Tertullian, the Pope, and the Church

In March, Lord willing, I will be traveling to Zambia to teach a course on the book of Hebrews to sophomores at International Bible College. In the process of preparing materials for the course I was gathering information for a sidebar on Tertullian and read a great summary and evaluation of his life and ministry:

When one only sees his thought in all its greatness, in the end, it is precisely this greatness that is lost. The essential characteristic of a great theologian is the humility to remain with the Church, to accept his own and others’ weaknesses, because actually only God is all holy. We, instead, always need forgiveness.[1]

Tertullian’s place in the pantheon of theologians is illustrated by some of the appellations given him: “the father of Latin theology”, “the father of ecclesiastical Latin”, etc. Tertullian gave us the word Trinity. He was the first to use “person” and “substance” in Trinitarian discussion. He was the first to refer to the church as “mother.” On estimate credits him with coining over 900 terms. Humanly speaking, Tertullian provided the language of orthodox.

Yet he left the church. Through a desire for more rigorous holiness, he left the church for the heretical fellowship of the Montanists.

This remains a constant temptation. Man is proud. It is easier to look down on others than to come down to help them. There are some who seem to be always exposing the sin of others or trumpeting their own righteousness. It must be a miserable struggle to decide which sin to engage in today. But take rest troubled soul: exalting in your own righteousness or scorning the sin of others both end at the same destination.

One might say that Tertullian is the Barry Bonds of the church fathers. His theological talent and ability is recognized by all, but is forever marked by an asterisk. Because he was too good for the church, Tertullian was not a great theologian.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, The Fathers of the Church (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 34-35.

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John Calvin: The Church has been as long as time

…we must understand, that at no period since the world began has the Lord been without his Church, nor ever shall be till the final consummation of all things. For although, at the very outset, the whole human race was vitiated and corrupted by the sin of Adam, yet of this kind of polluted mass he always sanctifies some vessels to honor, that no age may be left without experience of his mercy.

Institutes, 4.1.17

John Calvin on The Motive of Many a Church hopper

Still, however even the good are sometimes affected by this inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men.

(Institutes, 4.1.16)

A word to reformed evangelicals looking for a church

Who is this article for? More than likely it is not for a Presbyterian or Reformed Christian. Your denominational ties most likely make an article like this irrelevant. Rather, this article is aimed at those evangelicals- Baptist, Pentecostal, Missionary, Methodist, Wesleyan, etc.- who have discovered through one way or another the “doctrines of grace.” You have begun the journey of rejecting man-centered worship and embarked on the “God-entranced vision of all things.” And now, for whatever reason, you are looking for a church. Here are some things to consider.

Remember the semper  

More than likely you are familiar with the five solas of the reformation.[1] But are you aware of their close cousin semper reformanda? Semper reformanda means, “always being reformed.” What does this mean? Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a “reformed” church because the work of Scripture never ceases. There are only “reforming” churches. Are you looking for a perfect church? One that has everything just right? You will not find it.

Be bold

The work of the Reformation was not achieved by consumers, but by doers. Men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin et al were not used because they were looking for a church that was just right. They were used by the Lord because they went about making a church that was faithful to the Word. As Teddy Roosevelt said,

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”[2]

In looking for a reformed church you are simply following the contemporary consumer culture. Might the Lord have something more for you? Will you not rather commit yourself to long, hard, dirty work of reforming the church? Do you see what a church is or what it might become? It is easy to sit back and criticize everything that is lacking. The noble task is to work for perfection.

Be patient

The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 offer fascinating material. There are several churches with crippling moral and doctrinal errors. Yet within those churches is a faithful remnant. Christ’s word to them is illuminating. He does not tell them to leave. He does not tell them to start a new church. He does not tell them to look for a better church. Such people are told to “hold fast”[3] and to continue to “walk worthy”[4] of the Lord. The work will never be done. There will always be more to be done. But above all you must remember one thing: it is the work that Christ has pledged to accomplish himself.[5] He will do the work. He offers you the privilege of joining him in it.


[1] Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria

[2] “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

[3] 2:24-25

[4] 3:4

[5] Ephesians 5:25-27

Fundamentalism: The way forward

Can Fundamentalism survive? Even those who answer in the affirmative recognize that it will not happen if things continue as they are. What are some of the things that must change for Fundamentalism to survive, or, even thrive?

First, the name will have to be abandoned. The term “fundamentalist” is poisoned by Islamists and Christians alike. Whether the fundamentalist has explosives strapped to his chest and is preaching on the evils of the great Satan; or has a KJV in hand preaching on the evils of pants on women; one thing the world knows is that fundamentalists are nut jobs.

This seems like a bitter pill: how can fundamentalism survive if it is not even known as fundamentalism? But the biblical fundamentalist should be committed first and foremost to truth, not the labels that are applied to truth. This is not to say that we can simply call evil “good” and good “evil.” Names, labels, terms are important, but unless designated as such by Scripture they are not inerrant or eternal.

Secondly, there must be a greater emphasis on obedience to Scripture than interpretation of Scripture.  Fundamentalism has been a house built on sacred cows and shibboleths. All this was well and good when the surrounding culture still held to more-or-less the same values. Such externalism is no longer sustainable, and that is a good thing. No longer should spirituality be measured by the length of hair or hem. No longer should a drink of alcohol be condemned while frequent visits to Old Country Buffet are ignored.

This in no way denigrates the importance of believing right doctrine. Quite the opposite, this sharpens the focus on right doctrine. Fundamentalists would never go along with the argument of Christopher Hitchens that one can be devoted to the pursuit of truth, but never have a claim on it. Yet they must realize that belief in an infinite God demands that truth can only be apprehended, not comprehended. Dispensationalism is not a fundamental of the faith. Which is more biblically necessary: the belief that Jesus will rapture the church before a seven-year tribulation; or the pursuit of personal holiness in the light of Christ’s return? There are plenty who seek the second while having nothing to do with the first. But who is more likely to accepted in a fundamentalist church: a worldly pre-tribulationist or a spiritually growing post-millennialist?

Third, the independent church model must be radically overhauled. Christ did not die for a bunch of little churches each with her own peculiarities. He died for only one church. All the churches were to obey the decision of the Jerusalem counsel (Acts 15). The Corinthians were admonished to consider the custom of the whole church (1 Cor. 11:16). What Paul (Col. 4:16) and John (Rev. 2-3) wrote to one church was good for all. Fundamentalism has sacrificed the nurture and accountability of true ecclesiastical fellowship so that each church can have her own voice. As a result fundamentalism has no voice. What can fundamental churches and pastors do when other self-professed fundamentalists teach deviant doctrine or practice sexual predation? Nothing, except say we are not like them, we just call ourselves the same thing. As a result, the group is judged and known by its most vulgar species. Why can 20/20 lump together Hyles fundamentalism and BJU fundamentalism? Because they both claim to be fundamentalists.

Fourth, effectual change must be led by pastors. Christ has not promised to build his college, university, or seminary. Christ has not promised to build his missionary board or evangelistic crusade. Christ has promised to build his church. For fundamentalism to survive it must do so as a church movement led by the leaders Christ has ordained for his church.

In each of these things, the one needed thing is a focus upon biblical truth. I have written these things as an outsider. Yet as an outsider who wants to see biblical fundamentalism reform and thrive. I did not grow up in a church that identified itself within the fundamentalist movement. I do not pastor a church that identifies itself in the fundamentalist movement. To some, this serves as a disqualification for such judgments. I understand the sentiment. Yet I went to college and seminary at two of fundamentalism’s flagship institutions. Why? I did so in part because I wanted to learn the Bible in places that at least claimed to honor the Bible as God’s infallible word to mankind. In many ways, or at least in the most important ones, the survival of fundamentalism is as simple as just living up to what the name represents: belief and practice of what the Bible explicitly commands and teaches.

 

 

Is the Church the New Israel?

Old Testament- Israel

New Testament- Church

Genesis 12:1-3  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Gal 3:7  Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Gal 3:9  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Gal 3:14  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:29  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Genesis 26:1-5  Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,   because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Galatians 4:21-28  Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Genesis 17:12-13  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Philippians 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–

Romans 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Exodus 19:5-6  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Hosea 2:21-23  “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'” 1 Peter 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Romans 9:24-25  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'”

Ezekiel 16:4-7  And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Ephesians 2:4-7  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

 

Hebrews 8:6-13 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  or I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

 

Wilhelmus à Brakel Comes out swinging against Dispensationalism

The conclusion of à Brakel’s chapter “The Word of God” in The Christian’s Reasonable Service is an excellent portion entitled Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture. I hope to summarize its contents in a future post, but one thing that really caught my attention was an item in his list of things to be avoided in reading the Bible.

à Brakel writes:

The second practice to avoid is that of forcing everything into a framework of seven dispensations, as the entire concept of seven dispensations is erroneous. It would be tolerable if this were limited to the Revelation of John; however, it would prevent one from ever ascertaining the correct meaning of the book of the Revelation. It is unacceptable to search for seven dispensations throughout the entire Bible, subordinating every scriptural issue to a dispensation. That would take away the true meaning, spirituality, and power from the Word.[1]

 I will not comment on Brakel’s evaluation of dispensationalism as a system, other than to say that on the whole I agree with his estimation of the fruits of it. What really surprises me is that a à Brakel knows about dispensationalism at all. I expect a Reformed theologian to criticize dispensationalism: but not one in à Brakel’s day. The Christian’s Reasonable Service was published in 1700. Everyone pretty much agrees that dispensationalism as a system was not formalized until the late 1800s and early 1900s. Where does à Brakel’s knowledge of dispensationalism come from then?

 I consulted the standard treatment on the system, Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie, and think I found the answer:

 Pierre Poiret was a French mystic and philosopher (1646-1719). His great work, L’OEconomie Divine, first published in Amsterdam in 1687, was translated into English and published in London in six volumes in 1713. The work began as a development of the doctrine of predestination, but it was expanded into a rather complete systematic theology. In viewpoint it is sometimes mystical, represents a modified form of Calvinism, and is premillennial and dispensational.[2]

 Ryrie also lists the seven dispensations of Poiret which have a different demarcation than those of Scofield, but are nonetheless seven. As Ryrie is right to remind critics of the system, dispensationalism did not exactly fall out of the sky in 1900. Even if Ryrie’s citation of patristic authors is rightly dismissed as egregious cherry-picking, critics of the system should look for the true roots and sources of it rather than focusing all their attention on Darby and Scofield. Dispensationalism is older than you think.


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 79.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 65.

Why are our churches languishing?

We have forsaken the Lord, and are become slaves of honor. We are no longer able to rebuke those who are under our rule, because we ourselves also are possessed with the same fever as they. We, who are appointed by God to heal others, need the physician ourselves. What further hope of recovery is there left, when the very physicians need the healing hand of others?
John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians 4:4

They are just following their shepherds.

A.H. Strong and B.B. Warfield on Infant Baptism

In working on this week’s Family Worship Guide, I was looking through some old material I put together for a series of lessons on salvation in the Old Testament and came across the following interaction between the Baptist A.H. Strong and the Presbyterian B.B. Warfield on the subject of infant baptism.

In his Systematic Theology, Strong asserts,

(a) Infant baptism is without warrant, either express or implied, in the Scripture.
(b) Infant baptism is expressly contradicted [by Scripture].[1]

To which, B.B. Warfield replied,

 In this sense of the words, we may admit his first declaration—that there is no express command that infants should be baptized; and with it also the second—that there is in Scripture no clear example of the baptism of infants, that is, if we understand by this that there is no express record, reciting in so many words, that infants were baptized.[2]

I am just wondering: when your opponent’s first two arguments against you are that there is no Scriptural warrant for your practice and you proceed to agree with him, are you really sure you want to proceed with arguing for that practice? I don’t know. Was there a moment when Dr. Warfield paused and really contemplated the force of Dr. Strong’s arguments and the implications of his own admission to the veracity of those arguments? I mean, if I was in a discussion with someone and they said, “The Bible says nothing to support your position and in fact speaks against it.” I would hope that I would not reply with, “Yeah, but…”


[1] A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1979), 951-952.

[2] B.B. Warfield, Studies in Theology “The Polemics of Infant Baptism” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 395.

Leviticus 10: Thoughts on the long obedience of the Regulative Principle

Leviticus 10:1-3  Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

I am a proponent of the regulative principle of worship.[1] I believe we should only approach God in worship on his terms. I believe the worship “it truth” means doing what God says: not doing more, and not doing less. Nevertheless, this ethos can be presented in a less than ethical way. Those who hold to the regulative principle can certainly include Leviticus 10 in their arsenal of passages. And I am afraid that this passage, and others like it, is too often used in just that way: as a weapon to bludgeon the opposition.

God is particular about how e is worshipped. He did not really leave anything to the imagination. God’s instructions for worship even included the recipe for the incense he wanted to be burned in his presence (Ex. 30:34-38). God was concerned about the smell of the place of worship. Selah.

For some reason Nadab and Abihu decided to innovate. Any probing into why they made such a decision is pure conjecture. Scripture simply gives us no indication why Aaron’s sons did such a thing. Outside of this passage there is no indication they were scoundrels like Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.[2] In fact, Nadab and Abihu were given the privilege of going up Mount Horeb with Moses and seeing God (Ex. 24:9-10). The only possible hint as to the reason for their sin in Leviticus might be in 10:8-11 where Moses institutes the command that serving priests are not to drink any alcohol. Perhaps Nadab and Abihu entered their service drunk and offered their worship in a stupor.

Whether it was because of drunkenness or not, this account serves to remind us of one of the greatest dangers in worship: complacency. I do not think Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire for any nefarious purposes. I do not think they were trying to worship idols. I think they were simply bored with the mundane-ness of it all. Even if the reason for their sin was drunkenness, why would you get drunk before doing your job? You do not think your job is important enough to be sober for. Nadab and Abihu had seen indescribable things; they had unbelievable experiences. They ate meals with God! (Ex. 24:11) Then they had to- literally- come back down to earth. Perhaps they just got bored with the routine of it all.

In my mind this is one of the greatest dangers for those who hold to the regulative principle. How long can one continue to just sing, pray, give, read, and preach? You look around and see groups of people using skits, movies, performances, bands, etc. and their tribe only increases. People get worn down. How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long do we have to sing the same tired old songs? How long do we have to listen to the preacher drone on…and on? We have been doing this forever and nothing happens. Everything is stale.

Why do people offer strange fire to the Lord? Why do they seek to be innovators in worship? There are times when people simply need to be told to toe the line. But wouldn’t it be more effective to get them to love the line instead? I am not sure how helpful it is to use Leviticus 10 to teach people to worship God God’s way, or else. Especially when they can look around and see that God is clearly not sending fire to consume everyone who worships him in ways he has not prescribed. In worship, as in life, we need to walk by faith not sight.

I pray that I never become bored with obedience. I pray that I never succumb to the allurement of relevance; the comfort of success; the excitement of innovation. But how is this going to happen? I must walk by faith and not by sight. I must content myself with the knowledge of God’s approval. His applause in my spirit must be reckoned louder than the applause of man in my ears. Apparently, God is not too interested in innovation. If he is not, why should I be?

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” Love is the issue. Following the regulative principle is to worship what marriage is to a man and woman. Many fall to the temptation of the excitement of an affair; to the freedom of non-commitment. It is no different in worship. Following the regulative principle is settling in for a lifetime of commitment. It is a determination to love: a determination to love the law of God and follow it. The road of faithfulness is long. It can be tiresome. It can be boring. But it ends in a good place.


[1] The regulative principle is the idea that God should only be worshipped according to the explicit instruction of Scripture: worship should only include what God has specifically commanded. This is in contrast to the normative principle which states that can be worshipped in any way as long as he has not given a command against it. And in contrast to the seeker-sensitive movement which states God can be worshipped in any way that attracts a crowd.