Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Virgin Birth of Christ

I. Introduction

I would like to look at the virgin birth of Christ. But, perhaps “virgin birth” is the wrong way to put it. There was nothing supernatural about his birth. Jesus’ human nature went though all the normal stages of gestation from zygote, to embryo, to new-born baby in around nine months. He was born in the same way as everybody else.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2)

It is the conception of Jesus that is miraculous and supernatural. He was not conceived by two human parents. But his mother, Mary was enabled to conceive him by the Holy Spirit.

The Role of Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus

Luke tells us that,

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35.)

There is an echo here of Genesis 1: 1 & 2. The Spirit of the Lord who hovered over the old creation now overshadows Mary in an act of new creation. The Father prepared a body for his Son (Hebrews 10:5). The Son voluntarily took flesh and blood humanity (Hebrews 2:14). But it was through the Holy Spirit that Christ’s human nature was created. By the power of the Highest, the impossible happened; a virgin conceived and the Son of God stooped to become flesh. Although the external acts of the Trinity are undivided, each Person made a unique contribution to the incarnation of the Son.

Did the Holy Spirit create Jesus’ human nature out of nothing and simply implant the fertilized zygote in Mary's womb, or was she Jesus’ genetic mother? The text suggests that Mary was enabled to conceive Jesus as a result of the work of the Spirit, vs. 31. Mary was not “surrogate mother” to Jesus. She contributed the unfertilized egg, replete with her DNA. It was from that egg that the Holy Spirit created the human nature of the Son of God. The Spirit contributed the remainder of Jesus’ genetic code including his Y chromosome that made him male. The great Confessions of the Puritan era insist that:

The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. (Westminster Confession of Faith VIII:2) [emphasis added]

John Owen wrote,

Such was this act of the Holy Ghost in forming the body of our Lord Jesus Christ; for although its was effected by an act of infinite creating power, yet it was formed or made of the substance of the virgin Mary. (Works III p. 164.)

Thus, Jesus is of one substance with God as his Son and one substance with us as the Son of Mary. Christ fully identified himself with the humanity he came to save. God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” Romans 8:3. Because he was formed from the substance of a sinner, he looked like and lived as a true man in our fallen world. Yet he was without sin. Luke 1:35.

John Owen once more:

But the body of Christ being formed pure and exact by the Holy Ghost, there was no disposition or tendency in his constitution to the least deviation from perfect holiness in any kind. The exquisite harmony of his natural temperament made love, meekness, gentleness, patience...and goodness natural to him.

But Christ also experienced the hardship of life in our fallen world:

[He knew] grief, sorrow and the like, he took upon him also those natural infirmities which are troublesome to the body, as hunger, thirst, weariness and pain – yea, the purity of his holy constitution made him more sensible of these things than any of the children of men. (Works III p. 167).

So, the humanity of Jesus was sanctified by the Holy Spirit from its conception. The Son of God took a real, yet perfectly holy human nature. It is only by his virginal conception that Jesus Christ could be one with God and one with us. Yet, Matthew and Luke alone explicitly mention the virginal conception of Christ

II. Theological Significance

1. The virginal conception of Jesus explains how the Word was made flesh.

We must remember that we need to piece together what the whole of the New Testament says about the incarnation of the Word who was God. John and Paul tell us that he was made flesh or manifest in the flesh, but we need Matthew and Luke to explain how God became man. We need not speculate about this. Jesus’ human nature was not created out of nothing. His humanity was created by the Holy Spirit from the substance of Mary.

2. The Last Adam

It is important that Jesus’ human nature was not produced by the union of Joseph and Mary. The human race is fallen in Adam. Adam’s sin cascades down the generations through natural procreation. Not that procreation is sinful – but all naturally conceived human babies are born sinners in Adam. Owen comments that Christ’s humanity,

Being not begotten by natural generation, it derived no taint of original sin or corruption from Adam. (Works III p. 168)

Jesus did not have to say, as David did: “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5.) All human ancestry can be traced back to Adam, the representative head and biological originator of all subsequent human beings. We read, Adam “begot a son in his own likeness, after his image”- in the likeness of is fallen father (Genesis 5:3). Donald Macleod develops this theme for us:

But Adam did not beget Christ. The Lord’s existence has nothing to do with Adamic desire or Adamic initiative. As we have already seen, Christ is new. He is from outside. He is not a derivative from, or branch of Adam. (The Person of Christ p. 410)

Jesus took human guilt not because he was born bearing the guilt of Adam, but because he voluntarily “bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24.)

In 1 Corinthians 15:45 & 47, Paul contrasts the first Adam with the last Adam.

45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.

There are only two representatives of the human race – one represents us in our sin, guilt and rebellion against God, “For since by man came death” (15:21a). In the first Adam all are lost, all sin and all die. But Jesus does not belong to the first Adam. He is one of us – born of woman. But as the last Adam, Christ is the head of God's new humanity. United to him we have resurrection life and glory,

by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (15:21b,& 22).

The last Adam is the “second man” vs. 47. Adam was the first perfect man, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. He is the last Adam – there can be no more representatives of the human race. Jesus, as the second man is the pattern for all redeemed humanity. We shall be made like him,

And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (15:49)

3. Only a true God-Man could save human beings from sin.

The virginal conception of Christ reassures us that our Saviour can act as the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is fully God and fully man, able to represent both parties. Man has sinned against God, the man Christ Jesus has borne our sins and the punishment that we deserve. He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh (Ephesians 5:30).

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17.)

III. Practical Value

1. We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses

Hebrews 4:14&15. The exalted, virgin-born Son of God knows the lot of human beings in a fallen world. He has been there. This hymn expresses it perfectly.

There is a Man, a real Man
with wounds still gaping wide.
From which, rich streams of blood once ran
in hands and feet and side.

'Tis no wild fancy of our minds,
no metaphor we speak.
The same dear Man in heaven now reigns,
Who suffered for our sake.

This wondrous Man of whom we tell
is true almighty God.
He bought our souls from death and hell,
the price His own heart’s blood.

That human heart He still retains,
though throned in highest bliss,
and feels each tempted member’s pains,
for our afflictions His.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16.)


2. The incarnated Christ is the pattern for an authentic, holy human life.

We are to live as new men, united to the last Adam. Colossians 3:9 & 10. His mindset is to be our mindset Philippians 2:5-11. We have been called to follow his example 1 Peter 2:21-25.

3. The incarnation of Christ is affirmation of the goodness of creation and a pledge to redeem it.

When God became man, he reaffirmed the value of humanity. God became man! This has ethical implications for our modern world. How can we believe in the virginal conception of Christ and abortion or embryo experimentation? How can we confess that the Word became flesh and treat other human beings, made in God’s image with contempt?

Christians belong to God’s new humanity – 2 Corinthians 5:17. The Spirit that created Jesus’ perfect human nature from the substance of the virgin, dwells in us. He will create for us perfect human bodies like our Lord’s glorious body (Romans 8:11.)

The enfleshment of the Word in the womb of Mary was the first stage of the redemption of the physical universe. (Romans 8:19-23.)

In the new creation we will fully understand Matthew 1:23,

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Revelation 21:3 & 4

3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Do we need to pray for revival?

As we reflect on the year that is now drawing to a close, Christians have a lot to be thankful for. God is good and he continues to be at work in the churches. But we must also search our hearts as we reflect on the weakness of the churches and our lack of impact upon the world. What is the answer to the present spiritual malaise?
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And shall we then for ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great?
(Isaac Watts)
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Do we need fresh programmes, or do we need to discover "new ways of doing church"? No doubt we should strive to be contemporary and try to find new ways of reaching the world with the gospel. But will these things alone turn the present situation around? Surely something greater is needed, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God!
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What is Revival?
The term "revival" was redefined by C. G. Finney in the 19th Century. He used the word "revival" of evangelistic missions that could be organised and planned by the churches. Finney taught that churches could have a revival any time they wanted, if only they fulfilled certain conditions. This new thinking represented a huge paradigm shift in the understanding of revival. Before Finney, the term "revival" was reserved for an exceptional outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. The "Evangelical Revival" in the UK and the "Great Awakening" in the US were understood within this framework. Jonathan Edwards, the great Theologian of revival wrote,
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It my be observed, that from the fall of man, to this day wherein we live, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances. Yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always has been by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy
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When conversions were few and the spiritual life of the church was ebbing away, the godly used to long and pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God. My native land of Wales was blessed with a series of revivals, beginning in 1735 with the preaching of Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, to the 1904/05 revival.
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Old Testament
In the Old Testament prayer was offered for revival,
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Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)
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O LORD, revive your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
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What the Psalmist and prophet are praying for is that the Lord will turn from his anger against his people, deliver them from their enemies and grant them his presence. A great example of Old Testament "revival" is the work of God during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, described in 2 Chronicles 29-31.
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Without using the language of "revive" or "revival" a similar concern is found in other Old Testament passages:
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Oh that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down! That the mountains might tremble at your presence (Isaiah 64:1)
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O Lord, hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord listen and act! Do not delay for your own sake, my God, for your city and your people are called by your name. (Daniel 9:19)
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No doubt the desire of the prophets finds an echo in the hearts of New Testament believers.
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New Testament
But is it right to pray for revival under the New Testament? The Spirit was poured out upon the church on the day of Pentecost. He continues to be at work in the churches to this day. What more could we possibly want? But wait a minute. The outpouring the the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of new age of the Spirit and a unique event. However, the church in Acts experienced fresh outpourings of the Spirit subsequent to Pentecost.
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And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
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While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. (Acts 10:44)
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The power of the Spirit upon the preaching of the word was a notable feature of New Testament Christianity.
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Preaching with Power
Consider these statements of the apostle Paul. Clearly for him, there was more to preaching than accurate exegesis, telling illustration and thoughtful application:
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And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4 & 5)
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For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
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Paul did not take this kind of preaching for granted as if there was something automatic about the Spirit's power upon his ministry. He continually urged people to pray for him,
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praying always...and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20)
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Should we not likewise pray for the preaching of the word in great power today? The lack of power in much of today's preaching is the cause of the weakness of the church and the indifference of the world to the gospel
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Declension and Renewal in the New Testament
Some people object that under the Old Testament there were spiritual peaks and troughs, making prayer for revival understandable, but in the New Testament, no such pattern can be discerned. But what about the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, where the church at Ephesus has lost its first love and the church at Laodicea has become lukewarm? When we look at church history, we can see with Jonathan Edwards that the church has gone through periods of decline, followed by remarkable outpourings of the Spirit. It is simply not true to say that the Old Testament pattern of spiritual decline and revival has been abolished since Pentecost. The same Spirit is at work under both dispensations. The Spirit of the Lord who worked so powerfully during the reign of Hezekiah is responsible for all the great revivals of church history.
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Prayer for Revival
What was the answer for the church at Ephesus that lost her first love? No doubt she had to "repent and do the first works". But is that all? Did she not need to return to Paul's marvellous prayer for the church in Ephesians 3:14-21?
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14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
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If our churches had a greater comprehension of the love of Christ, if we were filled with all the fullness of God so that he was glorified in the church by Christ Jesus, would that not be a great revival? Let us plead the promise of our Saviour,
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11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:11-13)
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Revival is not a "singularity" where all the normal rules of Church life break down. Revival is an intensification of the regular work of the Spirit. When he comes in revival, he will convict the world of sin, glorify Christ and shed God's love abroad in the hearts of the people of God with great intensity. He will enpower the preaching and witness of the church to the salvation of great numbers of sinners and sanctify believers by the truth.
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The hymn I quoted earlier concludes with this verse,
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Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quickening powers;
Come, shed abroad the Saviour's love,
And that shall kindle ours.
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May we lay hold upon God and not let him go until he pours out the Spirit of Christ upon our churches with mighty power!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Happy Christmas & a Peaceful New Year

I don't usually go in for chatty personal stuff, but being the "season of goodwill" and all that, I thought I'd make an exception. I would like to wish all my regular and new readers alike a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. I'm quite a new blog-head and I entered blog-land with some trepidation, thinking, "Will I be wasting my time posting all this stuff - who's going to read it anyway?" To my surprise I've been getting a regular stream of visitors, mainly from the US, UK and Germany. Some of the comments have been weird and a bit spooky, others helpful and encouraging, still others have expressed outraged disagreement. But that's cyberspace, where the wacky and the wise collide, creating the sparks that make blogging such an interesting thing to do.
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This has been an eventful year for me, the second of my pastorate here in Wiltshire. We have seen many encouragements in the Churches I serve with new people coming along, a conversion and baptisms. I finally finished by BA (Hons) degree. My thesis was on "The meaning and significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ" and I've published some of it on the blog.
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I wouldn't be any kind of preacher if I did not remind you, dear reader, of the meaning of Christmas, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil," (1 John 3:8.) That was my text for this morning. The devils' works - his lies, murder and accusation of the brethren have been destroyed by the Son of God. Though his holy life, sacrificial death and resurrection, Christ has defeated Satan. Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world. "Who is he that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (1 John 5:5.) As the Truth he destroyed the devil's lies. As the Life who died and rose again, he destroyed Satan's murderous designs. The accuser of the brethren is cast out of heaven because Christ bore the penalty for our sin. We overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12: 9 & 10).
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This afternoon at our 4pm Carol Service, I preached on Matthew 2:3, "When king Herod heard this [the news of Jesus' birth] he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him." There was more trouble than expected when one of our candle decorations caught fire during the sermon and had to be exstinguished! This reminded me of one of R. S. Thomas' haunting poems "The Chapel",
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But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
(From R. S. Thomas Collected Poems 1945-1990)
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Oh that both preacher and people would catch fire - the fire of the Holy Spirit upon the proclamation of the gospel!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Preaching pure and simple

Preaching pure and simple is the title of a new book by Stuart Olyott, published by Bryntirion Press (2005).

Olyott is a well known and much appreciated preacher of the gospel. He writes that “The kingdom of God and preaching are like conjoined twins who cannot be separated; they stand or fall together.” Surely all Evangelical Protestants would agree with that statement?

This is a book that all who are interested in preaching should read. Are you a budding preacher? You should certainly read it. Olyott will give you sound advice on what makes good preaching. Are you an experienced preacher? You should read it too. Here you will find much that is challenging and stimulating. You will be forced to review your ministry in the light of Olyott’s high standards.
What constitutes good Biblical preaching? The writer specifies seven qualities that should characterise the proclamation of the word of God: Exegetical accuracy, doctrinal substance, clear structure, vivid illustration, pointed application, helpful delivery and supernatural authority. Where any one of these ingredients is missing, preaching loses its power. When that happens the people of God suffer and sinners fail to see the gospel in all its captivating glory.
The writer cannot be blamed for not dealing with everything in the compass of this relatively short book. The question of the call to preach is not given attention. If you want some help on the use of notes or extemporary preaching you will have to look elsewhere. But this book is full of sane, yet passionate Biblical wisdom for those called to proclaim the word of God to the people of today’s world.
Do you want to help someone to be a better preacher? Buy them this book. Do you want to be a better preacher yourself? Read this book and take its lessons to heart.
May this excellent work be used to aid the recovery of pure, simple and anointed preaching.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Martyn Lloyd-Jones - 1966 and all that

2006 Will be the 25th anniversary of the death of Welsh Evangelical leader Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The great preacher has left a controversial legacy behind him. Next year also marks the 40th anniversary of his famous 1966 address to the Evangelical Alliance on "Evangelical Unity". Ironically, that address was the cause of great divison in UK Evangelicalism. Much has been written about the events of this period and it is essential to get our facts right.
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A Call for Evangelical Unity

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones had long been concerned about the position of Evangelicals within the mixed denominations. He has been involved in Ecumenical discussions in the 1950’s, and he did not like what he saw. But most Evangelicals were content to remain in their theologically mixed denominations, having fellowship with other Evangelicals through the Evangelical Alliance and other agencies.

In October 1966 the Evangelical Alliance convened a conference to discuss the issue of Christian Unity. Lloyd-Jones had already expressed his views to leaders of the EA in private. He was given to opportunity to speak his mind in public.

Lloyd-Jones argued that the setting up of the World Council of Churches in 1948 and the whole Ecumenical Movement had created an entirely new situation. The ambition of this movement, he argued is to create “territorial, comprehensive national churches” in which all the denominations could unite. He asked, “Are we content with just being an evangelical wing in a territorial church that will eventually include, and must, if it is to be a truly national and ecumenical church, the Roman Catholic Church?”

Lloyd-Jones suggested that it was quite wrong for Evangelicals to be divided from each other by remaining in their denominations.

You and I are evangelicals. We are agreed about these essentials of the faith and yet we are divided from one another…we spend most of our time apart from one another, and joined to and united with the people who deny and are opposed to the essential matters of salvation. We have our visible unity with them. Now, I say, that is sinful.

Finally, “the Doctor” urged evangelicals to seize the historic opportunity to come out of their denominations and come together “as a fellowship, or an association, of evangelical churches”.

Lloyd-Jones’ argument sounded so persuasive that the chairman John Stott was genuinely concerned that Evangelical ministers would leave the Church of England the next morning. He used his position as chairman to flatly contradict what “the Doctor” had said.

I believe history is against what Dr Lloyd-Jones has said…Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside it. I hope no one will act precipitately…

Alister McGrath, in his biography of J. I. Packer, wrote that, “‘the shadow of 1966’ has lingered over English evangelicalism ever since.” He is right, Lloyd-Jones made Evangelicals face up to the challenge of the Ecumenical Movement. Are we only to be a “wing” within this great Movement, or shall we stand together united in the gospel? These matters have become even more urgent with the advent of “Churches Together” - (A UK-wide ecumenical body). We are now in the position of Churches being affiliated to the Evangelical Alliance, the Baptist Union ( a theologically mixed denomination) and Churches Together. Evangelicalism has become just one theological option that is no more or less valid then Catholicism or Liberalism. This is what happens when we fail to think through the challenge of the Ecumenical Movement.

Lloyd-Jones subsequently withdrew from the Evangelical Alliance and threw his weight behind the BEC. The BEC was founded in 1952 as an Evangelical response to the founding of the WCC in 1948. The founders were T. H. Bendor-Samuel and E. J. Poole-Connor of the FIEC and representatives of Evangelical Presbyterian Churches in Scotland and Ireland. The BEC was robustly anti-ecumenical, but also stood for Evangelical unity. The BEC was re-launched as Affinity in 2004.
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A Call for Separation

A call to secede from the denominations was implicit in Lloyd-Jones’ 1966 call for Evangelical unity. In 1967, the Doctor gave the main address at the BEC Conference on “Martin Luther and his message for today.” He challenged Evangelicals who had wavered over their involvement in the denominations to consider their position.

So I close with an appeal. The position round and about us is developing rapidly. The ecumenical movement is advancing day by day, and it is traveling in the direction of Rome. But it is not only heading to Rome, it is heading towards an amalgamation of so-called world religions, and will undoubtedly end as a great World Congress of faiths…

What then are evangelicals to do in this situation? I reply by saying that we must heed a great injunction in Revelation 18:4: ‘Come out of her my people!’ ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’ Come out of it! But also come together into an association such as the BEC that stands for the truth and against compromise, hesitation, neutrality and everything that ministers to the success and plans of Rome and the ecumenical movement. Come out; come in!

But Lloyd-Jones’ call was not heeded by all evangelicals.
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A Policy of Evangelical Intergration

In 1967 the first National Evangelical Anglican Congress meet in Keele. John Stott was conference chairman. Stott, who, as we have seen, publicly disagreed with Lloyd-Jones in 1966, was determined that Evangelical Anglicans be fully involved in their denomination. Prior to the conference he set out his agenda:

It is a tragic thing, however, that Evangelicals have a very poor image in the Church as a whole. We have acquired a reputation for narrow partisanship and obstructionism. We have to acknowledge this and for the most part we have no one but ourselves to blame. We need to repent and change.

The Liberal, Anglo-Catholic Archbishop Ramsey was invited to address the conference. He told these Evangelicals that they should put experience before doctrine and that they should turn their backs on their old exclusive stance. The Archbishop stated that, “We are all called as Christians and as Anglicans we should be learning from one another.”

The Conference responded to this call and accepted that all who were involved in ecumenical dialogue “have the right to be treated as Christians.” John Lawrence, who had long worked for a change of attitude among Evangelical Anglicans was well satisfied with the result:

Now this wall is down Evangelicals will be heard in a new way, but this would not have happened if they had not shown that they are now ready to listen to others.

As Lloyd-Jones had warned, this policy meant that Evangelicals had reduced themselves to being a mere wing in the great ecumenical project. Can we be content with that? Is it right to assume that Liberals who deny the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ “have the right to be treated as Christians?”
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We Stand alone Together!
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The attitude of Evangelials to the ecumenical project is one of the pressing issues that we have to face in the 21st Century. Our stance should be that of the US 101st Airbourn Division, immortalised in the Band of Brothers TV series, "We stand alone together".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Narnia & Penal Substitution

Simon Mayo's BBC Radio 5 Live programme discussed C.S. Lewis' book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yesterday afternoon. Among the contributors was Toby Forward, Cannon of Liverpool Cathedral. Forward said that he liked the first half of the book, "a cracking good story." But he found the death of Aslan in the second half "brutal and distasteful." When pressed on why he, as a Christian found this allegory of Christ's crucifixion so abhorrent , the Cannon responded by saying that C. S. Lewis had employed a "Medieval" view of Christ's death. Toby Forward explained that Lewis was teaching penal substitution - that God cannot forgive sinners unless a sacrifice is offered. The high-ranking clergyman described this view of the cross as "unpleasant" and a part of the Christian tradition with which he does not agree.

All this is rather strange. I know of some Churches that are holding Narnia events precisely because the story teaches that Christ had to die to save sinners. To paraphrase Isaiah 53: 6, "We all, like Edmund have gone astray and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." If Christ did not have to die in place of sinners for us to be forgiven by God, then the cross becomes a meaningless gesture. It is only by the "deep magic" of Christ bearing the punishment of our sin on Calvary that sinners are put right with God. What Cannon Forward finds so objectionable is "the offence of the cross" (Galatians 5:11). It is offensive to our human pride that we are so lost in sin, that only the death of Christ can rescue us. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). A cursed Messiah may not be a pleasant thought, but in his curse, we find blessing, "that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14.) If we can save ourselves by being good and doing our best without the "deep magic" of Christ's death and resurrection, then God put his Son through the agonies of the cross - for what? As Paul wrote, "if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Galatians 2:21.)
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The sacrifice of Aslan on behalf of Edmund is a good picture of the death of Christ. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David stands triumphant in glory as a Lamb as though it had been slain. He has redeemed us to God by his blood! (Revelation 5:5, 6 & 9.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Victory of Jesus over the devil

"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the work of the devil." (1 John 3:8.) But how did Jesus defeat the devil and destroy his works? Surely not by deceiving the devil as the ransom to Satan theory suggests (see my blog article, "Has Steve Chakle lost the message of Jesus?"). Christ defeated the devil by his holy life, atoning death and resurrection from the dead.
*
In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus stood as the new Israel in the wilderness, "Out of Egypt I called my Son" (Matthew 2:15), "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temped by the devil." (Matthew 4:1.) Each time, Jesus resisted the devil's suggestions and insinuations. He repelled him by wielding the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, "it is written" (Matthew 4:4, 7 & 10.) While Israel failed in the wilderness period, Jesus as the "true Israel" repelled the devil and remained untainted by sin. Throughout his life in the flesh, Jesus "was in all points temped as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15.) Near the end of his earthly life, as he faced the cross, Christ could say, "the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me." (John 14:30.) If Jesus had sinned, the devil would have defeated him and rendered his saving work impossible. A Saviour who himself needs saving from sin is no Saviour at all. Jesus triumphed over Satan by living a life of sinless perfection. The first Adam fell, the last Adam stood firm.
*
The cross of Christ was the devil's death knell. In one sense, Jesus could detect the devil's hand behind the events surrounding his death. As he was betrayed and arrested he said, "this is your hour and the power of darkness." (Luke 22:53.) Paul identifies the devil and his emissaries as "principalities...powers...the rulers of the darkness of this age" (Ephesians 6:12.) But beyond the devils' evil schemes to extinguish the Light of the world, lay God's saving purposes, "But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." (Matthew 26:56.) The devil who engineered the trial and condemnation of Jesus was himself judged and condemned on the cross, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out." (John 12:31.)
*
Christ triumphed over Satan, "the accuser of the brethren" because he died in the place of the people of God. The context of the key verse, Colossians 2:15 is that of those who are dead in sin being forgiven their trespasses [ie law breaking] (Col 2:13). Because of sin, the law is "against us" because it condemns us (Romans 3:19). Christ deals with the requirements of the law in his death (Col 2:14). That is how he disarms the principalities and powers, triumphing over them (Col 2:15). Satan can no longer say to God, "You must condemn Guy Davies as a law breaker - your justice demands his death!" In the words of the old hymn, "I can my fierce accuser face and tell him thou [Christ] hast died." It is through his propitiatory death that Christ destroys him who has the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14. & 17) .
*
See also Romans 8:31-34. "Who can bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.Who is he who condemns?" It is on the basis of Christ's being delivered up for us all, his resurrection and intercession that we are "more than conquerors through him that loved us". Nothing, not even the malignant principalities and powers (Rom 8:38) can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord. (Rom 8:39).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Resurrection and Cosmic Transformation

The resurrection of Christian believers from the dead is part of God’s eschatological purpose to renew the whole of creation. When man fell into sin, corruption and death entered the universe. In Christ, God has acted to redeem the world that he made.

The Old Testament prophets pointed forward to the final goal of the universe, Isaiah 65:17-25. Peter preached of Christ “whom heaven must receive till the times of the restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the word began.” (Acts 3:21.) This theme is developed further in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of “the regeneration” (Matthew 19:20). Paul wrote of God’s purpose that, “he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth” (Ephesians 1:10 compare Colossians 1:20).

Christ will transform the bodies of believers “according to the working by which he is able to subdue all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:21.) This includes the physical universe (Romans 8:19-21).

The present, fallen universe is subject to entropy and decay. These are the birth pangs of the new creation (8:22.) When the sons of God are revealed in resurrection glory, the universe will be liberated from corruption and gloriously renewed. God will not annihilate the world that he has made and make a fresh universe from nothing. If he did that, sin and evil would have defeated his purpose in creating the world for his own glory. He will transform the earth just as he will transform and redeem the bodies of those who believe in Christ (8:23).

What, then of passages such as 2 Peter 3:10-13 that suggest that this present creation will “pass away”, “be dissolved”, “melt with a fervent heat”? This seems to speak of the annihilation of this present creation. In that case, the new earth would be created from nothing, completely unrelated to the old one. But we must be careful not to read too much into Peter’s words. He also wrote that the pre-flood creation “perished” (3:6) in the deluge. That does not suggest that the pre-flood earth was literally annihilated and then remade after the flood.

This old earth will be purged by the fiery judgement of God (3:7). All blemishes and impurities will be removed, all vestiges of the fall destroyed in the crucible of judgement. Then God will renew the cosmos. The division between heaven as God’s dwelling place and earth as the abode of men will be dissolved. “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people…Behold I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:3, 5.)
Then Christ’s redemptive mission will have been accomplished, “Now when all things are made subject to him, then the Son himself will also be subject to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all”. (1 Corinthians 15:28.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Resurrection and Justification

Paul, in Romans relates justification by faith to Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

It [righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, who was delivered for our offences and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:24 & 25.)

Christ’s resurrection as well as his death is related to justification by faith. In justification, God forgives sinners and imputes to them the righteousness of Christ on the basis of his obedience (5:19) and death (3:24 & 25.) This righteousness is received by faith alone.
Jesus was “raised because of our justification” in this sense:

Just as Christ’s death was a demonstration of God’s righteous judgement on the sin of the world, visited on him as the means of propitiation, so his resurrection was the demonstration and proof of the acquitting righteousness of God (H.N. Riddberbos, Paul an Outline of his Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, p. 167).

God condemned sin in Jesus’ flesh (Romans 8:3). He was “delivered for our offences”. By raising his Son from the dead, God was declaring that his sacrifice was accepted and that he was righteous. Christ was “justified in the Spirit” (1 Timothy 3:16). God vindicated his Son whom the world had rejected , when he raised him from the dead.

Believers are justified by Christ’s resurrection, because the risen Christ is the object of justifying faith (Galatians 2:16 & 20). A dead Christ, who himself remained under the curse of death could justify no one. It is as the risen Lord that Christ is the righteousness of God for his people.

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies, who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and furthermore is risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:33 & 34.)

Paul’s concern here is for a person’s right standing before God: Who can bring a charge of guilt or condemnation against God’s elect? Christ has died for his people, bearing their sins; he has been raised from the dead, vindicating his sacrifice. He is at God’s right hand interceding for the people of God on the basis of his finished work. “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

“New Perspective” scholars (see N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, Lion, 1997, p. 113-133) see justification as a matter that concerns the question, “Who are the people of God?” The classic Protestant understanding is that justification addresses the question “How can I be right with God?”

When justification is related to the resurrection of Christ, Paul’s preoccupation is with a person’s standing before God, their offences and condemnation, not primarily their membership of the people of God, as “New Perspective” scholars suggest.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Risen Jesus is Lord

The great claim of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is claim related to his resurrection from the dead. Paul makes a connection between the resurrection of Christ and his Lordship:

If you confess with you mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9.)

Paul makes it clear that Jesus is Lord precisely because he died and rose again,

For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living. (Romans 14:9.)

In a sense, Jesus has always been Lord. He claimed as much for himself in his pre-resurrection life. “Therefore he Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28.) God’s day was his day to rule over and regulate. When Jesus designated himself “Lord” in this way he was identifying himself with the God of Israel.

The lordship that Jesus received at his resurrection was given him not just because of who he was as the Son of God, but because of what he had achieved as the obedient suffering servant (Philippians 2:5-11). The one who was in the “form of God” as his image and glory emptied himself by taking the “form of a bondservant”. He was obedient to death on the cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted him”. Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation were the reward for his suffering and death. Now the risen Jesus rightfully demands that all creation acknowledge his Lordship to the glory of God the Father.

The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus are tightly linked in the New Testament. There is a close parallel between what Paul says of his resurrection in Romans 14:9 and what he says of his exaltation in Philippians 2:2-5. Christ is exalted via resurrection. Borg (Wright & Borg, The Meaning of Jesus, SPCK, p. 136 & 137) suggests that Jesus is Lord without his being raised from the dead. But the idea that Jesus could be highly exalted by God and given dominion over the universe while his body rotted in a tomb would certainly have surprised Paul. The resurrection of Jesus vindicated his claim that he was Lord. It was God’s seal of approval on the claims and work of his Son.

While the exaltation of Christ and his resurrection are mutually dependent we must be careful to distinguish between the two events. In the resurrection accounts of the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ resurrection body was endued with special powers. He could appear and disappear at will, he could appear unrecognised to his disciples as well as show them his hands and his side and convince them that he was alive.

On his exaltation, however, Jesus’ resurrection body was glorified. Paul writes of “his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). As Donald McLeod dryly comments:

Paul could never have mistaken the Christ of the Damascus road for a gardener. Neither could John in Patmos (Rev. 1:12-20) have imagined that what he was seeing was a ghost, far less a resuscitated corpse. (McLeod, Jesus is Lord, Mentor, p. 177.)

McLeod further reflects on the significance of the glorification of Christ’s resurrection body:

In him, man (and indeed the whole of created reality) have reached their Omega-point. His is a body whose glory now accords fully with the divine glory in which it shares. (McLeod, p. 177.)

The risen Jesus reigns for the good of his people who will one day share in his resurrection glory.

And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the pre-eminence. (Colossians 1:18.)

Christ’s sovereign lordship is conditioned by his resurrected humanity. The King of kings and Lord of lords knows our frame, he remembers that we are flesh because he shared and continues to share our humanity. Because of his resurrection from the dead, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Word and Spirit in Reformed and Puritan Theology

The conflict between the Reformers and Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church taught that the laity should not be allowed to read the Bible. Only the Pope and the priests and officers of the Church could interpret the Word of God. The official Catholic interpretation of Scripture is called the Magesterium. The Catholic Church elevated its traditions to the level of Scripture. It held that there were seven sacraments, not two. It taught that the faithful should pray to Mary and the saints. It offered indulgences for sale for the forgiveness of sin.

The Protestant Reformers rejected all that. Luther saw that the basis for Christian truth is the Bible only. Tradition is valuable. The Reformers often quoted from Augustine and the other Church fathers. But the Bible alone is authoritative. When Luther was urged to retract his criticisms of the Catholic Church at the Diet of Worms, he said, “My conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

The Genevan Reformation developed along the same lines:

First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord. (Genevan Confession)

The Bible, God’s infallible word, is sufficient for Christian teaching and living. It is the final the authority in all matters of controversy.

Evangelical Protestant Churches give central place to the Bible. Luther translated the Scriptures into German to give the Bible back to the people. Tyndale and other did this for the English-speaking world. Bishop William Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh in 1588. Evangelical Protestantism is a reading religion. The Reformation gave birth to a literary culture as people voraciously read the Bible and helpful spiritual books. Today’s emphasis on universal literacy is a fruit of the Reformation.

The Reformation calls us back to the Bible. We must test everything “by the word and the testimony” of Scripture. We must continue to be in conflict with Rome over the vital issue of the authority of the Bible.

The Reformers and the Radical Mystics

But it was not just against Rome that the Reformers had to contend for “sola scriptura”. Some elements within the so-called “Radical Reformation” began to prefer their inner “spiritual revelations” to the Word of God.

A radical like Sebastian Franck held that the Bible is a dead letter and full of contradictions. He pointed people to the life-giving inner Word. The “Spiritualist” Radicals exalted the Spirit over the Word and this led to an unbiblical mysticism.

The British 17th Century Quakers were heirs of the 16th Century European radicals. They held that, while the Bible is the word of God, it is the inner light of the Spirit that really matters.

George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement once listened to a sermon on 2 Peter 1:19. The preacher taught is people that, ‘the Scriptures were the touchstone and judge by which they were to try all doctrines, religions and opinions’. Fox immediately expressed his disagreement with the preacher and cried out, ‘Oh no, it is not the Scriptures…but the Holy Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the Scriptures, whereby opinions, religions and judgements were to be tried; for it led into all Truth, and so gave the knowledge of the Truth.’

You note the way in which Fox set the Spirit against the Word. This led to all kinds of bizarre behaviour. Quakers would “feel led of the Spirit” to go naked as a sign, much to the outrage of society. Richard Sale said of Fox, ‘Praises, praises, eternal praises to thee forevermore, who was and is and is to come, who is god over all, blessed forever.’ What unbiblical blasphemy!

The most shocking example of extreme Quaker conduct was when James Nayler rode into Bristol in 1656, consciously re-enacting Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His followers hailed him as ‘Jesus’ and cried ‘Hosanna’ and ‘holy, holy, holy Lord God of Israel!’

When we set the Spirit against his inspired Word we leave ourselves open to such fanatical delusions. We are counselled to “test the Spirits whether they are of God” 1 John 4:1-2. The Holy Spirit will always glorify Jesus and point us to him as the Word made flesh for our salvation. Christ said of the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:15.

The Puritans battled against the traditionalism of Rome and Anglicanism on the one hand and against the mysticism of the Quakers on the other. They defined themselves as “sola Scriptura” over and against both of these positions:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. [Emphasis added]. (Baptist 1689 Confession, Chapter 1:6.)

This teaching has obvious relevance for today’s scene. The extremes of behaviour associated with the recent “Toronto Blessing” movement are redolent of 17th Century Quakerism. We must not pit the Spirit against his Word. He speaks today though the Book he inspired. The Spirit will never contradict his Word and since the closure of the New Testament cannon, he will not add to it either. We need the Spirit to enlighten our minds to understand the Truth. But illumination is not the same as revelation.

We must be very careful and circumspect about claiming that “the Lord told me this or that”. While not denying that the Lord does sometimes speak to us and prompt us in unusual ways – it is in the Bible that we hear his voice speaking clearly to us each time we read it. We may not claim the “The Spirit told me to do so and so” if what we are being told to do is plain against the teaching of Scripture. We must look to the Book to guide us. We should not wait for mystical impressions to tell us what to do, but learn to think and act wisely and Biblically.

The Reformers and Puritans held Word and Spirit together in fine balance. We have a lot to learn from their deep theological wisdom today.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Jesus is the Son of God with Power

Paul begins his Epistle to the Romans with a summary statement of the gospel he wished to proclaim in Rome:
The gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead. (Romans 1:3& 4.)

Paul sets before us the broken symmetry of the life Jesus Christ who was “born according to the flesh” and “declared to be the Son of God with power”. The great transitional event in these two phases of the history of Jesus Christ is his resurrection from the dead.

For Paul “flesh” is synonymous with human life in a fallen world. To be born “according to the flesh” is to be born weak. God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). To be sure, Jesus Christ “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yet he came as flesh, without the trappings of kingly majesty.

But this man, Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power”. This, at any rate is how the New King James Version translates the text. Scholars are divided on how exactly we are to translate the participle “declared” in question. In usage elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb can mean to “delineate” or “demarcate”. This meaning is apparent when regional boundaries or borders are described, “in the regions of…” (Matthew 4:13), (8:34.) In this sense, Jesus was “marked out” or “delineated” as the Son of God.

Another use of the verb is “to determine” in God’s purpose (Luke 22:22), (Acts 2:23). The word is also used to describe Jesus being appointed or ordained by God as judge of all mankind, (10:43), (17:31).

But if we take the word here to mean “appointed”, in what meaningful sense could Jesus Christ be “appointed” as the Son of God? Orthodox Christology has always insisted that Jesus Christ ever was the Son of God. Our text itself suggests that it was “his Son” that was “born according to the flesh”. Paul, in Galatians 4:4 certainly believed in the pre-existence of Jesus as the Son of God, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman”. He did not become God’s Son at birth, it was as God’s Son he was sent to be born.

Evangelical expositors will want to avoid any suggestion that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection. This would be to fall into the heresy of adoptionism – the notion that Jesus was adopted as God’s Son, rather than being God’s Son from eternity.

Because of this difficulty, with Jesus being “appointed” as the Son of God by his resurrection, some scholars prefer the translation that Jesus was “declared or “marked out” to be the Son of God”. Dr. Robert Reymond argues for this point of view (Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Nelson, 1998, p. 240-245). He takes the words “in power” as qualifying the participle “declared” or “marked out”. Jesus was thus “powerfully marked out as the Son of God …by the resurrection of the dead.” (Reymond, 1998: 242.) Reymond, understands the phrase “by the Spirit of holiness” to mean Jesus’ divine nature, that stands contrast to his human nature as “flesh”. Thus Reymond, paraphrases the text, “who was powerfully marked out as the Son of God in accordance with his divine nature by his resurrection from the dead.” (Reymond, 1998: 243.)

But is this necessarily the best interpretation of the text? Reymond has avoided any suggestion that Christ became the Son of God by his resurrection. But his exegesis is not shared by other Reformed scholars who prefer the translation that “Jesus…was appointed [not simply marked out as] the Son of God with power ...”

At least as far back as Geerhardus Vos, conservative scholars have argued that, “The reference is not [as Reymond suggests] to two coexisting states in the make-up of the Saviour - his divine and human natures - but to two successive stages in his life.” (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, P & R, 1930, p. 155.) The contrast in the text is between Jesus Christ being born according to the flesh by incarnation and appointed the Son of God with power by resurrection. The words “with power” qualify the new resurrected state of the “Son of God”. In the flesh, Jesus was the Son of God in weakness, but after his resurrection he was appointed the Son of God with power.

The apostle is dealing with some particular event in the history of the Son of God incarnate by which he was instated in a position of sovereignty and invested with power, an event which in respect of investiture with power surpassed everything that could be ascribed to him in his incarnate state. (John Murray, Romans, Eerdmans, 1987, p. 11.)

The “spirit of holiness” need not be taken to mean the Son’s divine nature as Reymond suggests. Paul’s intention is not to reflect on the relative natures, divine and human than constitute the person of the Son of God. He is describing the Son’s incarnate state before and after his resurrection from the dead. “Spirit of holiness” is a unique designation of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. However, as Barrett points out, it was a common way of referring to the Holy Spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic writing. (C. K. Barrett, Paul, Geofferey Chapman, 1994, p. 24.) If, as Barrett suggests, Paul is using a pre-existing creedal formula here, this unusual way of describing the Spirit makes perfect sense.

Murray comments,

Thus when we come back to the expression “according to the Spirit of holiness”, our inference is that it refers to that stage of pneumatic endowment upon which Jesus entered through his resurrection. (Murray, 1987: 11.)

Post-resurrection, the incarnate life of the Son of God was transformed and endued with new power by the Spirit. Paul can write that, “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45.) Christ was conceived by the Spirit according to his human nature and endued with the Spirit at his baptism. But on his resurrection, the Son was lifted to an unprecedented plane of Holy Spirit dynamism. The time of incarnated weakness is over. Jesus is now the Son of God with power.

This interpretation, that Jesus was appointed as the Son of God with power by his resurrection, avoids the danger of adoptionist Christology, while doing justice to the meaning of the text.

It was because Jesus Christ was God’s Son and the messianic seed of David, born according to the flesh, who did for sinners, that he was appointed the Son of God with power. “He was raised because of what he was. He did not become Son by being raised: he was raised because he was Son.” (Donald McLeod, The Person of Christ, IVP, 1998, p. 91.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Has Steve Chalke Lost the Message of Jesus?

"Cosmic Child Abuse"?
In The Lost Message of Jesus, Chalke controversially claimed that the teaching that Christ bore the penalty for sin on the cross is tantamount to,

‘child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.’
(p. 182 The Lost Message of Jesus, 2003, Zondervan)

It is not my intention in this meeting to discuss Chalke’s, The Lost Message of Jesus as a whole. I simply want to examine his view of the atonement. On his Oasis Trust website, Chalke responds to critics of his understanding of the death of Christ in an article entitled Redeeming the Cross – The Lost Message of Jesus and the Cross of Christ here .

In this article, Chalke claims that the penal-substitutionary model of the atonement – that Christ died bearing the penalty for his people’s sin a product of Reformation teaching refined by 19th Century American Theologian Charles Hodge. Hodge is the real Theological bogey man for Chalke. He blames him for popularising the penal substitutionary view of the cross that he finds so objectionable. But what does Hodge actually say? Does he present us with a caricature of the cross in his teaching?

After discussing the Old Testament sacrifices, Hodge draws this conclusion about the cross:

the Scriptures in declaring that Christ was a sacrifice intend to teach that He was the substitute for sinners, that He bore their guilt, suffered the penalty of the law in their stead and thereby reconciled them to God.
(Systematic Theology Abridged p.382)

Here, Hodge gives us an excellent, pithy definition of the classic Evangelical Protestant understanding of the cross of Jesus. Have Evangelicals like the Reformers and Hodge really misunderstood the cross as Chalke claims?

We find the same emphasis in John Calvin.

The sinner was estranged from God by sin, an heir of wrath, exposed to the curse of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation…in fine, doomed to horrible destruction….then Christ interposed, took the punishment upon himself, and bore what by the just judgement of God was impending over sinners; with his own blood [Christ] removed the sins that rendered [us] hateful to God…and duly appeased the wrath of God the Father.
(Institutes of the Christian Religion Book II 16:2)

The Wrath of God and the Love of God
What Chalke really objects to is the Biblical teaching on the wrath of God.

wouldn’t’t it be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to ‘love our enemies’ when he obviously couldn’t’t quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement?

He goes on to say,

If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution then Jesus teaching becomes a divine case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches!

But God does punish sin. That is why we die. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23.) The Bible speaks clearly and unashamedly of God’s wrath and anger. Psalm 7:11 – 13. Jesus spoke of hell fire Mark 9:43-48. The wicked will be punished for their sinful rebellion against God Revelation 14:9-11. Paul wrote of God’s wrath and judgement too Romans 1:18, 2:5. God’s wrath is not irrational anger that simply gives vent to some kind of divine frustration. It is his holy and just reaction to all that is sinful.

Why did God send his Son to die on a cross? Why did he put him through the agonies of crucifixion and put Jesus through such hell that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The Biblical answer is: Because God loved those who had sinned against him and provoked his just wrath. For Chalke this constitutes “a massive contradiction.” He cannot see how God can love those with whom he is also angry. But this is what the Bible does continually, John 3:16, Romans 5: 8&9

Now we come to the heart of the matter. What does the Biblical word “propitiation” mean? In the New Testament, the word is found in Luke 18:13, Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 & 4:10. A good definition would be: To propitiate means to avert wrath. Chalke sees this as a pre-Christian notion that smacks more of paganism than Biblical teaching. The pagans viewed their gods as wrathful and unpredictable. But the god’s favour could be won by a sacrificial gift. The Biblical doctrine of propitiation does not imply that an implacably angry Father had to be made to love sinners by the Son who bore his wrath and judgment.

John Stott reflects on the relation between God’s love and propitiation:

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself in the person of his Son who died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it in his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. Here is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of love to evoke our worship.
(John Stott The Cross of Christ p.175)

Ransom to Satan?
So, what does Chalke actually make of the atonement? He quotes Origen with approval:

To whom did he give his life as a ransom for many? Assuredly not to God, could it then be to the Evil One? For he was holding fast until the ransom should be given him, even the life of Jesus; being deceived with the idea that he could have dominion over it and not seeing that he could not bear the torture in retaining it.’

This theory of the atonement involves God in deception. Gregory of Nyssa, another of Chalke’s favourite early Theologians openly acknowledged this. Gregory developed the idea that man, by sin had sold himself to the devil and was therefore Satan’s lawful possession. God proposed to buy human beings back by giving his Son to Satan as the price of setting us free. But God tricked the devil. He did not get Jesus in return for man - Jesus got him and defeated him.

Gregory uses the metaphor of fishing to expound his view: The devil swallowed the bait of Christ’s flesh, not realising that his flesh concealed the hook of his deity. Satan did not quite get what he bargained for. When he “bit” on Christ’s humanity he found himself defeated by his deity.

There is an element of deception involved in this scheme. God pulled a fast one. But this is alright according to Gregory of Nyssa,

By the reasonable rule of justice, he who practiced deception receives in return that very treatment….He who first deceived man by the bait of sensual pleasure is himself deceived by [Christ’s] human form.
(Cited in The True Image P.E. Hughes p. 345)

Chalke repudiates the Biblical teaching of penal substitution for this reason:

Thus, what we believe about the cross (and therefore God’s character) fundamentally shapes our statements about, and attitude to, the world and wider society.

But, in Steve Chalke’s preferred teaching on the atonement, God practiced deception on a cosmic scale. What does that say about our attitudes to society? Is it OK to deceive others is the outcome is for the best? Are pious “white lies” justified as long as we have a noble end in view? (2 Corinthians 4:3.) What of Titus 1:2? God is constitutionally incapable of lies and deception. He cannot lie - even to the devil.

Penal substitution holds together God’s majestic holiness, the integrity of his justice and the wonder of his love for his enemies. This provides us with a robust model of how we should relate to one another in love and justice.

Conclusion
Steve Chalke has lost the true message of Jesus. Without the penal, substitutionary death of Christ we have no gospel to proclaim.

I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received in which you stand, by which you are also saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 emphasis added.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Faith, Reason and Resurrection

The New Testament affirms that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fact of history. The resurrection of Christ is therefore a legitimate subject for historical scrutiny. The New Testament documents are to be examined and evidences for Jesus’ resurrection evaluated and tested.

But Christ’s resurrection was no ordinary historical event. The cause of his resurrection lies outside the normal historical process. We cannot discuss the resurrection of Jesus as we would discuss, for example the Premiership of Winston Churchill during World War II. Documentary records exist for both these episodes in history. The Bible insists that God upholds and directs the Universe in general and that he is involved in the historical process. The rise and fall of politicians is in his hands (Proverbs 21:1) he also determines the outcome of military campaigns (21:31). We can perhaps trace God’s providential hand in the events of World War II in terms of the Biblical worldview. But Christ’s resurrection was a direct act of God. He did not use human agents to accomplish his purpose in this instance. There is no secondary historical cause for Christ’s resurrection. “God raised him up on the third day and showed him openly” (Acts 10:40). How can we investigate a direct act of God?

In the usual historical sense, we cannot prove that Jesus rose from the dead. No one witnessed the event itself. We have the evidence of his empty tomb and resurrection appearances, but they, in themselves will not convince anybody to believe in the resurrection of Christ. We can prove that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 10th May 1940 (Churchill Roy Jenkins, Pan 2002:p586). But it takes faith to believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus had to appear to his forlorn disciples to convince them that he was alive. He “opened their understanding” so that they could comprehend that his death and resurrection were the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. (Luke 24:45-49.) The witness of the Holy Spirit to the testimony of Scripture and God-given faith are the necessary preconditions for a person to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Apart from this no amount of evidentialist arguments will effect faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

If I can deal with Borg (quoted below) and other Liberal scholars here: A persons’ attitude to the New Testament claims that Jesus rose from the dead, says a lot about his or her underlying worldview. If we see the world through the spectacles of the Enlightenment, the resurrection of Jesus does not make sense and “could not have happened”. According to Enlightenment assumptions, the historical process is closed to outside intervention. When such a rationalist worldview is married with Biblical scholarship, the resurrection of Jesus becomes a “spiritual” event that has meaning in the consciousness of Christians then and now. But Jesus cannot have actually risen from the dead. The historical basis for Christ’s resurrection is ruled out of consideration from the start and the New Testament documents are then deconstructed to fit in with rationalist presuppositions.

This is very much Borg’s approach,

My position is that experiences of the risen Christ as a continuing presence generated the claim that “Jesus is Lord” and the statement that “God raised Jesus from the dead” and the story of the empty tomb may well have been generated by those experiences.
(The Meaning of Jesus N.T. Wright & Marcus Borg, SPCK, 1999:p137.)

But should Christian Theology be determined by the sceptical outlook of the Enlightenment? It is here that the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact impacts on the whole issue of Christian epistemology. Tom Wright writes,

Grasping the nettle – proposing as an historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality – will of course evoke howls of protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. But if Christianity is only going to be allowed to rent an apartment in the Enlightenment’s housing scheme, and on its terms, we are to borrow Paul’s phrase, of all people to be pitied – especially as the Enlightenment itself is rumoured to be bankrupt and to be facing serious charges of fraud. (Wright & Borg, 1999:124.)

Christian Theology should be based on Biblical presuppositions. A Christian Theology that has no room for the resurrection of Jesus must answer Paul’s question to King Agrippa, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8.)

Incitement to Religious Hatred

The UK Government is currently trying to push its Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill though the House of Lords. I believe that this legislation is misconceived and that it undermines the time-honoured British right of free speech.
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I believe that people of all faiths and none should live together peaceably in our society. Those who incite others to attack or persecute people because of their beliefs already fall foul of laws that forbid the incitement of criminal activity. That is right and good.

My concern is that the proposed a new offence of Incitement to Religious Hatred may be used to clamp down on legitimate inter-faith discussion. I am a Christian Minister. I therefore have certain beliefs with which people of other faiths would strongly disagree. That is their right in a free society. My belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only way to God, carries with it implicit criticism of other faiths. I wish to be able to discuss the claims of the Christian faith in a friendly and robust way with those of other faiths. I also want to be able, as part of my preaching and teaching ministry, to show why Christianity, not some other form of belief system is the true faith. This is something that Christian preachers have been able to do for centuries in this country. The threat of legal action may curb our precious and hard-won right of free speech.

Where such legislation has been passed in other countries, for example in Australia, a pastor was found guilty of "religious vilification" for exposing the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. Do we really want people of differing faith groups reporting each other to the police because their beliefs have been criticised by others? That would make for more friction between faiths, making the proposed legislation counter-productive.

Cults, sects and extremists may use the new legislation to silence criticism of their beliefs and practices. Investigative journalism and accurate news reporting may therefore be compromised by "incitement to religious hatred" legislation. A Christian organisation like the Barnabas Fund highlights the plight of persecuted Christians in the Islamic world. Could their reporting be construed as “Islamophobic” and lead to legal action?

Similar concerns have been expressed not only by Christians, but people of other faiths, secular journalists and even comedians. The “incitement to religious hatred” law may be well-meaning, but in my view, it is a misguided and unnecessary piece of legislation.
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This Bill was debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 11th October. Most Peers spoke against the legislation. The Bill will now be scrutinised and perhaps amended by special Lord's committees. For more details about this legislation and what we can do to combat it, see http://www.religioushatredlaw.info/

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The worst of all possible worlds

The Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales recently published a document entitled The Gift of Scripture. They warn against the dangers of a "fundamentalist" approach to the Bible and warn that, "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision". The Bishops reject the creation account of Genesis 1 & 2 in favour of evolutionary science.
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Historically Rome has placed Church tradition on a par with Scripture. Doctrines like purgatory and the immaculate conception of Mary are not found in the Bible. But they are accepted at Catholic doctrine on the basis of tradition. In practice, Rome places its traditions above Scripture and the Bible is relegated to a second-rate Theological authority.
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With the Gift of Scripture, scientific theories are given greater authority than the Bible. This stance is not new to Catholicism. Galileo was persecuted by Rome, not because he denied the teaching of Scripture. What he rejected was the cosmology of Aristotle. Catholic scholastic theology elevated the Greek Philosopher to a place of almost unquestionable authority. The Bible was interpreted to fit in with Aristotle's view of the Universe. The Bishops are now making the same mistake as they reject the plain teaching of Scripture for the theory of evolution. At a time when evolution is being questioned by many scientists, this is no time to be deconstructing the Bible to fit in with Darwinism.
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Rome has smothered the Bible with its unbiblical traditions. She has also caved in to the Enlightenment by rejecting the historical and scientific accuracy of Scripture. This, surely is the worst of all possible worlds.
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While on the subject of a wooden, fundamentalist approach to Scripture, let us remember that the most crass Theological literalism lies at the very heart of Catholic teaching. When Jesus said "This is my body" and "this is my blood" (Matthew 26:26 & 28), did he really mean that the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper literally became his body and blood? Even the most wooden-headed of Fundamentalists can see that Jesus was speaking symbolically at that point! Evangelical and Reformed expositors of Scripture have always insisted that Biblical metaphors be taken as metaphors, parables as parables, historical narratives as reliable historical narratives and doctrinal propisitions as doctrinal propositions. I plead "not guilty" to the charge of of an unthinkingly literalistic understanding of the Bible.
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What we need to do is accept the gift of Scripture as God's infallible word and live in the light of its teaching. Now that would be the best of all possible worlds!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Where is the Emerging Conversation leading?

D.A. Carson's latest book "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" (Zondervan 2005) is a careful critique of the Emerging Church movement. This self-styled "conversation" is an attempt to do Church for the postmodern world. The trouble is the the postmodern world is allergic to absolute truth and this causes something of a problem for Bible-believing Christians. Jesus himself was not shy about making dogmatic and absolute claims about himself. He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me." (John 14:6.)
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Carson recognizes that the movement has its strengths. But he worries that Emergent thinkers have underestimated the threat that the postmodern worldview poses to Biblical Christianity. Throughout the book Carson interacts with leading Emergent thinkers, especially Brian McLaren from the US and Steve Chalke of the UK. After analyzing their views, Carson writes, "I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chakle have largely abandoned the gospel." (p. 186.) The book concludes with a consideration of relevant Biblical texts and an exposition of 2 Peter chapter 1.
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Carson is at his perceptive and trenchant best in this book. He writes with the care of a scholar and the passion of a preacher. "Becoming Conversant..." is a must-read for anyone wanting to get to grips with Emergent thinking.
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I am left pondering the question, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the postmodern world and loses his soul?"

Bible Soundbites

The UK Guardian Newspaper asked its readers to summarize the Bible in 100 words. Much of the comment was scurrilous and mocking. I submitted two entries. One was an attempt to sum up the message of the Bible in a brief soundbite. The other was an ironic summary of the "Secularist bible".

A summary of the Bible

The Bible reveals a God of love, power and purity, the creator of all things. Human beings were made in the image of God, but rebelled against Him by breaking his command. This brought sin, death and suffering into the Universe. God's Son, Jesus came to deal with sin. To put us right with God, He became man and died for us. God then raised him from the grave and exalted him to heaven. All people will give an account of their lives to God. To enjoy eternal life and avoid condemnation, we must trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

A summary of the secularist "bible".

In the beginning there was nothing. Then lots of random stuff happened. Why? Who cares! As if by magic, randomly produced simple organisms, decided to become more complex and interesting. Eventually fish, reptiles, birds and mammals just happened. Why? Who cares! Then human beings randomly happened. What's the point in that? We started as nothing, life means nothing then we go back to being nothing. If human life means nothing, then love means nothing, neither does truth or other good stuff. Ah well, who cares? Let us eat (until we get obese), drink (until we drop) and be meaningless for tomorrow we die! Fair summary?