Thursday, November 12, 2015

A 400th Birthday

Today marks the 400th birthday of Richard Baxter. I know his systematic theology was a very modern mish-mash of much error. His practical writings, however, are hard to beat for comprehensive, searching - very practical teaching. He doesn't leave stones unturned when he considers our thought life, the use of the tongue, domestic relation and much more. The Practical Works are thousands of pages long, but worth any time you can spend in them.

If you haven't tried him before and want somewhere simple to start - perhaps try here.

When I was a student, I found Baxter's directions about how to spend the day with God so useful that I simplified the language. It's here.

As he put it himself - "let the holy scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible histories, especially of the Church . . . but take heed of false teachers who would corrupt your understandings."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Free Offer

Yesterday was the second day of the FP Theological Conference. Unfortunately, I was only able to take some summary notes of a paper by Rev. Allan MacColl on The Free Offer. This is my paraphrased summary and not verbatim so it gives a flavour and any mistakes are mine. I hope it is printed and if so this may whet your appetite.

He began by noting that although the language of the free offer is part of the fixed doctrinal constitution of presbyterian churches it is still controverted. That is in Westminster Confession 7:3
Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
He emphasised the Father's gift in this offer. [See also Larger Catechism 32, 63, 67 and 68]

The paper was divided as follows:

1. Outline of positions on the issue

2. Biblical grounds for the orthodox position

3. Objections raised against the orthodox position

1. Outline of positions on the issue

A definition of the free offer was given along the following lines (paraphrased).

The assertion that God in bringing good news through preaching invites all who hear to accept without reservation.

The offer is free since there is nothing in the sinner to merit or deserve it and no requirement for God to give it.

Thomas Boston defined different kinds of faith in his View of the Covenant of Grace. These include  the faith of Christ's sufficiency, the faith of the gospel offer, faith of our right to Christ etc

Historically this is only a controversy within Calvinism. Arminians do not have this controversy. Yet they have difficulty in relation to the genuine freeness of the offer. Is it divine free grace or human free will?

There are various views as follows

1. No offer can be given to the unconverted. Promises are for the elect only.

2. Offer is based on a universal atonement

3. Westminster position i.e. there is a free offer but not it is not based on a Universal Atonement

4. A free offer but with qualified extent

This issue at stake is the basic issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. How can a dead sinner be addressed in terms of responsibility? Must we limit any offer to the elect only?

1. No offer to sinners

Very few Calvinists hold to this position. Mainly 18thc English dissenters and some Dutch. Some believer that the offer was a privilege given to Israel uniquely as a covenanted people. They separate if off as an Old Testament or Jewish privilege. Yet if only Jews were to be exhorted to believe - how could the gentiles be gathered in? How could they lay hold of a salvation not offered to them?

The most extreme view within this overall position is that it is not the duty of the non-elect to believe.
Yet God can command duty from the non-elect e.g. God's moral law.  Arminians say God does not command what creatures cannot perform. These Hyper calvinists say that God cannot command what  they cannot perform. The hyper-calvinist view leads to the conclusion that the more wicked a man becomes the less responsible he is. 

He quoted John Bonar's sermon that said that God can blame and punish man for what they cannot fulfil. He can demand it. God cannot demand anything other than spiritual service.

God has in fact decreed and ordained what He requires.

He referred to Luke 11:13 and quoted Shedd to the effect that as the atonement offered indiscriminately so the Spirit also is offered.

An anti-duty faith position tends to reflect a particular view of the Church i.e. gathered congregation in which the only preaching is about marks of grace.

2. Offer based on universal atonement

This is the Arrminian and Amyraldian view based on a spurious universal atonement. Scripture, however, makes Christ's intercession and atonement coextensive.

This universalist view has no definite salvation to offer.

3. Orthodox view of the Free Offer
The doctrine of the free offer has survived mainly unscathed down through the centuries in Scotland.  The Marrow controversy only served to strengthen adherence to it. The main oppenent of the Marrow was called Hadow - he said that every man's duty was to believe but yet the offer should only go to the elect. It was emphasised that the Marrow does not advance universal atonement.

4. Qualified extent

He referred to 20thc views such as Herman Hoeksema. He argued that offer means to present not invite. The offer is not well meant but mere command. There are dangerous consequences for those lacking assurance. These have no access to an offered saviour until doubts are resolved.

2. Biblical grounds for Orthodox position
Is 45:22

Is 55:1, 7

Matthew 11: 28

John 6:37

John 7:37

Revelation 3:20

Revelation 22:17

These texts show that the wicked and unrighteous are addressed with a conditional promise offer of pardon.

Christ's ambassadors commanded to preach the gospel Matthew 28:28. There are no distinctions who to offer to.  The nature of gospel requires this offer. They are to persuade men to personal acceptance of the offer.

The irony is that those who deny the offer only came to Christ through it whatever may be their understanding of how it happened.

Optative verses

These are expressive of desire in terms of what pleases God. Deuteronomy 5:29; 33:29; Matthew 23:27. There is a lot of Anthropopathism and anthropomorphic language in them. Nevertheless they contain something of what is pleasing to God and consistent with His nature as One who hates sin. Ezekiel 33:11. The decree of God is not in view here but rather His preceptive will.

It is inaccurate to say that God desires the salvation of all men and there are not two contradictory wills in God. Turretin is helpful in that he says it is inconsistent to say that God could intend the salvation of those whom He has reprobated. But He still acts seriously in calling them to receive the offer. God delights in the eternal life of a sinner and therefore demands that he turn.

Preachers must preach the gospel with love and an earnest desire for hearers to be saved. They will not be more compassionate than Christ when they do. The Holy Spirit causes this love to their neighbour.

3. Objections
Some wish to find a basis for the offer or grounds of the offer in the atonement. This has produced baleful consequences. It is trying to square a theological circle. There was much controversy in the Victorian United Presbyterian Church on this. We are not to base the offer on the sufficiency of atonement but we can offer it as altogether suitable and infinite.

Matt 5:43-48. God's general love for all men can provide a motive although not grounds for the offer.

Primary purpose special love of god to elect

William Cunnigham said that we must keep our warrant for preaching the offer and God's warrant for giving it strictly separate.

We should base the offer solely on the command of the Word not inferences such as the atonement or nature of God.

He referred to the Warrants and Motives to believe in the Sum of Saving Knowledge
1. God's hearty invitation,
2. His earnest request to be reconciled,
3. His command, charging all to believe,
4. Much assurance of life given to believers, etc.,
He also referred to John Colquhoun's excellent book on saving faith and its definition.

Objection that bible passages do not apply to all men is probably the most powerful objection.
But this leads to emphasising a certain degree of conviction in order to embrace these passages e.g. as a convinced sinner. It is easy for subtle form of self-righteousness to enter. It must be a hope based on the promises not our condition or feelings. We must not limit the offer to exclude any. We must press on sinners their responsibility for what they do with the offer. God has ordained means they are to use them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Occasions of grace

If you have read much of the Puritans on the subject of sin and temptation you will be aware that often they speak of avoiding occasions of sin. These may be circumstances, things, people or something else that may tend to incite or entice a person to sin. They may be difficult to discern and identify. But it is absolutely necessary to avoid them. John Owen wrote that "occasions and opportunities for temptation are innumerable". But also that "temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before". Achan found that the sight of the gold and continued looking at it was an occasion to his sin (Joshua 7:21). Probably the most obvious instruction against occasions of sin is the Saviour's instruction in Matthew 5:29.

Thomas Brooks wrote that one of Satan's devices against believers is "making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin". Brooks gives various considerations as remedies:

A. Certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
B. There is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
C. Saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
D. To avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace

John Preston also emphasised that avoiding occasions of sin is a mark of grace. Just like we should never put an occasion to fall in the way of anyone else we should avoid it for ourselves (Romans 14:13). Perhaps the classic case of avoiding occasions of sin is Joseph in the house of Potiphar not willing to be in the presence of Potiphar's wife much less listen to her words. Jonathan Edwards has a powerful sermon on this. One of the things that he says is "we ought to treat God as a dear friend. We ought to act towards him, as those that have a sincere love and unfeigned regard to him; and so ought to watch and be careful against all occasions of that which is contrary to his honour and glory".

But this post is entitled occasions of grace. And it is Edwards who lends the instruction on this also.
endeavour to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement. We are to avoid being in the way of temptation with respect to our carnal appetites. Job made a covenant with his eyes (see Job 31:1), but we ought to take all opportunities to lay ourselves in the way of enticement with respect to our gracious inclinations. Thus, you should be often with God in prayer, and then you will be in the way of having your heart drawn forth to Him...[He then speaks about the Lord's Supper]…Live in the practice of these inclinations. If you long after God and Jesus Christ,  then often go to God and Christ and converse with them.
This is very helpful. You can have the double spiritual effect of helping to reduce your occasions to temptation and sin by increasing your occasions to grace. The sermon on Song of Solomon 5:1 is difficult to come by online but is reprinted in various books. I took these words from a daily devotional drawn from Edwards. Below is the manuscript of Edwards' sermon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

the upper springs, and the nether springs

This piece from Jonathan Edwards is very refreshing and illuminating.

Judges 1:12-15. Concerning Othniel and Caleb’s daughter. 

Othniel in this story is a type of Christ. As Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, obtained Caleb’s daughter, his first cousin, to wife, by war, and the victory he obtained over Caleb’s enemies, and taking a city from them to be a possession for Caleb and his heirs; so Christ, who, as nearly related to both God and us, is fit to be a Mediator between God and us, has obtained the church, God’s daughter, by war with God’s enemies, and the victory he has obtained over them, and by his redeeming a city, the spiritual Jerusalem, or Zion, out of their hands, to be a possession for God and his heirs. Achsah, Othniel’s wife, moves her husband to ask of her father a blessing, and an inheritance. So it is by the intercession of Christ that the church obtains of God the blessings and the inheritance she needs. She complains to her father that she inherited a south, i. e. a dry, desert land; she asks of him springs of water, and Caleb granted her request; he gave her freely and abundantly; he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs. And if men, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more shall our heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him! When Caleb’s daughter inhabited a south land, and dwelt in the quenched places of the wilderness, she asked springs of water, both the upper and the nether springs. So, when the souls of God’s people are in a droughty, pining, languishing condition, it is not a new thing for them to go to their heavenly Father through the mediation of Christ, for all such supplies as they need; he will give them springs of water like the upper and the nether springs. Godliness hath the promise of the things of this life, and that which is to come. God will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from those that walk uprightly. Achsah improved that time to move her husband to intercede for her, when she came to him; which should teach us, when we are brought especially nigh to Christ, and have specially seasons of communion with him, to be careful then to improve our interest in him, and to seek his intercession for us with the Father for such blessings as we need.

But this probably has a special respect to some particular seasons of God’s blessings on the church, and the accomplishing a glorious alteration in the state of things for her sake; and particularly two seasons.

1. That glorious change that was made at and after Christ’s first coming. The church before that did as it were inhabit a south land, was held under weak and beggarly elements, was under the ministration of death, the letter, and not the spirit. But when Christ came nigh to the church, he took her nature upon him; he came and dwelt with us, and received his church into a much greater nearness to himself; and through his mediation was obtained of God a far more glorious dispensation, springs of water in abundance, a ministration of the Spirit, the Spirit was abundantly poured out upon her, and her inheritance was greatly enlarged. Instead of being confined only to the land of Canaan, she had the Roman empire given with all its wealth and glory, and so had the nether springs, as well as the upper.
2. That glorious change that will be accomplished in favour of the church at the fall of antichrist. Now the church of Christ does as it were inherit a dry land, and has so done for a long time dry both upon spiritual and temporal accounts; both as to the upper and nether springs, and is much straitened in her inheritance. But the days will soon come wherein Christ will come in a spiritual sense, and the church shall forsake worldly vanities, and her own righteousness, and shall come to Christ, and then God will gloriously enlarge her inheritance, and will bestow both spiritual and temporal blessings upon her in abundance.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Increasing spiritual focus: a postscript

There may be further help from a precept, promise and prayer related to distraction.

"attend upon the Lord without distraction" 1 Corinthians 7:35

Precept: Proverbs 4:23 "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life"

Promise: Proverbs 16:1, 3 "The preparation of the heart in from the Lord...commit thy ways to him, and thy thoughts shall be established" 

Prayer: Psalm 86:11 "unite my heart to fear thy name"

Friday, June 12, 2015

Increasing your focus - there's an app for that

Now available on all smart phone platforms: iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry. No install necessary. The app eliminates distractions, allowing you to focus on the important task in hand...It's called the off/flight mode button...or else use the settings to drastically control the type of notifications that come through.

Seriously, distraction is a major problem when we have constant interruptions from our devices. It's not simply the cause of many accidents - on a more everyday level constant alerts train our mind to expect distraction and therefore to have weaker capacity to focus.

Spiritually this is a real issue. Distracted spiritual living is every bit as dangerous as distracted driving. We can switch off completely on sabbath, at personal devotions, family worship and hopefully even at family meal times. Yet if we are trained to expect constantly something to seek our attention - our ability to focus, read and think deeply, meditate, pray will all be diminished. Memorisation and storing in the long term memory are also impacted. It is likely that we become less self-reflective.

The great danger is that we're losing a focus upon our eternal home not just our immediate environment. We need to create more times when we disconnect from such distractions in order to focus more on what is important.

Perhaps the verse we need to memorise most is 1 Corinthians 7:35 "that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction". Richard Steele wrote a whole book "A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God" using this verse as a launchpad. This book may be more needed now than in any age. Another verse would be: "O God, my heart is fixed" (Psalm 108:1 see also Psalm 57:7). "Consider Him" (Hebrews 12:3).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

a longer look at 1 Corinthians 11

#10 in the top ten most accessed posts on this blog is a post Long hair and feminity. A new article on Long hair for women and short hair for men! explores this issue in even greater depth and hopefully will be read and found helpful by far greater numbers. 
Does Scripture speak on the issue of hair length? That is the question. If the Bible is silent or non-committal on the subject, then we may be so too. But if God’s Word has spoken on the matter, then we must contend earnestly for this part of the Christian faith, along with every other part of revealed religion.
What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 11? How important is this issue? Does the Church have any responsibility in this area or is it just a matter of individual conscience? Some people that think head covering is a very clear in this passage don't think hair length has the same importance. They don't think that much should be made of the issue. But is this Paul's approach? 

five stones

Notes excerpted from a sermon by Rev William Maclean.

Psalm 9:13-14

The title of Psalm 9 means 'the death of the champion'. It is thought by some to have been composed by David to celebrate his defeat of Goliath, the champion of the Philistines.

David had five stones in his scrip (pouch) going out to meet Goliath. The New Testament David faced Satan and in doing so, had these five stones from His Father: the (1) love, (2) oath, (3) promise, (4) anointing and (5) commandment of the Father.

(1) Love of the Father: 'This is my beloved Son'. 
(2) Oath: 'Of the order of Melchisedec, thou art a priest for ever'. 
(3) Promise: 'behold my servant whom I uphold '. 
(4) Anointed by the Father in the human nature with the Holy Spirit 'without measure'. 
(5) Commandment: 'This commandment I have received from my Father'.

The Lord's people also have five stones out of the brook of the covenant. These are for going forward whatever their distress or however they may be tried and tempted in connection with their duties. They may have been professing Him for thirty or forty or fifty years. They had to eat bitter herbs (with the Passover) and the Lord's people will get their own bitter herbs in way or another. We can say that there are five stones they can pick up from the scrip of their profession: 

(1) 'Fear thou not for I am with thee'. 
(2) 'Be not dismayed for I am thy God'. 
(3) 'I will strengthen thee'. 
(4) 'I will help thee'. 
(5) 'Yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness' .

Rev Wm Maclean, Gisborne communion Morning Thursday 11 April 1968

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Terms of communion and unity

This concludes some cursory comments on the subject of terms of communion and visible unity. It is a matter of emphasis elsewhere in the New Testament besides what we have noted already.  "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).

Where unity is broken by open and persistent disobedience to God's Word there is a necessity to suspend communion. "If any man obey not our word by this epistle" (2 Thessalonians 3:14). "Who concerning the truth have erred" (2 Timothy 2:18). "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof from such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5).  "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Paul commands us to "withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly." That withdrawal relates to church communion. Yet the man is a brother, a professing Christian. He is walking disorderly and breaking unity however gracious his state may be. He must be withdrawn from. "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). Again he is to be treated as a brother but to publicly "note" such a man must mean church censure. "Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17)

In the context of discussing the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul speaks of divisions of practice and doctrine. It cannot be right that "when ye come together in the Church, I hear that division exist among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18). Yet he goes on to say in verse 19 that "there must be also factions among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." There must be a distinction made between those that accord to the truth and those that do not. In other words terms of communion are necessary in order to uphold unity and order. "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1:27)

"Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing" (Philippians 3:16). There is to be a unity of mind in the truth which is to be shown in Church communion.  "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5) 

Some other helpful articles may be found here and here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #3

Acts 15:22-23 "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia"
  • Unity can be established by settling questions using the God ordained means of church courts
  • Voting is a scriptural and necessary element of this
  • Individual church members ("the whole church") are to assure themselves that the decrees of church courts are in accord with Scripture
v24 "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment"
  • unbiblical terms of communion are not only unsettling but also subverting and destructive to the Church
v28 "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things"
  • when Church courts settle questions based upon the Word of God it can be said to be the mind of the Holy Spirit
  • Church courts possess only ministerial authority i.e. limited by the authority of Scripture to declare the revealed will of God contained in Scripture
  • Terms of communion are necessary things
  • Terms of church communion are a burden meant to be demanding and not light
  • the burden must be no heavier but also no lighter than the Word of God requires (Revelation 2:24)
  • Prohibition and discipline as well as teaching is required in order to attain unity and order
v29 "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
  • Terms of communion may restrain certain elements of everyday life as directed by Scripture. It is not exceeding the bounds of Scripture or Church authority to restrain certain aspects of our conduct
  • Terms of communion will involve separation from idolatry
  • Terms of communion may involve things indifferent or not expressly sinful in themselves but which would breach the bond of love and peace through stumbling and offending others. Romans 14 speaks of receiving those weak in the faith, not scandalising them and preventing them from having communion with us on the basis of something that we believe to be indifferent in itself.
  • Terms of communion will involve avoiding the appearance of evil 
  • Terms of communion may involve temporary application of permanent principles
v30-31 "So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation".
  • decisions of Church courts should bring encouragement to believers. It is encouraging when matters are clearly settled rather than left as open questions
Acts 16:4-5 "And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily".
  • the decisions of church courts are binding and can be described as decrees to be kept
  • the authority of church courts can extend over national and regional boundaries
  • Uniformity in terms of communion is necessary for unity
  • Such terms are to be taught and preached
  • This leads to increasing in numbers
  • It is not divisive to assert and maintain scriptural terms of communion
  • Terms of communion are necessary "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" Action is required where there is disobedience to the Word of God.

One put down and another set up - #Election2015

The result of the UK General Election has taken many by surprise. Political pundits made confident forecasts. Politicians made strong assertions. The outcome was, however, entirely different. Men failed to account for the sovereignty of the Most High.... read more here

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How to vote?

we must esteem it not merely a duty but a privilege, to remind the people, that it is through having God glorified in the exercise of their political privileges, that they will have the nation blessed, and that the rule " whether therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God," is as applicable to the exercise of the elective franchise [i.e. voting], as it is to the discharge of any duty we may have to perform, or the enjoyment of any privilege we may possess. By the people being brought to act on this rule, they will encourage the righteousness by which a nation is exalted, and discourage the sin which is a reproach to any people, and by which they are ruined.
Synod of the United Original Secession Church, May 1885.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #2

"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them". (Acts 15:4)

  • the work of salvation cannot be separated from the nature of church communion, there must be qualifications for the latter 

"And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter" (v6)

  • the unity and government of the church in the new testament follows on directly from that of the Old Testament. We have a passing reference to the office of elder as assumed to be continued in the New Testament together with church courts. 
  • Deliberation and decision on matters relating to terms of communion rest with representative presbyters in church courts.

"Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they". (vv10-11)

  • the terms of communion under the mosaic administration involved a burden that was too heavy to bear

"Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." (v14-17)

  • Scripture must be the ultimate authority to appeal to in order to confirm experience
  • the church is a people named with the name of God and under his authority and his possession
  • the church is the continuation of the church of Israel under the Old Testament
  • there is now no separation between Jew and gentile in the communion of the church

"Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God" (v19)

  • unscriptural terms of communion trouble the people of God 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #1

In what follows I would like to endeavour to reflect upon Acts 15 and what we can we can learn about the unity of the visible church and terms of communion by good and necessary consequence.

Acts 15v1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved"

  • The church will often face those who wish to add to, diminish from or over extend the terms of communion established by the word of God. The principles of Acts 15 can be applied to all and any of these situations also. It is just as unscriptural to diminish from as to add to what God requires.
  • In this case there was addition to, but in much of the New Testament e.g. Corinth and Churches of Asia there was a laxity on these matters i.e. participation in idolatry and immorality. 
  • Differences in relation to terms of communion may often relate to correct interpretation of scripture including the prohibitions of the mosaic law and the degree of continuity between old and new treatments
  • Sometimes this may even impact upon and distort the teaching of the gospel and v24 subverts and plunders souls 
  • This will also subvert the foundations of the church

v.2-3 "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren."

  • Where terms of communion are distorted in this way division and strife inevitably results
  • Which will lead to permanent disunity (Rom 14:1)
  • It is our duty to resist and oppose false teaching and practice that subverts the unity of the church and the purity of the gospel in this area 
  • It is the role of church courts to handle such questions and to assert the scriptural view upon it.
  • Ignoring such questions or making them a matter of individual conscience will not settle them as they concern the whole church