Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 13, 2008

Lord’s Day Quote: John Owen

Eighthly, I shall add but one place more, of the very many more that might be cited to this purpose, and that is 2 Cor 5:21, “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”  The purpose of God in making his Son to be sin is, that those for whom he was made sin might become righteousness; that was the end of God’s sending Lord did not purpose what is not fulfilled, yea, what he knew should never be fulfilled, and what he would not work at all that is might be fulfilled (either of which are most atheistical expressions), then he made Christ sin for no more than do in the effect become actually righteousness in him: so that the counsel and will of God, with the purpose and intention of Christ, by his oblation and blood-shedding, was to fulfil that will and counsel, is from these places made apparent.

From all which we draw this argument: – That which the Father and the Son intended to accomplish in and towards all those for whom Christ died, by his death that is most certainly effected (if any shall deny this proposition, I will at any time, by the Lord’s assistance, take up the assertion of it; ) but the Father and his Son intended by the death of Christ to redeem, purge, sanctify, purify, deliver from death, Satan, the curse of the law, to quit of all sin, to make righteousness in Christ, to bring nigh unto God, all those for whom he died, as was above proved: therefore, Christ died for all and only those in and towards whom all these things recounted are effected; – which, whether they are all and every one, I leave to all and every one to judge that hath any knowledge in these things.

John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Book II, Chapter III)

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 12, 2008

Gnosticism – Part 2

Gnosticism – Part 2

 

Endemic to all forms of Gnosticism is a notion of hyper-spiritualizing, however the implications of this principal among the different strands was interpreted differently.  Most Gnostics believed this physical world needed to be transcended and that it was in some sense a place of training or rehabilitation prior to entering the real world.  In light of the fact that the spiritual is the ultimate and the material is to be transcended the question became how to react to the material.  Many forms of Gnosticism embraced a form of asceticism when it came to the elements of the physical world.  The ascetic overcame the material by denying it and abstaining from it as much as humanly possible.  These ideas ultimately do perpetuate themselves into the rise of monasticism within the more orthodox expressions of the Christian faith.  The way to transcend the physical was to discipline the body, affirm the spirit and suppress the desires of flesh. 

 

On the other hand, there were some Gnostics who proceeded to the opposite end of the spectrum from that of the ascetics.  They concluded that since the body is fundamentally temporary and unimportant it doesn’t matter what you do with the body.  A relatively small number within this group would have even promoted the notion that excess in the life was a way of demonstrating the independence one had over the body.  Thus, they perceived that they were free to indulge in gross immorality, although defiling the body, would leave the spirit intact.          

 

In almost all instances the Gnostic took the liberty of reinterpreting the faith in fundamental ways, especially in the account of the fall of Adam.  Some of the most notable ways were through the identification of the serpent in the garden as the bearer of divine truth.  He is primarily classified as a hero in some Gnostic circles due to his promotion that Eve, partake of the tree of the “knowledge” of good and evil.  In many forms of Gnosticism, the Triune Covenant Lord Yahweh, is seen as an evil character who wants to keep people in ignorance.  In these instances we find a radical revision of the biblical account, in order to make them more consistent with Gnostic worldview.  When the Church sensed the seriousness of this problem posed by the Gnostics, it began to confront it in the second and third century.  It is indicative of the fact that the Church, since its inception has always had to be discerning about the truth of its doctrine. 

 

An early Gnostic teacher, Basilides, received critical responses from various Christians and apologists about the error of his views.  In Basilides in particular we are exposed to the complicated nature that the Gnostic mythology tended to be.  The over-arching Gnostic principle, which evidently was the source of the convoluted mythology, was the quest to make God as transcendent as possible.  For many of the Gnostics the great problem with the material world is that it is ever changing.  In order to remain consistent with their radical interpretation of Platonic philosophy they seek to distance God from the material to preserve the notion of an unchanging truth.  Thus, they seek to define God as a being as far removed from this material changing world as much as possible.  This results in a God who has no possible direct contact with the material world, and must have a series of intermediate beings or archons with a diminishing scale.  This scale ever so slightly becomes more and more contaminated by the material world until eventually direct contact is made.

 

The following provides an illustration of this concept:

 

Divine being (pure spirit)

            Archon 1

                        Archon 2

                                    Archon 3

                                                Archon 4

                                                            Archon 5

                                                                        Archon 6 (God of the Bible could possibly at this level)

                                                                                    Archon 7

                                                                                                Archon 8

                                                                                                    Physical world

 

Of course, the Gnostics would probably have a much more complex illustration to convey their view.  Nonetheless, hopefully this is sufficient to illustrate the point we are trying to articulate.  As we can gather from this process of separating the Divine with the physical world, an attempt is being made to eliminate any defilement of the spirit with the physical world.  The problem is that no matter how many intermediate beings are inserted into the equation there will always be a percentage of contact with the physical.  It actually ends up falling into an infinite regress that is irreconcilable with the Gnostic view unraveling like pulling the string on a cable net sweater.

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 10, 2008

Council of Orange

On a recent White Horse Inn broadcast they discussed the topic of Pelagianism and provided a historical overview.  They also read the Canons of the Council of Orange, which was an ecumenical council in the 6th century that condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.  It was quite surprising and impressive.  So, in the next several weeks we will be posting the canons from this council for reference.

 

This is very timely considering the passage we are currently working through in the Gospel of John.

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 7, 2008

Why must we be born again? (Lesson 7: Question 2 Answer)

2. Why must we be born again?

The hearts of men were known by our Lord as indicated by the apostle John in the previous chapter.  In this chapter the apostle records the words of our Lord that prescribe the remedy to this dilemma.  This prescription is described by our Lord as being “born again” as we find in the following verses:    

3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

The words of Jesus to Nicodemus recorded in the verses above must have come as a complete surprise.  It is evident from the response that Nicodemus was either befuddled or perturbed by the response that Jesus gives to his initial statement.  We can certainly read the response either way, which can be associated with astonishment or sarcasm towards our Lord.  However, since the doctrine our Lord is proclaiming here to Nicodemus was uncommon to the Old Testament Scriptures it seems more fitting to classify the response as one of bewilderment. 

The closest possible parallel in the Old Testament to this concept is probably Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37.    A valley of dry bones is encountered representative of the fallen house of Israel and Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy (preach) to them.  Upon preaching the word of God the bones are transformed into living bodies again.  This is analogous to the previous chapter when God promises to return Israel from exile and renew their hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27).  It is apparent though, that Nicodemus did not make the connection between these prophetic writings and our Lord’s words on that evening.

Our Lord here clearly is expressing a condition or prerequisite that is necessary for entrance into His kingdom.  This condition as He states is one of being born again or “regenerated”, which necessarily implies that men are naturally unworthy to enter the kingdom by birth or generation6.  This is further Scriptural support for the doctrine of original sin that accounts for man’s fallen nature transmitted through their federal head Adam.  Thus the conclusions articulated at the Synod of Dort are a helpful summary of this Scriptural teaching in the following:

Article 2: The Spread of Corruption – Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants — except for Christ alone — not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.

Article 3: Total Inability – 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.

In the second article the synod refers to Pelagianism, which is an ancient heresy named after the British monk Pelagius who denied the doctrine of original sin.  Although this heresy has been condemned by numerous Church councils, including the council of Trent, it is alive and well in many forms of Christianity today.  Essentially, it teaches that man did not inherit a fallen nature from Adam and has the moral ability, apart from God’s grace, to earn salvation on his own.  Thus, denying the biblical concept of sola gratia, which affirms that salvation is by God’s grace alone.  Although, a clear departure from biblical redemption, Pelagianism is consistent with the religion of natural man who thinks that he can improve his life or attain salvation simply by sheer will power. Unlike the Scriptural teaching that describes man’s condition as a result of the fall as corrupt (Romans 5:12), the religion of man perceives humanity to be truly good deep within.

The Pelagian tendency within the religion of man denies the need for the Gospel, honoring Jesus only as a great moral example who should be followed.  Man is seen as basically good and only needs to tap into that goodness through the right techniques of self-improvement.  The fundamental goal of man- made religion is self-improvement through the right methods or rules for living. Thus, there is a great amount of harmony amongst the different world religions, which essentially agree on the appropriate moral behavior.  Why is this?  As the Scriptures proclaim the law is universal to all, being proclaimed to Adam in the beginning.   This general revelation is now written on the hearts of all his progeny revealed in the conscience (Romans 2:14-16).  An excellent example of this is manifested in the similarities between the Code of Hammurabi and the Law of Moses.

Despite the general unity among all religions when it comes to the law and morality, Christianity is unique in the possession of the Gospel.  The law is in us by nature.  The Gospel, however, is foreign to us and foolishness to us in our natural state.  This natural instinct causes man to seek his solution through the law and is manifested in the Pelagian perversion of Christianity.  The problem with Pelagianism that makes it incompatible with Christianity is its inadequate understanding of the cross.  In rejecting the notion that a substitution was occurring on the cross, they seek to minimize it to being the ultimate moral example that man must imitate.  Their view purports that Christ did not actually save anyone, however, man must follow Christ’s example of obedience.  The predicament that is confronted with this view is its inability to be reconciled with the Scriptures.  The Scriptures teach that if it were possible for salvation to be achieved through the law then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:19-21).  Moreover, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  If God punished Jesus for no particular reason, least of all our sins, wouldn’t this be demonstrable of a horrific cruelty? Essentially, there is no good explanation of the cross in this form of religion, which fundamentally denies its necessity and power.

 

The vital flaw with Pelagianism that was the source of this false view of the cross was a denial of the biblical doctrine of original sin.  As discussed in the previous chapter, this is a biblical doctrine affirmed by Jesus Himself.  Here in these verses further support is found by our Lord’s articulation of the condition of being born again.  This renewal is indispensable for our entrance into the kingdom of God due to the fallen nature we are born with, as Calvin indicates in the following comments on this verse: 

 

So the meaning is, that no man can be truly united to the Church, so as to be reckoned among the children of God, until he has been previously renewed.  This expression briefly what is the beginning of Christianity, and at the same time teaches us, that we are born exiles and utterly alienated from the kingdom of God, and that there is a perpetual state of variance between God and us, until he makes us altogether different by our being born again; for the statement is general, and comprehends the whole human race…By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature.  Hence it follows, that there is nothing in us that is not sinful; for if reformation is necessary in the whole and in each part, corruption must have been spread throughout7.

The concept of being reborn implies the radical operation that the Spirit’s regeneration applies to us.  This work of regeneration is described as making a spiritually dead sinner alive (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13-14).  In our fallen state we are unable to respond to the call of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7), because we are at enmity with God (Colossians 1:21; Romans 1:18-25).  However, when the Spirit performs His work of revivification (Titus 3:4-7) it transforms a spiritually dead sinner enabling him to respond to the call of the Gospel positively in faith.

It is the Gospel that is the only power of salvation for those who believe (Romans 1:16) and those who believe are synonymous with those who are born again.  This is truly good news.  Although, men are guilty by nature, hate God and would remain rebellious to His rule unto eternal damnation, He chose not to leave us in this state of misery.  He would have been perfectly justified to leave us in Adam, dead in sin and unable to save ourselves.  However He sent His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to bring redemption and reconciliation to us.  This work is then applied to us by the Holy Spirit who intrudes into our darken hearts granting us the ability to receive this good news through faith.

The Gospel grants us life where there was only death and damnation apart from Christ.  Thus, being “born again” is the description given to the process where we are transferred from death to life.  This shift from life to death is so radical that it requires the analogy of being re-born to accurately describe its significance.  As Jesus indicates it distinguishes those who are worthy to enter the kingdom of God from those who are not.  The intensity of this label may not affect us today as it should, since it became a buzzword in the modern evangelical movement.  (More than likely understood improperly by many of those who used the phrase).  However, the drastic nature of this label is indicative of Nicodemus’ response whose reply is illustrative of its extreme description.

The error of Pelagianism denies these fundamental biblical truths, beginning with its denial of original sin.  This natural tendency with fallen man to deny the biblical diagnosis of being dead in sin through Adam is the starting point.  The emphasis then leads to denying the Gospel and emphasizing moral improvement through man’s own volition.  When the Gospel is denied it no longer needs to be preached and is replaced with sermons focused solely on the law.  (Or the law-light indicative of the popular terminology of tips, keys or purposes)  There is nothing distinctively Christian about this point of view, yet finds its way into Church through men such as Charles Finney.

 

Fortunately, men like Finney and Pelagius were wrong and there is good news for us to be found in the wonderful redemption that Christ has earned.  We do not need to rely on our efforts to fulfill the law, since Christ has obeyed the law completely in our stead.  Faith comes by hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we believe through the aid of the Holy Spirit who causes us to be born again.  This intrusion or in breaking of the Spirit grants us access into the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God, which is breaking in on this age every time the Word is properly preached, the Sacraments are rightly administered, and a spiritually dead person is born again into this covenant community. It is this topic that we will explore in our next question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elentic Theology (Phillpsburg, NJ, P&R 1992) p 534

 

7 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) p 108

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 6, 2008

Lord’s Day Quote: Louis Berkhof

a.  God is the principium essendi.  God is the source and fountain of all our knowledge.  He possesses an archetypal knowledge of all created things, embracing all ideas that are expressed in the works of His creation.  This knowledge of God is quite different from that of man.  While we derive our knowledge from the objects we perceive, He knows them in virtue of the fact that He has from eternity determined their being and form.  While we attain to a scientific insight into things and relations only by a laborious process of discursive thought, He has an immediate knowledge of all things, and knows them not only in their relations but also in their very essence.  And even so our knowledge is imperfect, while His knowledge is all-comprehensive and perfect in every way.  We are only partly conscious of what we know, while He is always perfectly conscious of all His knowledge.  The fulness of the divine knowledge is the inexhaustible source of our knowledge, and therefore God is the prinicipium essendiof all scientific knowledge.  Naturally, Pantheism with its impersonal and unconscious Absolute cannot admit this, for a God, who has no knowledge Himself, can never be the principle or source of our knowledge.  In fact, all absolute Idealism would seem to involve a denial of this principle, since it makes man an autonomous source of knowledge.  The origin of knowledge is sought in the subject; the human mind is no more a mere instrument, but is regarded as a real fons or sources.

b.  The world as God’s creation is the principium cognoscendi externum.  Instead of “the world as God’s creation” we might also say “God’s revelation in nature.”  Of His archetypal knowledge God has conveyed an ectypal knowledge to man in the works of His hands, a knowledge adapted to the finite human consciousness. This ectypal knowledge is but a faint reproduction of the archetypal knowledge found in God.  It is on the one hand real and true knowledge, because it is an imprint, a reproduction, though in temporal and therefore limited forms, of the knowledge of God.  On the other hand it is, just because it is ectypal, no complete knowledge, and since sin put its stamp on creation, no perfectly clear nor absolutely true knowledge.  God conveyed this knowledge to man by employing the Logos, the Word, as the agent of creation.  The idea that finds expression in the world is out of the Logos.  Thus the whole world is an embodiment of the thoughts of God or, as Bavinck puts it, “a book which He has written with large and small letters, and therefore not a writing-book in which we, as the Idealists think, must fill in the words.”  God’s beautiful creation, replete with divine wisdom, is the principium cognoscendi externum of all non-theological sciences.  It is the external means, by which the knowledge that flows from God is conveyed to man.  This view of the matter is, of course absolutely opposed to the principle of Idealism, that the thinking man creates and construes his own world: not only the form of the world of thought (Kant), but also its material and contents (Fichte), and even the world of being (Hegel).

Louis Berkhof,   The Idea and History of Dogmatic Theology

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 5, 2008

Gnosticism – Part 1

Gnosticism – Part 1

 

What we know about ancient Gnosticism is that it was a very complicated movement.  There were lots of different teachings, different directions, and lots of different teachers who did not agree with one another.  Gnosticism is a big label to put on something to describe a phenomenon that has some similarities, but also has many distinctions amongst the various different sects.  Although this is a diverse phenomenon, it shares in common a vision of Christianity that is really concerned about a spiritual reality.  This spiritual reality is the true world, which is a distinction that binds all Gnostics together.  All forms of Gnosticism are driven by a conviction that the great religious task is to come to understand the spiritual world, so that you can relate rightly to it.  This is the source of the label Gnostic, those who “know”, from the Greek word gnosis.  Those who “know” the spiritual world and how things are put together will arrive at salvation.  This knowledge that is directed primarily towards the spiritual world is the concern of Gnosticism.

 

The Valentinian Gnostic, Theodotus, once stated that they were concerned with questions such as:

 

·         Who were we?

·         What have we become?

·         Where were we?

·         Wither have we been cast?

·         Wither do we hasten?

·         From what will we become free?

·         What is birth?

·         What is rebirth?

 

These are questions of origin, of meaning, of purpose, of future and the great concern is where we come from.  This was a great concern that led Gnostics to believe that we existed before we existed in our bodies, because we are ultimately spirit beings.  Since all really real things are fundamentally and ultimately spiritual.  The physical world is seen as either illusory or is temporary, thus to find real meaning one must find the deeper spiritual reality. 

 

Gnosticism reveals itself in the ancient world as a movement influenced much more by Greek than Jewish beliefs.  On the best historical evidence does the Gnostic version of Christianity or the apostolic version seem to be more genuine?  The answer would have to be the apostolic version of Christianity, since it has more in common with the Jewish roots of the faith than Gnostic Christianity.  Although, we are not deciding who is right on this basis, however on apologetic grounds this is a useful question to ask.  This radical spiritualizing notion that is characteristically integral to the Gnostic belief system is just worlds away from the Jewish roots of Christianity.  For most Gnostics, the physical world and creation is a bad thing.  The material things are evil, or at least problematic, which stands at fundamental odds with the Old Testament view of creation.  The world that God made was a physical world, which He identified as good. It is not incidental that many of the earliest creeds of the Church begin with some confession that God is Creator or maker of heaven and earth.  This is done very clearly as an anti-Gnostic apologetic, since God is good and spiritual and made the physical realm.

1. Who are authorized persons (or beings) that can perform miracles?

 

There is much confusion, speculation and manipulation when we consider the topic of miraclous works of the Holy Spirit.  As we consider this topic we will seek to bring clarity and convey the biblical view of miracles, which is conveniently manifested in our passage.  As we proceed to perform this task we will remain focused on the following verses:

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

As we gather from the text, a significant and influential person approaches Jesus during the night to engage in a dialogue.  Nicodemus is reported to be a Pharisee and a member of the ruling class in Jerusalem.  The Pharisees were considered the conservative party in Israel during this time and were known for their scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Laws.  This observance comprised subscription to first five books of Moses and the traditions or interpretations of these laws handed down orally by the elders (Mark 7:3, 5) 3.  They differed with the Saducees, who were the priestly class on several points of belief (Acts 23:8), however shared the rule of the nation with them in the body known as the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin was comprised of seventy elders who were the native ruling authority, granted limited autonomy by the Roman overlords.

Thus, we should recognize that Nicodemus is an individual in an esteemed position in the Israelite society.  As an elder of the people he would have been respected and feared.  In such a position we must recognize that it would have at least been a matter of interest for him to seek out and to visit a controversial figure who had just challenged the authority of the temple leaders.  This is further reinforced by the apostle’s mention of this visit taking place at night, under cover of darkness, which would have been ideal to maintain privacy and prevent the knowledge of this visit being discovered.

There are a few different reasons that may have motivated Nicodemus to trouble himself to make this visit.  Whether the nature of the trouble was that of a risk to his reputation or just taking the time to associate himself with Jesus, the motivation had to be fairly significant.  The following reasons or alternatives are those that we believe present the most viability:

 

·         Nicodemus was sent by his party as representative to make a formal inquiry into who Jesus was and who He specifically claimed to be.  His motivation was thus out of loyalty to his party.

·         Nicodemus was sympathetic to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and restoring the purity and dignity of covenant worship in Israel.

·         Nicodemus was eagerly awaiting the advent of the Messiah of Israel, the promised seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.  In hope that Jesus may be that promised seed was the motivation to make this visit.

·         Nicodemus was witness to the miracles that Jesus performed during the Passover festival.  His understanding of the role that miracles played in redemptive history validated that Jesus was preaching with the authority of God.

·         A combination of some or all of the above mentioned items.

We can never really ascertain the true motivation that caused Nicodemus to approach Jesus for a discussion.  His later sympathetic references in the fourth Gospel (John 7:50; 19:39 ) are not necessarily indicative of what his feelings were towards Jesus prior to the encounter.  Nonetheless, his statement recorded in the subsequent verse at least provides strong evidence that the fourth bullet above was a factor.

As a man who must have been conversant in the Law and Prophets, which comprised the Old Covenant canon, Nicodemus would have understood the role that miraculous signs and wonders played in redemptive history.  In redemptive history, miracles tend to cluster during periods of new revelation that God provides to His covenant people.  The primary examples of this in the Old Covenant are the miracles of Moses that occurred during the exodus from Egypt and wilderness wanderings.  God’s revelation of Himself to His people followed these signs and wonders, culminating in the compilation of it in the Pentateuch as a written record.  Upon the deliverance of this law and the conquest of the land through Joshua the occurrences of revelation and miracles were not as prevalent ultimately ceasing after the time of Malachi.   It should be noted that miracles were not normal or common occurrences in redemptive history, especially when one considers the Old Testament period was over 1500 years. 

This view of miraculous signs and wonders must be the implication of the statement made by Nicodemus here to our Lord.   The purpose of miracles are to manifest the authority of the representative who is speaking on behalf of God (John 5:36; 9:33; Acts 2:22).  Thus, Nicodemus could be confident that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God.  The advent of our Lord begins the most significant period of revelation in redemptive history and included a multitude of miraculous acts to substantiate it.  This was followed by the apostolic age, which continued to display a similar amount of miracles.   

Certainly, one can point to the content thus far and note that these are the words of Nicodemus who did not speak for God.  Thus, for us to rely on his statements to support our point would be problematic.  However, this is an instance where Nicodemus is consistent with the inspired testimony of the New Testament authors (Hebrews 2:4; 2 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).  These miraculous signs (and gifts of the Holy Spirit) were extraordinary acts that defied the laws of nature, which necessarily required the intervention of the God who is above the creation to endow men with the ability to execute them.  Thus, the power over these ordinances of nature manifests a special authority that can only come from God.  These signs can then serve to authentic the new revelation being spoken from the person performing these miracles as being from God and not a spurious source.

As we established in previous lessons, Christ is the climax of revelation and God has completely spoken in Him (WCF 1.1).  The completion of God’s special revelation in Christ, thus, has direct ramifications on the continuation of miraculous signs and wonders in history.  Since miracles were essentially the visible evidence to establish the authority and credentials of the words of God’s earthly representatives, the completion of God’s revelation in Christ eliminates the need for their continuation.  In fact the cessation of special revelation with the completion of the canon of Scripture included the cessation of the miraculous signs and wonders that accompanied it.  Although, there are many who claim the continuation of these mighty acts and signs, when they are brought under closer scrutiny they fail the test of authenticity. Moreover, even enthusiasts who claim the continuance of these signs and extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit concede that they passed out of use in the Church until the “latter days”.  Thus, Warfield argues the best biblical and historical explanation of this is the doctrine of cessation after the passing of the Apostolate in the following:

This deeper principle may be reached by us through the perception, more broadly, of the inseparable connection of miracles with revelation, as its mark and credential; or, more narrowly, of the summing up of all revelation, finally, in Jesus Christ. Miracles do not appear on the page of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course. It might, indeed, be a priori conceivable that God should deal with men atomistically, and reveal Himself and His will to each individual, throughout the whole course of history, in the penetralium of his own consciousness. This is the mystic’s dream. It has not, however, been God’s way. He has chosen rather to deal with the race in its entirety, and to give to this race His complete revelation of Himself in an organic whole. And when this historic process of organic revelation had reached its completeness, and when the whole knowledge of God designed for the saving health of the world had been incorporated into the living body of the world’s thought–there remained, of course, no further revelation to be made, and there has been accordingly no further revelation made. God the Holy Spirit has made it His subsequent work, not to introduce new and unneeded revelations into the world, but to diffuse this one complete revelation through the world and to bring mankind into the saving knowledge of it4.

Jesus demonstrated through His earthly ministry the authority from God that He possessed by performing miracles.  The prophets of the old covenant and the apostles of the new covenant demonstrated these same signs and wonders, to authentic the authority they had been given to speak on behalf of God to the people.  How else are we to explain Nicodemus’ statement?  It is evident from this text that this was the purpose for miracles, which protected the people of God from being deceived and led astray.  As Calvin points out in his comments on this verse:

And he had good grounds for thinking so, because God always intended that miracles should be seals of his doctrine.  Justly therefore does he make God the sole Author of miracles, when he says that no man can do these signs, unless God be with him; for what he says amounts to a declaration that miracles are not performed by the arm of man, but that the power of God reigns, and is illustriously displayed in them…To whatever extent Satan may, like an ape, counterfeit the works of God in the dark, yet when the eyes are opened and the light of spiritual wisdom shines, miracles are a sufficiently powerful attestation of the presence of God, as Nicodemus here declares it to be5.

It’s really quite clear from this that we are not to expect the performance of miracles from anyone else than those who represent God.  We now turn to the obvious implication of this, as Calvin alludes to above, that this precludes Satan and demons as well.  Although, we must concede that there is certainly a realm of the occult and magic that has some sort of power or apparent power, it is not on the same level as an authentic miracle.  This is why Scripture refers to false and lying signs (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Matthew 24:24), which have the power to deceive many.  However, our Lord seems to teach that these signs will not deceive the elect who are sealed with the Spirit and equipped with the authentic Word of God.  These false and lying signs are just that, counterfeit and inauthentic, they are not even comparable to the power of God (Acts 8:9-25).

The modern charismatic movement has done much violence to this doctrine and seeks to deny it vociferously.  However, just as a cessation occurred in the Old Covenant at the completion of the canon, a cessation in the New Covenant occurred at the completion of its canon.  The whole purpose revelation and the miracles that accompanied it were designed for very different reasons than the modern charismatics thinks.  As Warfield stated above, “the mystics dream” would be for God to reveal Himself atomistically to private individuals about His hidden will.  It is indicative of a blatant dissatisfaction with God’s complete revelation in Christ, and His Gospel, canonized in the Scriptures.
It should be noted that although a cessation of miracles in this age has occurred, when the age to come dawns the use of miracles will resume.  This is especially evident with the forthcoming resurrection on the last day, which will include the dead being raised and Christ’s church being taken up in the clouds to be with Him.  This will be another period of great revelation with our Lord’s return, which will follow the pattern of other periods in redemptive history and include miracles.  However, until that day we have the ordinary signs and seals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  These signs do not confirm new revelation, but God’s word which is proclaimed to us by His modern day “prophets” from the pulpit on the Lord’s Day.  This Word is contained in the canon of Scripture and is sufficient for the Church in this age to receive Christ.  Let us then be satisfied with the means that God has ordained in these last days when He has spoken to us in His Son. 

 

 

3 Ferguson, Everett.2003. Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: WB Eerdmans, Third Edition) p 516

4 Warfield, Benjamin The Ceasing of the Charismata

5 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) 106-107

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | June 29, 2008

Lord’s Day Quote: John Owen

Thirdly, the like expression is that also of Paul, 1 Tim 1:5, evidently declaring the end of our Savior’s coming, according to the will and counsel of his Father, namely, to “save sinners;” – not to open a door for them to come in if they will or can; not to make a way passable, that they may be saved; not to purchase reconciliation and pardon of his Father, which perhaps they shall never enjoy; but actually to save them from all the guilt and power of sin, and from the wrath of God for sin: which, if he doth not accomplish, he fails of the end of his coming; and if that ought not to be affirmed, surely he came for no more than towards whom that effect is procured.  The compact of his Father with him, and his promise made unto him, of “seeing his seed and carrying along the pleasure of the LORD prosperously,” Isa 53:10-12, I before declared; from which it is apparent that the decree and purpose of giving actually unto Christ a believing generation, whom he calleth “The children that God gave him.” Heb 2:3, is inseperably annexed to the decree of Christ’s “making his soul an offering for sin,” and is the end and aim thereof…

…the same purpose and intention we have, Eph 5:25-27, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish:” as also, Tit 2:14, “He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”  I think nothing can be clearer than these two places; nor is it possible for the wit of man to invent expressions so fully and livelily to set out the thing we intend, as it is in both these places by the Holy Ghost.  What did Christ do? “He gave himself,” say both places alike: “For his church,” saith one; “For us,” saith the other; both words of equal extent and force, as all men know.  To what end did he this? “To sanctify and clease it, to present it to himself a glorious church, not have spot or wrinkle,” saith he to the Ephesians; “To redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,” saith he to Titus.  I ask now, Are all men of this church?  Are all in that rank of men among whom Paul placeth himself and Titus?  Are all purged, purified, sanctified, made glorious, brought nigh unto Christ? or doth Christ fail in his aim towards the greatest part of men?  I dare not close with any of these.

John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Book II, Chapter III)

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | June 28, 2008

Alternate Views in the Ancient Church

Alternative Views in the Ancient Church

 

It is a common misconception in our day that there was a unified, cohesive and undivided form of Christianity in the ancient era.  Whether this is just assumed by some or a perceived impression that is advocated by the Church itself, it is not an accurate description.  This is especially problematic when opponents of Christianity discover ancient documents that refute this conception.  It is then touted that these newly found documents were allegedly suppressed by the institutional Church to maintain a unified perception.  When differences of opinion within Christianity are discovered within these circles they are then deemed as adequate justification to debunk the orthodox expression of the Christian faith.  This feeds into a particularly American presupposition that institutions are inherently corrupt.  The Church, which is seen as one of the oldest institutions, is then characterized as corrupt as well.  Thus, it is presumed that the previously unknown views of Christianity are more truthful than the known versions.

 

The main thing we want to be aware of as students of history is the fact that there were varying views and alternatives to the Christian faith.  This is abundantly obvious with even a cursory review of the New Testament documents, especially the Epistles, which are characteristically occupied with addressing errors such as the Judaizing heresy.  These heretics in particular claimed to be Christians, yet were adamant to impose the Mosaic economy on Gentiles.  It should then not come as a surprise to us that from the earliest stages of Christianity there were competing visions on what true Christianity was.  The New Testament represents the genuine apostolic Christianity, described by Jude as the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” 

 

There were groups who dissented in fundamental ways from the apostolic faith, of which the Church was thoroughly aware of.  Thus, we have works such as Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, which is addressing the heretical views of Gnosticism.  Although it is fair to point out that it is possible that Irenaeus did not fairly represent the views of Gnosticism, it at minimum preserves the fact that there was a competing view to orthodox Christianity known by that name.  As a result, we’ve always known that there were writings from Gnostic’s and the discovery of new writings should not be surprising.  We do not study the history of the Church to learn that everything was always done well and right.  It should be recognized that great causes have great enemies and the truth of the Gospel has always been opposed by great enemies.  These enemies, invariably never would confess or admit “I am the heretic,” which is an unchanging principle when studying Church history.

 

Therefore, we should not be surprised to discover that there arise throughout Church history alternative views of the faith.  We will find that some of them are worlds away from orthodoxy and some of them substantially orthodox with just some quirks.  The Gnostics are worlds away, some of them worlds and worlds and worlds away and had lots of worlds in their system.

Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | June 27, 2008

Canon and Covenant

There is an interesting article by Meredith Kline regarding the relationship between Canon and Covenant.  This is also included in Structure of Biblical Authority. It provides a covenantal perspective to the question of canonicity, especially addressing the Old Testaments with its allusions to Suzerainty Treaties.

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