Being Holy — Thinking About Holiness Part 1

Our Lamb Has Conquered - Let Us Follow HimHoliness is an odd topic for many Christians, primarily because many have never heard it taught. They know that God is holy, and they think that means he’s some great “other” and unique, which are both true. But, that is hardly the full extent of holiness. The idea of personal holiness isn’t something that crosses the minds of many individual believers. Yet, it is not a minor theme in Scripture:

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45 ESV)

So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:40 ESV)

[B]ut as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV)

[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4 ESV)

Even from this tiny sample of verses we can see a few things about holiness. First, the people of God are Holy because God declares them to be. Leviticus 11:45, as well as countless Old Testament passages speak to the holiness of Israel as a then present, effective, reality. The people of Israel were holy because God said they were and had made them so by the act of His will and redemptive work. The same is said of the Church in the New Testament; we see this in verses such as Ephesians 1:4. So, in one since holiness is a declaration that God makes based on His work alone. In this sense, it is connected to our understanding of justification and the knowledge of our righteousness in Christ.

Unfortunately this is as far as most believers get in their understanding of holiness, but the Bible does not stop with our declarative holiness. The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments speaks of a sort of progressive holiness. We see this in Old Testament passages like Numbers 15:40 which encourage the people of Israel to keep the commandments of God. In this sense, holiness is something to be worked out. The odd thing is that, despite the difference in declarative versus progressive understandings of holiness, the exact same Hebrew word is used. This signifies that a full understanding of holiness must incorporate both an understanding of being declared holy and set apart, as well as being conformed to a God-given standard of conduct.

As Christians it is clear in the New Testament that works of the Law can not save. Only the work of Christ is able to accomplish salvation, and it is applied as the result of faith alone:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

But, even such well known passages as Ephesians 2:8-10 don’t leave room to wonder about whether progressive holiness is necessary. Ephesians 2:10 is crystal clear that the Christian is expected to “walk in” the “good works, which God prepared.” This idea is further reinforced by 1 Peter 1:15-16 and other New Testament passages that expect holiness in connection with the conduct of the believer.

So, the call for the Christian to be holy is inescapable. But, what is the standard the believer is to use to examine their walk? Paul encourages the Galatians to “not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 ESV). In that context he is explicitly referencing circumcision, but he is clear that submission to even that one tenet of the Law makes the believer “obligated to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3 ESV). So, if the Law is not the standard the believer is to adhere to, what is? That is the question we will take up in “Holiness and the Law of Christ – Thinking About Holiness Part 2.”

Shawn McCraney is probably not a heretic

argument-cartoon.jpg-300x239Last night Shawn McCraney and his C.A.M.P.U.S. ministry hosted an open forum to address the accusations that have been flying around the last few weeks. The format wasn’t quite what I expected  with the event called an “Inquisition” and Shawn’s detractors referred to as “accusers.” Personally, I think this set an unhelpful tone from the outset that wasn’t improved on much through the course of the evening. A photo of the program handout can be found here.

The main discussion began with Pastor Jason Wallace confessing his ill-preparedness for the format and the strict limitation of the discussion to the subject of the Trinity. He also confessed being uncomfortable with referring to the event as an “Inquisition.” At the heart of his concern with Shawn’s doctrinal positions was his use of the term ‘manifestation’ and that term’s close ties to the heresy of Modalism. Pastor Dale Finley also expressed concerns about Shawn’s rejection of the Trinity, as did the final accuser: Rob Sivulka. Rob led his presentation of concerns with the firm statement that he does not regard Shawn as a brother in Christ, he also followed it with multiple declarations throughout the evening decrying Shawn as a heretic and a Modalist.

The event was not a formal debate and lacked civility on all parts at a number of points; along with a few unhelpful outbursts, and even one very disruptive heckler who was ushered outside while screaming that Shawn was an “idiot,” a “heretic” and a “cult leader.” Shawn’s response to his opponents was fused with invective from its outset, which some of his opponents responded to in kind. Initially, Shawn did not offer much clarification of his belief except to identify his objection to the term “Trinity” on the basis that it does not appear in Scripture. However, Shawn did, eventually, clearly reject Patripassianism, which is a form of Modalism.

After a brief break the, so-called, “accusers” then had further opportunity to question Shawn and for Shawn to respond. Of all the further questions asked of Shawn only one by Rob Sivulka could have helped clarify the discussion: how did God exist before the creation? Unfortunately Shawn did not answer this question fully and directly. However, I was able to ask this essential question again, along with some follow-ups to try and bring more clarity to the essentials of the matter. In the end I don’t know that either side was moved in a helpful way. Shawn’s supporters seemed just as supportive and his detractors seemed just as resolute in their opposition. But, I’m not thoroughly convinced that Shawn is all that far from his opponents. Shawn’s opponents seemed hung up on his refusal to use terms such as “Trinity” and “persons” in articulating his view. But, I’m not convinced that Shawn is really departing from the essential teaching of Trinitarianism.

Shawn articulated his clear affirmation of monotheism, something he and his opponents agree upon. But, Shawn’s rejection of basic and historic theological terminology muddied the waters and I think is the real root of misunderstanding. In my attempts to clarify what Shawn believes we struggled to identify a word to adequately describe the distinctness of Father, Son and Spirit; which Shawn preferred to refer to as Father, Word and Spirit. In the end I simply used “thing” in place of the more theologically clear term of “person.” Shawn affirmed the co-eternal nature of all the “things” within the singular God, as well as their basic distinction from one another. He also affirmed a voluntary subordination between the divine “things.” Because of this exploratory questioning, which I prompted late in the proceedings, I’m not willing to decry Shawn as a heretic. I’m not convinced that whatever errors he holds to in his theology rise to the level of damnable error.

I want to say that I do think Shawn is being needlessly vague by rejecting historically established and helpful terminology simply because it does not appear in the Bible. This seems to be a troublesome path since the Bible teaches many things which, if we wish to communicate them concisely, benefit from adopting theological, and even philosophical, terminology. Yes, such terminology is a form of jargon; but that does not make it bad, wrong, or unbiblical. In a very narrow sense it is man-made, which seemed to be one of Shawn’s big hang-ups; but, that does not mean it is without use or value. In this case I am simply led to disagree with Shawn, but that is not the same as considering him a heretic. I disagree with Shawn’s assessment of Calvinism, being a Calvinist myself, but I don’t know that Shawn and I really mean the same thing when we use such labels. I also disagree with Shawn’s readiness to reject the use of the creeds, but I understand his reticence as it has been held to by many of my Baptist kin over the years.

In the end, I consider Shawn a brother in Christ, but I believe he is errant and perhaps misguided in some of his teachings and approaches. But, I think the vitriol that has been displayed on all sides, going back even to the beginning of last year is the real problem. Shawn and his opponents need to calm down, slow down and talk more with each other, and less at each other. I look forward to taking up both Shawn’s and Pastor Jason Wallace’s invitations to sit down and talk more. I will continue to hope for more unity amongst Christians and will look for ways I can even foster that myself.

It was an interesting night in Utah, and I trust God will use it for some purpose that will bring Him glory.

UPDATE: 2014-02-21 — 9:45am

A good brother pointed out that I may be painting with too broad a brush in castigating both sides for being overly harsh with one another. I want to clarify that my point of reference is restricted to the event that Shawn hosted. At that event Jason Wallace was the only one of the formal “accusers” who maintained a calm and respectful tone and presentation throughout. There were some other questioners from the audience who maintained a gentle and loving tone, and I want to be clear that it is not my intention to treat everyone who has voiced concern with Shawn’s teachings as though they have been overly harsh or unloving in their presentation, that is simply not the case. There are plenty of Christians who have approached Shawn in private and public and maintained the gentle and Christ-like approach that is called for. I hope this clarifies my meaning and intention in criticizing both sides in the current controversy.

UPDATE: 2014-02-21 — 12:56pm — Defining Terms

A friend asked if I could include a few definitions for those who may not be as steeped in the jargon of theology at issue:

  • Heresy — I use this term to mean damnable error, error so egregious that you will end up in Hell for holding firmly to it.
  • Trinitarianism — The affirmation that there is one, and only one, God eternally existing in three equally divine and equally eternal persons described as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Persons — As used in the previous definition to mean a subsistence within a single being, each possessing completely the divine nature, yet not representing the totality of the Godhead; and each distinguishable from the other two persons. The term is insufficient in some ways, but useful.
  • Modalism — A family of heresies that essentially affirms the unity of God while denying the distinctions presented in Scripture between the members of the Godhead.
  • Patripassianism — A form of Modalism that is represented by the idea that the Father became the Son and thus suffered on the cross.

I highly recommend the online resource Theopedia for those who want to explore these terms more or learn about the jargon of Christian Theology and its rich history.

UPDATE: 2014-02-24 — 12:40pm

The video from the event has now been posted.

UPDATE: 2014-02-25 — 3:57pm

I have closed the comments section before it would normally be automatically closed because I’m not in a position to stay on top of them and some look to be venturing into discussion that, while important, is not best conducted in the comment area of this blog post. This is an issue that will not be going away soon or quietly, nor should it. It is important for believers to wrestle with the Word and come to to conclusions about where they stand on important doctrinal issues. I am in discussions with some friends of mine about the doctrine of the Trinity and I have an email I recently sent to Shawn that I am awaiting reply to. I expect to have a follow-up post on this important matter in the coming weeks and I want to encourage everyone to maintain hope in Christ that unity may come, not at the expense of sound doctrine, but as a result of sound doctrine and with the support of Christian charity between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why the Creation v. Evolution debate is boring

This past week Bill Nye and Ken Ham had a debate. Lots of people have weighed in on both sides and in the end the issue remains just as intractable as ever. No one won the debate and no one lost, except the folks who walked in with their opinions already established, which includes everyone I know. In the end the debate was, in my opinion, a waste of time.

I want to be clear. I’m a young earth creationist. I believe that God created the entire universe in six twenty-four hour periods. I’m less committed to a particular age of the earth, and would tend to place myself in the old-earth creationist camp. But, I hold these beliefs for purely theological reasons. I am not a creationist because I believe the science points there. But, I also don’t hold my views in spite of science. To the best of my knowledge absolutely no one witnessed the creation of the universe. Nobody knows based on observation, repeatable experimentation or any other empirical means how all the exists came into being. For the theist, like myself, this presents no problem whatsoever because of a commitment to revealed truth, as contained in the Bible. But, in the absence of another source of authority arguments about the origin of the universe are simply boring.

Everyone has a narrative they want to put forward. Some, like Ken Ham, advance a very clear biblically literalist narrative based on a singular source. Others, like Bill Nye, advance a more nuanced, less certain and certainly more complex narrative filled with as many questions as supposed answers. And yet others advance variations or even entirely different narratives regarding the origins of all that is. But, they are all simply narratives based on their own prior commitments and presumptions. And, without an agreed upon source of authority, it is very difficult to arbitrate between competing narratives.

For these reasons I am not an evidentialist and I don’t put a lot of stock in Christian Apologetics. And it is because of this that I find the Creation v. Evolution debate to be exceedingly boring. Additionally, as a Church Historian, I find the modern predisposition to make one’s belief about origins a litmus test of orthodoxy quite strange. The only essential commitments of the Church through the centuries has been that God created all that is. The processes used to accomplish this creation are not specified in any of the early creeds and they appear in very few confessions coming from the Reformation until now. The Westminster Confession affirms a six day creation, but nearly every other confession or catechism of the church end simply by stating that God created all things.

Again, I want to affirm my full belief in Exodus 20:11 in which Scripture declares that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (ESV). But, I also take Scripture seriously when it declares that unrighteous men suppress the truth by means of their unrighteousness and gladly choose to worship the creation rather than the creator (Romans 1:18, 25) and that “No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent [Him] draws him” (John 6:44, ESV). For this reason the arguments over evidence to defend one narrative about origins or another is very boring to me. I believe that we ought to engage with science as Christians, but we also need to avoid substituting apologetics for preaching the Gospel. We need to recognize that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV). We have nothing to offer this lost and dying world apart from the message of Christ who lived, died and was raised for the forgiveness of our sins.

Building the wrong house from the right blueprints

On Sunday, January 12, 2014 Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy gave an address to the Church Educational System of the LDS church. In it he spoke about the analogy of a blueprint for a house and how “[i]n a similar way Christ built a home to best accommodate the spiritual needs of His children. It was called His Church.” On this count it is hard to disagree with Elder Callister. Jesus certainly did provide instructions on how His church was to operate, who it was composed of and the like. And, I even find myself, basically, agreeing with Elder Callister’s affirmation that we ought to look to the New Testament as our source for knowing how Jesus Christ desires His church to operate: “If one desired to discover Christ’s Church today he would want to match the spiritual blueprint found in the New Testament against every Christian church in the world until he discovered a church that matched the blueprint—organization for organization, teaching for teaching, ordinance for ordinance, fruit for fruit, and revelation for revelation.”

But, when we look to the New Testament what do we see? We clearly see Apostles leading the church in its earliest days, and even resolving disputes over matters of doctrine (Acts 15). However, we also see those Apostles appointing other leaders to carry on their work, such as Paul’s instruction to Titus to appoint elders in the various towns (Titus 1:5). There is absolutely no indication in the New Testament that the ministry of the Apostles would be perpetual. In fact, Acts 1:21-22 records Peter declaring in the midst of the other Apostles the need to replace Judas, and not just with any individual but with a person who met particular qualifications:

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22, ESV)

This is a very particular qualification required to serve as an Apostle that Peter lays down: an Apostle must have been a witness to the ministry of Jesus and his resurrection. The obvious question that should be raised then is: what about Paul? Paul defends his apostleship repeatedly in his letters, and Acts 9 describes Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Lord, meeting the second qualification that Peter had laid out in Acts 1:21-22. And, Paul was likely familiar with the ministry of Jesus, despite not being among those who followed Him as His disciples. But, the strongest reason to accept Paul’s apostleship are the words of Peter as recorded in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16, ESV)

Peter refers to Paul affectionately and recognizes the wisdom given to Paul in his writings. But, moreover Peter writes of Paul’s writings alongside “the other Scriptures.” So, it appears that Peter is supporting Paul’s authority and elevating his writings even to the level of already received Scripture.

Today, the LDS church claims to have Apostles, yet not a single one was a witness to the earthly ministry of Jesus, nor have they likely “witness[ed] … his resurrection.” If any of them claim to have had an experience akin to Paul’s vision of the resurrected Lord, they certainly aren’t publicly stating such. On this count the LDS Apostles would seem to be misnamed, at the very least. But, the LDS church has also adopted other practices the find no foundation in Scripture.

Never does the New Testament advocate the building of temples in which to conduct, so-called, ordinances, endowments and the like as practiced by the LDS church. The LDS temple system is an invention that has no parallel in Scripture. The Temple, as known to the biblical Apostles and to other Jews, was a place of offering, prayer and thanksgiving with its practices clearly defined in the Old Testament. In fact, Leviticus 10 records the death of Nadab and Abihu for offering “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded.” God takes His worship seriously, and the LDS temple system makes a mockery of what God has commanded by adding to His Word.

While Elder Callister is right in identifying the New Testament as the place to look for the blueprint of Christ’s church, it is clear that the LDS church is the wrong house. A careful reading of the New Testament, especially a reading which is informed by the fullness of the Old Testament, ought to make it clear that Christ’s church is not accurately reflected in the temples, ordinances, organizations and, so-called, revelations of the LDS church. Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 clearly is wrong to assert that the coming forth of the LDS church represents “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” The LDS church is the wrong house to build from the right blueprints of the New Testament.

True Christians ought to side with Luther and Tertullian who rightly identified means to discern the presence of a true church:

“Now, anywhere you hear or see such a word preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a ‘holy Christian people’ must be there.” (Luther, On the Councils and the Church)

“For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner.” (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics)

Any church that follows after the teachings of the Apostles, and thus the Word of God as revealed in the Old and New Testaments alone is where you will find God’s people. In spite of ecclesiastical differences, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists and others confess the same faith as taught by the Apostles: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

A Poor Attempt to Uproot TULIP

Over the last few weeks the controversial “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” has blossomed into what I feared it might become. With the publishing by Malcolm YarnellRick Patrick and David Allen, along with others over on SBC Today, a full assault on the Doctrines of Grace appears to be breaking out. While Most of the subsequent responses from adherents to this recent statement seem innocuous or even weak in their argumentation, the rapidity of their release leads me to conclude that this is what they intended from the initial publishing of the statement. I originally had my concerns about this possible outcome because of the outright baiting and pejorative treatment of Calvinism within the statement’s preamble, despite the complete lack of any historical or theological basis for the statements therein.

As of yesterday, Malcolm Yarnell’s previous attempt to uproot the common Calvinist acrostic TULIP, which is a helpful summary of Calvinist doctrine, has been re-published. His attempt is far too brief to be taken too seriously since volumes have been written both in support and against the core doctrines of Calvinism. But, what makes Yarnell’s post worthy of critique is it’s misrepresentation of the Southern Baptist confessional tradition in relation to the five points of TULIP as well as his nearly complete lack of a Scripture-based interaction with the points of doctrine. It is interesting that this post is not a fresh take, but is instead a retread of a substantially similar article from April 2006 with all its original weaknesses intact.

First, Yarnell is to be commended for affirming that Scripture is the final authority for all matters of Christian belief and practice. All believers ought to affirm this simple truth, and Calvinists certainly do.

Where Yarnell’s argument begins to show its weakness is when he delves into the Baptist Faith and Message and it’s affirmations in relation to Total Depravity. He errs in stating that Calvinists believe man to be incapable of moral action. Article III of The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine from the Canons of Dort states “Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.” Clearly the emphasis of Calvinism in the summary of Dort was that man is incapable of saving himself, which is the highest moral good. Because of the Fall humanity is in bondage to sin and our desire is for sin. It is not that we are incapable of moral action; it is, rather, that we we are incapable of choosing the moral good. We may perform acts that outwardly appear to be morally good, but we will do them out of sinful motivations. The heart (our affections) and the will of every person is inclined towards sin, we freely choose to sin and therefore God is not responsible for our choice to disobey Him, we freely choose sin because we can do no other because of the corruption wrought by sin in all of humanity.

Scripture affirms both of these realities: our slavery to sin and our inability to perform moral good apart from Christ (Slaves to Sin: John 8:34; Rom 6:6, 7:14ff, 7:23; Gal 4:3, 4:8; Eph 2:1-3; Incapable of Moral Good: Jer 17:9; Rom 14:23; Eph 2:3; Heb 11:6). Clearly the Bible stands in support of the approach of Calvinists on the matter of Total Depravity, at least so far as Yarnell has critiqued it. What is ultimately problematic about Yarnell’s approach is that he tacitly asserts that the human will is not affected by sin, he thus separates the will from the rest of the human person and seems to hold that it is left incorruptable, and I would simply ask on what basis does he make that claim? Where in Scripture do we see man presented as both corrupted but also possessing an incorruptible will? If the human will is, in fact, held to be uncorrupted by the Fall, then from where does the natural inclination for sin which is affirmed in the Baptist Faith & Message come from? It appears that Yarnell’s position is difficult to reconcile both with Scripture and the confessional tradition of Southern Baptists at this point.

Next, Yarnell asserts that Calvinists uniformly affirm “double predestination.” This assertion is nothing more than pure ignorance. Within Calvinism’s history there have been two distinct camps with regards to predestination, Supralapsarians and Infralapsarians. Only the Supralapsarian would affirm what Yarnell describes as the Calvinist view of predestination in which both election and reprobation are decisive acts of God’s will. The Infralapsarian, instead, holds that God viewed humanity in their fallen state and chose to act decisively to save many through Christ and that the others merely received the condemnation that would be deserve because of sin. The fact is that Scripture affirms this understanding of election, despite Yarnell’s objection. Ephesians 1:4 states “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” John 15:16 and 19 have Jesus speaking of His divine choice of the disciples and He even contrasts it with them not choosing Him. Romans 9:11 further separates God’s election from even the good or evil actions of the elect person as it speaks of God choosing to continue His promise to Abraham through Jacob, to the detriment of Esau.

Never in the Calvinist approach is the statement from the Baptist Faith & Message on God’s Purpose of Grace contradicted. In concert with the confessional standard of Southern Baptist, Calvinists fully affirm that “[e]lection is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.” Further, because Calvinists believe God acts to renew the will and the heart of man through regeneration we fully affirm that God’s work of election is compatible with man’s free agency, because God brings about the necessary change in affections so that those who are elect willingly choose to repent and follow after Christ in obedience, just as those who are not elect continue to willingly reject the call to repent and to seek after their own sinful desires.

There is perhaps some room for criticism of Calvinism at the next point that Yarnell addresses, concerning Limited Atonement. This point has made many uncomfortable because it seems to have difficulty aligning with Scripture at certain points, 1 John 2:2 being the chief one that Yarnell notes. However, Limited Atonement, as presented in The Second Main Point of Doctrine from the Canons of Dort states that the death of Christ “is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world” (Article 3). Further it affirms that “it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel” (Article 5). Further, Article 6 declares that rejection of the Gospel Call made to all men is the fault of the one who rejects it. And, Article 8 affirms that God actually saves the elect, He doesn’t simply create a potential for salvation but actually accomplishes it through the atonement of Jesus Christ. This all is in full concert with the Baptist Faith and Message, especially if one has the affirmation of the perseverance of “all true believers” in view with relation to election and atonement as is included in Article V of the Baptist Faith and Message. So, the full value, worth and effectiveness of the atonement of Christ is fully affirmed by Calvinism and no deficiency exists in how Calvinists would affirm both Limited Atonement and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Yarnell fails to make anything resembling a compelling argument that Irresistible Grace is incompatible with either Scripture or the Baptist Faith and Message. John 6:44 affirms that God must draw individuals in order for any to come to Christ and that Christ is decisive in raising them up for salvation. John 17 further affirms the decisive nature of Christ’s work of redemption, not presenting it as a potential reality but as a definite one. John 10:27-19 probably makes the decisive nature of salvation the plainest when Jesus says “[m]y sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Clearly, Scripture affirms the unfailing nature of redemption in Christ, and if the entirety of Article V from the Baptist Faith and Message is taken together we see the affirmation of the sureness of salvation expressed because it is the decisive act of God, which is “consistent” with the will of those who are save not cooperative.

Thankfully, Yarnell affirms the Perseverance of the Saints as formulated by the Canons of Dort. It is too bad that he fails to recognize the the culmination of God’s decisive work in salvation as expressed by the doctrine of Perseverance necessitates effectiveness in the atonement and decisiveness in relation to the nature of God’s saving grace. The tenets of Calvinism fit together because they are seen together in Scripture. And it is the total testimony of Scripture that Yarnell seems to miss in his attempt to critique Calvinism.

While it is true that many in Southern Baptist life have sought to modify Calvinism’s tenets they often stray into systems such as Molinism, Amyraldianism or even into expressions which resemble Semi-Pelagianism, or worse. The fact is that most Southern Baptists probably have within their theology a odd collection of beliefs, some of which are likely inconsistent with others. I join with Yarnell in abhorring any theology that leads to division in churches, except when that division is justifiable from Scripture since we are called to defend the truth and to seek unity around the truth. His closing pejorative comment that assumes Calvinism is a purely man-made invention simply serves to reaffirm what I already stated, that I believe the choice of this post and the presentation of others at this time is nothing more than an attempt to stir up strife and create division within the Southern Baptist Convention. And such an attempt is particularly ill-timed since we are about to head into an annual meeting that will likely be historic with relation to the SBC and it’s relation to the African-American community and the unity all Christians should desire when it comes to racial differences.

May this attempt to divide us fail as the unity that Christ prayed we should have prevails in our hearts, minds and wills. May God have mercy on us wretched sinners in need.

Priesthood – Aaron, Melchizedek or Jesus Christ?

Over the last couple months, especially since I had the opportunity to attend the Priesthood Session at the LDS’ General Conference in October, I have been drawn to consider a number of things regarding the idea of priesthood in the Christian church. Of course, a clergy class has existed within the church since it’s earliest days, with Godly men and women being called to special areas of service. For men the roles of Pastor, Bishop, Priest and Deacons have always been open and so the idea of men holding various priestly offices is in no way foreign to the Christian church. The area where I have been drawn to further thought and study is with regards to the priestly role of women within the Christian church, especially since the Protestant Reformation, and then particularly within Baptist theology. And, so, I am drawn to consider more fully the meaning and significance of the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers.

This past Sunday at First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah our Pastor preached from Mark 15:33-41 on the death of Jesus. In that we spent a fair amount of time on verse 38: “And the curtain on the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” This passage is almost universally recognized as meaningful because the path to the dwelling place of God was opened for all to see and thus access is granted through Jesus Christ to the very presence of God. For many this passage doesn’t inspire much reflection; but, as my Pastor pointed out, it ought to. For any who are not familiar, the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Jewish religion was centered and offered their sacrifices to God, was laid out similarly to the Wilderness Tabernacle with some notable differences. First, there were a series of courtyards surrounding the Holy Place. The outermost was the Court of the Gentiles, within that was the Court of the Women, within that the Court of Israel and then finally the Court of the Priests. Within the Court of Priests and Holy Place the layout was just like the Wilderness Tabernacle, simply a lot grander in scale and beauty.

The entirety of the Temple complex was built to segregate and separate those worthy to approach God. Only certain priests would enter the Holy Place, and only to discharge very specific duties concerning tending to the Table of Showbread, the Altar of Incense and the Golden Lampstand. Most of the priests would have spent their time seeing to the ritual duties connected with the Altar of Burnt Offerings and the Laver of Cleansing. Yet within the Holy Place was the most sacred room of the entire Temple complex, the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest, and only once a year, was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to offer blood on the Mercy Seat, which formed the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was the earthly dwelling place of God’s glory and was the penultimate symbol of God’s presence with His people. All the rituals and all the divisions of the Temple complex accentuated the separation that existed between the holiness and glory of God and His people. Because of sin no one could approach God except in the very elaborate way that God prescribed, which allowed God to temporarily turn away His wrath and be approached by the High Priest.

So, what happened in the death of Christ with the veil of the Temple being split in two was a monumental change in the approachability of God. Through Jesus Christ, access was granted for all to look through the Temple to the place where God’s presence dwelled with His people. Access was granted to God through Jesus Christ. This is why in Hebrews and elsewhere we see Jesus Christ presented now as the Christian’s great High Priest. 1 Peter 2:9 calls the whole of the church a “royal priesthood.” Hebrews 4:14-16 in exalting Jesus as the Christian’s High Priest calls all believers to “draw near to throne of grace.” Believers are encouraged to approach God directly through the one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). Furthermore, in Galatians 3:26-29 we see the great leveling of the Christian church in Jesus Christ. This passage teaches that all are made children of God and joint heirs to the promises made to Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith alone makes men and women, slave and freemen, Jews and Gentiles equal in their relationship and standing before God. All believers gain access through Jesus Christ to the throne of grace which was once hidden behind the veil of the Temple.

And, so, I am drawn to criticize the LDS church and its misapplication of priestly offices. The distinctions created in the LDS’ doctrine between the so-called Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and the isolation of men as the only ones worthy to hold those offices distort the message of the New Testament in which these former and inferior priesthoods are laid to rest by the higher and unsurpassable priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7). Furthermore, we have no need for priests in the New Covenant. Priests are mediators and the Bible tells us there is only one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). The true offices of the church, those of Elder and Deacon, are thus obscured and made worthless in the LDS church by their mixture of the true offices with false priestly orders. The LDS church justifies their practice on the grounds of continuing revelation, but for that justification to be valid they must nullify the words of Christ’s own Apostles, who established the order for His Church.

So, let no one be confused by those claiming priestly authority, for there is no priesthood after the order of Aaron or Melchizedek in Christ’s Church, save the priesthood of Jesus Christ. For the true Christian, only two offices stand within the church, that of Elder and that of Deacon. And, according to the teachings of Scripture, while the office of Elder is restricted to men only, and while the office of Deacon may be restricted to men alone, the throne of grace is open to all. And all are called by Scripture to approach that throne of grace through Jesus Christ, and Him alone, by faith. We have no need for sacrifice, nor mediator. We have need of Jesus Christ and Him alone. Everyone who believes on Jesus Christ, and Him alone, is made a priest to God following after the order of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian Church.

Comments on the Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 25:23

The Book of Mormon & The Holy Bible
The Book of Mormon & The Holy Bible - Courtesy of Casey Serin (sercasey) from Flickr

As I wrote about in “Two Months in LDS Central” in regards to my conversations with the LDS missionaries one of the texts they pointed me to in the Book of Mormon was 2 Nephi 25:23. This particular passage provided a great illustration of the differentiation between where I stand as an orthodox Christian and where the LDS church is coming from.
As a refresher here is what 2 Nephi 25:23 says:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

Now this verse seems fairly innocuous, except that the last phrase seems odd in light of what the New Testament teaches concerning the role of God’s grace in salvation. My questions to the LDS missionaries and to some other LDS church members regarding this verse has been on the meaning of the phrase “after all we can do.” I received a few different answers. Read more