How to Reconcile the Immutability of God with “Repent” Passages

On the one hand, we have passages that tell us that God does not change (James 1:17, Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, and Hebrews 13:8. These are quite clear: God does not change. God does not move on to plan B. God is not “open” in this sense to the future. Since these are the clearer passages, we should start with these, and not with the passages that are less clear, like the repentance passages. Going from the clear to the unclear is what the orthodox do. Going from the unclear to the clear (and imposing thereby their own pre-conceptions on to the texts) is what heretics do. This is the error of the open theists (read Socinians!).

So, if these passages are that clear, then what do we make of passages like Genesis 6, where God “repents” of making humanity? Is this a contradiction with the above set of passages? The answer is no. It doesn’t contradict at all. There is not even any paradox involved. What happens is this: God is utterly consistent in His treatment of human beings, depending on their state and their relationship to Him! Those who are God’s children and have a relationship to Him of child to Father (through adoption) can expect to be treated in a very consistent way. This would be a way that includes discipline, for the Lord disciplines those He loves. However, the Lord will never again treat His child the way a judge treats the defendant.

Similarly, those who are not in a right relationship with God can always expect Him to treat them as a judge treats the guilty defendant. God is long-suffering, and so sometimes that judgment takes a while. Nevertheless, the judgment will come. In other words, what changed in Genesis 6 was humanity, not God. It kept on changing for the worse (see verse 5). When that happens, the relationship changes, and God is always consistent in His treatment of people based on the state of that relationship.

The idea of covenant is heavily involved here. The first category of people we described above are members of the covenant of grace, and will always receive consistent covenant-of-grace treatment. Those not in that covenant are still condemned under the covenant of works, and thus, the more evil they do, the closer to judgment they get.

To sum up here, God does not change. He is always consistent with His character, and always treats people based on the state of the relationship that person has with God, a relationship that is covenantally determined.

One other thing must be mentioned here, and that is the “relenting” of the prophetic literature. Take the case of Jonah, for instance. After Jonah’s rebellion, he goes into Nineveh and preaches the world’s shortest sermon, (“40 days, and you’re toast”). The people repent and God relents. What is going on here? Take note of the 40 days. Why give Nineveh 40 days? Why not just say that it’s going to happen tomorrow? Because, built into every single judgment oracle in the OT, is the understood condition that if the people repent (i.e., their relationship with God changes!), the judgment will either be delayed or eliminated. So the relationship change works in reverse, too. If the relationship changes for the worse, God brings judgment. If it changes for the better, God holds off on judgment. God is rigidly consistent in this! In other words, God does not change, man does.

Announcing the New Covenant

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a curious question that arose in our Hebrews study recently (starting our second year at ch. 8!):

We understand that the Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (Ex. 34) and its terms were verbally established for God’s people through the giving of the Law. If the New Covenant was similarly inaugurated with blood (Luke 22), when was its content verbally established?

I suspect possible answers might include one or all of these: at the articulation of the Abrahamic Covenant; in Jeremiah 31; whenever Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand; whenever the gospel was/is proclaimed after the resurrection of the Son. More? How does the NT itself fit into this picture?

Just curious how any of you would frame an answer, and what you would choose to emphasize as the verbal establishment for God’s people of the terms of the New Covenant. Thanks!

Hebrew Roots, Unhelpful Fruits

by Reed DePace

I first was compelled to examine the Hebrew Roots Movement (more broadly, Messianic Christianity) because of a beloved Christian father in my circles who had a relative drifting into the movement. This relative has a sincere faith, spending a part of life working for a reformed ministry of some renown. Circumstances in life led this relative to some understandable and rightly placed disillusionment with some reformed churches. In response to these hardships the relative sadly and unwisely in my view latched onto a Messianic congregation/ministry. Hence, in order to help this Christian father, I did some research on this movement.

I’ve concluded that MOST of the folks involved with what Lane has aptly titled the Hebrew Roots Movement are dissatisfied Protestants looking for THE explanation/interpretation that will bring to life the full realization of the promises for the Christian Life taught in the Scriptures. Rightly NOT satisfied with the experience of ordinary Evan-jellyfish Christianity that makes a great blasting trumpet sound but has no extraordinary follow through, these folks, motivated by a sincere desire to believe Christ, are looking for the answer somewhere other than the tradition they’ve come out of.

Thus they follow in a long line of similar seekers of the fulfillment of what Calvin called “Golden Jewish Dreams.” They are the descendants of the Anabaptists, the various movements into spiritualism, mysticism and pietism. They are the next heirs of the higher life movement, the Pentecostals, and late born cousins of Dispensationalism and prosperity gospel preachers. Like all such movements, they claim a “New” understanding of the gospel that is also recovery of the gospel as taught in the Early Church.

And, in a manner they do not suspect, they are indeed right. They do have ancient roots and they are the latest new version of an old error. These folks yet again, in the end, propose a relationship with God that is synergistic for its fulfillment. For them it is not Jesus + fundamentalism, or Jesus + sacerdotalism, or Jesus + mysticism, or Jesus + signs and wonders, or Jesus + prosperity. No, for them it is Jesus + a modern expression of the oldest form of fundamentalism known in the Church. They are indeed a new expression of the old Judaizers. Like some of the early profession-making Pharisees (the party of James), these folks in the end teach a Jesus + Talmudic-Torah-observance, a Jesus + the necessity of some sort of a Jewish informed lifestyle.

They don’t realize that they are making (at least) two tragic mistakes. First, like most imbalanced Jesus + something else movements, they have an over-realized eschatology. They are expecting the experience of things now that are reserved for the eternal state. Specifically they are expecting a fleshly experience of what is only a spiritual experience of the Christian life now. They mistakenly think that fleshly practices in some way secure the dramatically powerful experience of the Spirit’s work in day to day life. In this they are no better than the forms of Evan-jellyfish they left behind. Missing that the ordinary experience of the Christian life is one marked by fleshly suffering and weakness this side of eternity, they are pursuing just another expression of the “Kingdom NOW” lie so common in the Church today.

Second, these Hebrew Roots Movement folks unwisely are adopting practices and habits, accouterments of a “Jewish” lifestyle that actually are derived from a heretical source. These folks do not seem to realize that with the destruction of the Temple the practice of a Jewish form of Christianity ceased to be an option. The core of OT worship was the sacrifices; all of Leviticus, the key book in terms of Jewish life and worship (i.e., life = worship, worship is life), is built around the sacrifices. They were essential to the maintenance of even the smallest component of the law of cleanliness, etc.. Without sacrifice one CANNOT rightly practice any of the OT worship system.

And when the Temple was destroyed – that was it. All that was left was the Pharisaical/Rabbinical traditions. All that was left was the ethical teaching of the rabbis (the Talmudic tradition) coupled with the imitative worship practices, the “616” applicatory traditions of the Pharisees. Outside the book of Acts we actually do not have any Church exclusive sources of what first century Jewish Christianity was like. All we have are sources that at best seek to interpret what Jewish Christianity must have been like based on similarities with second and later century Diaspora Judaism. It is amazing that Messianic Christians think they are practicing a purer form of Christianity. In reality, they are practicing a form contaminated by unbelieving Jews who maintained their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

These modern day “Jewish” Christians fail to grapple with what Jesus said:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mar 7:6-8 ESV)

Quite simply, those who would restore a Jewish form of Christianity are actually restoring the Pharisaical form at best, something condemned by Jesus and done away with at his express command (e.g., Acts 10, 15, the books of Galatians and Hebrews in total). All the practices adopted in Messianic congregations have as their source Rabbinic Judaism, that branch of Judaism that refused to repent of their rejection of the Messiah when in A.D. 70 God removed the earthly temple and left standing only the true spiritual temple, the Church of Christ.

Looking for the transformative power of the Christian life, these sincere but misguided folks ignore the warning of the Spirit who is the source of this transformation:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1Ti 4:1-3)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)– according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Tit 3:9)

The Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Christianity, while well intentioned, is yet another deflection from the simple, pure gospel of Jesus Christ. It is based on the heresy of rabbinic Judaism, NOT first century Jewish Christianity. It in the end, like all forms of Jesus + me Christianity, teaches a defective gospel.

For more information, and helpful “inside” critiques of the movement, see the following resources:

Stan is a Jewish believer in Christ, former pastor, and lately a missionary with Jews for Jesus. Raised in American Judaism, he speaks from first-hand knowledge of the Messianic Christian movement. One interesting tidbit he shares: upwards of 80% of the members of Messianic congregations are NOT Jewish by birth. Instead they are Gentiles, mostly disaffected evangelicals attracted to the Hebrew Roots Movement by a promise of a restoration of “authentic” Christianity.

Baruch is a born and raised Israeli Jew. He grew up actually Jewish, served his mandatory term in the Israeli army, and lived a thoroughly Jewish life before being converted. And after conversion, he continued to live a Jewish lifestyle – but one that does not involve the restoration of rabbinic Judaism in the Church seen in Messianic Christianity. A reformed pastor, he has a long-term credible missionary-pastoral-writing ministry based in Israel. If anyone can speak with credibility to the non-Christian aspects of the Hebrew Roots Movement, it is Baruch.

In the end, I conclude on a sad but hopeful note. The sadness is that these folks have saddled themselves with the old law-slavery that Jesus lamented: 

And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)

The hope is that it was to just such a people Jesus called out with this promise: 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-1)


NOTE: significant in the misunderstandings of these folks is the role of the Levitical regulations. It is these that make up the bulk of the “Jewishness” that Messianic Christians strive to adopt in their worship and life.

Consequently, both to understand where these folks get off track and in order to help them, getting a handle on how Leviticus works is important. Consider the following sources:

For some really deep background and seminal thinking on the nature of clean/unclean, holy/common themes in Leviticus, one ignores Mary Douglas to their own hurt: The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus and Leviticus As Literature. While you may not agree with all she says, her insights are very helpful in rightly interpreting the meaning of these concepts.

For some thinking on the role of the Mosaic law in the Church/Christian life, see:

As well, one will find great help, simple and sound investigations of the Scripture via the Westminster Confession of Faith. See Chapter 19, Of the Law of God,  especially paragraph three (scroll down to page 83).

Reed DePace

The Hebrew Roots Movement

There is a movement afoot (small, but rather persistent) to return to the Old Testament way of doing things (and they would argue that the New Testament changes pretty much nothing). This (usually) involves a return to Saturday Sabbath, celebration of the Old Testament feasts (and even non-OT feasts like Hanukkah!), and observance of the Old Testament dietary laws. There have been Messianic Jews around for quite a while, but what is happening now is that previously Reformed people are becoming persuaded by this viewpoint. What I want to do in this post is examine some of the architectonic issues at play, and then respond to some specific things in the blog post linked above.

The first and most important question, when it comes to the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament is this: how do we read our Bibles? This is the question of hermeneutics. What are the principles by which we come to the conclusions we do? Is there such a thing as an apostolic hermeneutic? That is, do the apostles read the OT in a certain way that might not seem obvious to us at first? I do not have time or space to lay this out in full. There are many excellent books on the subject. I would recommend this one. When we look at John 5 and Luke 24, the following picture emerges: the NT is the lens through which we see the OT, and not the reverse. We read the OT in the light of the end of the story, which is Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us in Luke 24 and John 5 that if we read our Old Testaments and do not see Jesus, then we are misreading the Old Testament! This principle can be taken to an extreme, as in the case of Arthur Pink, who, while having many helpful things to say, went a bit overboard on typology. Not every detail is specifically about Jesus. The story as a whole is about Jesus. It organically unfolds in such a way that Jesus is the climax of the OT. To put it mildly, the Hebrew roots movement does not read the Bible this way. For them, the OT is the lens through which they see the NT. As a result, they misread the OT. A very simple question can point out how misguided this is: if the OT is clearer than the NT, then why did we need the NT at all? Hermeneutically, we read the more difficult parts of the Bible in the light of what is clearer.

A second issue I wish to treat is the ignoring or denial of the three-fold division of the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Jesus says that there are weightier matters of the law. He castigates the Pharisees for harping on the minor matters, while ignoring the heavier ones. This indicates a distinction within the OT laws. The fact that the Ten Commandments were written by God’s finger on tablets of stone, whereas the rest of the law was written by Moses on more perishable materials also indicates that the Ten Commandments are the most important section of the law, as reflecting the very character of God. The reason this issue is important is that the HRM (Hebrew roots movement) puts all laws in the same category of permanence. There is no such thing, in their minds, as a built-in expiration date of a law. For them, anyone who changes the law is automatically abrogating the law. For them, there is no possibility that there might be underlying principles (general equity) that carries over, but appears in different form in the NT. However, if the three-fold division of the law is an appropriately biblical way of thinking (and see this book for an excellent argument in this direction), then we are not in fact forbidden to wear 50% polyester 50% cotton shirts (two different kinds of threads), nor are we anymore forbidden to take the mother with the eggs. The principles underlying these laws continue today (be discerning about what is holy and what is not, what is conducive for spiritual growth and what is not: don’t mix the world and the church). But they do not apply in the same way today as they did in OT times.

A third issue is that of sources. He quotes this website as “proving” that it was the Roman Catholic Church that changed Saturday to Sunday, and that the NT says nothing of the sort. Is this a credible website, if it claims that the Vatican was at work in the Council of Laodicea in 321 A.D.? Surely Rambo could be more discerning in his choice of sources. All internet sites (including this blog!) must be tested, and not believed simply because they are out there, and because it happens to agree with one’s position. He also quotes this website which gives a quotation of Spurgeon completely out of context. If he had looked at the sermon from a more reputable website, he would have seen Spurgeon’s rather important qualification immediately following the quotation in question: “Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day.” Precisely. And this is the position of most in the Reformed world who celebrate Christmas. It is an historic position in the Reformed world to reject all holy days except the Sabbath. But it is not a question of choosing between paganism and the biblical position, if there is a third option that is defended as biblical. Hence, Rambo commits the fallacy of false dichotomy in addition to misquoting sources (which, incidentally, is a violation of the ninth commandment).

A fourth issue that I wish to bring up is a brief discussion of Ephesians and Galatians in regard to these very matters. Paul castigated Peter for not eating with Gentiles in Galatians 2. Why did Paul do that? Because Peter was forcing the Galatian Gentiles to live like Jews in order to be saved! See in particular Galatians 2:14. To re-erect the barriers between Jew and Gentile is false teaching. Gentiles do not have to live like Jews in order to be saved. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul says that Jesus has “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” First question is this: what does “katargeo” (the word translated “abolished”) mean? According to BDAG, the most reputable Greek Lexicon for the study of the NT, there are 4 possible meanings (context must decide which one is in use here): 1. “to cause something to be unproductive, use up, exhaust” (this does not seem likely, as commandments are not like some sort of usable substance) 2. “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless” (BDAG lists Ephesians 2:15 under this definition). This is definitely possible. 3. “to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside” This is also possible. 4. “to cause the release of someone from an obligation (one has nothing more to do with it), be discharged, be released” This is also possible. About which laws is Paul speaking? In context, it must be the laws that separate Jews from Gentiles. In verses 11-13, Paul speaks particularly of how Gentiles have been brought near, having before been aliens to the people of God. Then, in verse 15, the effect of Christ’s action is to make one new man out of the two. There is now neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ (as he would also say in Galatians). So, the laws that separate Jew from Gentile are “katargeo’ed.” Any of the last three meanings means that Gentiles do not have to observe those laws in order to be part of the body of Christ. What Rambo is doing, then, re-erects the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. It creates barriers between people.

Now, to get to some specific things in the blog post. His overarching issue is anti-semitism, which he expands quite a bit beyond what most people would define as anti-semitism. I would define it simply as hatred for the Jews (and I certainly do NOT hate Jews!). However, Rambo defines it pretty much as anything that is not his viewpoint on the OT. So, if we do not observe the OT feasts, we hate Jews. Or, if we do not observe Saturday Sabbath, we hate Jews. One charge that blew my mind into smithereens was this one:

I called Yeshua by a Greek name, ‘Jesus,’ thus denying, with each use, His real heritage and even who He is. Yeshua means ‘salvation, deliverer.’ What does Jesus mean? There isn’t even a letter ‘J’ or ‘j’ sound in the Hebrew alephbet/language or in Greek!…Changing the name of Yeshua to Jesus denies His Jewishness and is antisemitic to the core. Think about it.

So, transliterations of Hebrew names into Greek and into English constitute anti-Semitism and hatred for Jews? So, why doesn’t he use Hebrew letters instead of English letters? One could argue that even transliteration itself is anti-Semitic. Why does having a “j” instead of a iota or yodh (which is a VERY standard transliteration practice) have any relevance whatsoever to anti-Semitism? If it does, then he is still being anti-Semitic for saying “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” instead of “Avraham, Yitzhaq, and Ya-aqov” (gotta make sure that it’s a “q” and not a “k” to represent the letter qav, or else I’m being anti-semitic!). Furthermore, he is not quite correct in his assessment of the name “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation,” not simply “salvation” or “deliverer.” And, yet further, the name Jesus means exactly the same thing! The Greeks did not change the name when they wrote “Iesous,” nor did English writers change a thing when they wrote “Jesus.” They all mean exactly the same thing, which is not quite what Rambo says it means.

He accuses Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the Reformed denominations of advocating a “covert dispensationalism.” This redefines the term “dispensationalism.” The Presbyterians and the Reformed (and to a lesser extent, the Lutherans) believe in one covenant of grace extending from the proto-evangellion in Genesis 3:15 through the end of the New Testament. There are different administrations of this same covenant, but it is always the same covenant, building later additions on to the earlier ones. There is a progression of the covenants culminating in the new covenant that Christ instituted by His death and resurrection. This is not dispensational in any historical understanding of the term. Rambo seems to think that any change from the OT at all is dispensationalism. If that is true, then we don’t need Jesus at all. Jesus then adds absolutely nothing.

On his quotation of Calvin and Luther, one must be careful to put these quotations into historical context. I would not excuse Luther’s attitude towards the Jews. Neither would just about anyone else alive today. They were different times, however, and we must be careful not to judge the Reformers by our modern cultural situation. As for Calvin, that statement that Rambo quoted is quite mild compared to how he blasted the Roman Catholics. This kind of statement is not something unique in the writings of Calvin, as if he had it in for the Jews in particular. Furthermore, Calvin’s point is that anyone who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior deserves to have this end. Calvin would have said the same thing about anyone who rejected the Messiah.

This supposed anti-Semitism is then applied as an across-the-board poison that infected everything they wrote. This is HIGHLY fallacious. He says that their anti-Semitism “permeates every doctrine.” This is stunning. Should I accuse Rambo of anti-Semitism because of his mis-transliteration or his mistranslation of a Hebrew term? Or is Rambo simply using this as an excuse to reject anything and everything the Reformers said? Aside from the problem of whether he has interpreted (particularly Calvin) correctly, there is the issue of an illegitimate extension of Calvin’s sayings into all areas of doctrine.

Joel Beeke’s Address

The title of his address is “Parenting By God’s Promises.”

The premise of his book is that God is a God of grace. The covenant of grace is the bedrock of parenting. We parent based on the covenant. He doesn’t want to presume regeneration, nor does he want to ignore the covenantal promises. He argues that if we refuse to say to our children that they need to repent and believe, then we will create little Pharisees.

After laying the covenantal foundation of parenting, he gets into the how, which is written under the rubric of prophetic, priestly, and kingly tasks. Finally, he looks at some of the major problems. In this address, he wants to focus on four areas.

These foundational covenantal truths are the first issue. Parents need to believe that the covenantal structure of the promises is the reason why we will believe in God’s grace. The only perfect parents are those who don’t have kids yet. We should bring up our children “seamlessly,” which means that all the major influences will work together to bring up our children in the nurture of the Lord.

Secondly, we should use this rubric of prophet, priest, and king in the home. Of course, these offices have an echo in our lives in general. However, it is also true in our parenting. The prophetic task means that we should seek out opportunities for teaching. Family worship is vitally important to this. As priests, we are to be intercessors for our children. We should pray for them in our family worship. As kings, we have to fight against Satan and sin in this life. As parents, we help our children to discern God’s will. We discipline them, and guide them in their spiritual and temporal lives.

The third thing is that we must ourselves be models for living out the Gospel. Proper child-rearing is as much caught as taught. We have got to live what we teach them. A parent has to be a transcript of their teaching. We must love our children as Christ loves us. We should never fail to let our children know that we love them. We should not be shocked when our children sin. We sin, after all. We must ourselves grow in sanctification. The Gospel must inform and shape the way we deal with problems in the home. None of our children will ever treat us half as badly as we have treated our Lord Jesus Christ. We should therefore make sure that our interaction with our children should be largely positive.

Fourthly, we must recognize the times and seasons of the Christian life. How can we teach our children about the changes that will come into their lives before those changes occur?

The Sabbath and Salvation History

It struck me today that there are broad connections between the Sabbath and the entirety of redemptive history. We will take as our starting point the magnificent contribution of Geerhardus Vos to our understanding of the Sabbath, when he said that the Covenant of Works was nothing other than an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. Just as God worked for six days and rested the seventh, so also Adam was work for the probationary period, and then enter into his eternal rest. Adam had a weekly reminder of this probationary period in the Sabbath. So far, so Vos.

The thing that struck me was that the change of day from seventh day of the week to the first day of the week can then be connected to the change of covenant from works to grace. Now, here we have to be careful, since we can in no way imply that salvation was by works in the Old Testament. Nor are we positing a dispensational understanding of the different eras of history. The Covenant of Grace began in the Garden of Eden after the Fall. However, what we can say is that Adam was told “Do this, and live.” We can expand the sentence to say “Do this for six ‘days,’ and then you will enter your seventh ‘day’ of rest, which is eternal life.” The Sabbath is a weekly sign of that Covenantal promise affixed to the Covenant of Works. OT believers thus lived in a time when the Covenant of Grace was administered in type and shadow, not in its fullness. This might have some implications for the debate on whether the Covenant of Works was republished at Sinai. I would think this Sabbatical principle connected to covenant theology does support a form of republication at Sinai (especially given the rationale for Sabbath-keeping which we find in the Ten Commandments in Exodus, which hearkens back to the time of probation in the garden; and, the people did not celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week yet, since the Covenant of Works had yet to be fixed by Christ. The Sabbath pointed towards Christ’s work as bringing true rest). However, just trying to think through how that would work is making my head spin.

The change of day from seventh day to first day at the very least parallels the shift to the time of Gospel, when we hear “Live, and do this.” To be more specific, the connection goes like this: Jesus has now accomplished the fulfillment of the Covenant of Works, and so now the order of events is reversed. Instead of “Do this and live,” we now hear “Live and do this.” Expanding the sentence yields the following formulation: “Celebrate your eternal life on the day of the week on which Jesus obtained it for you, and then work in the light of that salvation afterwards.” Instead of work coming before rest, rest now comes before work.

Furthermore, there is a telescoping relationship of type and antitype in the OT and in the NT. In the OT, the weekly Sabbath telescopes into the seventh year Sabbath for the land, which in turn telescopes into the Jubilee, a pattern of seven times seven. The last implied link is eternity. In the NT, the beginning of this eternity has erupted into time with the beginning of the Sabbath rest obtained for us by Jesus. In the NT, there are elements of “already” and “not yet” with regard to the Sabbath, just as in the OT. The difference is that there is a lot more “already” in the NT than in the OT. We celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in order to celebrate the new life and salvation we have in Christ Jesus. However, we still have not entered into our bodily eternal rest, even though our souls have, as Christians.

A Quick Comment on Union with Christ

Posted by David Gadbois

I know there is an avalanche of great Leithart-related material streaming into Greenbaggins at this time, and I don’t mean to distract us too much from the primary issues of substance Lane and Reed have been focusing on, but I did want to slip in a few thoughts on Union with Christ that I made down in the combox of the “It Comes Down To This” post in response to one of the commenters there, and perhaps solicit some further discussion on the matter.  I have slightly modified my comment for posting here.


[previous commenter]:  Are there reprobate within the visible Church, i.e., the kingdom of Christ? So, it’s quite plain that “in some sense” the reprobate within the visible Church are united to Christ.

I keep hearing variations of this argument but, no, it is not “plain” that they are “united” to Christ in any sense. There are logical steps and arguments that are missing to get from the premise that since some reprobate men are in the covenantal community of Christ and outward administration of the covenant of grace to the conclusion that they must be “in some sense” united with Christ. To speak of having unity with Christ – being one with Christ- is a profound thing, and it certainly must mean more than that they simply have a relation or connection to Christ. Even unbelievers outside of the covenant have a relation to Christ, in some sense.

First, it is a disingenuous move on the FV part to have the qualifier “in some sense” operate as a blanket over their formulation to cover their hides, so that it might mean almost anything and they don’t have to actually define what sense that is. For this and other reason FV has earned its reputation for being very weak on systematic theology.

We normally mean several things when we talk about being united with Christ, the union is legal, that is it is federal where Christ is our head as the second Adam, as well as existential (“mystical union”), the subjective sharing in the life of Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit, wherein Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19). The reprobate clearly do not share in this union.

It is assumed that since the reprobate can be members of the covenant of grace and, indeed can be marked by the seal of the covenant, that this would imply a unity with Christ. But that would only be true if covenant membership in and of itself conveyed the blessing of union with Christ and other salvific blessings, that the covenant was unconditional. But Reformed theology and the WCF clearly see the CoG as conditional, the terms of the covenant state that true faith in Christ is required for the blessings promised. FVers always lose sight of the issue of conditional vs. unconditional promises in their conception of the covenant.

I think part of the problem with the FV is that they make the marriage covenant/relationship into a controlling paradigm for the covenant of grace and covenantal community, and it is the case that even the worst marriages still presuppose a level of existential unity and intimacy.  But the Bible only actually establishes that there are similarities between the two, the analogy does not always hold up due to the discontinuities between them.  The FV try to press this analogy to do the hard work for establishing their conclusions, rather than actually establishing their specific conceptions of the nature of the covenant from Scripture.

All of this reasoning also seems to ignore the fact that the Scriptures paint an adversarial picture of all those who are unregenerate, whether inside or outside of the covenant. In what sense can someone who is at enmity with God, with minds set on the flesh, not things of the Spirit, and that cannot please God (Romans 8) be said to be one with Christ? Indeed, “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

Old Saint Berkhof steers us right when he remarks concerning “Erroneous Conceptions of the Mystical Union”:

Another error to be avoided is that of the sacramentarians, represented by the Roman Catholic Church and by some Lutheran and High Church Episcopalians….It makes the grace of God something substantial, of which the Church is the depositary, and which can be passed on in the sacraments; and completely loses sight of the fact that the sacraments cannot effect this union, because they already presuppose it.

Connecting Preaching to Covenant Theology

I’ve decided to read through Hughes Oliphant Old’s entire set on the history of preaching. As I go along, I will note some of the more important insights from the set. Volume 1, interestingly enough, describes preaching in the Bible itself.

The first great insight I’ve come across so far is the very close connection there is between preaching and covenant theology. Old, depending on the work of Craigie, among others, has argued that the very nature of a covenant required the reading and the explanation of the covenant. In the ancient Near East, when a covenant was made between suzerain and vassal, the vassal was required to read the treaty regularly to his people, lest the people forget the nature of that covenant. Ancient Near Eastern treaties were always written down. The main reason for this was so that they would be read at solemn assembly to the people (p. 29). Old makes the point even more sharply when he says “Of the very essence of these treaties or covenants is that they are written down and regularly read and taught to the people in a public assembly” (p. 29, emphasis added). Old says, “If Craigie is right, then we have in the covenant theology of the Pentateuch the rationale for the reading and preaching of Scripture in worship – namely, that it is demanded by a covenantal understanding of our relationship to God and to each other” (p. 29). If the people are in a relationship with God based on a covenantal agreement, then it is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of that relationship that the terms of the covenantal agreement be regularly read and interpreted to the people.

Old goes on to describe what preaching looked like in the book of Deuteronomy. He observes three main elements in the preaching of Deuteronomy: remembrance, interpretation, and exhortation (p. 37). Retelling Israel’s story is absolutely essential, because God’s people are incredibly forgetful (see Deut. 4:9-14). A great deal of preaching should therefore be focused on helping people to remember what God has done in the past. Otherwise, our view of the future will get very dim indeed. The second element is interpretation (Deut. 1:5, for instance). This is obviously one of the main elements of any preaching. One simply has to explain the text. For the people need to hear what God means. Thirdly, there needs to be an exhortation for the people to do God’s will (Deut. 4:1, 6:4-6, 30:11,14).

I will conclude with this wonderful description of the power of God’s Spirit working through the Word (Old has the radiance on the face of Moses in the back of his mind as he writes these words):

God is a sacred fire, and to come near to him is to catch fire and glow with the same holy radiance. This begins to happen to us when we hear God’s Word. We are transformed after the image of Christ. It is through entering into that covenant that we enjoy his presence and through abiding in his presence that we are made holy (p. 25).

A Book Review of Michael Williams’s Book “Far As the Curse Is Found”

Dr. Michael Williams is Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. His degrees are from Moody Bible Institute (Diploma), Calvin College (BA), Harvard Divinity School (MTS), University of Toronto (Ph.D.), and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary (M.Div.). He has been at Covenant since 1996.

The book he has written is, like many other books, good in some places, and not so good in other places. Unfortunately, the not so good places have some rather significant implications for the current situation in the PCA. But we’ll start with the good things.

Firstly, there is a salutary emphasis on resurrection in this book. He holds to the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead, and he believes that this fact has enormous implications for the Christian life. In an age which has sometimes forgotten the resurrection, this is a good thing. He takes trouble to connect the cross and the resurrection together, which is always important to do. In reference to this, he notes that resurrection was not any less difficult to believe in the first century than it is now (p. 4). If Williams overstates the importance of resurrection by saying that it is “the best single term to catch the nature of redemption and the character of the Christian hope,” (p. 15) we can perhaps forgive him in the current climate. Later we find that he has not forgotten the cross.

Secondly, it is a helpful idea sometimes to start with the Exodus, before one deals with Genesis. One could argue that Genesis tells us what is wrong, while Exodus gives us a picture of the solution, and this is a valid point. However, it is not an exaggeration to say, with Williams, that Exodus provides the pattern for redemption.

Thirdly, Williams dismisses myth as an acceptable way of thinking about Scripture (p. 54).

Fourthly, he has a sound principle of authorial intention (p. 77). He argues that the text is our key to the authorial intention (which can be found!).

Fifthly, he seems to have a clear understanding of the difference between grace and obligation (p. 105).

Sixthly, his account of why the land of Israel was the promised land for God’s people in the OT is insightful (p. 115).

Seventhly, he definitively holds to the visible/invisible church distinction, as well as a distinction of sign and thing signified (pp. 130, 251).

Eighthly, his insight into Luke 4 is illuminating (pp. 243-245).

And, ninthly, his correspondence of Pentecost to Mount Sinai is also very interesting (p. 261).

And now for the criticisms.

Firstly, he gets off on the wrong foot defining covenant as relationship (pp. 45, 143, 236). Relationship is already established before the covenant is made (witness Abraham’s relationship to God well before Genesis 15 and 17, as well as God’s relationship to Adam before the terms of the covenant were made). Covenant is not relationship, but agreement. We might say that a wedding is a covenant ceremony, but there jolly well better be a relationship ahead of time!

Secondly, he is firmly monocovenantal. Here are some quotations: “But the human story from creation to new creation does change, and that affects how God administers his creation covenant” (p. 46), “We may view covenant history not as a series of disconnected installments but as a single line. Each new covenant presupposes and renews what went before. Specifically, God’s redemptive acts to not oppose or deny his creative intent, but come as restorative promises in relation to creation,” (p. 51), “Yahweh enters a covenantal relationship with his creation and with his people. He sovereignly initiates that relationship, choosing and binding himself to the recipients of his steadfast love. The relationship in no way depends on the prior performance of the chosen; it is, from the outset, wholly gracious…The covenant of creation thus provides for newly constituted Israel what it affords God’s people in every age: a full-bodied way of life that we are called to live before God and in the midst of the world” (p. 62), “Both before and after the fall, man was related to God in virtue of God’s grace” (p. 73), “We have so far considered the climactic and defining moment of the marriage (the resurrection), the story of how the couple first met and became involved (creation), how the hero saved the heroine (the flood, the exodus), and what they promised to each other in their wedding vows (the covenant words)” (p. 170). I would especially draw people’s attention to the quotation from page 73, for on page 74, Williams goes on to deny the substance of the covenant of works. He says, “Thus before the Adamic fall the terms of the covenant were addressed to man as creature. After the fall the covenant (note: the same covenant! LK) addresses man not only as creature but also as sinner in need of redemption…As both grace and law (love and holiness) are essential to God’s character, so the two are inexorably bound together and interdependent within the covenant…Legal obligation is not the precondition for life and relationship.”

We must be careful here. The Westminster Confession of Faith clearly advocates some aspect of God’s favor to man before the Fall, as the precondition for any kind of relationship. However, the question that needs to be asked is this: on what basis would Adam have had eternal life? The question is not whether there were any aspects of non-legal relationship between God and man. Most of the Reformed world has agreed that there are. The question is much more narrow than this, and refers entirely to the basis upon which Adam would have obtained eternal life. Was it by grace or by works? Williams says that Adam already had life (p. 72): “What I am suggesting here is that life in covenant relationship with God was something that Adam enjoyed by God’s grace. He possessed it as a gift. He could lose that gift by the misapplication of his responsible freedom, his disobedience, but he could not earn or merit it.” In other words, life was not promised to Adam; rather, he already had it. This raises several serious questions: if Adam already had it, then we cannot call it eternal life, can we? If we cannot call it eternal life, then God put Adam in a catch 22 situation, for Adam could not have gotten out of a state that had the perpetual danger of losing what he had. There was no way for him to progress beyond this state. None whatever. Williams rejects any and all aspects of a “merit-based” covenantal arrangement: “it is dangerously misleading to describe Adam’s relationship as merit-based” (p. 72). Of course, this begs the question of what kind of merit we are talking about: Williams never defines it. But it would seem that any kind of works that would be the basis for obtaining eternal life is rejected by his formulation, whether it is condign, congruent, or pactum merit. Hence, the covenant of works is rejected by Williams in all its essential aspects: there is nothing beyond his current state for Adam to obtain, and there is no way for him to obtain anything beyond his current state.

Further, Williams seriously confuses law and gospel. In fact, he advocates a kind of covenantal nomism as the proper understanding of all covenantal arrangements between God and man. This much is clear from pages 150-151. Here are the relevant quotations: “It is imperative that we see that in the giving of the law we witness the same relationship between grace and obedience that God has maintained from the beginning.” Now, in certain contexts, this could be true, except that he brings it back all the way back to creation. This is clear form what follows: “As he created Adam to obey his word, Yahweh redeems Israel to obey his word. There is no question of merit in either case…I cannot say this strongly enough. The law was never intended to be a means of earning salvation…In fact, we can speak of the law as a further act of grace, a gift to God’s people that serves his covenantal and gracious purposes. Thus the call of the law is to translate God’s grace into action. The law is the divinely intended means by which the covenant is nourished and maintained” (pp. 150-151). If the law was never intended to be a means of earning salvation, then Jesus Christ did not earn our salvation by means of law-keeping. Law winds up being grace, and grace winds up being law. This is not mitigated by his statement “Man’s obedience brings blessing; his disobedience brings curse” (p. 68), because he does not define the nature of the blessing or the cursing. Hence it is a statement with which almost anyone could agree.

This book is required reading for every single seminary student who goes to Covenant Theological Seminary, and is required in a class taught by Dr. Williams that is required of every student going through Covenant Seminary. The students are being taught a non-confessional view of the Covenant of Works in this class, and through this book, whereas our denomination has ruled strongly in favor of the Westminster Confession’s treatment of the Covenant of Works. While the book has some good things we can glean from its pages, it should not be used as a standard treatment of covenant theology.

TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence – Part 3

Posted by Wes White

II. Exegetical Arguments

A. TE Moon argues (p. 2) that TE Lawrence’s view of the term is in accord with the NT understanding of the term “Christian.” However, the context of each of the three uses of the term in the NT does not support this claim, which depends on baptism being the marker or identifier of who is a Christian. The first instance of its use is Acts 11:26. Baptism is nowhere mentioned in the context, but believing and turning to the Lord certainly is (vs. 21). They were marked by their beliefs, primarily. At the very least, if baptism was supposed to be the marker of the Christian, it should have been present in this context, and yet it is absent. If a Christian is one who identifies with Christ, then in this passage the way one is identified with Christ is if a person believed and turned to the Lord. This is very similar to the common way of using “Christian” today to refer to someone who believes in Christ. The second occurrence of this word is even stronger against TE Moon’s assertion. The context is Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. Paul gives a detailed defense of what he believes. In short, he preached the Word to King Agrippa. King Agrippa responds eventually by saying, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). King Agrippa was obviously thinking that Paul intended to persuade by his words, not by baptism. At the very least, in King Agrippa’s mind, to be a Christian was to believe what Paul said about the Christ. The means of becoming one, for King Agrippa, was persuasion by words. The last instance of the word occurs in 1 Peter 4:16. In my opinion, this verse does not point in any particular way, except that it is contrasted with “murderer, thief, evildoer, and meddler” (vs. 15). In this context, therefore, it is primarily what a Christian does that is marking him out for persecution, since he is not doing any of those wrong things. The passage is not really about how one becomes a Christian. The context is certainly delimited by the closing “Amen” of verse 11. Therefore, verse 12 starts a new subject. This is why the end of chapter 3 would not be pertinent to the discussion, as it is not in the immediate context. The conclusion of this study of the contexts of the three occurrences of “Christian” in the New Testament point rather strongly against TE Moon’s assertion that the “Christian” was deemed so by baptism. So, the issue is not whether “Christian” means “elect,” but rather whether “Christian” means “believer.” I would argue that it means the latter. And a true believer is one of the elect.

The next section will take quite some time to unpack, since TE Lawrence quotes a variety of Scriptures to prove his point, and TE Moon simply asserts that TE Lawrence’s statement is a paraphrase of Scripture. As a result, we must exegete every single one of these passages to prove that they do not advocate undifferentiated benefits given to the elect and the non-elect in baptism.

B. First up is Matthew 28:18-20, which is said by TE Lawrence to be a proof text for the assertion, “Baptism is the initiatory rite by which we are united to christ and thus granted new life.” It is difficult to see how union with Christ language is even present in the Great Commission. No doubt TE Lawrence interprets the participial clause “baptizing them” to be explanatory of “make disciples.” However, there are two participial clauses that modify “make disciples” in this context. Baptizing is one of those clauses, but in verse 20, we see that “teaching them to observe” is parallel with “baptizing them.” So, making disciples, or, literally, “discipling all the nations” has to do with two things, not just one. It has to do with baptizing and teaching. In any case, union with Christ is not present in the passage. Being a disciple is present. But being a disciple means being baptized and being taught. The baptism is not defined in relation to union with Christ in this passage. Neither is new life present in this passage. So, this passage cannot be used to buttress the claim that baptism gives new life and union with Christ.

C. The second passage quoted is Titus 3:5. The text itself is complicated and fraught with exegetical difficulties. Basically, the question can be boiled down to this: what does “laver, or washing of regeneration” mean? Several commentators argue that the primary meaning is a spiritual washing (see  Towner, 781; Marshall, 318; Mounce, 448; and Knight, 350). These commentators do not deny an allusion to baptism. However, the primary reference for them is to a spiritual cleansing of regeneration, which is invisible, a visible sign of which we receive in baptism. This is also the position of Calvin (pp. 332-334). Calvin carefully distinguishes between sign and thing signified even while connecting them together. What belongs to the sign stays with the sign (p. 333), and what belongs to the Spirit belongs to the Spirit. He states categorically that wicked men are neither washed nor renewed by baptism, even if the grace is offered to them. This is a far cry from what TE Lawrence is claiming. Also, it has been objected that discussing the distinction between sign and thing signified in relation to various passages is not exegetically helpful. Calvin, then, must be terribly unhelpful on page 334 of his commentary, when he claims that verse 6 refers not to the sign, but rather of the thing signified, in which the truth of the sign exists. Let me repeat, the distinction between sign and thing signified was not viewed by Calvin as relevant only to the concerns about Roman Catholics and Lutherans. He clearly saw the distinction as an exegetically helpful category for explaining the text. Calvin, then, is saying that the efficacy of baptism applies only to the elect (p. 333), and that wicked men get nothing good out of baptism. In fact, the efficacy of baptism towards the non-elect is said to be retained only in the hand of God who offers grace. That grace never reaches the non-elect. And, as we will see in Calvin’s comments on Romans 6, the efficacy is tied to Spirit-wrought faith.

D. The third passage quoted is Romans 6:3-4. Several key points are raised by TE Moon in this section (p. 4). First of all, TE Moon makes the claim that if the accusers are correct, then Paul should not have spoken the way he did about the instrumentality of baptism. Secondly, TE Moon argues that the distinction between sign and thing signified primarily relates to arguments that the Reformed have had with Catholic and Lutheran theology, and that such a distinction should not be used as a hermeneutical tool to understand Romans 6, at least not if it is used to say that Paul is not speaking of water baptism. If such a claim were made, says TE Moon, it would come near to violating what the Confession says about sacramental union, and the nature of how sacramental language can function. Lastly, he says that TE Lawrence was asked to divorce the sign from the thing signified. Let’s take these in order.

Firstly, how does Paul speak in Romans 6? One really cannot do better than John Calvin at this point. I, for one, do not believe that the rite of baptism is absent from Romans 6. Therefore, TE Moon’s rhetoric concerning the violation of every exegetical rule does not apply (although I think his comment is still off-base, as there are several well-respected scholars who do not hold that water baptism is in view at all, Lloyd-Jones being one of them. We would not want to accuse Lloyd-Jones of thereby violating every exegetical rule. Nor would such a position violate the Standards on the union of sign and thing signified, since one can legitimately speak of the sign or the thing signified without automatically including the other). Notice Calvin’s careful balance and qualifications:

For Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know that whatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified by their faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism when rightly received. So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Gal iii.27.) Thus indeed must we speak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unite together; for we never have naked and empty symbols, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence (emphasis added, p. 221 of his commentary on Romans, which is on Romans 6:4).

Notice here that baptism can be an empty and naked sign. It happens when ingratitude and wickedness prevent the thing signified from being present.

It is possible to err on two sides on this question of how Paul speaks. The first is to say that Paul refers only to water baptism in Romans 6. The other error to say that Paul refers only to what baptism signifies (though, as I said earlier, this hardly breaks every exegetical rule). For now, we need to explore the former error. If one says that Paul is only speaking of water baptism, then one might also be tempted to say that everything Paul describes happens at water baptism. But if Paul does not have only water baptism in view, but the entire sacrament (sign, thing signified, and Spiritual relation of the two), then nothing concerning the time point of when the thing signified comes to pass may be inferred from this passage. Paul is talking about the whole picture of baptism. He is not talking only about water baptism. This means that we cannot say when the thing signified comes to a person. Romans 6 presupposes Romans 4-5, as several authors have noted (see Shedd, pp. 150-152 of his Romans commentary, and Moo, p. 366, quoting Dunn, who seems to have this issue right, even if he is off on other things, although he seems to have backed off from his earlier position in his later commentary). If the thing signified came at the same time as the sign, then Romans 4-5 would make no sense in the flow of Paul’s argument, since the whole argument is that we have been freed from sin’s guilt by justification by faith alone. Abraham’s example in Romans 4 is conclusive on this point, since Paul pointedly reminds us in Romans 4:10 that justification happened before circumcision. The remainder of the passage hints that those who come to faith after circumcision are also the children of Abraham (v. 12). However, if all these benefits come to a person simply by virtue of the water rite (as TE Lawrence explicitly claims), then such a theology must narrowly tie faith down in the point of its inception to the moment of baptism. Otherwise, no sense at all could be made of Romans 4-5, which explicitly ties saving benefits to faith, and not to baptism.

E. The fourth passage adduced by TE Lawrence is Ephesians 4:4-6. TE Lawrence claims that this passage proves that baptism brings a person into the fellowship of the church. However, the items in a series, which strongly emphasize the oneness of the church, are not causally related to each other. They are simply items in a series: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.  How these things relate is not developed in Ephesians 4. Now, we do believe that baptism brings one into the visible church (as WCF 28.1 says). However, notice that the Westminster divines were very careful to summarize the Bible’s teaching on this as the “visible” church. They do not say that baptism gives the benefits it signs and seals, thus making a person a member of the invisible church. Of course, the minute such a distinction is made, the objection usually arises that this distinction bifurcates the church into two. It does not. There is a visible aspect and an invisible aspect to the church. There are distinct properties to each aspect. Both aspects put together constitute the church in the largest sense of the term.

F. Brief Excursus on the language of “sign and seal.”

1. A brief digression is necessary here in order to deal with the language of “sign” and “seal.” With regard to the language of “sign,” and analogy is helpful. Suppose a person is wandering around in his car, looking for Bismarck. He doesn’t really know where he is or where he is going. However, then he runs across a sign that says “Bismarck 22 miles.” He can then infer from this sign that if he continues on that road another 22 miles, he will be in Bismarck. The sign is no empty sign, for it points in the right direction. One would not expect to continue 22 miles in that direction, after having seen that sign, only to arrive in Minneapolis. However, it is easy to see that the sign is not Bismarck itself. One could extend the analogy to say that the spiritual relation between the two is the road connecting the sign with the city. One may choose not to go to Bismarck after all, in which case one does not get the thing signified. Seeing the sign does not give one access to the city. But when one comes to Bismarck, one is assured that he is there, because he remembers the sign that he saw. Similarly, if he had already been in Bismarck, and was leaving, but couldn’t quite remember what city it was he had just passed through, he could theoretically look at the sign backwards as he passed, and would be confirmed in his belief that it was Bismarck he had just been in. So the thing signified could come before, during, or after the sign. We must not tie down the thing signified to the time of the sign. Otherwise, we put God’s grace in a very small box indeed, and ascribe too much to the sign.

2. The language of “seal” is a bit trickier, since it sounds more efficacious. However, the language of seal functions very similarly, although we must use a different analogy. A letter from a king needed to have a confirmation that it was from the king. Therefore, there was wax that was used in connection with a signet ring to put a particular stamp upon the wax. This would guarantee to the reader that the message inside the letter was genuinely from the king. But the seal is not the letter itself. The letter could very well exist without the seal, although that would be unusual. Nor does a seal deliver the letter to anyone. What the seal says is that the letter is genuine to anyone who reads the letter. In the same way, baptism functions as a seal for our faith. It is faith that is the letter, faith that God gives us in order that we might be justified, sanctified, etc. When the letter is opened is not set at the time that the seal is placed on the letter. The letter might be opened later. One might already have the letter opened, and the king places his seal upon it afterward in order to confirm its genuineness. So the analogy works well whether faith comes before or after baptism. But someone who does not open the letter can see that the wax is genuine, but does not have the substance of the letter in his possession, and thus indeed does possess an empty sign, as Calvin noted above.

G. A fifth passage that TE Lawrence adduces is Galatians 3:26-27, which he argues proves that baptism brings one into fellowship with Christ and also brings adoption as sons of God. However, the text explicitly states that everyone who is a son of God is a son of God through faith (vs 26), not through baptism. The “for” in verse 27 does not explain something that is epexegetical to verse 26. Rather, verse 27 describes the sign, the reason they may have assurance that they are the sons of God. And the thing signified is here viewed as connected with the sign for those who have what verse 26 says. Again, Calvin is helpful and worth quoting at length, for his insight into the two ways Paul speaks (this is from his commentary on the passage):

But the argument, that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement? I answer, it is customary with Paul to treat of the sacraments in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites, in whom the mere symbol awakens pride, he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces, in strong terms, their foolish confidence. In such cases he contemplates not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connexion with the truth- which they represent. In this case, he makes no boast of any false splendour as belonging to the sacraments, but calls our attention to the actual fact represented by the outward ceremony. Thus, agreeably to the Divine appointment, the truth comes to be associated with the symbols.

But perhaps some person will ask, Is it then possible that, through the fault of men, a sacrament shall cease to bear a figurative meaning? The reply is easy. Though wicked men may derive no advantage from the sacraments, they still retain undiminised their nature and force. The sacraments present, both to good and to bad men, the grace of God. No falsehood attaches to the promises which they exhibit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Believers receive what is offered; and if wicked men, by rejecting it, render the offer unprofitable to themselves, their conduct cannot destroy the faithfulness of God, or the true meaning of the sacrament…(after quoting Romans 6:5, LK) In this way, the symbol and the Divine operation are kept distinct, and yet the meaning of the sacraments is manifest; so that they cannot be regarded as empty and trivial exhibitions (emphasis added, pp. 111-112 of Calvin’s Galatians commentary).

Calvin’s sermons are even more plain on this matter:

Baptism then maketh us not all Christians, and again we know, that to be made the child of God, is too great a benefit to be fathered upon a corruptible element (Sermons, p. 484).

And again:

But first of all let us mark here, that when Saint Paul speaketh of Baptism, he presupposeth that we receive the thing that is offered unto us in it. Many that are baptized do wipe away the grace of God: and notwithstanding that it be offered them, yet they make themselves unworthy of ir through their unbelief, lewdness, and rebellion. Thus ye see that the power of baptism is defeated in many men. But when there happeneth a mutual agreement and melody between God and us: then has baptism the effect whereof Saint Paul treateth and discourseth in this text (Sermons, p. 485).

Peter Barnes, in his excellent recent commentary on Galatians (p. 178), says much the same:

Surely, Paul is referring to water baptism. It is true that external baptism does not unite us to Christ. Paul is hardly saying that the rite of circumcision does not save or add to savlation, but the rite of baptism does! As John Stott puts it, “Faith secures the union; baptism signifies it outwardly and visibly.”

Plainly the views of Calvin and Barnes are not the views of TE Lawrence or of TE Moon. For TE’s Moon and Lawrence plainly say that even wicked men gain at least some advantage from the sacrament, even if it is a lesser version than what the elect receive (although such a two-tiered reception of the benefits of baptism is certainly nowhere taught in Scripture). Again, Calvin says that there is nothing signified present unless the sacrament be received in faith. Calvin says that wicked men gain no advantage from the sacrament whatsoever. Only believers get the thing signified, and they have to be believers (meaning that they must have true faith) to receive those benefits. Calvin says that baptism does not make us Christians, whereas TE Lawrence says that it does make us Christians. Calvin says, in effect, that a person is a Christian when sign and thing signified are both present. TE Lawrence says, in effect, that it comes in the water rite regardless of faith, or that faith itself comes in the water rite.

H. A sixth passage is Leviticus 8-9. It is difficult to know how TE Lawrence applies this to baptism and the benefits surrounding baptism. He says that it proves that a baptized person is brought into the fellowship of the church. I will be content on this passage simply to say that more work would need to be done on TE Lawrence’s part to prove his case. The consecration of Aaron and his sons might have relevance to one of the possible modes of baptism (sprinkling), but it is difficult to see how it relates to the efficacy of baptism, especially when circumcision would seem a much more direct place to go in the Old Testament for the theology of baptism.

I. A seventh passage is 1 Corinthians 12:13. Again, this passage is referenced by TE Lawrence to prove that baptism brings a person into the fellowship of the body, the church. The statement is vague in and of itself. It is true that baptism is a sign of joining the visible church, as has been said before. However, this passage is not talking about water baptism. Charles Hodge notes that water baptism and Spirit baptism are clearly distinguished in Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 1:5. He says further:

It is not denied that the one is sacramentally connected with the other; or that the baptism of the Spirit often attends the baptism of water; but they are not inseparably connected. The one may be without the other. And in the present passage there does not seem to be even an allusion to water baptism, and more than in Acts 1:5. Paul does not say that we are made one body by baptism, but by the baptism of the Holy Ghost; that is, by spiritual regeneration. Any communication of the Holy Spirit is called a baptism, because the Spirit is said to be poured out (p. 254 of his commentary).

Notice especially those important words about any outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We must not make the word-concept fallacy: that just because a word is present, that therefore a particular concept must be present. Just because the word “baptism” is present does not mean that water baptism is present. Peter  Naylor, in his recent commentary on the epistle, also does not believe that water baptism is referred to here. His argument is that if water baptism was meant, Paul would left out the qualifying phrase “in the Spirit” (p. 327). There is, however, a very recent commentary with whom the views of Moon and Lawrence agree. He writes this:

This verse is one of the fundamental Pauline texts that teach the incorporation of baptized believers into Christ.

The author is Joseph Fitzmyer, a Roman Catholic theologian (see p. 478 of his commentary).

J. The eighth passage referenced is 1 Corinthians 6:11, which does not have the word “baptized” in it. Now this does not mean that baptism is automatically excluded (otherwise we would be committing the word-concept fallacy described above). However, the verb “washed” is not usually connected with baptism in the New Testament (see Fee, p. 246). The phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” refers to all three verbs (wash, sanctify, and justify, all in the aorist tense), not just to washing. Furthermore, the preposition “en” is not Paul’s usual preposition to use when saying “baptize into the name of.” That verb is usually “eis.” It is more likely that Paul has in mind an inward washing from the guilt and power of the sins mentioned in the previous verses. Certainly, this verse does NOT say that baptism cleanses us from our sins, as TE Lawrence claims it says. The commentaries of Naylor (p. 144), Barrett (p. 141, who acknowledges an indirect reference to baptism, but says that it is “the inward meaning rather than the outward circumstances of the rite that is important to Paul”), Hodge (p. 100), and Thiselton (pp. 453-455 for a very nuanced version of what Barrett also said) also bear this out. Calvin says that the term “washing” is metaphorical, Christ’s blood being likened to water. But Calvin nowhere mentions baptism in connection with this text.

To be continued…

Posted by Wes White

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