Monday, April 29, 2013

My Post Mortem On 'The Great Sanctification Debate'


Romans 12: 17-18

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

In retrospect, the "Great Sanctification Debate" was anything but great.  Touted as some great schism among confessional Lutherans, it really amounted to two sides saying the same thing, and a case of theological nitpicking over terms; and depending on which term you held to ("progressive sanctification", "new obedience", etc)  you were either a pietist, Calvinist, an antinomian; or at worst, a 'follower of Gerhard Forde'.  After listening and reading to Pr.  Fisk, Cooper and others, I saw no signs of pietism, or antinomianism from either camp except a small minority.  What I did see was two sides talking past each other, and misrepresenting the other's position to the point of parody.  For the record, I agreed with everything Pr. Jonathan Fisk and Jordan Cooper had to offer in this debate, and I'm glad they were able to sort out their differences privately.  As for the rest of us involved in the scuffles,  this debate over sanctification does prove one thing, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"; and that growth in the Christian life is oftentimes painfully slow.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Are Children Born Innocent?

Deuteronomy 20: 16-18

But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.

Psalm 51: 5   

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Romans 3: 9-19

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
    no one seeks for God. 
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”  
“Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
   “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery, 
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

The subject of children's salvation is an emotionally charged one.  In a conversation with a female American evangelical on the topic of infant baptism,  I was told that babies do not need to repent, that they are completely innocent; and from her response the presumption then was that babies are born saved.  This kind of evangelical response mirrors the Pelagian view that humanity is basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall, thereby denying the imputation of Adam's sin, and original sin that drastically affects our ability to believe God and earn eternal salvation. However, the Biblical reality is that we live in a fallen world, subject to corruption, in which we all fall under the headship of Adam as "children of wrath".  And by 'all', the Bible means children as well as adults, for 'all' under the law and therefore open to its condemnation.  Like it or not, children are under the righteous judgment of God, and are in need of salvation in Christ Jesus alone.  

The text from Deuteronomy makes this clear.  Both Moses and Joshua were commanded by God to "devote to destruction" everything that lived in the cities of the Canaanites, so that Israel would remain pure and free from all "their abominable practices that they have done for their gods" (Deuteronomy 20:18).  This mandate included children, not to exact ethnic cleansing or genocide on the Canaanite peoples, but to exact God's judgment for "the iniquity of the Amorites" (Genesis 15:16) which God allowed to persist until the right time came for His wrath to enact justice.  Israel's conquest of Canaan was not a tribal war, but an instrument of God's justice against the sinners in those nations.  

It's only because of God's mercy that not everyone has been subjected to the fate that the Canaanites suffered.  But rest assured, there will come a day when "every mouth will be stopped" when Christ returns in judgment to condemn all those who have "sinned under the Law" (Romans 2:12).  Until that day, children need to receive the salvation that comes only by the gospel, to heal them from their sinful condition, and to wash away the original sin in which human beings are conceived.  Thus the need for infant Baptism by which children are united to Christ, trusting in the power of God to grant them faith and repentance through the water and the Word.  

The evangelical fallacy is that somehow only children are unable to believe, because they haven't reached some mythic 'age of accountability'.  However this inability belongs to everyone who are not born from above by God, and are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins.  Denying baptism to children therefore denies the power of God in salvation. Since this sacrament is his work by which he graciously gives us new life through the waters of baptism, and his steadfast word that seals us with His triune name.  It also denies the command given by Christ in the Great Commission to "make disciples of all nations", "baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".  Because of Christ's command, we can be sure that baptising children doesn't just get them wet, but carries the promises to bring near all those who are far off:

Acts 2: 38-39

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”


Friday, April 5, 2013

Ezekiel's Temple


Ezekiel 40: 1-4

In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city—on that very day the hand of the Lord was on me and he took me there. In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the people of Israel everything you see.”

In dispensational eschatology, the rebuilding of a future Temple is intimately entwined with the millennial age "marked by a return to Old Testament temple worship and animal sacrifices to commemorate the redemptive work of Christ" (Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillenialism, p. 26).  During this age Christ will return to focus his redemptive plan on national Israel, culminating in Christ's Davidic kingship being manifested on earth, and the covenant promises made to Abraham being fulfilled for the sake of national Israel.  Or so the dispensational story goes.

Leaving aside for the moment, that Christ stated his kingdom was not of this world, there is another way to dispel the dispensational myth using the later chapters of Ezekiel.  Let's look at Ezekiel 44: 9:  "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites."  The key phrase, here, is "uncircumcised in heart".  By comparison, how do the New Testament apostles describe those "circumcised in heart"? Paul writes in Romans 2:28 and 29:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

and in Philippians 3:3:

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. 

and again, in Colossians 2:11-13:

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.

From these verses, we can surmise that the apostles describe those "circumcised in heart" as those who have been born again from above by the Holy Spirit, and baptised into Christ by faith through the grace of God.   To be circumcised in the flesh does not gain you membership in God's covenantal family; it's only through Christ and faith in his finished work by which you have access to the Father.  Therefore, in the context of Ezekiel 44:9, only those who are made alive in Christ have entrance into God's sanctuary; to merely bear the physical marks of circumcision does not make you a descendant of Abraham, but as Paul points out "it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring" (Romans 9: 8).  As Abraham's offering, all the covenantal promises in the Old Testament are therefore given to the church for our encouragement and edification.  These promises include Ezekiel's temple, which points beyond the physical temple of Jerusalem destroyed in AD 70 as a sign of God's judgment, and to the heavenly city of Revelation 21 and 22.  To demonstrate this, let's compare these two passages of Scripture:

Ezekiel 47: 1-12

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

Revelation 22: 1-5

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

In both passages, the unifying theme is 'the water of life' that brings life and healing to God's people.  However, in Revelation, the scope of Ezekiel's temple is enlarged to include all the nations, tribes, and tongues grafted into Christ.  Ezekiel's physical temple has been superseded by the "new heaven and new earth" where God promises to dwell among his people whose names are "written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27).  An eternal and spiritual kingdom where 'nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful';  a kingdom thereby evoking the exclusiveness of God's sanctuary described by Ezekiel 44:9.  And reminding us again that only those whose robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb "have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city" where God will be their light for ever and ever (Revelation 22: 14).