world, the fleshly desires at war with our souls, the roar of that diabolical lion—all threaten to undo us. Did we in our own strength confide, we know our striving would be losing. But we’re assured of even more: the right man [is] on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Christ, it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle. So, again, what’re we exiles to do? We’re to listen to His benediction: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). We’re to read again—and again as needed—the words of His Apostle: Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:8b-9).

What’s an Exile to Do? Resist the Devil

Posted by R. Fowler White

In our last few posts from First Peter, we’ve noticed that the Apostle has been focusing our attention on the type of people we need to be to assure our perseverance in times of persecution. In such contexts, we usually hear or read about our three chief enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. In that light, we notice that Peter has talked to us about the world and about the flesh (the sin that indwells us) in 2:11-12. It’s remarkable to realize, then, that in 5:8-9 he nears the finish line by talking about the devil. Peter’s exhortation brings to mind the words that someone has said: “One great error we make is to underestimate the power of Satan. We need a sober and a vigilant understanding of his person and work.” So ask yourself, as I ask myself: do I underestimate Satan’s power? Do I have a sober and vigilant understanding of his person and work? Some might ask, why think about these questions? Because the Apostle tells us that to assure our perseverance in times of marginalization and even persecution, we must resist the devil. To find out just how do we do that, check out the details that Peter provides.

The Apostle declares to us: be sober-minded; be watchful (5:8a). Twice before he has exhorted us in similar terms in chaps. 1 and 4 (1:13; 4:7). He does it again here in chap. 5, and his point is basically the same: “Don’t let the tests and trials of this life make you careless or make you lose sight of the goal.” In other words, Peter doesn’t want us living our lives with distractions or blurred vision. He knows, and we must know, that the trials of exile can divert our attention from our ultimate destination or distract us from the dangers around us. The right state of mind is, therefore, vital to our perseverance. So, he says, stay focused; stay vigilant.

In 5:8b-9, Peter turns specifically to one danger he has in mind, and it’s an enemy whose presence should rivet our attention. Why be sober-minded and watchful? Because your adversary the devil is on the prowl. This is the only place in First Peter where the Apostle mentions the invisible powers of this present darkness who threaten us. This particular foe often works through others whom he has influenced, attacked, or even indwelt. He is said here to prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for and stalking his prey. We hear his roar in the slanderer who undermines God’s word, in the deceiver who distracts us from God’s glory, in the tempter who corrupts our relationships with God and others, particularly His people. He’s a destructive predator whose roar is meant to terrorize us, to force us to cower or even to deny the faith. Don’t give in, says Peter. Resist him. Remain firm in your faith. Continue entrusting yourself to your faithful Creator and the righteous Judge. Through that faith He is protecting us (1:5). Through that faith our souls are on deposit with our trustworthy God for safekeeping (4:19). Clearly, the danger to us is not that we’re helpless; the danger is that we’ll fail to resist. So, Peter says, in effect, hold steady; watch and pray. Stand firm. Resist the devil, and do so knowing that we’re not being singled out. The same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. We’re not the only ones being verbally insulted or physically attacked for Christ. Throughout the world there are others going through exactly what we’re going through—and, yes, some are going through unquestionably worse than we are. So, resist the devil, recognizing that for all of us who suffer unjustly there’s a fellowship in Christ that binds us together. No, we’re not being singled out: the devil’s evil campaign is worldwide, and there are others just like us throughout the world.

Several decades ago, during a presidential campaign, a political ad ran with the following words: There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear. Fellow Christian exiles, marginalized or worse, the Apostle Peter reminds us that, unlike that bear in the woods, there’s no “if” about the roaring lion on the prowl. Some don’t see him at all, but there’s no doubt about his sinister presence in this world. He’s vicious and dangerous, seeking unsuspecting prey to devour. In that light, maturing Christians will be alert to the reality that lurking behind various powers and forces that dominate life in this world is a diabolical enemy who roams the earth, hunting for victims. Listen for his roars in those voices that slander God’s word, that distract from God’s glory, that corrupt your relationships. Even as you discern his presence, don’t underestimate his power or his purpose. Don’t be his unsuspecting prey. As the Apostle tells us, resist that lion-like devil, trusting in God’s mighty hand, and watch him flee (Jas 4:7). He’s powerful, but he’s not invincibleand he knows it. In doing so, gain the assurance that you’ll persevere to the end of these times of marginalization and persecution.

What’s an Exile to Do? Submission and Humility in God’s Sheepfold

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Peter’s first letter—his “Survival Manual for Marginalized Christians”—he focuses our attention on the type of people we Christians need to be to assure our perseverance through the time of our present exile (1 Pet 1:17). He’s exhorted us to pursue moral excellence as we deal with both the world and the sinful passions that wage war against our souls (2:11-12). He’s told us our duties to civil authorities, to bosses, to spouses, to our fellow Christians, and to critics and other persecutors. Having turned again to discuss life in God’s sheepfold in 5:1-11, Peter has talked to us about the ministry of discipleship that elders must perform to assure our perseverance (5:1-4). Now, in 5:5-7, he begins his final appeal to those in the flock whom he calls younger (5:5a) and to all of the sheep (5:5b-7).

When we turn to 5:5a, Peter issues a call to be subject that we’ve heard before (2:13, 18; 3:1), but translators and commentators differ as to who the younger and the elders are. Do both terms refer to men? Do they differ in age, or in Christian maturity, or in office? The Apostle’s immediately preceding reference to the elders as shepherds of God’s flock and the specific duty he enjoins on the younger (be subject) tell us that he’s shifting his focus from what the elders owe the flock to what the flock, particularly those younger in the faith, owe those installed as their elders. Presuming, then, that the flock has recognized their shepherds, Peter instructs us how we non-elders must respond to their ministry. He tells the younger sheep, likewise, be subject to the elders (5:5a; cf. 2:13, 18; 3:1). Clearly, the Apostle doesn’t look on the younger as mere consumers shopping for a church that meets their every preference. No, for Peter, church life is about entering a sheepfold in which there are shepherds qualified to care for God’s sheep. It’s about submitting ourselves to those overseers, placing ourselves in their care, taking our place responsibly under them (cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13; Heb 13:17). Furthermore, as Peter showed in 5:1-3 and will show again in 5:5b-6, the relationship of God’s flock to the elders is not about us non-elders adopting servile, much less rebellious dispositions and behaviors toward our shepherds. On the contrary, flawed and finite as elders are, our submission to them is conditioned first by our obedient humility before God. As such, submission in the sheepfold is, as in every other human relationship, an act of faith: we who are non-elders keep entrusting ourselves to God as we subordinate ourselves to elders, knowing that the Chief Shepherd holds them accountable.

Having called us non-elders to take our place under our elders’ care, the Apostle moves promptly to call all of us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (5:5b). Interestingly, Peter’s command is for us all to put on one and the same garment, and not just any garment: he specifies that we put on humility. Perhaps Peter here is thinking of what Jesus did (John 13:4-15) when He girded Himself with a towel and taught the disciples—Peter in particular (John 13:6-11)—the lesson of humility (John 13:15). Why humility? Because, as Peter has already told us (3:8), in a colony of exiles, competition for privilege or power is toxic; commitment to the common good is essential (cf. Phil 1:27–2:5). In times of social marginalization or even persecution, then, mutual humility within the sheepfold is an indispensable virtue. We must mortify dispositions and behaviors that domineer, usurp, or withdraw, and instead find our places in honoring and serving others according to our gifts (4:10). But there’s something even more fundamental that lies behind Peter’s exhortation: God’s actions toward the proud and the humble. The former He resists; the latter He favors (cf. 2:19-20). Once again, Peter engages critically with the world’s expectations: he shows us how God deals with the proud and the humble and, in the process, he reforms how we should order our social relationships.

The truth that it is God’s prerogative to apportion honor leads Peter to reassert his call for humility in 5:6-7, but now he underscores that God’s actions toward the proud and the humble require our humility under His almighty hand. Peter has told us that suffering comes to faithful Christians and is part of God’s providence. He’s told us that painful trials are part of the normal Christian life and are the way God purifies us. It is for us, then, to bow ourselves low before Him and to entrust ourselves to Him. If we confess that He really does use even unjust suffering to accomplish His refining purpose in our lives, we must also confess that He has it under His control and us under His care. Our mighty God is more concerned about our welfare than we could possibly be: after all, both His glory and our good are at stake. What greater incentive could there be for us to cast all our anxieties on Him?

So, fellow exiles, do we wish to assure our endurance throughout this time of our present exile (1:17)? Then we must heed the pointed word that Peter has for us in 5:5-7. He would have us recognize what social marginalization and even persecution do to us: they tempt us, out of pride and its fruit anxiety, to compete for the privilege and power denied to us. But such carnal competition has neither efficacy nor place in God’s sheepfold. Why? Because God resists the proud and favors the humble. The Apostle, therefore, commands us to mortify all desire to domineer, usurp, or withdraw and to take our places in honoring and serving others according to our gifts, whether we’re elders or non-elders. He commands all of us in God’s flock to humble ourselves before Him, because His hand is mighty to bring down the proud and to raise up the humble at the proper time. These are our duties, says Peter, because God has made submission and humility twin means of our perseverance in this time of our exile.

What’s an Exile to Do? Elders, Shepherd God’s Exiled Flock

Posted by R. Fowler White

For well over a year now, the congregations of Christ’s church in our nation and world have been dealing with fast-developing, stress-producing changes in public health, economics, politics, and culture. In more ways than we Christians may realize, this current season of testing has offered us a trial run for future times when our marginalization may worsen. If that’s the case, we elders ought to ask: how’s it gone for us and the sheep in our care? Constrained by recent providence, have we elders learned what’s required of us, particularly in seasons of harder trials? Do those in our care regard us as examples to emulate in times of difficult testing? It’s not too late to examine ourselves in light of the instruction Peter has for elders in 1 Pet 5:1-4.

As the Apostle has worked through his plan for “the perseverance of the exiled saints,” he reminded us in 4:12-19 that trials of suffering for righteousness are part of the process by which God removes sin and its impurities from His church and ultimately the world. Following the order of Ezekiel’s prophecy, Peter addresses the church’s elders first, commanding them to shepherd the flock of God in their care (cf. 5:1-4 with Ezek 9:6). As we read these words, let’s recall that the eldership is one of two special offices in God’s house (the other being deacons; cf. Phil 1:1). Pointedly, elders are not a board of directors among whom one is a paid chief executive officer accountable to the others. No, the context in 1 Peter shows us that the terms elder, overseer (bishop), and shepherd (pastor) are essentially interchangeable titles, referring to all those men who by their example and instruction distinguish themselves as those who live a life of faith and practice worthy for others to emulate and who are therefore set apart for the ministry of discipleship, whether they make their living in that ministry or not (1 Tim 3:1-7; 4:12, 16; 5:17-18; 2 Tim 2:2, 24-25; Titus 1:5-9; Eph 4:11; Heb 13:7, 17 with 1 Pet 5:1-3). Having been recognized by congregations for their qualifications, Peter presumes that the non-elder members will submit themselves to their elders’ care, holding them in high esteem because they keep watch over them, give them instruction, serve as judges on their behalf, and otherwise manage the flock’s affairs (1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 3:5; 5:17-18; 1 Cor 6:4, 5 with Exod 18:21-26; Num 11:16-17). Given their responsibilities, it’s easy to see why Peter addresses the elders first.

Interestingly, to start off his exhortation, the Apostle Peter (1:1) cites his own qualifications as a fellow elder (5:1). He acknowledges his official connection with the other elders in the Dispersion (1:1) and presumably elsewhere. He also reminds readers that he’s a witness of Christ’s sufferings. Though Peter did not see Jesus’ crucifixion, he did remain with Jesus during the trials of His ministry (Luke 22:28) and certainly did know about the crucifixion and proclaimed it to others (Acts 2:23; 5:30; 10:39). Faithful, then, as a witness of and to Christ’s sufferings, the Apostle is assured that eternal glory will be his reward (5:1, 10). With his own qualifications laid out, Peter has now let his fellow elders know that he’s not asking them to undertake a ministry that he himself hasn’t undertaken. The particular tasks he has in mind follow.

Knowing that sheep need shepherds to keep them from straying as they suffer unjustly, Peter exhorts us who are elders to give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among us (5:2a NET). As shepherds, we’re obligated to know, feed (teach), guide, and guard the sheep under us. To clarify what he means by shepherding, Peter adds exercising oversight (5:2a), that is, watching over or supervising the sheep whom God has assigned to our care. As overseers, we’re stewards and guardians of the flock (cf. 2:25b), particularly as we defend them against any teaching, belief, or behavior that threatens to scatter or devour them (5:2a). But what attitude and approach are we to take in our work? Peter tells us, first negatively, then positively (5:2b-3). “Shepherd God’s flock,” he says, “not reluctantly or against your will, not because you’re coerced into doing it; but voluntarily, in keeping with God’s revealed character and will. Watch over His sheep, not to get money (like Judas) or influence, but to give care with a holy zeal. Exercise oversight, not by treating the sheep as your subjects or slaves, certainly not by bullying or intimidating them or by being abusive or harsh to them (2 Cor 1:23-24 with 11:20), but by setting an example for them to follow.” In sum, just as Peter framed husbands’ authority within limits defined by obedience to God and by Christ’s example, so he does the same with us who are elders. The Apostle emphatically forbids us shepherds from adopting ways that marginalize or otherwise injure the flock of God in our care.

Lastly, as if his qualifications weren’t enough to motivate us, Peter urges us elders to comply with his directions by pointing us to the future reward for faithful shepherds (5:4). It’s true, of course, that Paul requires elders who do their work well to receive a reward matching their labor now (1 Tim 5:17). Peter, however, looks to the future: if we elders do our work as undershepherds accountable to Jesus the Chief Shepherd, we who have shepherded as God would have us do it (5:2) will receive the unfading crown of glory. The Greco-Roman world rewarded athletes, soldiers, and politicians with crowns of unfading flowers. Peter, however, like Paul, sees God Himself granting that special reward on the last day (e.g., 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Tim 4:8). His point is clear: when Christ returns, God will openly acknowledge and honor faithful elders, even though the world may reject and vilify them now (2:4-8; 4:12-19).

According to Peter, God’s process of purifying the church and the world of sin and its impurities has begun with fiery trials at His house, and first in line for purification are the elders. And so our assignment is set before us: would we who are elders show others the lessons of perseverance that we have learned during recent providence? Would we prove ourselves worthy to be emulated by others moving forward? Then, following Peter’s example, we must devote ourselves, as the Chief Shepherd’s undershepherds, to knowing, feeding, guiding, and guarding the sheep in our care. Only then will we show that we’ve made good use of the current season of hardship and are worthy of emulation by others, particularly exiled (i.e., marginalized) saints.

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