Archive for October, 2007

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Just my thoughts on infant salvation

October 31, 2007

I was prompted today to join a Facebook group (Young, Restless and Reformed) when I saw the question of infant salvation.

It is very important to note that I am no expert. These are my reflections on the subject as I reviewed it several times over the past couple years with friends in conversations and Bible studies. Please feel free to contribute to the conversation with a comment or blog response. I posted my response to the group here so that others may also benefit.

Infant salvation is a good question. I’ve only really heard one explanation, within orthodoxy (excluding baptism as a saving act), of whether or not infants are always saved when they die. It boils down to “yes, always”. There is one Scripture that references David’s prayer and conversation with his servants in 2 Samuel 12:22-23:

22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

The conclusion is that David, a prophet and king, gave us revelation that he would see his son again in heaven so all infants go to heaven.

A second argument is that there is an “age of reason” beyond which people are responsible for their sin. According to this view all infants are saved because they have not reached this age and are therefore not responsible for their sin, even original sin. I think it’s best to be clear about the whole “age of reason”. I have never found it in the Bible. If it were a solid doctrine then wouldn’t someone conclude that if their children don’t make it to this age of reason then they will go to heaven? In other words, why trust God to do according to His good purpose concerning the salvation of your children when you could just … and they’d go to heaven?

I think there is more though. Salvation is still all of God’s grace by faith, even for babies. Someone might say “So, babies just go to hell if they die because they don’t exercise faith?” Um… NO! That’s definitely refuted by the 2 Samuel passage above. We don’t know that all babies automatically go to heaven. And if Scripture is sufficient, we don’t need to know. One thing we know is that the elect of God cannot die before the Holy Spirit acts on them to regenerate them and they exercise faith. One thing we don’t know, consistently anyway, is what an infant’s faith would look like. But another thing we know is that there is a strong indication in Scripture that infants can show faith. Luke 1:15b reads, “[John the baptist] will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb”. Luke 1:41a and 1:44:

41And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb…. 44“For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

So I guess I haven’t fully answered the question. And I don’t think it can be answered until we reach heaven. Also, it is not necessary for our faith or practice to know if all infants go to heaven because Scripture is sufficient. In the end, we know God is gracious and merciful beyond our comprehension. We have to rest in this and the insights we have from Scripture, which are enough.

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Sufficient Scripture 3

October 25, 2007

I’ll explore two sections today, the next verse and continue with Paul’s view of the gospel. The second Scripture passage that the Westminster Confession uses for Chapter 1, section 6 is 2 Thessalonians 2:2. This adds to the weight of Galatians 1:8-9. I added verse 1 for readability. The passage reads,

1Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

A similar situation occurred in Thessalonica as in Galatia. Some were teaching that Jesus had already returned; that the second coming came and went. Paul refutes this starting with encouragement for the church to be calm. The word of God then continues by striking through forms of communication that should not disturb us. Messages seeming to come through a spirit, spoken word or letters supposedly from the apostles are to be questioned when they say the day of the Lord has already come. Paul continues in verse 3, “Let no one deceive you in any way”. He then proceeds to show how that teaching contradicts what He taught when he was with them (“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”, verse 5).

Weight is here added due to the expanded list of corrupt sources. Spirits, all other teachers or believers, any document, letter, book or the like that is not from an apostle (someone directly commissioned by Jesus Christ) and/or contradicts the teaching of an apostle is to be discarded.

As I thought about the last posting, I wondered if anyone would think that I defined a narrow scope for the gospel Paul speaks of in Galatians 1:8-9. That was not my intention. As we think about the gospel Paul taught (“the one we preached to you”, Galatians 1:8), we realize it must have been broad. As in today’s passage, 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul mentions how he teaches the gospel when he visits and establishes a new church. How could we know what Paul initially taught when founding these churches? We can look to the book of Romans. Paul had not visited Rome before he wrote the letter to the Romans. He was unsure of actually making it to Rome so he could build them up. Instead, he took the precaution to write down his initial, church establishing teaching. The book of the Romans, then, seems to be Paul’s initial presentation of the gospel. Along with this is the presentation He gave when He arrived at Rome, Acts 28:23:

From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

Here the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to use the entire Old Testament to convey who Jesus is. In combination with my last post concerning 1 Corinthians 16:22a, it is easy to see that the identity of Jesus is heavily dependent on His preexistence. This allows the inclusion of the Old Testament into what is sufficient Scripture.

As a side note, I want to be clear that the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation does not mean that all parts of Scripture must be known in order to have salvation. Nor does it mean that because Paul used teaching much like Romans and drew heavily from the Old Testament that all of that is necessary for salvation. That would be a works-based salvation, completely contradictory to the Bible. Instead, the Bible is the sufficient source of all knowledge and understanding given by God that mankind may know about salvation. There is no special knowledge or insight needed or given that is not included in the Bible. Sufficiency means “as much as is needed”, not as much as is required. Since Paul used revelation from God to himself personally (which we have in his letters) and from the Old Testament, we know that those are parts that are used by God to grant salvation (Romans 10:17). God may use the hearing of a brief Scripture reading to bring faith to an unbeliever. We are not restricting the work of God by insisting that whatever is sufficient for salvation is also necessary for salvation.

**minor clarification Oct. 26, 2007 at 12:35pm**

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Sufficient Scripture 2

October 22, 2007

Beginning with Scripture

Last time we previewed the subject of Scripture’s sufficiency. We looked at the SBTS Abstract of Principles and the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). The Abstract says the Old and New Testament “are the only sufficient … rule”. The WCF says that God’s whole counsel is written in the Bible and “concern[s] all things necessary”. At this point both continue to list what the Bible is sufficient for.

In this post I’d like to begin with the Scripture references that the WCF listed after the initial sentance, namely Galatians 1:8-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 2 Timothy 3:15-17. The first one should be sufficient for today [bad pun intended]. Galatians 1:8-9(ESV) reads,

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

This passage is helpful in several ways. First, it gives us insight into God’s word. Second, it gives us insight into the way the WCF divines understood God’s word.

The bulk of the passage refers to the unique quality and completeness of the gospel. Paul is very forceful here. He is demanding that the Galatians abandon anything contrary to what Paul delivered to them. The Galatians were struggling through new teachings. Impostors had infiltrated the church with evil teachings. They taught that salvation was gained with the aid of the believer, that believers needed to add something to the salvation Christ provided. Paul is visibly angered in his writing. He enforces this by using his apostolic authority to proclaim them “accursed”, or “eternally condemned” (NIV), forever damned to hell. This language gives us strong indication of the degree to which the Holy Spirit is jealous of Jesus’ work (Exodus 34:14). But now, is the gospel here only reflecting Jesus’ work?

How broad is the scope of the term “gospel” in this passage? Surely the scope of “gospel” here could be all of revealed Scripture, the entire Bible. The other extreme would be that only the essence of the Biblical message is crucial, “God saves sinners” (as J.I. Packer summarizes the gospel).

To perhaps get a better handle on this, we need to look back at the context. There are false teachers in Galatia that are teaching the people a gospel contrary to the gospel Paul taught.

Perhaps it would be better to start with the act of these false teachers rather than their message. Whatever the message, they were willingly, openly and confidently teaching the church in a way contrary to God’s revealed word, which He revealed through Paul.

These people, the false teachers, were not merely inquisitive new believers. They were not merely unpracticed interpreters who needed to meet with their church to correct a personal belief they held. These were teachers that seem to have known what Paul taught. Paul reveals that these teachers “want to distort the gospel of Christ”. They “want” to distort the gospel. Their desire is the perversion of the gospel that Paul taught through the revelation of God. That is the first important step, these false teachers were maliciously seeking to pervert God’s revelation.

The second aspect is that Paul esteemed this aspect, “the gospel”, as critical. Paul wrote letters against those who denied Jesus’ deity, Jesus’ sufficiency in wholly securing the salvation of the elect, etc., and against those who did not practice church discipline, submission, love, etc. Rarely does he use such strong language. In trying to weigh these subjects we can appeal to both the current passage and 1 Corinthians 16. In 1 Cor. 16:22a God writes through Paul, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed”. The strong language is again used. The love believers have for the Lord Jesus is essential, the denial of which also brings the same pronouncement. We see then that in order to love Jesus there are at least two basic aspects: 1) knowing who Jesus truly is; 2) actually loving the revelation of Who He is. The second important step would then be to define the gospel as who Jesus is (including His actions, especially His complete work in salvation) and the love of Him.

How do the Westminster divines give insight through their use of this passage in the confession? The insight we receive into the minds and faith of the Westminster divines shows us that they were very good with both their knowledge of Scripture and their interpretation of it. They understood it all as God-given and therefore important. They also treasured the gospel highly and considered it both sufficient and complete.

We can then conclude that the gospel Paul speaks of in Galatians 1:8-9 is God’s full revelation of our salvation in Jesus Christ. As such, Paul teaches that anything contradictory to it is evil. It is interesting to note that only the contradictory is pronounced evil. We are encouraged, indeed commanded, to teach and expound upon Scripture, not only to read it without aid or interpretation. So the gospel of Jesus Christ, who He is and the love of Him, is sufficiently revealed in the gospel as taught by God through Paul, sufficient for salvation.

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Sufficient Scripture 1

October 19, 2007

Introduction

Recently the sufficiency of Scripture has become a great area of interest for me. What does it mean for Scripture to be sufficient?

Sufficient is defined in the dictionary as, “adequate for the purpose; enough” (dictionary.com) and “being as much as is needed” (American Heritage Dictionary).

A good theological place to start is the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary “Abstract of Principles”. To define Scripture it says, “[t]he Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience”.

The Westminister Confession of Faith states about Scripture in Chapter 1, section 6:

6. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.a Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word;b and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.c

a. Gal 1:8-9; 2 Thes 2:2; 2 Tim 3:15-17. • b. John 6:45; 1 Cor 2:9-12. • c. 1 Cor 11:13-14; 1 Cor 14:26, 40.

With these as a starting post, I’d like to proceed with a few questions:

  • How is the Scripture “as much as is needed”?
  • With those things that Scripture addresses (“saving knowledge, faith and obedience” or “[God’s] own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life”), how are we taught to determine them?
  • How are we to understand “all” or “all things” in “all saving knowledge…” and “all thing necessary for [God’s] own glory…”?
  • When Scripture seems vague about a subject, especially in obedience/life, how are we to continue to pursue direction toward right action, by prayer that the Holy Spirit will directly impact our lives or by His direction through further Scripture study?

My next entry will begin to explore the Scripture passages referenced in the Westminster Confession. I also hope to review several articles and sermons on the subject. Hopefully this will give us more than enough to answer the above questions.

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One Bride

October 18, 2007

As I was reading (“Disciplines of a Godly Man Disciplines of a Godly Man” by R. Kent Hughes) yesterday about the mystery of Christ and the church and its likeness to marriage, I got an idea.

Bride For me at least, that’s a whole new argument for salvation only through Jesus Christ. There is no other marriage. There is no other bride. Christ and the church are the only two involved. As in marriage, there is no addition or third wheel that is required or permitted.

It also brings new offense when others say they don’t need to be a member or participant in the church. If you aren’t a part of the bride of Christ, what kind of relationship do you have with Him? There are quite a few interesting implications to this. I think it will be a great help in determining my view on the end times as well.

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theo… humor??

October 16, 2007

I once tried to mess with God’s sovereignty, but He wouldn’t let me.

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Reflecting with a friend (Galatians 3:23-29)

October 10, 2007

A friend posted yesterday with some frustration and encouragement for us to “read, interpret and apply the following passage to you and your relationship to 1) Christ, and 2) your church — especially verse 28, which I have highlighted in bold”. The following is that passage (the bold is retained), Galatians 3:23-29:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

My reading of it went well. My interpretation will start with the context. The Holy Spirit wrote through Paul to the Galatians because they were assaulted by people teaching other gospels. Apparently these teachers said the law was an aid to or the entire basis of righteousness. In confronting this, Paul assured the Galatians that the promise of the gospel is fixed on the righteousness of Christ, unchangeable once it was ratified (v. 15). And even in its ratification, no one can alter it because it was made by God the Father to Abraham and Jesus Christ, no other (v. 16).

Verse 17 starts a brief interlude with the law. Even though we have the law, it cannot cancel the promise because it was not part of the promise. Nothing after the promise can alter that promise (v. 17-18).

Now, since this promise was given to Abraham and Jesus Christ, where are we? Are we excluded from the promise? Paul answers with a resounding “No!”. In verse 27 he explains that those who profess faith in Christ have “put on Christ”. In verse 29 Paul returns to addressing the promise – “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”. We are recipients of God’s promise to Jesus Christ because we “put on Christ”.

So, where is verse 28 in all of this? In verse 28 Paul gives us a picture of what it means for people to be in Christ. The distinctions formerly thought to secure salvation among people are nullified. There are no distinctions, no lines of nationality or status or gender, by which the gospel is restricted.

How do we continue with this in order to apply it to ourselves in our relationship with Christ and His church? One application is that we must evangelize all people, regardless of nation/race, age, status, gender, etc. Second, God saves people sovereignly by giving faith and placing them in His Son Jesus Christ, therefore we are entirely dependent on His working. Third, in evangelism the law is vital as a guardian or school master that leads people to their need for Jesus Christ through knowledge of sin (also Romans 3:20). Fourth, our treatment of others must exemplify an undeniable equality of value in the church because all are equal in value who are in Christ. Fifth, we should live with confidence when we rely on Jesus Christ as the fully righteous recipient of God’s promise. Sixth, this passage (indeed the whole Bible) does not equate equality in value with equality in position (being of equal value in Christ does not mean submission to authorities in other positions is removed – husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, government and citizen, even Christ and us in Christ). Seventh, it seems more complete if I have a seventh application, oh well.

How is this passage improperly applied? In my limited experience I have heard this passage used to “trump” other parts of the Bible that establish roles according to gender. This presents several issues. One is that it causes the Bible to contradict itself. Two, it encourages poor interpretation (ignoring context and making the Bible to fit a view, instead of getting our views out of the Bible). Third, it causes uneven application of this text, i. e. when the gender line is incorrectly broken because of this passage, the status line is not also broken (the master-slave/employer-employee relationship is retained, employees are not encouraged to supplant employers because of this passage but instead to submit to them).

Of course this is not exhaustive, I look forward to others taking up the challenge.