Thursday, August 29, 2013

How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon? OT Historical Narrative - 2 Samuel 16:1-4

My last four posts have attempted to answer three questions: (1) "Should we preach Christ in every sermon?"; (2) "Why should we preach Christ in every sermon?"; and (3) "How should we preach Christ in every sermon?”. I used preaching in Proverbs and Lev. 18:5 to illustrate (3). Today, I would like to continue illustrating (3) by using an OT historical narrative: 2 Sam. 16:5-14.

The narratives of Scripture present a challenge to the preacher to be true to the text, the redemptive-historical context, and the analogy of faith. However, because we know the covenantal, law-gospel, justification-sanctification theology of all the Scriptures, we can justly preach Christ in all the Scriptures. Each sermon must have enough of the gospel to save the sinner and to edify the saint through the preaching of Jesus Christ Himself.  2 Samuel 16:1-4 says:
Now when David had passed a little beyond the summit, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred clusters of raisins, a hundred summer fruits, and a jug of wine. The king said to Ziba, "Why do you have these?" And Ziba said, "The donkeys are for the king's household to ride, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine, for whoever is faint in the wilderness to drink." Then the king said, "And where is your master's son?" And Ziba said to the king, "Behold, he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, 'Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.'" So the king said to Ziba, "Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours." And Ziba said, "I prostrate myself; let me find favor in your sight, O my lord, the king!"
1. Grammatically - There is very little of significance in the grammar of the passage. It is a straightfoward report of the historical events. Ziba’s response of prostration and request for favor (grace), along with his affirmation of David as king, seems to show his genuine devotion to David. However, as we shall see, not all is as it appears.

2. Historically - David is fleeing his son Absalom’s treacherous takeover of Jerusalem and the kingship, even after David had been promised another born son to be an eternal King (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Psalm 3 records David’s weary though trustful frame of mind when he fled from Absalom. As David descended the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba met him with gifts. Ziba was the steward of Saul’s possessions before Saul’s death. Since then, he had accumulated personal wealth from managing Saul’s possessions. However, after Jonathan’s death, David gave Saul’s possessions to Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, making Ziba the steward. So, Ziba conceived a covetous plan to repossess all of Saul’s possessions for himself. Feigning allegiance to David, perhaps hoping for his return to power, Ziba falsely reported that Mephibosheth stayed in Jerusalem to take over the kingship from Absalom which genealogically belonged to Jonathan his father. So, believing Ziba’s false report, David pronounced that “all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” To which Ziba feigned loyalty to David. It was only after the defeat of Absalom that David discovered Ziba’s lie about Mephibosheth. Ziba had left loyal Mephibosheth in Jerusalem when he deceived David. So, David divided the property between them (2 Sam. 19), though humble Mephibosheth was content with nothing but David’s friendship.

3. Theologically - After studying the narrative of events, I would consider what the Law and the Gospel have to say about our text. The Law reveals the sin of Ziba in his deceitfulness to gain all of Saul’s property. “Thou shalt not bear false witness...Thou shalt not steal...Thou shalt not covet” condemns Ziba’s treachery. The sinful nature of man and the condemnation of the Law for sin is seen in the deceit of Ziba. He manipulated David to get his way against God’s revealed will, falsely accusing Mephibosheth of trying to overthrow David. This is the strategy of Satan in the garden with Adam and Eve, falsely accusing God to manipulate them for his ends. Now man copies Satan’s wiles. We all stand condemned by the Law.

Further, we see in David the faithfulness of God’s covenant promises to the believer in spite of his remaining sin. God’s Law required that every fact be confirmed on the basis of two or more witnesses. There was no reason to doubt Mephibosheth’s previous loyalty. But David believed the gossip of Ziba on one witness and made an unjust ruling. Yet God overruled David’s fallibility and prospered his battle with Absalom to be restored to his kingship according to God’s sovereign will. So God use fallible David to fulfill His promise to bring forth the Son of David to be a perfect King who rules with justice (Isa. 9:6-7). The Gospel is preached in this text by showing God’s faithfulness and sovereignty to His covenant promises and by comparing David as a fallible type to our infallible antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul could say to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the descendent of David, according to my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).

In this historical narrative, we see God’s predestined faithfulness to judge Adam’s descendants for sin yet fulfilling His eternal promise to bring forth a last Adam to bear the sins of many and to re-establish His righteous rule among men. The theology of the Law and the Gospel makes Christ the center of God’s revelation in every text, even historical narratives.

4. Preaching Christ in this OT historical narrative:

The Fallen Condition of Man. Ziba shows us the fallen nature of man, seeking his own will instead of God’s by any sinful means. We stand condemned by the same Law. Have you ever lied, gossiped, or deceived to get your way? (apply to spouse, child, employee, parent, friend, enemy; see Proverbs on God’s attitude on lying). God’s Law condemns such sins of false witness, coveting, gossiping, slandering, or manipulation of others. And He will judge you at the last day. Ziba’s sin was discovered by David later and brought to justice. How much more will our risen Lord expose and judge the secrets of men when we stand before Him. How will you stand before Him without a Savior and Redeemer?

The Sovereignty of God Over Man’s Sinful Deceits. Ziba was not judged immediately and got away with it at the time. Why do the wicked Ziba’s prosper and the righteous Mephibosheth’s suffer? God will bring all to justice at the last day and punish for sins (Psa. 37, 73). How patient God is to let such men like you and me live, calling us to repentance (2 Pet. 3) and faith in the only Savior of the world. If any here have not repented of your sins against God and His Law, God has been patient with you. But He will not be patient forever. You must repent of your deceits and lying now, fleeing to the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, if you would see life.

The Faithfulness of God to His Promises of Grace. Why does God let people like faithless Ziba and imperfect David live? It is because He is full of mercy and has declared the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the way of redemption for Adam’s sinful children (Gen. 3:15). Therefore, He kept His promise to David, planned before the foundation of the world, and restored him to kingship so that He would bring to fulfillment the perfect Son of David and Son of God born in Bethlehem. And He will keep His promises of redemption, adoption, and glory to repentant sinners like you and me who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even more amazingly, if God could use an imperfect man like David to bring in His eternal kingdom, if He could cause all things to work together for good in David’s fallible life, then so can He use redeemed sinners such as ourselves to spread His Gospel from shore to shore. And so fallible Christians should be encouraged to persevere in serving the Lord. We have promises, in spite of our remaining sins, that God will not leave us or forsake us but actually use us for His glory as we overcome our own sins in the blessing of His forgiving grace.

There is no way you can make up for such sins as Ziba’s or David’s. Jesus had to die for such things as a greater King than David. Blood atonement had to be made by the perfect King for a just forgiveness for His subjects. Resolutions never to lie or sin again cannot make up for the past. You have to be humbled before God and by faith alone trust in Christ’s substitutionary death to atone for your sins. You have to be covered with His righteous robes to stand before a righteous God, received as a gift by faith in Him, not of works lest any man should boast. Then, out of love for Him and His grace received, speak the truth each one with your neighbor... like both Ziba and David should have.

5. Principles for Preaching Christ in OT narratives.
  • Every post-lapsarian OT historical narrative is populated by fallen sons of Adam and/or redeemed sons of God in Christ. 
  • Wherever the Law reveals sin in the text, it must be shown and preached to all as condemning. 
  • Wherever God’s sovereignty is revealed over man’s sin, the Gospel of Christ must be preached by way of God’s covenant faithfulness to bring Christ into the world under Grace. 
  • Each text may be applied both to the unconverted and converted by way of exposing the Law and the Gospel behind each text. 
  • These principles are neither allegory nor eisegesis; they are part of “the analogy of faith” which centers all of Scripture in the revelation of Jesus Christ to man. This how we should preach Christ in every sermon, OT or NT. 
Preaching Christ from an OT narrative flows from the analogy of faith, not just grammatical-historical facts and examples. The Law covenant in Adam reveals the sin and judgment of all men in our text while the Grace covenant in Christ reveals the need of the Savior, the righteousness of Christ in fulfilling the Law, and God’s faithful provision in Christ for sinners. Application of the Law and the Gospel to the hearers means that the preacher must reveal their sins, God’s judgment, their need of Christ, and the abundant provision of Christ, while also showing believers the encouragement of Christ’s work on their behalf. If there is obedience to God’s law in the text, the preacher must show that the gospel of grace has produced such obedience through the perfect work of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we would be teaching obedience to God’s Law without the redemptive motive and power of grace to perform it. The analogy of faith requires that we preach the Law leading to the Gospel and that we preach the Gospel leading to faith-based obedience: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

Fred A. Malone

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fuller's Fear of the Slippery Slope

In my most recent post, I mentioned that Fuller envisioned true Christianity as a hearty reception of the deity and the atoning work of Christ with “other corresponding doctrines.” In the framework of that nomenclature, Fuller located the fall of man and its consequences in the determination of God to show his perfect grace in the effectual provision of full redemption for those given to Christ, and to show his perfect justice and holiness in the punishment of sin for those given over to themselves.

On several occasions in this vigorous interaction with the high priests of Socinianism, Fuller noted that errors in any of these important connections and “corresponding doctrines” was a step toward infidelity and away from true Christianity. “The smallest departure from the one, is a step towards the other.” Certainly not all steps are of the same length or concern the most vital areas, but “all move in the same direction.” When Joseph Priestly boasted that Robert Robinson (the famous Baptist hymn writer of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”) had been salvaged from the road to deism by the teachings of Priestly, Fuller, who knew Robinson and lamented his pilgrimage, responded that that only proved, “that the region of Socinianism is so near to that of Deism, that, now and then, an individual, who was on the high road to the one, has stopped short, and taken up with the other.” (309). Fuller wanted to warn against stepping on the path to infidelity.

This point provided another caution against Arminianism, in Fuller’s mind. He identified Arminianism as one step on the journey from robust Christianity toward eventual infidelity. He did not present Arminianism as a species of infidelity, but did point to several positions that constituted common ground on the ill-fated path. The Arminian view of the ground, or basis, or foundation, of human responsibility is the same as that of the Socinians. As Fuller presented the case, Socinians held that punishment for the violation of a law whose demands were beyond our powers is unjust, unreasonable, and cruel. If the demands were beyond natural powers, the objection would be warranted, Fuller agreed, but the inability that is a manifestation of moral corruption is a different matter entirely. In responding to the inconsistency of this objection, Fuller observed the “agreement between the Socinian and Arminian systems on this subject. By their exclamation on the injustice of God as represented by the Calvinistic system, they both render that a debt, which God in the whole tenor of his word declares to be of grace. Neither of them will admit the equity of the divine law, and that man is thereby righteously condemned to eternal punishment, antecedently to the grace of the gospel; or, if they admit it in words, they will be ever contradicting it by the tenor of their reasonings.” (83) In other words, if God does not give grace, then man does not owe obedience. If human sin can be overcome only by the omnipotent manifestation of grace, then human sin is excusable. So agreed Arminians and Socinians.

Calvinism is the complete antithesis of Socinianism on this theological point. Fuller noted, as he synthesized several pivotal passages on salvation by grace and not by works, “The doctrines inculcated by Christ and his apostles, in order to lay men low in the dust before God, were those of human depravity, and salvation by free and sovereign grace, through Jesus Christ.” (173) Socinians, strangely ignoring the apostolic arguments, and, substituting their celebration of human goodness as a fair presentation of biblical teachings, looked upon Calvinism as “designed in perfect opposition to the apostolic doctrine.” Consequently, they “are constantly exclaiming against the Calvinistic system, because it maintains the insufficiency of a good moral life, to recommend us to the favor of God.” (175) According to Fuller, “The Calvinistic system” humbles Christians in leading them to “feel their entire dependence upon God for virtue,” whereas the Socinian, “in professed opposition to Calvinism, maintains,” in the words of Joseph Priestly, “that it depends entirely upon a man’s self, whether he be virtuous or vicious, happy or miserable.” (177) In Fuller’s observation on this sentiment of Priestly, he made the point that if Priestly only means that one’s conduct depends on one’s choices, then the Calvinist holds it as clearly as does the Socinian, but “if he means that a virtuous choice originates in ourselves, and that we are the proper cause of it, this can agree to nothing but the Arminian notion of a self-determining power in the will.” (177) When Fuller examined Dan Taylor on this same issue, he surmised that Taylor’s assumption that moral inability would render a person guiltless in his disobedience, meant that the more evil a person is the less likely it is that he can commit sin. Fuller responded with incredulity saying that Taylor “will not, he cannot, abide by its just and necessary consequences.” (1:431) Then after showing the consequences of the Arminian idea of reduced responsibility commensurate with the degree of moral inability, Fuller again affirmed, “These consequences, however anti-scriptural and absurd, are no more than must inevitably follow from the position of Philanthropos [Dan Taylor].”

Again, Fuller viewed the Arminian concept of a general, or universal, atonement, absent any effectual element in it to guarantee its fruitfulness in the salvation of sinners, as destructive of the stated purpose and infallibly conceived outcome of Christ’s work—an error fatal to Christianity. Taylor’s view that Christ’s death for all is a greater grace than his death for a certain and limited number brought from Fuller the extrapolation, “It is true, if Christ had made effectual provision for the salvation of all, it would have been a greater display of grace than making such a provision for only a part; but God has other perfections to display, as well as his grace; and the reader will perceive, by what has been said, that to make provision for all, in the sense in which P. contends for it, is so far from magnifying the grace of God, that it enervates, if not annihilates it.” (1:515) The Arminian view of a general atonement with no provision for its effectuality differed little from the Socinian rejection of Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice. Fuller believed the most consistent biblical view of Christ’s death was that in which “an effectual provision is made in the great plan of redemption, that he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.” (278) Though Taylor remonstrated against the Socinian view that rejected any element of punitive satisfaction in the atonement, he put no element in his view that honored Christ’s death as a truly substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice, for its efficacy was not in itself but in something extrinsic to it.

Because of these doctrinal connections, Fuller made an observation about the phenomenon of progressive apostasy that “it is very common for those who go over to Infidelity, to pass through Socinianism, in their way.” Not only that, but he also noted that it is not common for “persons who go over to Socinianism, to go directly from Calvinism, but through one or other of the different stages of Arminianism, or Arianism, or both.” (2:337)

This is why many Southern Baptists are concerned with certain elements of the Traditionalist Statement issued last year. Consistent with the concerns of Andrew Fuller, we feel that cautions are in order that these “stages of Arminianism” do not become a reservoir for other theological challenges as they have for many others through the years and even in recent decades. The uncertain God of Open Theism, so recently embraced by a number of evangelicals, with many of its attendant theological detours, learned his ambivalence within these stages of Arminianism.

Tom J. Nettles


Here are Dr. Nettles' previous articles in this series on Andrew Fuller and Non-Calvinism:

1. A Non-Calvinist Challenges a Calvinist: Andrew Fuller's Defense of Calvinism
2. Another Non-Calvinist Challenges a Calvinist: The Sandemanians Challenge Fuller
3. Andrew Fuller Encounters Non-Calvinism: Again

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort by Matthew Barrett

Many people think of “the five points of Calvinism” as cold intellectual doctrines that have little or no bearing on faithful Christian living. In his new book, The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort, Matthew Barrett shows how far that is from the truth. In this well-written and much-needed volume, Barrett shows that the Canons of Dort demonstrate an intimate connection between Calvinistic doctrine and faithful Christian piety.

I believe this book applies to two errors that seem to be prevalent in today's recovery of the doctrines of grace. First, some people love to argue for Calvinism, but they fail to appropriate and live in the humble holiness demanded by these great doctrines. As a result, they have a tendency to become proud and spiritually sleepy. Second, some admit that Calvinism is true without explaining how it makes us more like Christ. They exclude Calvinism from the motivations to faithful Christian living and so their piety is impoverished. But both errors are unfaithful to the Word of God. This book shows that “the five points of Calvinism” must be biblically applied for the good of the church and for her witness to the world.

1. Divine Predestination. According to Dort, three practical blessings flow from the doctrine of predestination, including assurance of salvation, humility, and personal holiness.

Assurance of Salvation. Barrett writes, “Assurance of salvation in Christ is the great comfort that comes in affirming the doctrine of unconditional election. Election is to remind the believer that he is safe in the arms of God, for God has chosen him before the foundation of the world” (40-41).

Humility of Mind. Barrett goes on to say, “The child of God, aware and confident of his election, is moved by such assurance on a daily basis to find greater cause to humble himself before God because he recognizes that his election and even the assurance of his election are not due to his own righteousness but due entirely to the sovereign grace and mercy of God” (42).

Personal Holiness.  Assurance of salvation and humble faith are the primary fuel of personal holiness. Barrett says that these are “not a motivator for laxity and carnality but the very source of good works and the ammunition needed to shield the believer from the fiery darts of the devil, which seek to lead the believer's conscience to despair” (49).

2. Particular Atonement. Christ's atoning work for His elect people is a cause for personal and corporate worship. Dort 2.9 declares:
“This plan [of particular redemption], arising out of God's eternal love for his chosen ones, from the beginning of the world to the present time has been powerfully carried out and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against it. As a result the chosen are gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always a church of believers founded on Christ's blood, a church which steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and – here and in all eternity – praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross as a bridegroom for his bride.”
Barrett writes, “It is the doctrine of limited atonement that sweetly reminds us that the church, and only the church, is the bride of Christ, for he has paid for her with his blood. It is this doctrine that Dort believes should elicit persistent love and worship of Christ, both here and in eternity” (74).

3. Total Depravity and Effectual Grace. Barrett treats these two heads together, showing their practical implications for humble gratitude, prayers for the salvation of sinners, and pastoral hope.

Humble Gratitude. He writes, “God does not save the elect sinner because of anything in him, but actually in spite of everything in him. Consequently, the only suitable and worthy response from the sinner is humility, praise and thanksgiving toward God” (92).

Prayer for the Salvation of Sinners. In article 15, Dort says, “For others who have not yet been called, we are to pray to God who calls things that do not exist as though they did.” Barrett says, “Here we see the connection between divine sovereignty and evangelism. God alone can call and change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27). However, the Christian is to pray for these unbelievers and ask God to call them to himself. . . . God instructs us to pray for unbelievers, for our prayers are the very means to this salvific end” (93).

Pastoral Hope. Barrett explains, “Irresistible grace is a reminder that no human method or strategy can save a sinner. It is not the case that the lost simply need more convincing due to indifference. It is not as if one must simply be persuasive enough to get the sinner to react” (94). He goes on to say, “Dort provides hope to the tired and wearied pastor by reminding him that it is not his own human efforts, whatever they may be, but the power of God to work irresistibly within a dead man's heart that saves. Irresistible grace gives the pastor confidence to preach the word and evangelize, knowing that God will save his elect” (95).

4. The Perseverance of the Saints. This doctrine is a powerful incentive to holy living. Barrett writes, “Out of the five canons articulated by Dort, it is the fifth and final canon, which has the most to say about Christian piety” (108). The Arminians accused the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints of promoting licentiousness and moral laxity. According to the Canons of Dort, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The knowledge that God will preserve his own to the end promotes personal holiness.

Barrett says, “Scripture is clear that perseverance and assurance of salvation are not a hindrance to but a supplement of 'constant prayer and other exercises of godliness.' Assurance that the God who sovereignly saves will also sovereignly preserve . . . is a pure and true incentive to see God's grace effectively worked out through the indwelling fruit of the Holy Spirit” (122-123).

Tom Hicks

Friday, August 23, 2013

Register Now for the 1845 Conference: A Historic Southern Baptist View of Salvation, October 31 - November 2

See the Official Website
Heritage Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA will be hosting the 1845 Conference from Thursday, October 31 to Saturday, November 2.  This year's conference theme will explore "A Historic Southern Baptist View of Salvation."  The four speakers will include Dr. Tom Nettles, Dr. Tom Hicks, Dr. Fred Malone, and Pastor Earl Blackburn.

The purpose of the 1845 Conference is to declare and affirm the historic and biblical beliefs of Southern Baptists who founded the SBC in 1845 with the intent to fulfill the Great Commission and to establish doctrinally sound churches.  If you're able to make it, we'd love for you to come!  Get more information and register at

1845 Conference Schedule:

Thursday – October 31st
  • The 1845 Vision – Tom Nettles
  • A Historic Southern Baptist View of the Fall of Man – Earl Blackburn
Friday – November 1st
  • A Historic Southern Baptist View of Election – Tom Hicks
  • A Historic Southern Baptist View of the Call of the Gospel – Tom Nettles
  • The Practical Pastoral Effects of the 1845 Convention – Fred Malone
  • A Historic Southern Baptist View of the Atoning Death of Christ – Tom Nettles
Saturday – November 2nd
  • A Historic Southern Baptist View of the Final Salvation of the Saints – Tom Hicks
  • The Life and Legacy of James P. Boyce, Historic Southern Baptist Theologian – Tom Nettles

Thursday, August 22, 2013

God's Rest as Prescriptive

Last time I looked at evidences for the Sabbath rest rooted in creation. But does the fact that God rested mean that Adam, and all humanity, should keep the Sabbath? Not all think so.[1] Frame offers four compelling arguments, of increasing persuasiveness, for man to imitate God by resting on the Sabbath: (1) man as God’s image, (2) the work/rest pattern, (3) Mosaic authorship of Genesis, and (4) the fourth commandment itself.[2]
God creating man in His own image means that man should usually imitate his Maker. There are times when this is obviously not the case (e.g., killing the firstborn of Egypt), but “there does not seem to be any metaphysical, ethical, or historical reason why we should not imitate God’s cycle of work or rest.”[3] 

Secondly, the cycle of 6 days of work followed by 1 day of rest would be difficult to understand if God had not made it for the benefit of his creatures. Because God never needs rest Himself, why would God take a day off if not to set a pattern for His people? Third, Frame points out that Moses was the primary author of Genesis. The Jews were already out of Egypt and under the Covenant. “A Jewish reader of Genesis during the wilderness period would see Genesis 2:2-3 as the beginning of the Sabbath observance, the background of the fourth commandment…The Jewish reader would see that, as in the fourth commandment, God in Genesis 2 institutes a day of rest, which he blesses and makes holy.”[4] 

And finally, the most compelling argument for the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is the fourth commandment itself: Israel should keep the Sabbath because, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy” (Ex 20:11). God rested,
"From his creative labors and rested on the seventh day, which he hallowed and blessed, he also hallowed and blessed a human Sabbath, a Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). In other words, when God blessed his own Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:3, he blessed it as a model for human imitation. So Israel is to keep the Sabbath, because…God hallowed and blessed man’s Sabbath as well as his own."[5]
Would not the claim of our Lord, that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” be applicable to Adam preeminently? He was the only man present when the Sabbath was made! The Sabbath was a gift given to man at the end of the creative week.[6] This gift, a gift that sinners like to forsake, was meant to be a perpetual reminder of God’s masterful work in creation. Because man is made in God’s image and should therefore imitate Him, because of the pattern of 6 work days and 1 day of rest, because of Mosaic authorship, and because of the fourth commandment itself, the Sabbath is established as a prescriptive creation ordinance along with work and marriage.

Additionally, Chantry argues that because Exodus grounds the command primarily in creation[7], the Sabbath is not then “rooted in anything unique to the Jewish experience;”[8] Rather, Sabbath is a creation reality (See Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4, 10). Furthermore, if the Sabbath is not a particularly Jewish reality, it is not then limited to the Jewish Covenant (Old Covenant). In this sense then, the Sabbath command is ‘above’ Mosaic Covenant because it was set in place prior to Sinai, even though it was part of the Mosaic commands.

That the Sabbath is a creation reality is also clear because unlike the other commandments, the fourth begins with “remember.” The command to remember is telling for two reasons: (1) this is not a new command, and (2) some were already guilty of not keeping the Sabbath, as is the sinful tendency of all mankind. As William Perkins wrote: “This clause doth insinuate, that in times past there was great neglect in the observation of the Sabbath.” [9] The call to remember raises another question: to whom or what are the Jews pointed when being reminded to remember? It was not to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It was to the very beginning; specifically, the Lord’s rest at the end of His creative week. The Jews would already be aware of the pattern of work and rest that God has built into creation.[10] While the Mosaic Law would bring peculiarly Jewish ceremonial and civil laws built off of the Sabbath commandment, the core of the moral law was derivative off of God’s example in creation.

Jon English Lee

[1] E.g., see DA Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[2] Doctrine of the Christian Life, 531ff.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 532.
[5] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 532.
[6] Richard Barcellos states that it would be ‘clumsy’ to separate the creation of man from the creation of the Sabbath by thousands of years (Eden and Sinai). He argues, “Since we know that man was created…in the Garden of Eden, Christ would have us to conclude that the Sabbath…was made at the same time and place. This corresponds to what we saw in Exod. 20:11.” The Old Testament Theology of the Sabbath in RBTR, Vol 3, No 2. July 2006.
[7] I say ‘primarily’ because the Deuteronomic recount of the commands recalls the Israelite deliverance from Egypt as a reason for Sabbath (Dt. 5:15). The Sabbath, as will be argued below, is not merely retrospective, but prospective: retrospective by looking back to creation and redemption; prospective by looking forward to Christ’s work and to the Promised Land (and ultimately the New Creation). The different motives for Sabbath obedience are not competing; nor does the second (redemption) nullify the first (creation). Regarding the different motives given for the Israelites to obey the 4th commandment, Frame explains, “Creation and redemption are not antagonistic. Redemption is the work of the Creator. Creation and redemption do not generate two different ethics, but rather the same one” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, 514).
[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 24.
[9] William Perkins. A Golden Chain: or, the description of theologie : containing the order of the causes of salvation and damnation, according to Gods word, Printed by John Legate (Cambridge, 1600), 61. Found at (Accessed May 2, 2013).
[10] Chantry cites Cain and Abel bringing their sacrifices ‘at the end of days,’ which he takes to mean they understood one day a week was devoted to worship. He also mentions that, “Noah gave great attention to the seven day cycle of time,” and that the Jews in the wilderness were to respect the Sabbath when the manna was given. Call the Sabbath a Delight, 26.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Penal Substitutionary Atonement and The Alabama Baptist: What Should We Conclude?

In his penetrating attack on liberal theology, Westminster Seminary Professor J. Gresham Machen said, “Modern liberalism in the Church, whatever judgment may be passed upon it, is at any rate no longer merely an academic matter. It is no longer a matter merely of theological seminaries or universities. On the contrary its attack upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith if being carried on vigorously by Sunday-School ‘lesson-helps,’ by the pulpit, and by the religious press.” (Christianity & Liberalism, p. 17)

Gresham wrote that in 1923 in the throes of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, but the situation has never really changed. Christian orthodoxy remains under attack in the academy, but it's the attacks in popular expression, within popular media, that have perhaps the greatest potential to wreak the most havoc in the minds and hearts of those who populate the pews of local churches.

Bob Terry: President and
Editor of The Alabama Baptist
This reality has risen to the forefront in Southern Baptist life over the past few days here in Alabama, where I serve as pastor.

Bob Terry, president and editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper, in the Aug. 8 edition of the paper expressed his
agreement with the liberal Presbyterian Church USA hymnal committee’s rejection of Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “In Christ Alone” because of the line in the second verse: “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”

Terry took issue with the doctrine of Christ's appeasing the wrath of God, wrath that should have been poured out on sinners instead of Christ, who was the substitute. Wrote Terry, “Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath. That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.’” Further, Terry wrote, “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm him down.”

I believe Terry’s words represent a severe misunderstanding of the good news of the orthodox doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. If Christ has not born the wrath of His Father, a wrath that our sins deserve, then Rom. 3:25 is a misstatement by the apostle Paul and the Bible is in error at that point (see how these doctrines stand or fall together?): “[Christ Jesus] whom God put forth as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Worse, we are still under God’s wrath if Christ did not bear it in our place (Some liberal theologians have scandalously called it “divine child abuse.”). What are we to think about our editor’s uneasiness with this doctrine?

Following are a few thoughts on Terry’s words and the lessons we can take away from this debate:

  • The nature of the cross will always be a scandal to those who reject the Bible’s portrayal of it. The apostle Paul told members of the church at Corinth as much when he wrote, “For 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 Cor. 1:18) Thus, we should not be surprised when such core doctrines of the Gospel are denied, even within the church. By no means am I weighing in on the condition of Mr. Terry’s heart—we should never presume to know the genuineness of another person’s relationship with God—but I say this simply to express that the Gospel is a scandal to all outside the church and even some within it. 
  • We must teach doctrine in our churches. Many who sit in our pews each Sunday have little taste for doctrine, preferring instead folksy homilies and homespun therapy that provides a small helping of chicken soup for the soul, yet God’s Word is filled with crucial, central, Gospel-defining doctrines that we must teach faithfully and winsomely if our churches are to rest upon a healthy foundation. After all, Paul called on Timothy to toe the line in teaching sound doctrine, itching ears notwithstanding, because the church is defined primarily as “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). 
  • The holiness of God/the sinfulness of man will always serve as central points of attack on Christian theology. This is true because many theologies, Protestant liberalism chief among them, tend to exalt man as the measure of God instead of holding up God as the measure of man. John Calvin famously began his systematic theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, with the profound dictum that true wisdom consists entirely in two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. That is, when we know God as meticulously sovereign, all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing and perfect in holiness, we will know ourselves as deeply flawed and desperately in need of a rescue that can only from outside ourselves. Protestant liberal theology in the post-Enlightenment period in Europe and America flipped the Bible’s teaching of God and man on its head and the result is seen in Terry’s denial (a garden variety assertion among Protestant liberals) of the doctrine of propitiation. A denial of the biblical doctrine of propitiation blunts the sinfulness of sin, domesticates the justice of God and to empties the love of God of any substantial meaning. 
  • The Reformation/Conservative Resurgence will never really end in this life. Terry’s rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a classic example of Protestant liberalism. The church will be forced to earnestly contend for the orthodox faith until Jesus comes. The battle set forth in Genesis 3, the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, will only be finished when Christ’s Kingdom comes in its fullness. Until then, Satan will continue his war on the church by using the deadly weapon of aberrant theology. Christians will always need to continue asserting and reasserting the truth and Southern Baptists will always be in the mode of “semper reformanda--” always reforming, according to the Scriptures. 
  • Southern Baptists should expect to read sound doctrine in their state newspapers and from their press agency. Though the newspaper business in America is in precipitous decline, the state Baptist newspapers continue to reach a significant sector of Southern Baptist Christians. Thus, we should expect them to articulate doctrine that is faithful to Scripture. Editors and writers who attack central doctrines of the faith, such as penal substitutionary atonement, must be called into account and, if they will not recant or clarify in a way that is squares with Scripture, such journalists should be asked to resign their post for theological malfeasance. Though it is little known to many in Southern Baptist life today, the SBC possesses a rich tradition of theologians and sound doctrine owning, editing and writing for state Baptist newspapers. Men such as Jesse Mercer, James Pettigru Boyce and Henry Holcombe Tucker—Baptist theologians and educators all—served in the editor’s chair of Baptist newspapers with great distinction. More recently, R. Albert Mohler Jr., edited the Christian Index of Georgia prior to being elected as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. These men and many others articulated sound doctrine and engaged in deep biblical analysis of the cultural, ethical and theological issues of their times. 

To his credit, Bob Terry affirmed the reality of God’s wrath and, in a statement of clarification to the press issue on Aug. 12, said he affirms penal substitutionary atonement. Still, with all due respect, if Mr. Terry cannot sing the line from the hymn above quoted because it violates his conscience, does he really hold to penal substitutionary atonement? It must be a matter of concern to all who love truth and all who love fellow members of the body of Christ.

Let us pray for our state newspaper editor that God will give him fresh light to see the beauty of the full biblical account of this central doctrine. And let us pray that we will be humble, gracious and clear in our attempts to teach, correct, rebuke and train others in the great doctrines of God’s holy Word.

[Note: Bob Terry has written an apology and a clarification to Alabama Baptists and published on the website at the link below. I appreciate his courage in dealing directly with the (understandable) firestorm that arose in the wake of his earlier editorial and I am also grateful for the gracious tone of his statement. Mr. Terry humbly consulted with noted historian/theologian Timothy George to help him see theological blind spots in his previous article that stoked the controversy. Again, he is to be commended for his display of humility and willingness to receive correction, correction which he sought. I encourage you to read the whole thing here.]

Jeff Robinson

Monday, August 19, 2013

Selecting Music for Worship (Part 1): Know the Word

Leading God’s people in song is a great joy. It is a rewarding responsibility to sing and play psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in praise to God. But like other aspects of worship—reading and preaching God’s Word, lifting up prayers in behalf of the congregation—with the joy comes labor. It takes time to plan and prepare music for worship. This is especially evident given the reality that the task of worship is ongoing. Week by week, music must be selected, ordered and rehearsed. There is always a service coming.

So what is the best way to plan music for worship? How can worship leaders, given the task each week to select music for the services, make the best use of their time and efforts? How can they avoid the ruts of simply resorting to favorites or choosing what’s trendy? How can they guard against weariness and wearing out over time?

There is no simple solution to finding the right songs for the right service, but there are some vital ways that worship leaders can prepare themselves to be ready for the task. Those who give direction to the music of the church must learn to be students, and not just students of the music itself—giving attention to tunes, lyrics and arrangements. In the next several posts, I will explore three areas of study that every worship leader should seek to master:

  1. Know the Word
  2. Know Theology
  3. Know Your Church

My first encouragement to those who lead music in the church is know the Word. This of course applies to all worship leaders—to those who read and preach God’s Word, to those who lift up prayers in behalf of the congregation, as well as to those who lead in singing God’s praise. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture. The first and best way to prepare for the task of selecting music for worship is to be regularly and diligently in God’s Word.

In John 4 Jesus taught on the essence of true worship:
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (John 4:23).
If we are to worship God rightly, we need to preach, sing and pray the truths of the Bible and we need the life-giving work of God’s Spirit quickening our spirits that we might understand, embrace and apply those truths to our lives. So as we plan for worship, our two greatest priorities should be to 1) saturate our services with the Word of God, and 2) pray earnestly for the power of God’s Spirit to illumine His truth that we might walk in its light.

Paul echoes this emphasis of spirit and truth when he teaches the church about music. In Ephesians 5 he exhorts the church to:
…be filled with the Spirit,  addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19).
In a parallel passage in Colossians 3 he says:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).
It is essential that our music be rooted in the truth of God’s Word and in the work of His Spirit. As we preview the lyrics of songs, we should look for quotes, allusions and connections to God’s Word. If we are to sing in a way that lets the word of Christ dwell in us richly, we need to:

  1. Sing the words of Scripture (from Psalms and other passages)
  2. Sing words that are filled with the truth of Scripture
  3. Sing words that help us rightly understand Scripture
  4. Sing words that help us rightly respond to Scripture

Consider, for example, the hymn How Firm a Foundation. One of the reasons this hymn has endured the test of time is its faithfulness to Scripture. The opening verse speaks of the value of resting our faith in God’s “excellent Word.” The remaining verses then rehearse several promises from the Bible. Read through the lyrics and see how many passages come to mind.

  How Firm a Foundation
 (from John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787)

1.  How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
     Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
     What more can He say than to you He hath said,
     To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

2.  In every condition—in sickness, in health,
     In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
     At home, or abroad, on land, on the sea,
   "As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be."

3. "Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
      For I am Thy God and will still give thee aid;
      I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
      Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."
4. "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
      The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
      For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
      And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

5. "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    May grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
    The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

6. "E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
     My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
     And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
     Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne."

7. "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
     I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
     That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
     I'll never, no never, no never forsake."

(Click here to see the lyrics of hymn with the passages of Scripture listed)

We want to select and sing music in the church that will let God’s Word dwell in us richly. We want songs that are biblically sound, song that will teach and edify, not amuse and entertain. We want to recognize and cast aside songs that are in error or are lacking in truth. We want to identify and keep songs that will help us interpret, verbalize and respond to truth, songs that will serve and undergird the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

But in order to recognize such music, and find fitting places for that music in the life of the church, we need to know the Word of God. So commit yourself to being a student of God’s Word. Be in the Bible every day. Read it, study it, memorize it. Take notes as you read. Look for connections between the lyrics of your church’s songs and the verses of Scripture. Note where those connections are lacking. Highlight where those connections are strong. As a worship leader and musician, aim to be well-rehearsed, not just in the music you plan to sing, but in the Scriptures you intend to teach, proclaim and celebrate. Know the Word!

—Ken Puls

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scattered Saints - the Church Spreads

Building on the two previous posts regarding leadership development for church planting and revitalization in the book of Acts, this post will consider leadership development with the scattered saints. Logically, when the persecution in connection with Stephen’s death erupted (Acts 7:60–8:4), the scattered saints would have traveled to locations where they had some connection. Rodney Stark explains that the early spread of Christianity followed the lines of social networks, so that disciples connected with relatives or friends of friends, utilizing these relationships for gospel expansion. If Stark is correct, then the Hellenistic saints scattered from Jerusalem due to persecution made their way to Hellenistic communities, such as Antioch, where they networked for the sake of the gospel by establishing new churches. Luke narrates this movement of the gospel in Acts 8–12.

Philip’s Significance

While Luke does not detail the length of Philip’s service to the Hellenistic widows, and perhaps the broader congregation in Jerusalem, he does show the strong evangelistic gifts that he possessed. How did these gifts develop within the Jerusalem congregation? Luke offers no hint other than he was part of the scattered group that “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4), thus “had witnessed, observed and learned in Jerusalem what dynamic evangelistic outreach means,” as Eckhard Schnabel observes. Philip did not run from persecution but rather moved faithfully toward mission to the Samaritans. Having been nurtured in sound doctrine and exemplary preaching with the apostles in Jerusalem, and having been entrusted with service responsibilities by the church under the eyes of the apostles, he was equipped to preach Christ and plant churches beyond Jerusalem.

It appears evident that Philip’s understanding of ecclesiology intersected with his gospel proclamation. He preached, the Spirit worked, and a new congregation emerged (Acts 8:5–24). Going to an area without established Christian communities demanded that the aim in proclamation be to not only seek new disciples but also to form congregations that would baptize, teach, and nurture the new disciples.i

After leaving Samaria, and later, the Ethiopian eunuch, Luke comments, “Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:40). This assumes that he preached in Azotus and then in the villages along the northern coastal route until he reached Caesarea, which likely included Jamnia, Lydda, Joppa, and Antipatris. His pattern would have not been simply to preach and to pass on without regard to Christ’s command (Matt 28:19–20), but rather to preach the gospel, make disciples, and plant churches. He had already demonstrated this pattern in Samaria. While Peter later went to Lydda and Joppa where he met with disciples—Luke’s synonym for churches (Acts 9:32–43), it seems likely that either Philip planted the congregations in these communities or he further strengthened the churches that had been previously planted by members of the Jerusalem church.

Evidence of Churches Established

Peter and John learned about ministry from the Lord Jesus who always had others about him so that he might mentor them in kingdom life and ministry. It seems likely that Luke mentions Peter and John, without specifying others traveling with them, since his usual practice seemed to focus on key characters, e.g. Peter, Barnabas, and Paul. Could there have been a team that traveled with Peter and John in the Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25) whom they had mentored for pastoral work in Jerusalem, and who they would have been comfortable leaving with new congregations to continue nurturing them in the faith? While Luke does not give us details on this speculation, by following the pattern that Jesus consistently practiced in training others, it seems logical that Peter and John would have done the same. This could mean that potential gospel ministers trained in Jerusalem under their tutelage became founding pastors of new congregations during this time of ministry.

The Acts 9 narrative gives strong evidence that a church had been earlier planted in Damascus (Acts 9:19). Saul congregated with this church that he had earlier intended to persecute. So a church had been planted there before Saul arrived to persecute them! C. K. Barrett states that the church planted in Damascus provides a valuable reminder that Acts does not offer a full record of the early years of the church’s expansion, but only a few carefully chosen events. The quiet expansion of new churches in the early church, though without fanfare, began through disciples trained, mentored, and honed in gospel work through the ministry of existing churches—whether in Jerusalem or in Galilee. No other explanation of their beginning appears plausible.

Antioch Church Planting

David Peterson rightly notes that the entire Antioch church got involved in commissioning Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. This begs the question of what part the Antioch Christian community played in shaping them for their mission work. Although both men were leaders in the church, involved in teaching for an entire year, such close discipling relationships are never one-way. Engaging others through teaching and interaction always sharpens ones teaching. Involvement in the congregation with all of the typical idiosyncrasies, problems, sin-issues, struggles with assurance, cultural baggage, and much more, likely helped to better prepare the two missionaries for what they would face in the Galatian region church planting. They learned more about serving Christ and building relationships among Gentiles by their time in the cosmopolitan Christian fellowship at Antioch. Intense congregational involvement continues to bear fruit in future church planters.

Leadership development in the Galatian region is not explained, just stated in Acts 14:23. After planting churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, the mission team returned and “appointed elders for them in every church,” before returning to their sending church (Acts 14:26–28). They followed the same pattern evident in the Jerusalem church. If Derek Tidball correctly assesses the pattern of leadership in Acts, then it seems likely that Paul and Barnabas pointed the new elders in the direction of teaching truth, forming new communities of disciples, resolving inevitable conflict, and protecting the integrity of the gospel and the church. For their doctrinal teaching must have application in mission, relationships, and integrity. Obviously, the time to train leaders for such precision would have been brief but much would have been “caught” by the careful modeling by the missionaries in living out Christian life and ministry. The small beginning from the Antioch church led to the gospel reaching throughout the Roman Empire through Paul and other Christian workers.

Luke does not tell us who trained all of those involved in planting churches as the gospel spread outside Jerusalem. Yet the evidence points to local churches nurturing leaders who proclaimed Christ and planted new congregations. That work must continue in our own day!

Phil A. Newton