Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sanctified by Faith: A Few Thoughts

A controversy has blown up over the question of the relationship of law and gospel in the Christian life. One of the contributions may be found here.

Put simply, the concern of Frank Turk and others is this: If we emphasise the distinction between the law and the gospel, are we in danger of Antinomianism? Are we denying that the Gospel has consequences?

The answer of course is no. I am not denying that the Gospel has consequences. It happens that on Saturday night, blissfully unaware of any of this, I was teaching a group of young people from Philippians 3. One of the major themes in Philippians is that the Gospel has an effect on our life, "Only let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ," Paul says in Philippians 1.27. So the Gospel has consequences, it is possible to live in a way that is worthy of the Gospel, and therefore to live in a way that is unworthy. In other words, the motive to holy life is the Gospel, not the law. The law shows us what a holy life looks like, but gives us no power to actually live that holy life.

The law governs by force, it is the paedagogos (a word that one of the members at Bethel now knows off by heart!), the harsh overseer who made sure the child went to school, did his homework and behaved himself! It is the message of what God demands.

The Gospel on the other hand is a message of what God has done for us in Christ to save us from our sins. But you see, it is a message of a great deliverance. That message changes everything. For we are delivered from the guilt of sin, and from its tyranny. We are born again, and led by the Holy Spirit. Gratitude, not obligation, drives us. Let me quote Thomas Chalmers on Romans 6:

"There is a sure transition from our being justified by faith to our being sanctified by faith. There is a provision made for this in the mechanism of the moral nature of man below; and there is a provision made for it in that celestial mechanism which has been set up in heaven... Faith makes known to us the love of God, and upon this gratitude calls forth the love of the heart to Him in return."

To return to Philippians 3, in the chapter Paul begins with legalism, with the Judaizers, and discards legal righteousness as rubbish. The only righteousness that matters, he says, is the imputed righteousness of Christ. But what does this lead to? It leads to a "pressing towards the mark", to holy living. Yes, there are the belly-worshippers (I'm sure there's a German compound word for that) who claim to be Christians, but the very fact that they are belly-worshippers proves that they are enemies of the cross. Jesus died to free us from our sins, not so that we could live in them.

You see, Jesus is the reward. If we really believe that, if we really are looking forward to living in the new heavens and the new earth in which righteouness dwells, then that will have consequences. But those consequences are just that. What I and the White Horse Inn folk are pleading for is that the distinction between the Gospel and its consequences not be erased - because the result of that is ultimately that the Gospel becomes something I do, my being changed, not that which changes me.

The law and the Gospel are always distinct. But they are never to be separated.

I would add that if you get all your teaching from a radio discussion show, you're radically unbalanced anyhow!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A few words for the Baptist Successionists

If you are going to try to find a succession of valid Baptisms from Apostolic times to today, make sure they are valid baptisms. In other words, if you would not accept a man with that baptism into your Church membership, you can't accept him into your pedigree.

For most Baptists that would mean:

1. Baptism on profession of personal faith in Christ. It is not enough to be baptised because you have been through a course of instruction to prepare a person for baptism, there must be a confession of Christ as personal saviour.

2. Baptism with water. A symbolic rite involving tapping on the head with a copy of John's Gospel (which is what the Bogomils did) is therefore out of the question. Yes, there have been groups that have used 'Baptism' to describe a rite without water. We would not accept waterless baptism today, and if you would not today, you cannot accept it in the past.

3. Trinitarian Baptism. All Trinitarian groups would agree that a baptism that is not Trinitarian is not valid. Thus a Presbyterian might argue that Roman Catholic baptism is valid, but Unitarian baptism is not. So if a group can be shown to have been non-Trinitarian, then it cannot have had a valid baptism. Baptists hold not only to baptism on profession of faith, but also that it has to be the right faith!

4. Baptism by immersion. Practically all, if not all, Baptist Churches teach that immersion is the only valid form of baptism. If this is the case, then you cannot claim that a group that baptised by pouring or sprinkling, even if it was on a correct profession of faith, is in the succession of valid baptisms. If you don't accept it today, you cannot accept it in the past.

5. Denial of baptismal regeneration. Where baptism is seen as actually effecting the new birth, this contradicts Baptist teaching that baptism must follow a person's becoming a Christian. I am not altogether certain that all Baptists would reject a Cambellite baptism where it was understood that the baptism effected regeneration (and indeed there are a number of Baptist Churches that started out as Campbellite), but it certainly leads to some serious questions!

Now, it simply cannot be proved that every one of the groups in the claimed Baptist Succession was not flawed on one or more of these points. Many of the witnesses called upon by the Successionists are flawed at one or more of these points. I would therefore continue to say that Baptist Successionism is a figment no man can prove. It is an imitation of Rome, and if I may say so a far more shaky one. For Rome simply requires that one man laid hands on another, no matter what his doctrine or the ceremony in which the hands were laid on. But the Baptist Successionist must not only have a line of baptisms, but a line of true doctrine, and of the right mode and method of baptism!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who killed Jesus?

Who killed Jesus? A fashionable answer is that it was the powers that be, the political and religious elite. Thus, we are told, the death of Jesus shows the bankruptcy of these systems and calls us to oppose them. Now, on one level there is some truth in this. The Jerusalem elites wanted Jesus dead because he threatened their power. To Caiaphas the choice was between the life of one man and the survival of the nation. The fear was that a real live Messiah would destabilize everything and lead to a war with the Romans, a war the Jews could only lose - as it turned out in AD 70. Caiaphas was a politician, and he decided that if one act of injustice was to be the price for national survival, so be it.

Pilate was finally prevailed upon to agree to the crucifixion because the Jerusalem elite convinced him that to do otherwise would be to set himself against Caesar, against the Empire. Imperial peace and stability were what finally led Pilate to agree to what he knew to be an act of injustice. In the case of Pilate and of Caiaphas, while one can argue that they were motivated by self-interest, there is also a plea of 'the greater good'. There is the calculation that it is, in the final analysis, right to sacrifice one man for the lives of thousands.

But what is often overlooked is the common people. Their complaint was that Jesus was not the Messiah they wanted. Faced with the choice of setting free Jesus the Prince of Peace and Barabbas the violent revolutionary, they chose Barabbas. And they chose him freely, because he was the sort of leader they wanted, the leader Jesus was not, the man who promised liberation and victory over the Romans.

Jesus will not serve the Imperial agenda, but nor will he serve the revolutionary. He calls us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, and to suffer for him. To die for him, not to kill for him. Now the cross is far more than this, but on the side of unbelieving men it is man killing God, because God will not fit in with our plans.