Nil Nisi Verum

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit

In Michael Horton’s book Rediscovering the Holy Spirit quotes Abraham Kuyper in his work on the Holy Spirit

“Even though we honor the Father and believe on the Son, how little do we live in the Holy Spirit! It seems to us sometimes that for our sanctification only the Holy Spirit is added accidentally to the great redemptive work.” (16)

I notice that this tendency is still a reality. There is something about us that makes us either undervalue, or demote the Holy Spirt. While the charismatic group is characterized sometimes for their emphasis of the Holy Spirit, they can mischaracterize the Holy Spirit so that he is the “extra” or additional part of the Christian life we need to experience. This can lead to an understanding that the Holy Spirit is separated from God’s Word or we have to wait for the Holy Spirit to “show up”.

One of the many contributions of the Reformation was a “rediscovery” of the Holy Spirit. The Reformers such as Luther and Calvin, argued against the medieval church, who seemed to replace the Holy Spirit with grace, that it was the Holy Spirit who called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, sanctified us and preserved us. (Luther’s Small Catechism) But what happened to the church at large and to Reformed churches particularly? Horton offers four reasons why we tend to “depersonalize or marginalize the Holy Spirit”. (25)

First, God is an incomprehensible mystery. It is not difficult for us to recognize that God is mysterious. God as the eternal Trinity is beyond our finite comprehension. We are even hesitant and take extra care when speaking out loud about him and articulating God’s identity. It’s a built-in hesitation that checks the boldness of our speech to stay in the bounds of Scripture.

Secondly, even embracing the revelation of God as Trinity, it is not easy to connect the Holy Spirit to our experience. We try to fit our idea of a family with the revelation of God the Father and Son. And the Holy Spirit ends up in the odd position as Mother and some in the broader church have put Mary in that place and removed the Spirit. At the end of the day, while we have a better understanding of the Spirit’s role in redemption and creation, we simply don’t have much biblical information on the Spirit’s role in the trinity apart from being a bond of love between the Father and Son.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is so actively involved in our lives, subjectively, that we can take his presence for granted or identify him with our own inner self. We can turn the Spirit’s voice to our inner most voice creating an individualistic mysticism. Yes, the Holy Spirit indwells us, and is at work within us, but the Holy Spirit is not our spirit. He is a “divine person within us, not a divine part of us.” (26)

Fourthly, from a proper focus on Christ we may improperly infer that the Holy Spirit has a minor part in the biblical drama. This error is not a contradiction but a distortion. The Spirit is the light by which we are able to see Christ and therefore it easy to understand how and why we overlook him.

Perhaps we are guilty, individually or corporately of forgetting the Holy Spirit. Let us rediscover the Holy Spirit remembering through his work, the triune God draws us near and gives us sweet communion with him.

Reformed Catholic?

“That sounds too Catholic.” I have heard that more times than I can count. This raises the question, “Can we be Reformed and catholic?” We confess in our creed that we believe in the “Holy catholic church.” Many are familiar with the distinction where small “c” catholic is used to mean universal and whereas capital “C” signifies the Roman Catholic church. But what is we are Reformed in our conviction, but desire that ancient faith. Is the only reasonable option to turn to the East or Rome? I submit there is another legitimate option, leave a consumerist mentality behind and embrace God working in the present.

William Perkins (1558-1602) was an influential leader in the Puritan movement, and wrote a treatise Reformed Catholicke to bring clarity to the apparent dilemma. In it, he argues Reformed identity is actually a matter of Reformed catholicity. He argues that in the Reformation, the liturgy, worship, and church government of the catholic church were refined not removed. Therefore to be Reformed is to be catholic, part of that original apostolic strand of the teaching of Christ and his apostles. To be Reformed doesn’t mean we leave the past behind, rather we see God’s working in the historical church today.

Michael Allen and Scott Swain in their book Reformed Catholicity quote Perkins

By a Reformed Catholic, I understand anyone that holds the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church: yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine, whereby the said religion is corrupted.

This is a call for our churches to find renewal today by embracing our heritage. This renewal effort is not new. Others have queried theological and historical matters to influence the current generation, however I find some fell short. This is what the modern hymns tried to do, attempting to make older hymns more “singable”. Some were successful others, not so much. Even commentary series have been published full of Patristic quotes on certain passages. However quotes present another problem as they don’t offer development nor much desired insight. This is, in part, how the Emerging/Emergent Church developed. Children of contemporary evangelicalism turned to this renewal movement in an effort to find a connection with their historical roots. In doing so, they fell into subjectivism, as they often selected the liturgical practices they liked and disregarded others.

This raises the question, “How are we to embrace fully our rich Christian heritage?” I think Allen  and Swain helpfully raise six suggestion: Firstly. Learn theology in the school of Christ, which means that we remember God’s Spirit is at work still in the midst of his people. Secondly, understand the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and abandon misconceptions. Thirdly, consider how confessions and creeds shape our lives in the church. Lastly, connect the past to the present in the life of the congregation.

As Reformed catholics we can celebrate God’s faithful work of preserving the Gospel in the historical church in the present church.

Christ has Died, Christ has Risen, Christ will Come Again

One of the tendencies Christians have when considering the ascension is we minimize its significance by thinking of it as a miracle, or another great feat of Jesus. However, when we consider the importance of the ascension of Jesus, we find that it is a significant event in itself.

The confession, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” is common in the Eucharistic liturgy. The apostolic preaching in Acts,  models for us this confession. He has died, risen and “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. Acts 1:11” In the interim, between his ascension to the right hand of the Father and his return, the Spirit is at work. The Spirit is at work through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. 

The ascension has theological significance in the Epistles. Jesus is doing his mediatorial work on behalf of his people. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf,” (Hebrews 6:19–20)  In his resurrection he is the first fruits of the harvest and going away implies a return. That one day he will return in judgment and salvation to fulfill the “Day of the Lord.” The ascension of Jesus is also the catalyst for gifts to fall on the church. 

Psa. 68:18 You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there. 

The ascension is also significant Jesus has entered the divine Rest. All of creation waits from this, Jesus, however, can enter. Moreover, Ps 8, 110 and Daniel 7 find their fulfillment in his ascension as Jesus is the Melchizedekian priest-king who sits in the presence of God. According to L.D. Hurst, the ascension seems to be the focal point of the book of Hebrews, Jesus has ascended and entered into the presence of God on behalf of his people. (People and Place, Horton, p.4)

Jesus is resurrected but doesn’t resume a regular earthly physical work of preaching the Gospel. He ascends to heaven, an event that marks out a new turn in redemptive history. The resurrected Jesus is the presence of the New Creation in this world. The ascended Christ is the mark of a turning point, the age to come has begun. In this “already present but not yet fulfilled” tension, is the space the church occupies. Christ is present, but he is absent. He has risen, but he has ascended. The problem of the apparent absence of Jesus finds its solution in the presence of the Spirit who binds us to Jesus even though he is by the Father and we are here proclaiming the Gospel of the risen and ascended Jesus who will come again to gather his people to himself. 

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:19–21)

Corporate Prayer in Worship

One of the most gratifying things to me has always been mowing the lawn. I can be outside and get a little bit of exercise, but also I can see immediate results. Next to the tall overgrown grass is the freshly cut lawn. Instant results are gratifying. However, there are areas in life where I don’t see results instantly. Gardening, learning new habits, and saving money are some examples. Prayer in worship is often more like the second example. A necessary work that rarely sees immediate results.

Consider the role of corporate prayer. We pray every week for results that we may not immediately see. Weekly we bring our same concerns to God. It may seem unimportant, but it’s one of the most important things the church does. Chores are not always fun, but they need to happen. I would take the statement even further if we don’t do this; everything else will fall apart. Imagine how chaotic our life can be if we never clean the house, wash clothes, or maintain the car. Corporate prayer in the w is more than but not less than maintenance. Our corporate prayer is essential. It communicates to us and those around us that we are dependent on God, a community of disciples, and the spiritual nature of our gatherings. (more…)

The Dangers of Biblicism

Biblicism at face value comes across as an honorable and proper approach to reading Scripture. What exactly is “biblicism”? Dr Lane Tipton gives an helpful definition of biblicism

is any approach to reading Scripture, that does not take the creeds and confessions of the church, (the Reformed confessions of the church) as normed norms that faithfully and accurately render the teaching of Scripture as it is set over against heresy and heterodoxy in various forms.

Dr. Tipton rightly articulates that the Biblicist is someone who reads the Bible without submitting to the Scripture, as it has been read in the orthodox creeds and Reformed confessions in the history of the church. At first glance, some may not have a problem with this, and may even happily embrace this definition. In this brief article I hope to demonstrate some of the dangers of biblicism and why the Biblicist is left exposed outside the safety of the time tested truths of the creeds and Reformed confessions of the church.

When conservative Christians think of a Biblicist, they may think of the conservative Christian that holds only to Scripture and rejects all creeds. However, it is important to understand that biblicism can be embraced by liberals or conservatives. Biblicism does not care if you have liberal or conservative tendencies. Biblicism only cares that you shed the “weight” of the historic creeds and confessions. And it is precisely at this point the Biblicist is in real danger.

One of the greatest negative impacts on the church in recent history has been the Enlightenment. When people began to read the Bible through the assumed lens of neutral history and considered the Bible as any other book, the results were tragic. Liberalism rose up with a force that left many dead churches in its path. They criticized the Bible as being a “community autobiography” that incorporated already existing pagan practices (syncretism). Liberal scholars began the quest for the historical Jesus as they attempted to determine the actual words of Jesus. And still others would accuse the Apostle Paul of having an entire different theology/religion from Jesus. Questioning the supernatural nature of Scripture and of course the resurrection made many abandon Christianity.

All of these schools of thought (and these were only a few examples) were Biblicists. They rejected the inherited traditions and with their new found freedom they led many to despair. The academies impacted scholars who taught men desiring to be pastors, who then taught churches. The Gospel left pulpits and the results were spiritually deadly.

The Creeds and the Confessions of the church play an important role in the history of the church and in the life of the Christian. The Bible is not an historically conditioned book. It is not a product of a community, but is a history of special revelation that has an organic, super natural core, aimed at realizing the covenantal communion bond with God in covenant. The Creeds and Confessions have withstood the test of time and stand not as weights on the heart and mind of the Christian but as a sentinel who has fought the errors of old and helps keeps watch over the church.

The Sabbath in Genesis

Continuing to think through the matter of evening worship, in this article I want to focus on the doctrine of the Sabbath. How do we begin to examine this subject? Matthew 12:8 says, “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” The Jesus rules over the Sabbath. This point is where we begin and is also one of the first places of agreement for Christians in the discussion of the Sabbath. Jesus is our Lord and the Lord of the Sabbath. And as he is our Lord we must consider how we regard that day in light of Christ’s exhortations to his people. All of Scripture God’s word and is revealed for teaching and proclaiming the grand, redemptive, creative works of God to us. The doctrine of the Christian Sabbath is therefore rightly understood as shown by God for his purposes and our benefit. It is necessary for a discussion on the Sabbath to begin where the Scriptures first describe Sabbath in Genesis and move forward.

In this next series of articles, I examine the creation narrative and observe three points.
1. God is creator of creation and time
2. God makes man in his image
3. Man is to image God in his work and rest
This first article will focus on God as Creator of creation and time.

God is Creator of Creation and Time
After the initial moments of creation, Scripture records a state of “unbounded and deep and darkness” (Gen. 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.) Scripture describes Spirit of God as “hovering” over the face of the deep, a reference to the theophanic glory cloud suggests OT scholar M.G. Kline. The presence of the Spirit causes us to think of the power of God in creation, as the world is in chaos, but the power of God brings order and sustains it. (Calvin) The same Spirit that is present at Pentecost, the erection of the temple, and during the Exodus wanderings, is present in the creation event. The author of Hebrews identifies this description in Genesis as the Son.

Hebrews 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

The Sabbath Theme
In Genesis 1 the central theme of the creation account is the Sabbath, not the length of days as some choose to emphasize. The Sabbath is the culmination of the days. The Sabbath becomes rightly stated as “eschatological” because it is a sign of the Eschaton, along with the tree of life that is in the garden of Eden. The Sabbath is the promised blessing of God’s original covenant with Adam. God vows to grant to humanity an inheritance of rest after a trial of obedience.
The writer describes the Sabbath after the creation events where God is described with anthropomorphic language to rest

Gen. 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

We notice the writer uses the verb sabat with the seventh day instead of the word “Sabbath.” Likely to distinguish the Biblical Sabbath from the pagan views in the contemporary era.

It is interesting to compare the Biblical creation account with the contemporary pagan accounts, Enuma elish, and the Atrahasis Epic. In both of these accounts, the gods rest after the creation of man. Humanity is made to do the ordinary day to day work and maintenance of the earth so that the gods can do other tasks. The gods promise to build Babylon and a temple for Marduk. In this account, humanity is at service to the gods to make the workload of the gods easier. The idea of Mesopotamian rest was significantly different from the rest of God in the Bible. He blesses the day and invites humanity to participate in the rest with him.

The Pattern of Evening and Morning
There is a pattern that emerges from the creation account starting in verse 5, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.” What is the pattern the narrative repeats five times supposed to communicate? Some argue that this perhaps should be the basis to consider that a day was defined by the OT from sunset to sunset. Without going into too much detail, V. Hamilton states there is evidence through the OT that the day was considered by the OT to begin in the morning at sunrise. (Gen 19:33-34, Judg. 6:38; 21:4) Therefore this refrain of “evening and morning” is not to communicate when the day begins, but firstly it shows the time was vacant “until the morning, the end of a day and the beginning of the next work.”

God creates boundaries over time defining the day’s beginning and end. I am convinced that the pattern of evening and morning emerges in the text to communicate God’s sovereignty over creation and time to early Israel. They are learning that the God who redeems and delivers is also the God of time and space. Even time is subject to the commands of God. In the next article, I hope to explore the significance of God making man in his image.

Why Do We Baptize Babies? (2)

In the previous post I wrote about the essence of the Abrahamic covenant. I argued that the covenant, though national in a sense, was in its essence spiritual. I also briefly argued from Scripture to show the continuity of the Abrahamic covenant. To read another article in support of the continuity argument I refer the reader to the article “Continuity Preserves the Gospel.

In this article I argue that the Abrahamic covenant is not abrogated but still in force and is essentially identical with the New Covenant. This is one of the arguments of Galatians. Abraham has more in common with the New Covenant than Moses. The Apostle Paul argued that the Mosaic Covenant did not abrogate the Abrahamic Covenant but is actually subservient to Abrahamic Covenant. According to Dr. J. Pipa in his commentary on Galatians he writes,

“He uses the term ‘law’ to refer to the Mosaic covenant. If law culminates in curse, what then are its role and its relationship to God’s grace? Paul answers this question by explaining the relationship between the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants. He shows us two things: (a) the Mosaic does not nullify or alter the Abrahamic and (b) the Mosaic is actually subservient to the Abrahamic.”

Therefore we rightly observe unity and the continuity of the Abrahamic covenant in both dispensations for four reasons.

Firstly, the Mediator is the same.

Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Acts 15:10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
Acts 15:11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Gal. 3:16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

1Tim. 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
1Tim. 2:6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1Pet. 1:9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1Pet. 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
1Pet. 1:11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
1Pet. 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Secondly, the condition of faith is the same in the old and new

Gen. 15:6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Rom. 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Psa. 32:10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.

Heb. 2:4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Acts 10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Heb 11 (the chapter)

Thirdly, the spiritual blessings of the covenant are the same in

a) justification:

Psa. 32:1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Psa. 32:2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psa. 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Is. 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

Rom. 4:9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.

Gal. 3:6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

b) regeneration

Deut. 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Psa. 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

c) spiritual gifts

Joel 2:28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.

Joel 2:32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
Acts 2:18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
Acts 2:19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
Acts 2:20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Is. 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

d) eternal life

Ex. 3:6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Heb. 4:9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,

Heb. 11:10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Fourthly, Hebrews encourages the Christian with the objective oath made by God as a confirmation to Abraham. This shows the unchangeable nature of the promise because it is impossible for God to lie

Heb. 6:13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,
Heb. 6:14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”
Heb. 6:15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.
Heb. 6:16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.
Heb. 6:17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,
Heb. 6:18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

In conclusion, Scripture shows the continuity and NOT the discontinuity of the Abrahamic Covenant. This continuity is foundational to us as Christians to understand and rely on the promises of an unchanging and faithful God. And if this continuity exists then the Abrahamic covenant is not abrogated (repealed) but still in force and is essentially identical with the New Covenant.