“I believe … in the Holy Spirit”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue our series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to Article 8 and confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit. As we do, we’re actually starting the third section of the Creed. The first section (Article 1) focused on the person and creating work of God the Father. The second section (Articles 2-7) focused on the person and saving work of God the Son. Now we come to the third section to focus on the person and work of God the Spirit.

Some describe the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten” Person of the Trinity. This is not, however, historically accurate. In fact, over the centuries, students and teachers of Scripture have made the Spirit the focus of much helpful attention. Still, with nearly 60% of Americans agreeing that “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being,” we should concede that the Spirit is the lesser known of the Three Persons. We also do well to recognize that The Nicene Creed (AD 325, 381, 589) perfected and expanded the wording of Article 8 by affirming, “And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son: Who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets.” We’re not surprised, then, when catechisms and confessions from the Reformation era explained Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed in light of the Nicene Creed. Our comments below will do the same.

Confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit, we bear witness that He is, together with God the Father and God the Son, true and eternal God. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, He is the Third Person of the Godhead. He was active in the work of creation, forming and filling the visible creation. He has been active in the work of salvation, making all things new, particularly God’s people, in and through Christ. In His ministry, He gives the definitive, conclusive testimony (witness) to the Father who sent the Son and to the Son sent by the Father. As the Spirit relates specifically to the Son, Scripture describes Him as constantly present in and with the incarnate Son, from womb (conception) through tomb (death) to throne (ascension). As such, the Spirit is designated as Paraklete, that is, as Divine Defense Counsel, Advocate, Chief Witness, Eyewitness, Character Witness to Christ, the Son of the Father. We must, accordingly, take care to receive the Spirit’s witness. To do otherwise is to blaspheme Him.

The Spirit’s ministry as Divine Witness has had two aspects: revelation and conviction. As minister of revelation, He is the One who has provided all Christ-glorifying revelation through the Prophets and Apostles, guiding them into all aspects of the truth as revealed in Jesus, disclosing to them the fullness of His person and work in His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Because of this ministry of the Spirit, the church should be confident that the Scriptures are Spirit-taught words (1 Cor 2:13). He who is minister of revelation is also minister of conviction (John 16:8-10): He convicts the world of sin, on account of their unbelief and unrepentance; of righteousness, on account of the Son’s ascension to the Father’s throne; and of judgment, on account of the Son’s judgment of Satan.

The work of the Spirit goes beyond revelation and conviction too. In Scripture, we learn that, at creation God, by the Spirit and the word, overcame darkness and deep and made all the world into a veritable palace of the Majestic Creator on high. Then, through Moses, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame Egypt, made Israel a holy nation, and took up residence in the tabernacle as His holy dwelling place. Later, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame the Canaanites under Joshua and David, and had the first temple built under Solomon as His earthly holy house. In the present age, since His first coming, Christ, by the Spirit and the word, has been overcoming Satan’s kingdom and making His people into God’s earthly dwelling place in the Spirit. At His return Christ, by the Spirit and the word, will overcome death, and His people will thereafter reside forever with God in His eternal dwelling place. Clearly, from the beginning, the Spirit has bound Himself to the word, and, by that bond, God has brought and will bring beauty and bounty, security and purity to all the world.

There is one more point for us to bear in mind here about the Spirit in whom we believe. Because true faith is discerning faith, we who confess faith in the Spirit will test both speakers and listeners who claim to be of God (1 John 4:1-6). Not all speakers (4:1-3) or listeners (4:4-6) should affirm that they are of God. No, according to the Apostles, speakers and listeners who truly are of God are created by the Spirit of truth (1 Cor 2:6–3:4). For wherever the Spirit of truth has been at work, speakers and listeners make a common confession that is in keeping with the Apostles’ teaching now documented in Scripture. Preeminently, they confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Eternal Son incarnate, fully God and fully man, one person with two natures, human and divine. If, then, we would discern speakers and listeners who are of God, we will look for the work of the Spirit of truth evident in their common confession of the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel now documented in Scripture.

In Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed, following Scripture, we confess, I believe … in the Holy Spirit. We do so bearing in mind that the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error are both present in this world. How will we know the one from the other? We will know the Holy Spirit of truth because His work is to give sinners new ears to hear the Apostles’ gospel of Christ and new mouths to confess the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel. What, then, will our confession be in these days of widespread confusion about the Holy Spirit? Let’s be sure not to answer in an offhanded, cavalier way.

Our attention turns to Article 9 of the Creed here.

A Scandal at the Core of the Christmas Story?

Posted by R. Fowler White

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1.1-4, NASB)

Some might say that there is a scandal at the core of “the Christmas story”–otherwise known as the account of the nativity of Jesus. It is the scandal that explains why non-Christians celebrate Christmas as they do. While they party with a fictional Santa, they scoff at the truth of Jesus, particularly the scandalous truth of His Incarnation. The fact of the Incarnation scandalizes the unbelieving world.

According to the Bible, Jesus of Bethlehem is the Eternal Son, the Christ, who is now and always will be fully God and fully man. He has not always been man; He has always been God. He is God with God, God the Word, God the Son, who has permanently taken to Himself human nature. Jesus Christ was not first a man upon whom divinity descended for a time. No, He was first God who then became the God-man, and that forevermore thereafter. That is, after the Incarnation, He is now and will forever be one person with two natures, divine and human.

Apart from the Incarnation, Jesus’ life is outstanding and His death obscene. Because of the Incarnation, however, His life and death are unique: in fact, they are both part of His unique saving work for sinners. The apostles of Christ made that clear in the good news that they heralded. In His life, Jesus the God-man was entirely faithful to His God and Father where sinners are entirely unfaithful; in His death, He bore the penalty sinners justly deserve for their unfaithfulness. Just so, in Jesus the God-man alone, through faith alone, sinners find the joy of life with God.

To deny that Jesus of Bethlehem is God-who-became-man is to disbelieve the authentic Christian gospel; it is to believe a lie. So we’ll be careful not to settle for anything less than God the Son Incarnate, Jesus of Bethlehem. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! (2 John 7, NASB)

1 John 2:19, Again

Here is the first post on this passage. There are several good arguments there for the understanding of the passage as supporting the traditional visible/invisible church distinction. I wish to add some more, extremely weighty arguments. I owe these arguments to discussions with Wes White.

First of all, if John is saying that these folk who went out “from us” are false teachers commissioned by the apostles, then his rejoinder makes no sense. Why would “they would have remained with us” be an acceptable rebuttal for why they are false teachers commissioned to be sent out? This makes no sense at all. Commissioned folk, according to this intepretation, are by definition sent out. Clearly here, the “not of us” is being here contrasted with “remain with us.” Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the “remaining” would mean some sort of thing as “remaining in spirit or doctrine,” which would have to be the case, if Wilkins’s view was correct.

Secondly, the purpose clause (ἵνα plus subjunctive) also makes no sense. Why would the apostles send out false teachers in order for them to be exposed? If I were an apostle, and I knew that so-and-so was a false teacher, the last thing I would do is to let him out among the sheep! This would be for a shepherd to let in a wolf in sheep’s clothing in among the sheep! Unthinkable! No, the burden of the passage is that God allowed them to go forth out from the congregation in order that their true origin would be exposed. It is not a commissioning, but a self-induced excommunication that is here related. The going forth was voluntary (the voice of ἐξῆλθαν is active, after all; there were plenty of ways that John could have said “We sent them,” if he had wanted to do so. Plus, the normal word for sending out is apostello).

Thirdly, the definition of “antichrist” in the context is someone who denies the Father and the Son. Their activity is not firstly that of teaching, but that of confessing (vs. 23). They are confessing a denial of the Son, which entails a denial of the Father also. Now, I do not deny that they are trying to teach false doctrine, since that is plainly indicated in verses 26-27. All wolves want to make their own job of eating the sheep easier by trying to convince the sheep that either 1. The wolves are really sheep, or 2. The sheep are really wolves. But this is a far cry from saying that, because these false teachers were commissioned by the apostles, that therefore it cannot be referring to the visible/invisible church distinction. Even if we granted the point about being commissioned by the apostles, that would still not negate the truth of the assertion that they were part of the visible church, but were shown not to be part of he invisible church.

I John 2:19

Here is the text:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Now, this text has been used on both sides of the FV debate. Critics use this as a proof-text for the standard understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction. Wilkins has a rather extensive exposition of this passage on page 17 of his exam. He will be my dialog (sparring?) partner.

The first question that must be asked is this: who is the “us” in the verse? Two options have presented themselves. The first is that John and his readers make up the “us.” The second option is that the “us” is the apostles. Obviously, if the second option is correct, then the verse cannot be used as a proof-text for the visible/invisible church distinction, since the ones who left are not then described as being in the church; they would only be described as being sent by the apostles.

However, the “apostles” understanding of the “us” is not tenable for contextual reasons. The “us” must be referring to the same group as the “we” in the last part of the previous verse. That verse goes like this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” Surely, the “we” in the last sentence cannot be limited to the apostles, since, by telling his readers that it is the last hour, everyone knows, not just the apostles! It is a literary “we,” identifying the writer with the readers. This understanding of the “we” is by no means shaken by the fact that “you” refers to the readers in the first part of the verse. Obviously, the “you” refers to the readers. But it refers to the readers minus the writer. It would be unnatural in the extreme, therefore, for John to posit a contrast between the readers and the apostles in that verse. Such a contrast would make no sense. Therefore, the “we” in verse 18 is referring to readers plus John. In short, it is the church. That makes a sudden departure from this usage to that of “apostles” impossible in verse 19. The “us” of verse 19 is the same as the “we” of verse 18.

The next question that must be examined is the timing of the false teachers. Did they cease to be part of us, or were they never part of us? Wilkins says that the former is an exegetical and grammatical option. However, he does not argue his case. He merely asserts it. I, on the other hand, will argue my position, which is that the false teachers were never part of the church.

First of all, we must note the tense of the verb “to be.” It is imperfect. Imperfect does not have the sense of completion, but of incompletion. In other words, there is not a change of status in the present. The imperfect conveys rather a continuous action in the past. They were continually not of us.

Furthermore, the sentence starting in the second part of the verse expresses a contrary-to-fact condition (BDF 360). It is contrary to fact that they were of us. Therefore, the logical corollary is that they never were of us. Wilkins’s case has not only not been made, but now has been shown to be impossible. The verse describes the traditional view that these false teachers came out from the church (“us”), but were never part of the church (“not of us”).

Of course, Wilkins is correct in saying “there is no compelling reason to say that John is claiming these eventual apostates never experienced ANY (emphasis his) blessing whatsoever while they remained in the covenant community.” I think any critic of Wilkins could agree with this. But, what are the nature of those blessings? Saving? No. None of them.