Thursday, January 27, 2011

Judging and Biblical Ignorance

Recently at a blog entitled Pyromanics an article was posted concerning the issue of who and who is not a Christian and whether or not the bible provides sufficient information to make such a determination.  I was not surprised by some of the postured responses by a number of the Puritan ARCers (ARC meaning Augustinain/Reformed/Cavlinist) which argued:

Tom Chantry We can assert that the unrepentant philanderer, no matter what his verbal profession, is no Christian. The same may be asserted in regard to the unrepentant heretic.

Patience If a person is openly believing in a heresy, for example Modalism, then I will comfortably say that person is not saved. God may yet save them and it is up to Him.
If a person has repented and believed, apparently believes all the fundamentals and is living in a God-honouring way, it would be hypocritical for me to assume they are not saved.

But I was encouraged to read comments such as this person’s which reflects the essential soteriological distinctions in their practical and broad considerations:

Jim Pemberton  There are indeed those who intentionally try to empty the term "Christian" of meaning. Their subversive goal is to undermine the meaning of the atonement by focusing only on the evidential aspect of what it means to be a Christian. The meaning of "Christian" is rooted absolutely in the atonement, not subversively in the evidence.

However and ultimately, my purpose here is to address a theological refinement critical to the expeditious handling and subsequent expressions we, as believers, make as to who is or is not a Christian.  Unfortunately this is a biblical qualification that many of those in the comments section (and the blogger himself that moderated the comments) all the way through the body of Christ, often fail to be taught or grasp thereby injuring both themselves and God’s children with the ineptness of their pronouncements. And what accelerated my involvement and this eventual article was the presumption by one commenter who stated:

Tom Chantry  And I believe the same applies to two Christian men who make a verbal profession of faith, yet one has been faithful to his wife and the other is living in open, unrepentant adultery. I should be able to say that one is a Christian and the other not. 

To which I replied:

Alex Guggenheim So tell me again, if the unrepentant man you judged not to be a Christian does at some point repent, he suddenly is a Christian again? This is precisely why your fallibility does not permit you to make such judgments. What you are permitted to do, however, is judge with whom you will and will not fellowship.

This person was not satisfied with the obvious error of his earlier example which was pointed out in my response so he replied:

Tom Chantry  Alex, can anyone, ever, under any circumstances be called a Christian? And if so, can anyone, ever, under any circumstances be called a non-Christian? The insistence that our fallibility vis-a-vis the hearts of others forces us to avoid making judgments certainly appears to require a "no" answer - at least to the second of those questions. 

Ultimately this led us to Matt 18 which introduced the subject of divine adjudication and practical adjudication as reflected in my response:

Alex Guggenheim  We can if we maintain the distinction between our judgments and that of God. Clearly God’s judgment is judicial, ours is practical. That is, when we see certain kinds of behavior that are incongruous with Christianity we may say practically such a person is not a Christian but judicially it may be quite the opposite. This is reflected in Matt 18:17, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”.

It does not say for us to attempt to determine the divine adjudication of the unrepentant but to practically treat them as though they are not. Nor is this imploring us to believe such treatment is an indication one way or the other of divine adjudication. Practically we are identifying them as an unbeliever without a claim toward their divine adjudication since we cannot know that. And the inverse of this is true in identifying fellow believers.

So if we imagine our practical judgments to be sufficient to function as revelations of divine adjudications or even implied adjudications, even in our own mind alone, we err. Therefore, in advising others on the use of language, because most people fail to attend to such distinctions and such questions often do not appreciatively maintain these kinds of critical nuances, I recommend avoid using phrases such as “judging who is and is not a believer”. 

Divine and Practical Adjudication

From above one can see the significant of Matthew 18 in distinguishing between divine adjudication and practical adjudication.  The judgment of one’s salvation occurs singularly, before God.  There is no one sufficient other than the Divine to make and know of such determinations.  And this is critical because this overriding principle is what disciplines us, as God’s children, in our language and concepts with regard to how we speak of others.

The bible permits us to make judgments, but not God’s judgments.  It only permits us to make practical judgments.  To fail to understand this distinction is to fail to appreciate the separateness of both functions, practical and divine judgments.  And such delinquency inevitably results in the kind of responses I quoted earlier, which is the erring expectation that that through practical judgments one can reflect the renderings of divine adjudication.

No matter the condition of a human being, no matter the claims out of their mouth, one is still left with the restrictions God has placed upon them and in this case the boundary of our expression is that of practical judgment.  We may not insist to know and announce divine renderings with one exception, unless those renderings have been revealed in Scripture.

When May We Announce Divine Adjudications?

In the Scriptures God has revealed the eternal destiny of a few people, but in reality just a few.  One group of  beings who have had a divine adjudication imposed and their eternal state disclosed to us are Satan and one third of the angels who rebelled with him.  In this case we may say, emphatically or with instruction of the divine judgment, that Satan and one third of the angels who rebelled with him are going to what is described as the Lake of Fire, separated from God forever without end.  This is an occasion where we may announce what the divine adjudication is because it has been given to us by means of scriptural revelation.

However, in the life of another human being we do not have such insight.  And this is precisely why we may not announce knowledge of their divine judgment as it pertains to salvation.  God has not revealed to me or any other believer on earth the personal divine adjudication of another.  Therefore we are prohibited from posturing our language as if we do know.

What about Atheists and Christ Deniers and So On?

Remember, when a prescriptive principle is rendered in God’s Word we must apply it in that manner.  Where divine adjudication is left for only the Divine, there are no exceptions.  Unless God has specifically revealed to us his personal adjudication for a specific person, we simply do not have enough information or capacity to claim knowledge of or insight into the divine rendering.

So in What Manner do we refer to Such Persons?

Glad you asked but by now I had hoped you knew the answer.  We speak about such persons in a practical manner that is without an emphatic posture.  In practical terms we speak as Matt 18 indicates, whether about an unrepentant member of the congregation or one that has never expressed faith, as an unbeliever.   We take them at their word that they do not believe and describe them as such without claim of knowledge of the divine adjudication.  Why?  Because even when, out of their own mouth they claim to reject Christ, the ruling principles stands, we may not presume to know what God has not revealed.

What we do know is that if they do not believe on Christ and die in that state they will be rejected by God.  And we do know that if their word be true, that they presently reject Christ, they are presently rejected by God.  But what we do not know are the two essentials which are all the matters of their heart and the divine rendering of the judgment of God with regard to whether or not they have believed at some point.

This is a hard thing for many of the Purtian ARCers and numerous other believers.  They have been taught, and particularly ARC factions but others as well, that they can know by means of practical adjudications the judgments of God.

What you are left with are two choices; either respect the prohibition of God in claiming knowledge of divine renderings that have not been revealed and engage fairly and rightly in practical adjudications which God permits or ignore the divine boundary and with your insouciance simply continue claiming to know the salvation of others.

Sadly here is a relevant portion of the last post by the blogger that reflects what I am saying about the inability to grasp the distinction between divine adjudication and practical adjudication:
Formally affirming those lines and then saying "God will judge" IN THIS CONTEXT is about 13% right and 87% harmful gasbaggery.

I can unambiguously affirm that someone who professes no faith in Christ gives me no reason to hope that he is saved.

I can unambiguously affirm that someone who professes some kind of faith in Christ, while denying cardinal Biblical doctrines, gives me no reason to hope that he is saved, and no excuse for affirming him as a Christian leader in good standing.

He calls the preservation of those elements assigned only to divine adjudication as “gasbaggery”.  It might be, in his defense, he is reacting to the misuse by some who, when we make legitimate practical judgments they assert that “we may not judge”.  But if he understood the demarcation as he should he would understand the seriousness of “God will judge” as not only an argument on the issue but the pivotal and most urgent of all points.

Secondly, no one is arguing whether we can express if there is hope or not or likelihood or not,  no one has argued such statements cannot validly be made. Those are not attempts to convey insight into divine adjudication since they are not emphatic.   In fact this was the position I and others took.  This is why it is clear in responding as such even a seasoned student of the word has been misguided on the subject and can be seen reacting with arguments no one has made simply in defense of a subject of which he has a poor grasp.  And this is not to point out just this person but he is indeed representative of many who have had formal training and act as teachers within the body of Christ who need remediation in this area of doctrine.

Here is a closing graphic of the difference between the two.

Divine Adjudication                                    Practical Adjudication
Determines who is saved                               Determines with whom to fellowship
Determines members of Christ’s Body           Determines local members
Determines divine discipline                           Determines church discipline    
Determined Satan’s judgment                        Determines Satan's influence

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Do You Charge for Ministry?

Charging people money to be ministered to is a rather bizarre idea in itself when one considers the definition of ministry.  The essence of ministry is to give not to take.  When two agents exchange one thing for another, most accurately it is called business.  Ministry, on the other hand, is the sacrifice of one for the other.  One accepts the cost and the other receives the benefit.

This ministry dictum was expressed by our Lord, rather emphatically, when he instructed the Apostles in Matt 10:8 (NIV), "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep".  One might argue that if we apply this principle we must then apply the latter regarding our not being permitted to take money or extra clothing and paraphernalia.  However, the two commands while related in context, are differentiate themselves in focus.  One was a prohibition against charging for ministry, the other for establishing an incumbent principle regarding the work of the ministry and the response of its recipients as reflected in the latter comment, "the worker is worth his keep". And these were special conditions for this event that did not preclude the ownership of material wealth, rather that ministry is not about material wealth and such elements must be removed if they are the objective.  Calvinist teacher John MacArthur makes this observation:

"Since the gifts we have were freely given to us by God, we're to dispense them freely...Throughout the years I have been repeatedly asked about my fee for preaching. I have been preaching for over twenty years, yet never once in my ministry have I set a price on it, and I never will. The Bible says I received it freely, so I give it freely. Why should I set a price?...A faithful worker is worthy of his hire, and God will move through people to meet his need. If you never ask for anything, seek anything, or put a price on anything, then whatever comes your way you can accept as a gift from God."

So with regard to ministry and cost I ask, how much do you charge others for your ministry?  Or is it, in reality, a business?  One of my favorite contradictions that seems to be the elephant in the room is the musicians and singers who perform at events where people are charged money, either through their church budget or  personal fees at the door, in order to receive ministry.  It is as if I hear them saying, "I am here to minister to you with music but it is going to cost you thus and thus."  Odd.

Another is the arriving Teacher of Scripture who either charges a fee to the host organization or directly to those attending in order for him (or her if we are going to attempt to go around Scripture and have a female Teacher who is not ordained and is not claiming to be a minister of the Word but is in fact speaking, teaching and interpreting with the authority of such) to provide ministry.  Clearly these examples violate the terms of ministry.

The question is not whether business itself is valid but whether ministry may operate as a business.  It is quite clear that the bible does not forbid business, the question is whether the Lord's work may engage itself with the priorities of business interests.  Frankly I see no room for this and in the least, if this is their practice, let's not call it a ministry, let's call it what it is, a business.

Our greatest example (the divine example) of ministry and its true definition is our Lord Jesus.  At no point was his ministry of any cost to those receiving but of all cost to himself.  From the wisdom and instruction of his discipleship to our Lord’s sacrifice for sin, at no point did our Lord (nor his Apostles) charge any man, ever, for their spiritual care. 

There is no example in Scripture of our Lord or his Apostles charging anyone for their teaching.  There is no case where the cost Paul incurred in his travels was something for which he charged others in order for him to agree to arrive and teach.  Nor did John or Peter attempt to charge anyone before their ministering.  You will not find in any instance in Scripture, either from implication, description or instruction,  the concept of ministry being something for which its receivers must foot the bill.  

So how do ministries gain support?  You would think the answer to this question is obvious but to some it is not though as the text earlier taught,  "the worker is worthy of his keep".   That means those who are ministered to respond to the one ministering with material needs, just as Rom 15:27 and 1 Cor 9:11-12 reflects.  And if the response is tepid then one must examine both their ministry and its content and God's providence at the moment.  But as well, as the text also indicates, you must reflect on your audience.  Further, the order of ministry and support is also clear; your ministry is performed and their response is given in the way of support, in that order.  Thus, it is not appropriate to arrest the prescription for ministry and money and begin charging people for ministry simply because you need the funds and cannot afford to do so otherwise. Possibly my dear brother, God has not provided because what you wish to do is not his work!

Certainly every detail cannot be answered in such an essay but some fundamental question can be approached effectively.  And the most fundamental question is whether or not you are engaged in business or ministry, and whether or not you are charging people for your ministry?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Once Saved, Perfectly Saved

A Bit of Background

Frequently we believers encounter the topic of our eternal security, either in a class, a sermon, published material or a discussion.  And often such doctrinal initiations involve strong treatments of the concept(s) that lie behind or are consequential to the phrase once saved, always saved (commonly given the acronym OSAS, and yes just like many of you the word oasis routinely comes to mind).  And among different groups there exists varying forms of support or objection, even some who, though holding to the view that one cannot lose their salvation, still object to this as a theological expression because it implies a believer may be guilty of the grossest sins for a prolonged period and still be saved and such a position, they believe, is antithetical to the biblical record.

My interest here is not a rebuttal of any of these though by implication it will no doubt serve as one for some readers in light of their own views.  Rather my endeavor is to make a corrective contribution to the topic as a whole resulting in the possible employment of a superior phrase more appropriately representing the work of God and his integrity in the eternal nature of our salvation.

In looking at salvation and communicating to others what the Word of God says about the need for someone to be saved from judgment, the emphasis is on the work of God and the integrity of God.  The Divine effort insures that whatever merit is necessary for salvation has been accomplished and the integrity of God insures that his promise is not guaranteed by us, those who receive his grace-gift through faith, but by Him, the One who cannot lie and will never deceive.  It is God’s work and God’s integrity upon which we, his children, must rest.

Often we are tempted to arrest the Scriptures (and many have) and take passages either out of context or without their appropriate exegesis and claim that this is not so, that we, ourselves, must be the certainty of our salvation, either by way of meriting it through additional works or by demonstrating its reality through works or fruits. The second class of objector will tell you that such a demonstration is not a form of meriting but of manifesting and if its absence is noted then the person in question may not judge themselves saved or they may be judged by others not to have been saved, in spite of the fact that they indeed may have trusted the gospel, no matter the explicated nature of their reception of the gospel.

The Golden Nugget

And because of all this I want to introduce you to a term that may more precisely deal with the matter altogether and that phrase is,  Once Saved, Perfectly Saved.  Its significance lies within the inflected nature of the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. 

Take a look in Ephesians 2: 5, 8.  In both verses you will find the phrase, "it is by grace you have been saved".  It provides a wonderful promise to us and like good students we accept the responsibility not only to search and find where the treasures lie in God's Word but we must seek to remove all elements present which may act as soil, hiding the gems we uncover (and that soil is generally bad thinking on our part in the form of presuppositions).  Additionally we must take the time to magnify what we have found to fully appreciate its purity and value.  So in our process of discovery and refinement we will look within this singular declaration in Ephesians, which is used in rapid succession in the two verses, and zoom in on the verb, saved.  And here we will discover a divine jewel possessing a spiritual fortune so enormous, so impeccable, and so impacting that even for the most rebellious child of God whose tattered soul and undistinguished person has diminished them to being a wretched spiritual vagabond, he or she may collapse with joy and eternal hope.

The verb, saved, in both passages is σεσῳσμένοι, (sesōsmenoi) which comes from the root word, σῴζω (sózó).  And just like in most languages verbs have tenses which denote when the action of the verb occurs and generally these are past, present or future.  However, in the Greek we have what is also called the perfect tense (Latin students are also very familiar with this tense).  And the perfect tense in its general use with some exceptions (such as a present or future perfect which is not contained in our verses so of no consequence here) refers not just to a past action as the normal past tense would but there is a two-fold emphasis. In the Syntax of New Testament Greek, Books and Winbery aptly explain [University Press of America, Lanham, Md., 1988, pp. 104-5]:

"The perfect tense expresses perfective action. Perfective action involves a present state which has resulted from a past action. The present state is a continuing state; the past action is a completed action.”

And so when we are described as having been saved with the perfect tense, a tense of the verb that was deliberated by the superintendence of God through the instrument of man, we are not simply declared by Paul or any other Apostolic Saint to have our salvation occurring in the past but to have had our salvation perfectly completed in the past, the moment we believed, and to have God himself making this guarantee. This is God’s declaration to us that we are Once Saved, Perfectly Saved.

To Whom is Paul Speaking?

Some may assert in an odd attempt to defend their position which may be hostile in some manner to the use of the text and particularly the verb here, that those who “have been saved” seeks not to communicate specifically about those who have believed the gospel and as a result been saved, but only about the work of God in salvation.  In other words their premise would be that the use of the perfect tense which is a completed action in the past with results in the present tense, means only to refer to the completed work of Christ, thereby opening the theological door for the assertion that an ongoing faith and/or works for its maintenance or proof are still acceptable Christian tenets.  

But this is not how the Bible speaks of personal salvation nor the context of the particular passage.  In Scripture personal salvation always includes in its view the integral element of faith so that when it speaks of one having “been saved” it speaks not only of the work of Christ but the exercise of faith that is the means by which the work of God is received and salvation personally instituted by God.  And as I said, the context here in Ephesians is that of a believer which is evidenced by the language of Paul in describing the blessings of our inheritance such as being seated with Christ which is only possible after one believes.

So any proposition attempting to forward the idea that the Scriptures have in view something other than one who has believed and has, as a result, “been saved”, is defeated by the context and theological continuity.  

What About Other Tenses with the Word Saved?

In Scripture the word saved is not used explicitly with the perfect tense.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Often, one reason is because the context is speaking of an element of our salvation and not its completion, as Paul was here.  Therefore, another tense may be warranted without implying a challenge to either a comprehensive treatment of salvation or another element of salvation that may, itself, warrant even another verb tense.  

It is true that sometimes, in exegesis, one can inappropriately isolate a passage to the neglect of other grammatical rules and principles and paint themselves in an unfortunate corner. More than occasionally this is observed within theological circles which induce men to protect their egos to the detriment of truth.  Ultimately, however and most importantly is that this grammatical reality does not interfere, in the least, with the doctrinal point being measured here. 

Final Thoughts

Many people are aware of the influence of Macedonia’s Mégas Aléxandros (Alexander the Great) on Koine Greek’s rise as a common language.  And within this magnificent time in world history there is a sub-narrative that has to do with the perfect tense in the Koine Greek language.    Not only did Alexander understand the need for a broadly employed common language for the benefit of the empire but his genius perspicacity also anticipated the need for his involvement in the codification of Koine Greek.  At the time of its use, the Ancient or Classical Greek perfect tense was seldom appreciated or used by those speaking Koine because of its refined placement as a verb tense and the nature of common language which often neglects such subtle linguistic gifts.  And part of the reason this detail may not have escaped Alexander’s notice was because of his his militaristic mentality and many conquests.

When Alexander, or any other campaigner in the ancient world, conquered a land or a people it certainly was not with the benevolent intent to eventually free their subjects and return their sovereign state as is the practice in the modern western world.  When the Alexandrian Empire conquered a land and its people it was just as the perfect tense indicates, it is a once and for all action in the past with permanent results in the present with no view that the conditions or results of that past action would ever change or there would be any need for further conquering since all the conquering needed, had been done.  Hence, Alexander the Great in his oversight of the spread of Koine Greek, took on the oversight of the appreciation and regular use of the perfect tense within Koine Greek. Alexander wanted everyone to know the land and people he conquered he did once and it would not be repeated and the state of being conquered, both the land and people, was a permanent one.  The action happened, it was completed in the past and now the permanent result was that it was part of the kingdom.

When God says to us that the moment we believe we are saved, he means to tell us in this precious prize of exegetical truth that we have been once saved, perfectly saved.  The emphasis on our integrity to do works to either keep or prove our salvation is not the emphasis of God.  The emphasis of the guarantee is on the work of God and the integrity of God to insure we are Once Saved, Perfectly Saved.