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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Series Updates

For anyone who actually subscribes to my blog itself, I thought I'd throw in a quick update post to explain what out of the many "series" have been started you should actually expect to continue at all:

1) I realized that I misunderstood what was distinctive about Wright's view of Israel-in-exile (it's that he thinks *Israel* had that self-understanding in the 1st century, not just that it was actually the case redemptive-historically) and so I got rid of the first post in the "Wright, So What?" series and probably won't be blogging about his specific views with any consistency for the foreseeable future. I may share thoughts on justification or the "righteousness of God" issue at some point. We'll see. No series in view, though.

2) The ecclesiology debate never really got off the ground past the first opening statements, due to time constraints with my "opponent" in his personal life, or something like that--I'm not sure of details. He may have been able to continue eventually. In any case, I came to learn after we had started our debate that he was actually part of a very strange, small group of heretical professing believers who are not only ultradispensational (Mid-Acts/Acts 9 variety), but also open theistic, and indeed into something almost like process theology, where God's essence can literally change and stuff like that. Yeah! They did not seem to have any kind of deep roots in the biblical and creedal theology of the incarnation, or the implications of that theology for Theology Proper (not that Reformed writers have been fully consistent there, ahem!--see Dr. Oliphint's brilliant work on Theology Proper)...but they were definitely off in left field on some important stuff. Reformed Baptist Christian apologist Dr. James White actually debated their pastor on some of that stuff a while ago. Pretty interesting.

3) I think I had mentioned before that I was not continuing the Romans "sermonic-style" posts. This is still the case. It's just not as useful a practice as I originally thought it would be. It could be beneficial at some level still, but effective preaching is necessarily so much more contextual, and indeed in a sense personal, than written blog posts in a sermon-like format ever could be. So still no Romans stuff.

4) So far, I am still intending to continue the Revelation reflections series...but I am not sure when. I have moved on to the second chapter of a number of books I am memorizing, but it could be really good for retaining Revelation at least, to continue this series before long. We shall see...

5) Most certainly, though, I fully intend to finish up the Baptist Faith & Message interaction sub-series in the next six months to a year, and then move on to interact with...probably...the...wait for it...Augsburg Confession! It's a shame I couldn't have started with that one, because one of our very own church members is soon to marry a wonderful Lutheran gentleman and they had to talk through the differences between Reformed and Lutheran theology before they could decide where (and whether!) they would end up together, ecclesiastically. Well Luther won that debate...c'est la vie...and she could do worse than joining our Lutheran brothers, and certainly could do worse than marrying a guy like this one. I'm very excited for their wedding. After the Augsburg Confession, though, I'm not sure what I would like to do next. I could look at the 39 Articles, parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (there's no way I could go through every word of that on here), or I could interact with the object of my very own (qualified) confessional subscription of the Westminster Standards (the Confession or the Confession plus the catechisms). I have plenty of time to decide on that, though.

We'll see what else comes up in my theological journey, but that's all I have planned for now! God bless.

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 11 "Evangelism and Missions"

"It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man's spirit by God's Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ."

There is little, if anything, to criticize in the paragraph of the BF&M regarding evangelism and missions. Therefore that which follows should be understood not so much as any sharp disagreement I have as mere suggestions I would personally have for wording and categorizing things slightly differently from a theological perspective that emphasizes the corporate Church more than Baptist churches--congregationalist and governmentally autonomous by nature--tend to do. I also take mild issue with the particular translation of the Great Commission passage which is assumed here, because of some unintended overtones it often carries.

My first change would be to write a paragraph that makes clear that the Great Commission proper is not given to individual Christians, or even to individual local churches as such, but rather to the universal Church as a whole--the sum of all Christian bodies who faithfully confess the basics of the historic faith and believe the gospel of God's salvation by grace through faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Matthew 28:18-20 is addressed specifically to the "eleven disciples" (v. 16), those who would become official representatives of Christ and of the Church in the first century (although other disciples were probably also present on the mountain then, as well).

The BF&M at points almost makes it sound like the Great Commission is addressed to individual believers (or churches) without any qualification. To be sure, every believer must be involved with the catholic Church's endeavor to fulfill the Commission. But this way of phrasing it points up the second thing I would word differently. I do not believe that the sentence, "It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness," taken in the most absolute sense of every word therein, is biblical or even possible. If all it really is saying is that every believer should be unceasingly concerned that the Church reach the lost, unceasingly (never giving up) personal prayer on behalf of lost friends/family/acquaintances, and unceasingly looking and praying for personal opportunities to verbalize the gospel to lost people, then Amen. But if someone were to take the sentence and try to insist that the normative Christian life for every believer is endeavors of personal evangelism literally whenever possible, I think that would be mistaken.

Far better, I believe, once again, to emphasize the Church as a whole as the institution which is to carry out the Great Commission. When it comes to the individual Christian, then, the charge could look something more like, "It is every believer's duty constantly to use his or her unique gifts to study [promote] his or her own local church's missionary and evangelistic endeavors, to the end of the catholic Church's fulfillment of the Great Commission." This grants significantly more freedom (I believe in a biblical way) for faithful, Great Commission-minded individuals to have Christian lives that look completely different from each other. I believe it does more justice to the picture of 1st Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 with regard to the charismatic gifting of the Church's various parts, and the appropriate divisions of labor.

It also recognizes more of the depth of the Great Commission's actual charge. While the BF&M splits up the section on evangelism and missions from Christian education, it is important that we keep in mind that the Great Commission keeps such things together, and the Church's mission has never been to make converts--it is to make disciples, those who continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord through instruction, exhortation, and all the ordinary means of grace. For this reason there are those in the Church who are especially gifted for teaching and exhortation, whereas others are especially gifted for evangelism. They should model for each other these tasks and learn from each other; nevertheless, not all are gifted alike.

Much that I have said so far could be abused by someone who reads it and thinks, "Ok, well I therefore don't necessarily have any personal responsibility for evangelizing those around me at all." I confess that unless I consciously fight this attitude, I can slip into behavior that fits it. But I don't believe it's a logical result of the theology of Church and mission laid out above. I believe the abuse of what I have said is what logically results in that kind of practice. I am trying to make the picture of Great Commission duties bigger for the Church, and for churches, and for Christian individuals; not smaller. But "bigger" in a certain way.

The gifts are useful for helping each other grow in areas in which we all have responsibility to one degree or another (personal evangelism). But another biblical principle is that much is expected from those to whom much is given (for example, in evangelistic gifting). These principles work together. But it is the Church which is responsible for fulfilling the entire scope of the Great Commission. This is why performing official preaching and administration of the sacraments should be limited (under ordinary circumstances) to officials of the Church (elders, specifically).

Speaking of "scope," my last suggestion at this point would be to abandon the unnecessarily ambiguous language so often used to translate the words of the Great Commission, "make disciples of all [the] nations." I have written about this elsewhere, but to summarize, my basic beef is this: whereas many translations use the ambiguous prepositional phrase "of all the nations," which introduces an ambiguous genitive relationship between "disciples" and "nations," the simple Greek is the verb "to disciple/to teach" with the direct object of "all the nations" in the accusative case. While the ambiguous translation leaves open the possibility of an interpretation that says the Church is to merely make disciples from every nation, the Greek NT simply says "teach/disciples all [the] nations," meaning either "substantially disciple every ethno-linguistic cultural group as a whole" or "teach/disciple the Gentiles as a whole"...the commonality being "as a whole," not a "remnant of believers from every nation."

Against the charge that I am introducing my eschatology unduly here (I am an unashamed postmillennialist), I may answer by saying that I have said nothing thus far in this post which would indicate that I believe the Church necessarily will fulfill this enormous charge (she will, but that's another post), only that the simple grammar of the Greek NT in Matthew 28:18-20 lays out the charge in this way, despite the ESV and NASB. The result of this is not only to challenge any latent pessimillennialism in my readership, but also to render more and more absurd the idea that the Great Commission is or ever could be meaningfully addressed to any individual Christian or local church, and thus to turn the reader's vision again to the corporate, global Church and her massive global charter for discipleship.

The job is enormous. Impossible, really. Except with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and His varied giftings. Let each Christian line up his or her heart more and more with the heart of Christ in the Great Commission and serve the Church in a maximally effective way according to his or her gifting, to the end of completing the Great Commission. And, on the basis of true new-birth love, let no Christian believer--I exhort myself here--ignore the lostness of the lost people around him or her. But for many people, addressing that lostness rather than ignoring it may look like getting more of the Church involved than has often been suggested. Take an evangelistically-gifted friend to meet someone for lunch. Have your small group pray. Get some apologetics training from the pastor-teachers. One body, many parts.

Lord, help us finish the task, and help us help each other.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 10 "Last Things"

"God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with their Lord."

I believe this brief statement of the BF&M regarding the doctrine of last things says almost exactly the right amount concerning biblical eschatology as is appropriate to a basic statement of faith--at least at this stage in Church history. Perhaps one day, there will be more catholic unity regarding even specific end-times questions regarding the timing and nature of the millennium, and detailed points of exegesis in John's Apocalypse, etc.

The BF&M rightly summarizes a number of fundamental beliefs Christians have always held regarding the end of the world:

1) The world is heading somewhere definite, and history as we know it has an omega-point.

2) Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory.

3) The dead will be raised.

4) Jesus Christ will carry out a final judgment, separating righteous (those saved by grace) and unrighteous (those who remain in their sins).

5) The final destiny of every human being is either everlasting punishment or everlasting bliss with the Lord.

#1 contrasts the Christian faith with many Eastern worldviews that see history as cyclical rather than linear and teleological.

#2 contrasts with some heretical sects of pseudo-Christianity who have taken arguably proper insights from certain passages of Scripture regarding 1st-century events of redemptive-historical significance involving the destruction of Jerusalem, and have inappropriately over-applied such a grid so that they believe all references to a future "coming" of Christ, or of resurrection, had to do with that event. The fact remains, however, that the Christian church as a whole has always confessed a literal Second Coming of Christ to earth, bodily.

#3 likewise contrasts with some heretical sects, but it also contrasts with any dualistic worldviews or religions that view the body as fundamentally evil or useless, and as something to be escaped. God created our bodies, and created us as bodily creatures. After the resurrection, such will we always be. Jesus Christ's resurrection is the paradigm of ours in the New Testament, and there is no way to argue that His was not a literal, physical, bodily resurrection.

#4 is clear throughout the New Testament in many different passages, even if some of the traditional passages used to prove it, from a certain theological perspective don't actually refer to it. Acts and 1st Corinthians give some of the clearest references. #4 contrasts with anyone who supposes there will not be a final reckoning, in which all wrongs will be righted, and sins recompensed which were not atoned for in Christ's blood as a gift to be received by the faith of the elect.

#5 contrasts with both universalists and, interpreted according to the original intent of the drafters of the BF&M, every form of conditionalism/annihilationism. Universalism is easily refuted from the Scriptures when they are taken as a whole, and when "universal"-sounding texts are interpreted in a canonical context. "All" those in Christ will be made alive, according to Romans 5, for example. As for conditionalism, I confess I have at times been tempted by the view, but have never been able to fully make the jump, because of Scripture's teaching.

There are many passages which speak in terms that could be understood as "annihilationistic." However, there are also just too many passages that speak of ongoing torment, suffering, and restlessness, to dismiss the traditional understanding of "Hell" (by which the BF&M here is referring to "Gehenna," the final place of the wicked, whatever precisely the intermediate state is like). I believe that the "annihilation" verses can be convincingly interpreted as relative and perspectival (from the perspective of the redeemed) within a traditional system, whereas the "torment" verses cannot be interpreted consistently or convincingly from within a conditionalist framework. In other words, from "Heaven," the wicked are in one sense simply "no more." But in fact they remain in post-resurrection bodies fit for eternal ruin--a horrid thought, indeed, but a biblical thought and one of which sin against a perfect, infinite God is worthy. Is the cross less horrible? It, too, demonstrates God's righteousness.

To wrap up, my only minor qualm with this section of the BF&M is that it leaves bare the language of "Heaven" as the final destiny of the redeemed (the "righteous"), whereas Scripture is emphatic that the eternal state will involve a transformed "New Earth" where God will dwell with His people. Heaven and earth will be fully united, as it were. As symbol-laden as the last couple of chapters of Revelation may be, Romans 8 and similar passages refer to the whole of creation being freed of its bondage to decay when the saints will be glorified with Christ in their resurrection bodies. Thankfully, the BF&M mentions resurrection twice and also speaks of "glorified bodies." But those bodies will inhabit a renewed earth, the inheritance of the meek and those of the faith of Abraham (Matt. 5:5; Rom. 4:13), not just "heaven."

But of course the best thing about the eternal state will be fellowship with Christ utterly unhindered by sin, and even unhindered by physical distance like that which exists between our humanities now (connected as they may mystically be for now, by the Spirit, in a sense). More important than the location is that the final destiny of the righteous is "with the Lord."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 9 "The Kingdom"

"The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God's will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age."

The kingdom of God is a huge topic because it could perhaps be thought of as the central theme of the whole of Scripture, if such a thing exists. Obviously Christ is the Person revealed by all Scripture, and who gives it its cohesion, but it is precisely the kingdom of God which Christ brings about by His coming. For this reason the BF&M section on the kingdom seems relatively short in one sense, but perhaps it is difficult to say too much more about such a huge scriptural theme in a summary statement in a confession or statement of faith.

As they stand I don't have a problem with this section's affirmations. The section acknowledges God's absolute sovereign kingship over all Creation as well as His covenant lordship over His people, which Christians should pray for an ever-greater expression of as more people bow the knee to Christ and enter His kingdom of light through faith in Him.

My only criticisms are aimed at the section's omissions. While my eschatology informs me here, I don't think people who hold to other orthodox views are exempt from considering these ideas as well.

First, while this section acknowledges God's kingship as Creator of all things, God's particular kingship over His own covenant people (those who "willfully acknowledge Him as King"), and even hints at the idea of God's covenant kingdom expanding over the earth and His will being done more and more, progressively as people enter by faith, nothing is explicitly said about Jesus' definitive, right-now, inaugurated kingship over all of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). This is not exactly the same idea as God's general right to rule all creation. It has to do with the redemptive-historical shift that has taken place with the Advent and work of Christ.

The omission of this category, as well as the de-emphasis on the next one of which I will speak, may be due to the prevalence of premillennial (and even, amazingly, sometimes still dispensational) eschatology in baptistic circles. Yet even many premillennialists--although perhaps especially those who follow the strong "already-not-yet" schemes like George Ladd's--can acknowledge that something definitive has happened with the completion of the work of Christ regarding the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.

Scripture is actually very clear on this idea. One cannot read the New Testament without seeing how Jesus, by virtue of His death, resurrection, and ascension, has in a definitive and fundamental way laid claim to all of the earth and is King over it--and over all the people on earth--in a way that God was not King over it before (even though He has always been the Sovereign Creator King in the first sense of which we spoke). Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36; and Ephesians 1:20-22 are a few examples. From a hermeneutical standpoint of receiving the full exegetical weight of the imminent time statements in the didactic portions bookending the rest of the book of Revelation, Rev. 11:15; 12:10 become relevant and demonstrative as well.

The coming of Christ was the apex of earthly history, bringing about definitively in His resurrection the very beginning of New Creation but also the full defeat in principle of all God's enemies, fundamentally sin, death, and Satan. Of course this has yet to be worked out fully in the world and consummated. But it is the definitive reality of Christ's victory that gives the Church great hope and confidence, fueling its missiological zeal. God has reclaimed the whole earth through Christ. He has become the king of the men of earth in a way which has not been a reality since before the Fall. Yahweh promised the king--and ultimately His Messianic Son--the nations in Psalm 2:8 if He would but ask for them. Well, the Son has asked for and received the very power which will enable this to happen (Acts 2:33), and the Church has been echoing this prayer for empowerment for its task ever since--and receiving such. The evidence is the conversion of people from many nations thus far, which brings me to my next point...

While this section of the BF&M mentions praying for the coming of the kingdom, it does not explicitly mention the progressive aspect of the establishment of Christ's kingdom. It speaks of Christ's kingdom of His followers, and it speaks about the day when that kingdom will be consummated--both very important ideas. But there is also, as two of Jesus' well-known kingdom parables (leaven and mustard seed) illustrate, a progressive, non-cataclysmic aspect to the establishment of His kingdom (contra many 1st-century Jewish apocalyptic expectations).

Again, I have a sneaking suspicion that widespread premillennialism in SBC circles accounts for this (minor) omission or de-emphasis. However, I wonder if a sort of "radical two-kingdom" or imbalanced "spirituality-of-the-church" type of missiological mindset is behind this as well (old Southern Presbyterians leaned in this direction at times as well). Baptists have typically held very strong notions of the "separation of church and state," and have avoided heavy involvement in social justice issues and politics as a main part of the Church' mission. It would certainly be wrong to swing all the way to the other side of the spectrum on this issue, minimizing evangelism and being preoccupied with social justice for its own sake, but a more robust missiology related to the cultural mandate could bring needed balance here in some quarters (this kind of a correction seems less needed today among Baptists than it was in the past couple of generations at least in America, by my limited perception of things).

We need to understand that the cultural mandate (the commands for human beings to steward the earth, harness its resources, bear fruit, and multiply, found in Genesis 1-2) is not done away with because of the Fall, much less because of the establishment of the "heavenly" or "spiritual" kingdom of Christ. Man's ability to fulfill the cultural mandate was ruined because of sin. Christ came to take away sin and its effects. Therefore it is part and parcel of salvation and of the ever-expanding (or, "ever-being-more-realized") kingdom of Christ that man is restored to his original capacity as image of God to rule over creation effectively as God's vice-rulers. Hebrews 2:5-8, connecting Psalm 8 (which is about man in general) to the victory of Christ specifically, demonstrates this dynamic.

This is why the Great Commission command to "disciple all nations" includes not only incorporating people into Christ/the Church (baptism), but also instruction in living as God's subjects in all of life by obeying His Law ("teaching them to observe all [Christ has] commanded...") As more and more people do this--and we see the beginning of that progressive process in the book of Acts and beyond, as reflected particularly in Paul's epistles--the Church and the gospel message it proclaims becomes the vehicle for the completion of the cultural mandate, reversing the curse and re-establishing (and one day consummating) God's rule on earth through man His covenant representative. This is why I sometimes refer to my postmillennial convictions more descriptively as "progressive representative dominion restoration." But that's neither here nor there.

In sum, my wish (whoever I am) would most importantly be to insert something explicit in this section of the BF&M about Christ's definitive, "already" Messianic kingship over all heaven and earth (even unbelievers), even though as Hebrews admits, we do not yet see all things subject to Him (Heb. 2:8) because we are awaiting the consummative completion of the earthly, progresive kingdom-building for which we pray in the Lord's prayer.

I believe one of the healthiest things for a Christian to do today, as well as for the Church, on a more cosmic scale, to do, is re-emphasize the definitive realities of positional sanctification (individual microcosm) and the inauguration of Christ's kingdom at His resurrection (global/macrocosm), and then on the basis of that foundation to work on bringing about more of the progressive aspects of sanctification and mission, with a hope for and ultimate view to the consummative, Last Day realities of glorification and the fullness of the kingdom. As many say today, gospel imperatives are based on gospel indicatives in the New Testament (especially in Paul). This is true for the Church and its Great Commission efforts as a whole as well.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 8 "The Lord's Day"

"The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ."

This post is going to be more of me organizing some of my own various thoughts about this topic, than it will be pointed critique or stating firmly settled convictions. That being said, I will lay out some of what a typical Reformed response would be, and I do have a few thoughts of my own on the matter (again, still somewhat in process on this).

Actually let me first start by saying that in my personal experience of Southern Baptist life and culture, of which I was a part throughout much of my college experience, this issue of Sunday as being especially the "Lord's Day" is not frequently talked about or observed very intentionally, even though it is an explicit affirmation of the BF&M. It almost seems like church on Sunday (and perhaps intentional rest from normal work/activities) is more of a continued tradition with some loose relationship to scriptural precedent, and perhaps nothing more. Of course that is almost certainly not the case with every Baptist, or even every Southern Baptist person.

But I often heard teaching or testimony to the effect that taking a "Sabbath" day (a loaded term that needs discussing, below, of course) on another day than Sunday works better for some people, and it doesn't really matter which day is chosen. Other occasions, the teaching was simply that corporate worship happened on Sunday because of some biblical and traditional ideas related to Christ's resurrection, etc., but that Romans 14 and similar passages basically implied that in God's view, no day of the week is inherently different for men than any other, with regard to any religious activity whatsoever. I think this kind of perspective is unfortunate, and I will give some of my more general thoughts on the positive biblical teaching a little later on, which should help explain why I think it is unfortunate.

A typical Reformed perspective on the "Lord's Day" would be as follows: After the coming of Christ, Sunday is the "Lord's Day" and the Christian Sabbath, which all Christians are required by God to observe by resting from normal work (save for "works of necessity and mercy"), gathering for corporate worship involving only the elements of worship explicitly commanded by Scripture, and (depending on the precise perspective) abstaining from recreation and all "secular" activity, taking up the whole day instead with exercises of private and public worship.

The biblical rationale given for this perspective is made along a number of interrelated lines of thought:

  • God's moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, is eternal and binding on all people, everywhere, at all times. It includes the Fourth Commandment concerning Sabbath observance. Jesus' teaching in places like Matthew 5 regarding the perpetuity of God's Law, Paul's frequent appeal to the Decalogue (see Rom. 13:9, for example), and other passages, seem to indicate that the Decalogue continues to be a fully reliable guide for Christian life in obedience to God.

  • The example of the early church in Acts, and as implied by Paul's writings instructing the church at Corinth concerning the giving of financial offerings during first-day worship, show that the New Covenant day for corporate worship (and therefore obviously for rest, since weekly corporate worship and Sabbath observance always went together) is Sunday.

  • Sunday as the Lord's Day/New Covenant Sabbath commemorates Christ's resurrection from the dead, His first appearances to His disciples after His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, all of which happened on Sundays.

  • Sunday as a first-day Sabbath points to the fact that a redemptive-historical shift has taken place, whereby the work of Christ for our salvation has been finished and we begin each week with the thought of resting in Him, and then move into our work. This is not to say that OT believers were actually to believe that they were somehow actually "working" for their salvation, and could only rest after their work was complete. But a seventh-day Sabbath for them pointed to the fact that their spiritual rest in the Messiah was yet an eschatological one--one they still awaited.

  • Sunday as an eighth-day Sabbath, as it were, points to the reality of the beginning of New Creation (the beginning of a "new week"), which began definitively with the resurrection of Christ, whose new life began with rising from a tomb which was situated in a garden, recalling ancient Eden of the first creation (Jn. 19:41). Circumcision, which pointed forward to regeneration (Col. 2:11-13), happened on the eighth day of a newborn's life (Lev. 12:3).

  • While the Messiah has come and we by faith have entered into His rest in a definitive way, we still await His Second Coming at which point He will consummate all things and bring about the fullness of true Sabbath rest for His people. Therefore, since "...there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9) which we must continue to strive to fully enter (v. 11), it is appropriate for us still to have a weekly token of that rest--though it now be at the beginning of the week instead of the end.

  • Jesus teaches directly on the nature of Sabbath observance in a number of places in the gospels, and while His earthly teaching ministry happened during a time when the Mosaic Covenant was still in effect, all of His teaching was forward-pointing and eschatological in a broad sense--that is, His message was fundamentally one of the dawning of the "kingdom of heaven" and its implications for how the people of God should live (by faith, in repentance, in faithful stewardship, doing good works, etc.) Therefore it would be a strange thing for Jesus to spend so much breath on something which would shortly no longer be relevant to the lives of His disciples.

  • The Sabbath itself was not a wholly new institution at the time of the Mosaic Law. Rather, it was instituted at the end of the first creation week when God Himself rested from His work and sanctified the seventh day of the week. It is noteworthy that when the Law is given from Sinai, the Decalogue says to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as if the people already knew about it. To be sure, extra ceremonial accoutrements were added to the Sabbath in the Mosaic Law, as well as extra "High Sabbath" days book-ending certain feasts Israel was to observe. Still, the fact remains that at least the concept of a weekly Sabbath, if nothing else, was present long before the Law, and therefore has application beyond the religious life of Old Covenant Israel.

  • The two passages from the New Testament most often cited as clear counter-evidence against the idea of a New Covenant command to observe some kind of Sabbath, Romans 14:5-6 and Colossians 2:16-17, may be read in their contexts as only speaking to ceremonial Sabbaths added by the Mosaic Law and/or the Mosaic, seventh-day Sabbath only, as over against the New Covenant Lord's Day Sabbath on Sunday.

Well it's almost enough to make you a Puritan! Almost.

I agree with much of the hermeneutical, redemptive-historical, and typological motion in the traditional Reformed arguments given above. Theologically, especially biblical-theologically, it all makes very good sense to me. Here are my main reservations I still have:

  • I've yet to be fully convinced by some Reformed exegesis of Romans 14 and Colossians 2, particularly of Colossians 2:16. It may be that the "Sabbath" mentioned here only refers to ceremonial Sabbaths, however, it still seems to me much more natural to take it as including weekly Sabbaths (at least Old Covenant weekly Sabbaths). Some have pointed out the possibility that the list, " moon...Sabbath" should be read as descending from yearly, to monthly, to weekly Jewish religious observances under the Law (and therefore as including weekly Sabbaths). That may or may not be an ultimately helpful exegetical point by itself. But when one considers v. 17, which says, "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ," one has to wonder whether the Old Covenant weekly Sabbath was not also a shadow of Christ, who is its substance (of course it was!), and therefore whether it is not also in view in v. 16.

    If that point is well received (and perhaps it still is not by some), the only exegetical move a traditional Reformed Sabbatarian can make now is to say that Col. 2:16 is only referring to the weekly Sabbath in its Old Covenant, seventh-day form, which has passed away with the Mosaic Law and is now a matter of adiaphora and conscience--optional practice for (especially Jewish) Christian believers; whereas the observance of the new weekly Lord's Day Sabbath on Sunday is still required by God. If the Lord's Day has truly replaced the Old Covenant Sabbath, this line of thought is very possible theologically. But Paul simply doesn't argue that way, at least here. Here he emphasizes the fulfillment of the Sabbath in Christ, not in a new kind of Sabbath.

    Now the only move that a Reformed Sabbatarian can make, at least related to this passage, is to say that such Sabbatic fulfillment in Christ's person and work results in the kind of first-day shift of Sabbath observance which is articulated in Reformed confessions, commemorating Christ's work and anticipating His return to consummate the kingdom and bring full Sabbath rest to His people. But one cannot extract all of that theology out of Colossians 2. The case must be built elsewhere, along other lines summarized above.

    In sum, I don't think the Colossians 2 objection is as weak as it is sometimes treated by Reformed writers (though I still have plenty of reading to do on this). Then again, I don't think it necessarily destroys the Reformed view. I do think it at least challenges some facile Reformed constructions of the theology of the Sabbath (more on my current thoughts on that, below).

  • Along similar lines as some of the thoughts just above, the Sabbaths (all of them, presumably) were specifically made a sign of the Old Covenant between God and the Israelites in the Law (Ex. 31:13), and as the whole New Testament teaches, all the Law and the Prophets pointed forward to and are fulfilled by Christ. To be sure, this cannot mean that the general moral commandments of the Law can be overthrown or ignored now! But so much of the outward religious activity of ancient Israel under Moses--those things which distinguished Israel as a nation even from exceptional, righteous people from Gentile nations (brought to faith in Israel's God by His own grace alone, of course)--are relativized by the New Testament emphasis on the inclusion of Gentiles (now en masse) in God's covenant dealings with man, through Christ. Things that were as central to Jewish identity as circumcision are now treated as being, in one sense, irrelevant (Gal. 6:15). It is not hard to understand weekly Sabbath observance as being in the same category, unless it can somehow be established that the weekly Sabbath is definitely part of that general moral teaching from the Law which continues forever (in one form or another)...

  • And perhaps that can be done by appeal to the existence of the weekly Sabbath before the Law, as I set that argument forth above. However, strictly speaking, there is no explicit commandment in Scripture before the giving of the Law regarding the way in which the Sabbath should be observed. Moreover, outside of Jesus' teachings on Sabbath-keeping during His run-ins with corrupt Jewish authorities (still under the Mosaic Law), and the writer to the Hebrew's redemptive-historical interpretation of Sabbath and promised-land-rest, the New Testament is silent on "keeping the Sabbath" in as many words. This may be too strict of a linguistic test for whether or not the New Testament is concerned with Christian Sabbath-keeping, but if Reformed Sabbatarians are right, it does seem a strange thing in comparison to the Old Testament's repeated and emphatic exhortations to Sabbath-keeping and condemnations of related failures on Israel's part.

    Arguments from silence like this can be shaky by themselves, but they are sometimes worth considering when the silence is deafening, and Paul's pen screams silence when it comes to commanding or regulating Christian "Sabbath"-keeping, at least in as many words. He speaks of first-day Christian worship, to be sure. And John, the recipient of the Revelation, speaks of being in the Spirit on the "Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10), very presumably a Sunday, regarded as being somehow especially the "Lord's Day" by the early Christian community. But whereas the New Testament epistles explicitly quote the Decalogue with regard to the commands against stealing, murder, adultery, coveting, etc., they never quote the Fourth Commandment. Perhaps the redemptive-historically-signficant shift to first-day observance would simply render quoting the Fourth Commandment straight from the Decalogue inappropriate. Still, it gives me a little pause.

So what do I believe, exactly?

At the time of writing, I subscribe to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I am a member in good standing of a church in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) which holds to those standards (although it does not require all members to subscribe to it fully). However, I subscribe to it with some minor exceptions/scruples (as is the case even with many ordained ministers in Presbyterian denominations, who can submit to their presbytery any exceptions they take to the Confession, and the presbytery can judge whether it is a minor enough exception that ordination/(continued) licensure is still acceptable).

I do not take exception to the basic theology of Sabbath given in the Confession. It fits well with a robust biblical theology of New Creation and eschatology, and is consonant with a good covenantal hermeneutic that results in strong continuity of moral norms across Scripture, even where certain commandments are not explicitly repeated in the New Testament.

The only qualifications I would perhaps want to make at this point (and again, I'm still somewhat in process on this issue) are the following:

  • I prefer to speak of the Lord's Day not as "the Christian Sabbath" or "the New Covenant Sabbath," but rather simply as "the Lord's Day" which is the New Covenant analogue of Israel's Sabbath. This is less due to any aberrant definition of the so-called "Christian Sabbath" I hold to (I still believe it requires corporate worship and rest from normal work, barring necessity or mercy), and more due to the absence of New Testament passages referring explicitly to the Lord's Day as a "Sabbath" (and the strong possibility that Colossians 2 weighs against the use of such language). Perhaps calling it a mere "analogue" is misleading since I believe it is, in fact, just like the old "Sabbath" in many ways. Maybe I'll come up with a better word some day, but for now, that's what I have.

  • I think this topic is biblically and hermeneutically complex, and I am not sure or dogmatic about it at this point.

  • I do not believe that the Westminster Confession's strong language prohibiting ", words, and thoughts about...worldly...recreations" or stating the necessity for the whole day to be "taken the public and private exercises of [God's] worship..." is appropriate if it is taken to mean that Christians may not do anything else on Sundays except private and public worship/devotion.

    There is certainly a kind of frivolous concern with worldly entertainments that many of us American Christians need to guard against (at all times, but especially on the Lord's Day), lest Sunday morning worship become a mere check-list-item prelude to a day of selfish indulgence without any further thought of Christ, prayer, or meditation on the Word (I'm exhorting myself here).

    Related to the debate about "recreation," I do not believe the classic passage in Isaiah 58 about "going your own way" on the Sabbath condemns "doing anything else but devotional activities on the Sabbath," but rather condemns a general spirit of autonomy and the eclipse of God and His worship in our minds by distracting concerns especially of our livelihood (for which we should trust God ultimately, not ourselves or our work). Just as the Lord's Day is a token from God to us of the fullness of rest promised to us in Christ on the Last Day, it is a token from us to God of our trust in His provision for us.

  • Regarding whether we should participate at all in the world's economy on the Lord's Day by purchasing goods or services, I think it is a difficult question. On the one hand, people argue that we should not contribute to causing other people to sin by working on the Lord's Day--Christian or not. On the other hand, it is sometimes argued that for some persons and situations, it can be more conducive to resting well on the Sabbath to take the family out for lunch or dinner somewhere, that it is not really causing anyone else to break the Sabbath to do such a thing, and/or that the Sabbath-keeping of non-Christians or Christians not in one's own church is not one's own responsibility.

    In principle, I think it is generally--depending on the situation!--better to abstain from participation in the economy (even as a consumer) on the Lord's Day, which is very often, if not always, relatively simple through due preparation, "ordering of...common affairs beforehand" (WCF XXI:viii). In practice, I have been pretty shaky here. I also will go out to eat with other Christians who have no scruples of doing so on Sunday, if it seems an opportunity for a very edifying time of fellowship for us. I don't know if this is hypocritical or otherwise wrong, but again, I am in process and hope to have firmer convictions on such issues in the future.

In sum, I agree with the general Reformed view in theology if not in terminology at every point, but I do not have hard and fast convictions about this yet. If the most conservative Reformed theologians are right, many Christians and Christian groups are and have been in gross sin in this area for many decades (not unthinkable). If the Reformed are wrong, however, there is a danger of judging brothers and sisters in Christ for something which is biblically a matter of adiaphora.

As for me, the theology makes decent sense (although the exegesis is patchy, humanly speaking), and the Sabbath was made for man (Mk. 2:27), that is, for our good. So why not?! The Sabbath was a gift of God, and at the very least, the New Tesatment doesn't condemn observance of it. It seems appropriate, wise, and consistent with biblical and ecclesial history and tradition to set apart one day in seven to give special attention to the corporate worship of God, and (very appropriately, I think) family and private devotion, and rest from normal work and concerns. I'm going to keep it up, for it has blessed me.

As for the BF&M, I might wish it included the requirement of rest from normal work, and at least was layered with some biblical theology of New Creation, which would connect it theologically with ideas of Sabbath and rest. Given how tentative my own convictions are for now, though, perhaps I can't say too much here about wishing for "Sabbath" language to be inserted explicitly.

I think what I want more than anything is for Southern Baptists to more fully live up to what is already there in their statement of faith. Sunday is the Lord's Day and it is special in some way or other, and should be treated as such. Should conscience be the only guide for what is acceptable activity on Sunday, per the BF&M? Well, if the Reformed view is correct (and I think it basically is), there are some restrictions, namely the prohibition against normal work save for mercy or necessity.

But let us for now all continue to love each other into greater understanding of the scriptural teaching on this and other complex issues of the Christian life, exhorting each other to greater holiness, to be sure, but also exercising patience, mercy, and humility toward one another as we seek the will of God in His Word. I confess I have a hard time thinking that will not involve or even result in taking the Lord's Day a bit more seriously (and joyously!) in every quarter of the Church...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 7 "Baptism and the Lord's Supper" Part 2

"The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming."

The Baptist Faith & Message continues to lay out its view of the two "ordinances" of Christ (what other traditions call "sacraments") that the Church is to observe with this single sentence about the Lord's Supper. To be honest, I'm pretty disappointed with this section of the BF&M, because I know that even Baptists who do not self-identify as Reformed or even agree with much of the Reformed tradition's sacramental theology at all could still have said much more than is said here about the nature and significance of the Lord's Table.

Everything affirmed here is true as far as it goes: 1) there is symbolism in the Supper; 2) it is an act of obedience to observe it; 3) members of the church (depending on exactly what one means by this, and leaving aside for now the question of open/closed communion) are the appropriate participants (and since I would include baptized infants and very young children of professing believers in the category "members of the church" I would qualify further, because of 1 Corinthians 11 and the symbolism of the Supper itself by saying that only "members of the church who can intelligibly profess personal faith in Christ" should partake); 4) it consists of partaking of bread and of "fruit of the vine" (c'mon, guys, it's wine, in accord with OT symbolism of New Covenant blessing); 5) it memorializes Christ's death; and 6) it anticipates His return (1 Cor. 11:26).

But even those outside the Reformed tradition could add, as almost all Bible-believing evangelicals believe together: 1) the Supper expresses the unity of the Church in union with Christ and therefore with each other, each individual being a part of the whole body; 2) it has at least something to do with covenant--particularly the New Covenant in Christ's blood (cf. Luke 22:20); 3) it pictures not only Christ's past death but also our present, continuing need of Him for our ongoing spiritual sustenance; 4) "partaking unworthily" of the Supper, whatever precisely one takes that to mean, may result in disciplinary (or worse) judgment for the one partaking.

As a Reformed confessionalist I would not only like to see the above things added to the BF&M, but I would add two basic elements to move toward a full-orbed biblical doctrine of the Lord's Supper: 1) that the elements and their use in the supper are sacramental signs and seals of the benefits of Christ (or His judgment for unworthy partakers, but the accent here is on blessing through faith and faithful partaking); and 2) the presence of and our union with Christ in the Supper.

Here some of my more neo-Zwinglian-leaning evangelical friends may wonder whether I have detached myself too far from biblical texts and have too readily embraced things from a certain tradition that still has a lot of baggage from Roman Catholic theology. Certainly there are some who are of the opinion that paedobaptism is an unfortunate vestige of Roman Catholicism retained by the magisterial reformers, rather than an organic result of biblical exegesis and proper application of a covenantal hermeneutic. I have engaged in that difficult debate elsewhere, but rest assured that I think in the case of the Lord's Supper I can explain the biblical basis for a distinctively Reformed understanding of it without resorting to wild, speculative, Eastern mysticism, Aristo-Thomistic sacramentalism, or anything else funky.

I will also be the first to say that isolated quotes from Calvin on the Lord's Supper are less than helpful here for someone just being introduced to a distinctively Reformed sacramentology. He seems hopelessly contradictory on these matters at some points because he is constantly fencing his audience from misunderstanding him as agreeing with Luther (who believed in a physical, bodily presence of Christ in the elements), or as agreeing with Zwingli (who believed a good distance in the opposite direction, toward mere memorialism, although some historians have debated whether modern evangelical "memorialism" is precisely what Zwingli himself believed). In other words, when you read Calvin on the Supper, he sounds like a Lutheran or even a Roman Catholic when arguing against Zwinglianism, and he sounds like a modern, non-Reformed evangelical Baptist when arguing against the Lutheran and Roman Catholic views.

To give one example, from 'Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of Our Lord', Calvin writes: "Thirdly, they ought also to hold for certain, that the Lord gives us in the Supper that which he signifies by it, and, consequently, that we truly receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ."

But in the same treatise, he also writes: "... in order to exclude all carnal fancies, we must raise our hearts upwards to heaven, not thinking that our Lord Jesus is so debased as to be enclosed under some corruptible elements."

Anybody confused yet? Don't despair.

Let's start with the first distinctive I want to add to a biblical conception of the Lord's Supper: its sacramental nature as "covenantal sign and seal." The Westminster Confession of Faith says, in Ch. XXVII.-I. that "Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace." The language of "sign and seal" shows up explicitly in Romans 4, applied to Abraham's circumcision. "Sign" is the idea of "picture," or "symbol," as we might expect. "Seal" is the idea of an official stamp or pledge, made by a king or covenant Lord to testify to His faithfulness to His promises to His vassal people. Paul says circumcision was a "...seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was uncircumcised..." (Rom. 4:11). God declared Abraham righteous by faith when he believed God's promise to make him the father of many nations (Gen. 15:6), and then gave him circumcision as a sign (which we learn a little more about from Col. 2), and as a "seal" or pledge of the fact that he was counted righteous by faith.

In Colossians 2, circumcision and its New Testament analogue (not mere "replacement"--that's a caricature of Reformed sacramentology that some Reformed writers have admittedly earned for themselves) of baptism come rushing together and find their fullest significance in Christ's person and work, and in the faith of regenerate believers who are united to Him through that faith. While water baptism symbolizes additional things in the New Covenant, it does not signify less than what circumcision did, and so as the New Covenant initiation rite it seems entirely appropriate to conceive of baptism as both a covenant sign and seal of the righteousness (and cleansing, indwelling of the Spirit, regeneration (cf. Titus 3:5), etc. etc.) that believers have through faith-union with the risen Christ.

There is a more direct route to get here, though, really. And it is found in the mere word "remembrance," in all the Last Supper passages in the gospels, as well as in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. What we modern Westerners must always keep in mind is that Ancient Near Eastern, and particularly Jewish, conceptions of "knowing" and "remembering" went beyond mere cognition or even mere cognition plus sentimental emotion. Such notions were always connected with deep ideas of identity and relationships. So in the context of a meal explicitly said to be related to "covenant" (again, cf. Luke 22:20), and instituted on the night of Passover--a covenant celebration of the ancient Exodus from Egypt--as arguably the new Passover meal in celebration of the "New Exodus" in Christ (this theme is easily detected throughout the NT writings)--the idea of "remembrance" should be understood as covenant remembrance.

So it is remembrance in the sense of being reminded (ideally weekly?) who we Christians are as the people of God, because of what He has done and what He has promised still to do for us in Jesus Christ our saving covenant Lord. The Supper is a special reminder because it involves more of our physical senses in experiencing the proclamation of the gospel in both words and pictures/food. It is, as my pastor put it once, the Holy Spirit "putting His hand on your shoulder in affirmation once again" that you belong to Christ. It is one of the ways God regularly seals to us the truths of the precious gospel in which we put our oft-feeble faith.

What of the presence of Christ in the Supper, or of our union with Him in/through the Supper, or of our really and truly receiving Him and His benefits in a unique way at the Supper? Let me rush through some groundwork here.

The Reformed view of Christ rejects certain conceptions of the communicatio idiomatum (the communication of attributes between the natures of Christ) which posit the divine nature communicating anything essential to deity to the human nature, lest Christ's true human nature be compromised. Roman Catholics and Lutherans have unique responses to this, but this is why sacramental Calvinists reject the idea that Christ's physical body and blood are localized in any way in the elements of bread and wine in the Supper. The incarnate Christ is and forever will be a real human being.

To be sure, the fullness of His divine person cannot be contained within His human nature (resulting in what we call the extra Calvinisticum; sorry, Barth, liberals, Kenoticists, process theologians, et al.). But that doesn't deny the fact that the eternal Son has forever joined to Himself a true human nature, in order to be a fit representative for and to His people in His threefold Messianic office (prophet, priest, king). In order to be a true human being, His human nature cannot be omnipresent or spatially "ubiquitous." Moreover, at an even more basic level, sacramentologies that insist on the idea that we must physically ingest the body and blood of the Messiah really just miss the point of the covenantal language and imagery in Scripture.

So Reformed theologians reject "transubstantiation" (the Roman Catholic view that the substance of the bread and wine fully transforms into the body and blood, though retaining the appearance of bread and wine), as well as "consubstantiation," one way the Lutheran view has been articulated (though some Lutherans prefer other ways of expressing it) which posits the physical presence of Christ's body and blood "in, with, and under" the elements. We do not physically ingest Christ's physical body or blood.

Instead we believe that in the Supper, we truly experience, in a way unique from everyday Christian life, the covenantal realities of our participation in/fellowship with/union with Christ which results in our spiritual nourishment and blessing through faith. Christ is always present with us (Matt. 28:20). In fact, God is always present everywhere. But He also condescends to be specially and covenantally with His people in unique ways throughout redemptive history and even still today. This is the "Immanuel principle" of Scripture which is ultimately fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit--the Spirit of Christ. Because Christ's finished work and the outpouring of the Spirit have such corporate implications and indeed one may say focuses in the NT, should we be at all taken aback by the idea that when Christ's Church, composed of members who are individually united to Him by faith, meets corporately on a Sunday morning to celebrate the Lord's Supper together, that He would be present with them in a special way at that time?

The classic scriptural foundation for this idea, apart from the overall patterns of redemptive history in God's "coming down" to savingly be with His people and His giving them ceremonies which point to and help them understand His saving acts for them, is 1 Corinthians 10, in which Paul, warning against idolatry, says, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16). The word "sharing" here, also translated "participation" or "communion" refers to the idea of "fellowship." So the question of what, if anything, "mystical" happens in the Lord's Supper is better answered in relational categories than metaphysical ones. It is the fact that we are, together with each other, experiencing and expressing our real relationship with Christ, the host of our covenant meal, in a unique way, that makes it appropriate to speak of Christ's presence in the Supper.

Let us speak further of this idea of "presence," though. Earlier I noted that Reformed theologians reject the idea that Christ's physical body becomes localized in the elements. This is not to say that we only commune with Christ's divine nature in the Supper, since it alone is omnipresent. Like I said before, the person of the Logos is forever now incarnated as the God-man, Jesus Christ. It is only because He has taken on a human nature that we can have a blessed relationship with Him at all! So we must understand that in the Supper, it is not that He physically comes down to us to be in the elements, but rather that through the Holy Spirit who accomplishes our union with Him in the first place (1 Cor. 12:13), we are in a sense spiritually "lifted to heaven" (don't bawk! cf. Eph. 2:6) to dine there with Him in His presence, partaking of created tokens of bread and wine which signify and seal to us His provision for us, and which we use to signify to God our dependence on and trust in this provision.

This same idea of union with Christ helps to explain how Reformed theologians can also say that by partaking of the Lord's Supper in a worthy/appropriate manner (faith and repentance, and recognition of our union with the rest of the body of Christ in the Spirit, in love), we receive once again Christ and all His benefits. The Westminster Confession says in XXVII.-VII. "Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death..." (my emphases).

That's it! This really is some kind of medieval, high sacramentalism that denies salvation by faith. Right?

Not quite. This statement of the Confession used to confuse me because I wondered how it could be, for example, that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone through the hearing and believing of the gospel (which the Confession affirms in the strongest terms), and yet that we receive "all benefits of [Christ's] death" "in this sacrament" also. So which is it?

Again, union with Christ is really the controlling category for all the rest that the NT has to say about salvation in the gospel, and it is in the context of union with Christ that we receive all the benefits of salvation that we experience as Christians: justification, adoption, sanctification, baptism with the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifting, perseverance in faith, ultimate glorification, etc. And it is not as if we are justified through faith-union with Christ on the first day we believe and then this becomes an unimportant artifact of our past Christian experience as we continue to walk with Christ. In fact, although justification is in a sense a punctiliar and permanent event, one may even speak of Christ's intercession as "maintaining" (infallibly) our justification in the face of Satan's and others' continued accusations of us (cf. Rom. 8:33-34 in the work of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

The reality is that we need more than a few positional changes and ontological transformations in order to be saved. We need a vital connection to and relationship with the One in whom God is redeeming the world. So God's Spirit unites us to this One, Jesus Christ, and in Him and Him alone gives us everything we need to be saved; and it's a package deal. We must distinguish but never separate, for New Testament believers, regeneration, baptism in the Spirit, justification, sanctification, adoption, etc. The Christ in whom we are justified is the same Christ in whom we receive power to live increasingly holy lives, until the Last Day when His saving work in us is complete.

So I disagree with those who say that justification is by faith alone and therefore has nothing to do with sacraments, and so really all the sacraments help us with is sanctification. If we are speaking of the timeline of a believer's life, I suppose there's a sense in which that's true--consider a person who's never been to church who comes to faith in the gospel by hearing out an evangelist at his door, who then quickly joins a church and begins participating in communion. When was he justified? When he believed. When did he really start accessing some of the greatest means of sanctification God has given His people? When he joined the church and started communing with that body, which happens in a quintessential way at the Table.

But they weren't two different Christs whose saving power He accessed by faith alone and then by faithful participation in communion. In fact, the person began to be sanctified as soon as he believed on Christ, and his justification was still being maintained by Christ's intercession and being sealed to him afresh when he began to enjoy the Lord's Table together with other believers.

In sum, I think the Reformed view takes fuller account of the real, if difficult to understand, mystical realities that Scripture itself points to repeatedly--"mystical" in the sense of our being truly united in some unseen, intangible way to Christ by faith--including and perhaps especially including passages about the Lord's Supper. There's nothing creepy or "magical" going on when we eat the bread and drink the wine; it's just that God condescends so far as to meet us where we are in our feeble faith, to be present with us weekly (?) in this unique way He has appointed, to encourage us, to nourish our faith, to edify us, to remind us of our identity in covenant with Him and with each other through Christ, and--as others affirm--to point us forward to the Day when we will all sit down with Christ in the New Creation to sup with Him, and to experience His presence with physical, resurrected eyes in place of the dim eyes of faith--however aided by tangible signs and seals they may be--which we must use for now.

The BF&M is right to say that the Lord's Supper is a "symbolic act of obedience." But if that's about the amount of information we want to include about the Supper in a statement of faith, I'd prefer it start out with, or just leave it at, "The Lord's Supper is a gracious, divine act of assurance..." Our faith, our worthy partaking, and our memorializing of Christ's death with the elements, are all important. But underlying all these things is that which God does for us in uniting us to Christ, and in indeed giving us Christ again in a unique way every time we observe the Supper.

As with baptism, the Reformed emphasis is God's gracious initiative resulting in our response of faith, repentance, thankfulness, and worship. Not to say Baptists deny these things at all; but I find Reformed sacramentology more consonant with such emphases (an emphasis I find in the NT). I also find it less reminiscent of the rationalism of some modern Western thought than some contemporary evangelical perspectives on the sacraments, however much I'd want to distance myself from the extremes of some Eastern subjectivism and mysticism.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 7 "Baptism and the Lord's Supper" Part 1

"Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

Characteristically of baptistic evangelicals in America, this section of the BF&M on baptism lays out a credobaptistic, memorialistic/symbolistic, subjectivistic view of the ordinance of baptism. I think what I most appreciate about it, as a covenantal paedobaptist, is its explicit connection of the symbolism with the objective work of Christ in history, in His death and resurrection.

To be sure, baptism is closely related to faith and the heart-enlivening work of the Spirit in the New Covenant. But I fear that sometimes Baptist expressions of the significance of baptism (ironically) focus so much on the subjective, personal-faith-related aspects of the observance of the ordinance that they eclipse or minimize the gracious, objective realities of "redemption accomplished" which baptism not only points to, but I would argue (based on texts like Romans 6, Colossians 2, and 1 Peter 3), sacramentally communicates (which communication as a "visible/tangible gospel proclamation" benefits the one who exercises faith and brings cursing to the one who rejects those promises).

Actually, even many modern credobaptist theologians (including several who contributed to 'Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ', ed. Thomas R. Schreiner) use stronger language than "symbolizing" to refer to the effects of baptism. Some of them limit the spiritual effect to an idea of special "assurance." Others state it more vaguely. I think it best to conceive of baptism (and the Lord's Supper, which is the next topic) as a visible and tangible word of the whole gospel coming from God through the Church to man, and also as a ritual through which faith and vital union with Christ and His ecclesial body can be expressed (I think this basically works as a judgment of charity for the baptism of young children, as well as a means of grace to them in picturing God's initiative in saving helpless individuals and the objective historical accomplishment of redemption in Christ, and in normally working through the covenant unit of families to bring up children in the faith--so I take Acts 2:38-39 as implying, to a Jewish ear especially, that children of New Covenant believers are still recipients of the covenant promises and a true part of the covenant community, and as such should still receive the sign of formal initiation into the covenant; cf. my long note on the topic elsewhere).

I find the statement "It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead" interesting because I don't recall off-hand any New Testament text that explicitly makes that connection, apart from the general idea of belief in Christ's middle-of-history resurrection being part and parcel of saving faith. Nevertheless, in the book of Acts especially, the question of resurrection at the end of history, connected with final judgment, is front and center and repeatedly connected to Christ's resurrection. So I think it's a perfectly legitimate and important connection! I had never given this line in the BF&M much attention before, but I really like it!

The last line, "Being a church ordinance, [baptism] is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper," may be offensive to many modern evangelicals, but represents an answer to a question no early church father would have ever thought to ask. In the first century, there was no such thing as an "unbaptized Christian" or "unbaptized member of the Church." Holding to a more strongly "sacramental" view of baptism as I do, I should be clear here that I do not believe that the rite of water baptism itself is always, for every person, utterly necessary for salvation. It does not operate ex opere operato guaranteeing true spiritual regeneration for the baptizand; nor does its neglect, however unfortunate (or rebellious, depending on the circumstances) prevent the Spirit from doing His saving work. Regeneration of the heart by the Spirit, resulting in faith in Christ (at whatever level of maturity that faith can be expressed), is what ultimately counts. Nevertheless, it is God's ordinary way of salvation that a believer in Christ be a baptized and active member of a local church body. Baptism is the God-ordained way to express formal membership in the Church and initiation into the covenant of grace today.

A final word, on the issue of the mode of baptism: I simply have not studied the issue enough to say much about it here. For now suffice it to say that if I were convinced in the near future that immersion is the only biblical mode of baptism, I would probably go the Luther (not Lutheran) and Eastern Orthodox route and advocate dunking babies. Yes. Let the protestations commence...

In sum, as a paedobaptist, predictably, I detect a slight over-emphasis of the subjective in the BF&M's discussion of the significance of baptism and an under-emphasis on the objective (although I certainly appreciate the explicit connection made once to the historia salutis in the second sentence--although even there it is couched as the object of faith). I don't think I would actually be alone on this, though, if you asked some scholarly credobaptists like Don Carson and Tom Schreiner what they thought! Many theologians of differing covenantal and sacramental perspectives today recognize the almost inarticulable richness of the sacraments in their symbolism, the mysterious ministry of the Spirit through them, the subjective-objective connections made in them, the Incarnational analogies that can be drawn from them, the eschatological overtones of them, etc., etc., etc.

God in His infinite wisdom and mercy has given us very great gifts in these beautiful rituals His Church is to observe! This includes the covenant initiation sign of baptism. And these precious ordinances/sacraments point to and indeed in some way or another even communicate the ultimate gift of Christ Himself, to whom we are united by faith, through the ineffable working of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 6 "The Church"

"A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation."

This brief statement summarizes well a congregationalistic, credobaptistic doctrine of the local church. There is much I am in agreement with here: "associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ...seeking to extend the gospel...democratic processes...Its scriptural officers are pastors and of pastor limited to men..." etc. There are disagreements I have, though.

But before moving on to critique I will make some concessions here: 1) I have not adequately studied evangelical egalitarian interpretations of 1 Tim. 2:12 to be willing to die on the hill of limiting preaching/eldership to men, although the complementarian perspective on this issue seems more consonant to me with passages about the family like Eph. 5, etc., which I think are obvious in their complementarian thrust; 2) I have not studied scholarly defenses of congregational polity over against presbyterian polity, to which I tentatively hold at the moment.

It does seem to me, however (again from a place of not having studied church government very much yet), that the New Testament presents the local church as an entity which is not utterly autonomous in its governmental procedures, even though there is a strong democratic element, e.g. in the election of officers.

1) While the apostolic period was admittedly very unique in some ways with regard to the organization of the church, the classic proof text for Presbyterian polity, Acts 15:2, suggests that there may be a precedent for a sort of regional "higher court" of elders since Paul and Barnabas and others went up to Jerusalem to get a decision from the apostles and elders there with regard to the Gentile observances issue.

2) Several of the proof texts actually offered in this section of the BF&M point to the fact that democratic election of officers is complemented by a measure of top-down appointment or confirmation of the selections (cf. Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; cf. also Acts 6:1-6, esp. v. 6). This precedent of balancing bottom-up democratic election with top-down appointment/confirmation can be seen, from one perspective, to have been set as far back as Moses in the wilderness (cf. Deut. 1:13-15).

3) It does seem biblical, however, given the persistent pattern in Acts and the pastoral epistles of having a plurality of elders, that at least since the passing away of the apostolic age, or at very least after the unique needs of the first century or two of the Church's existence, there is no need or precedent for singular "bishops" to exercise a large measure of authority over a particular region of churches (as in episcopal polity).

The BF&M rightly identifies the two and only two "ordinances" or sacraments of Christ for the church: baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Roman Catholic Church includes seven rituals under the title of "sacrament" in its complex system of the means of grace which operate ex opere operato. In contrast, all Protestants within the broadly Reformed stream of church history--even modern credobaptistic offshoots--only recognize those signs and seals of the New Covenant in Christ which Christ Himself directly instituted during His earthly ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 11; Matt. 28) as ordinances or sacraments regularly to be observed and administered by the Church. There are other means of grace, to be sure, but only baptism and the Lord's Supper qualify as the ordinances/sacraments officially administered by the New Covenant church which holds the "keys" of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 16, 28).

Connected to this issue, of course, is the question of credobaptism vs. paedobaptism. The BF&M states, of course, that "A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers." This statement limits true church membership to believers with a credible, visible profession of faith in Christ, and therefore by necessity excludes the infants and very young children of believers. Here is not the place for a fuller discussion of the evidence for and against covenantal paedobaptism (the next section of the BF&M focuses on Christ's two ordinances).

Suffice it for now to say that many committed, Bible-believing, evangelical Protestant Christians throughout the last 500 years have believed that the New Testament itself authorizes the baptism of the young children of one or more believing parent and recognizes their membership in the church. This doesn't necessarily mean they are already regenerate persons but says that they are true members of the covenant community who partake of and hopefully grow up "improving" (in the archaic sense of the term), by faith, its ordinary means of grace. Credobaptists are limited to applying much looser language of blessed "association" and "prospective membership" to the young children of church members. I believe this creates unnecessary biblical and practical tension in the way a church relates to the children of its believing members, and particularly in Christian parenting.

One final comment on the value of this section of the BF&M would be that I appreciate its affirmation of the category of the "universal church" including all the redeemed of all ages. This relates closely to the Apostle's Creed's affirmation of the "communion of saints." While we don't want to push this to a Romanist extreme of communicating with departed saints, as if we needed to ask them to pray for us or to even somehow exercise heavenly power in our favor, we should always bear in mind that the present Church Militant is not the full extent of Christ's body.

In sum, there is much commendable material in this section of the BF&M. My main lines of critique, from a Presbyterian perspective, have to do with how I perceive excessive individualism and autonomy in Baptist government and theology of church membership. To be sure, "In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord." However, I believe the New Testament continues a greater degree of corporate solidarity both in the family, and in the government of the Church beyond the level of the local church, than the BF&M perspective recognizes.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 5 "God's Purpose of Grace" Part 2

"All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."

Appropriately following a paragraph on election, this brief statement of "eternal security" or the "perseverance of the saints" is wholly and demonstrably biblical, and a crucial objective element of Christian assurance. Believers need to have biblical reasons why they will not wake up an unbeliever the next morning.

Some observations:

"All true believers" rightly presupposes that there are professing believers--possibly even self-deceived about their own condition (cf. Matt. 7)--who will not stand in the Last Judgment.

"...but shall persevere to the end" points up the fact that eternal security is, in the words of John Piper, less like a vaccination and more like therapy. The point of that analogy is not that our cooperation with God's keeping and sanctifying grace is the decisive factor (it is not), but simply that it is necessary. Sanctification and perseverance unto the end is not an auto-pilot reality. It is a process of discipleship and growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ which by nature involves our own willing, our struggle to delight in God above all else, our lives of prayer and obedience.

One of the most prominent features of the New Covenant itself, besides the fulfillment of all sacrifice as provision for forgiveness of sins in Christ's death, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the writing of the Law on human hearts. Our existence is one of union with the risen Christ, in the inaugurated realm of the Spirit and New Creation. This ensures two things: 1) we are eternally secure in this new sphere of Spirit-dominated resurrection life, and 2) these realities by nature change and move the hearts of true believers to faith, repentance, and Spirit-empowered obedience and covenant faithfulness (imperfect in this life).

"Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation" acknowledges the reality that I mentioned was so important to understand in the section on sanctification, namely, that it is an incomplete process in this life. Even the most seasoned saint retains indwelling sin in this life. Only in the presence of the Lord, absent the body, and later more visibly on the Last Day of resurrection, will sin be eradicated from redeemed man forever. Nevertheless, the BF&M does well to go on and describe the still very serious consequences of sin believers may have to endure (grieving the Spirit, hurting the mission of the church, wrecking assuring graces and comforts, other possible temporal judgments).

The only thing I can imagine being useful to add to this whole section would be an explicit mention of the theology of professing believers who fall away (which theology is here implied, to be sure). Namely, according to a straightforward reading of the grammar of Heb. 3:14 and 1 Jn. 2:19, those who fall away from the faith were never true believers to begin with. I think stating this side of the coin even more explicitly would be useful because this is such a common experience in the visible church, especially in the increasingly secular culture of North America. And it can be an upsetting experience to believers who witness it taking place among friends and family, or children who go off to college and abandon the faith, if they do not have a robust, clear theology of conversion and perseverance.

Finally, "...kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" is perhaps the most important phrase in this section. The language is straight from 1st Peter 1 and emphasizes the fact, of course, that it is because of God's grace and power in keeping us for final salvation, and not through our own inherent faithfulness or ability to persevere, that all of us who truly hope in Christ will make it to the end.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 5 "God's Purpose of Grace" Part 1

"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."

I think this brief statement on election allows for a healthy breadth of differently nuanced views in the SBC, and states the most important things about it. Election is: gracious; God's purpose; the sovereign foundation for all the benefits of redemption in Christ; a display of God's sovereignty, goodness, and wisdom; and a means of eliminating human boasting.

To begin commenting on a few details:

I am glad to read the words "consistent with the free agency of man," rather than something more generic and ambiguous like the "free will" of man. I would personally want to press for even further definition in the direction of my own tradition's view, but "free agency" (at least from what I understand it to mean--and I could be mistaken) is a good technical term borrowed from philosophy that denotes simply the reality (not illusion or denial) of man's moral volition.

Man is not a robot or puppet who is coerced to think, speak, or move in certain ways by God's sovereign hand apart from or against his own willing to think, speak, or move in those ways. God certainly at least sometimes initiates changes in, and influences, men, and in stronger views of providence like my own, even superintends and ultimately sovereignly controls and in one way or another "brings about" whatsoever comes to pass, including the choices of men.

Yet even in stronger views of providence it is not as though God simply pulls strings or writes programs. He works in and through the hearts and minds of men (rather than in some mechanical, robotic way) to bring about His good pleasure in them--particularly and most directly and actively in His own people. The accent in Scripture is squarely on the gracious redemptive work in His elect, without denying God's purposefulness in also handing some people over to further sin and darkness which they experience through their own immediate doing. God need only withdraw His merciful restraining hand to further harden an unregenerate person. He (purposefully) allows some sinners to freely go their own way to destruction, but works in the hearts of the elect to bring them to faith and obedience.

Another example of this "concurrent" view of providence specifically with regard to human beings is the inspiration of Scripture. God did not "zap" Paul's or Jude's hands so that they began writing New Testament Scriptures, but rather worked in and through their minds, hearts, personalities, and life situations, so that they freely produced these authentic personal letters to the churches. All the while, still, God was sovereignly working out in history exactly what He had predestined to occur beforehand.

Even in the radical act of regeneration in which, I believe (as discussed in an earlier section), God sovereignly and unilaterally brings spiritually dead hearts to life, the heart of man is changed so that he freely begins to exercise faith in Christ (actually to be more precise, I'm not sure "believing" itself is as much of a "choice" as we sometimes think it to be, but rather more like a divinely-given spiritual apprehension of who Christ is, on the basis of which we then freely repent and begin to follow Him; so the newly regenerate person who is a morally "free agent" is sweetly enslaved to obedience to Christ, not by coercion, but by the Spirit's renewal of his or her willingness itself).

The way in which election is consistent with "free agency" will vary from theologian to theologian, preacher to preacher in the SBC. Arminian and Molinist theologians will want to say that the kind of free agency humans have is and must be specifically libertarian free will, according to which human beings "could have done otherwise" in every (?) possible sense, for every choice they make. In most systems this would preclude unconditional individual election unto salvation (or unto anything involving choices, for that matter). But it could include conditional individual election, or some views that only include election as a corporate category (don't ask me how Barthians stay out of universalism, though).

Theologians with more traditionally Reformed soteriology can still affirm the BF&M on "free agency," too. Unconditional individual election unto salvation (the 'U' in the infamous TULIP) still comprehends, as the BF&M itself affirms about election generally, "all the means in connection with the end." That is to say, the caricature of Reformed soteriology or any other historic Christian view of election that posits people being dragged to heaven kicking and screaming against their will, or reprobates thrown into the lake of fire despite desperate love for Jesus and faith in His redemptive work, is nonsense. In Calvinism, certainly, election results in, temporally and logically/causally, regeneration/faith/repentance (conversion), etc., straight on through to glorification. And none of it (except, in a certain qualified sense, regeneration) happens against or apart from a person's will (regeneration produces the change of the will itself).

In sum on free agency, all orthodox Christian views--Reformed (eh, I'm tempted more and more to call it historic Protestant) or otherwise--should affirm creaturely freedom of man at least in the sense that he or she can always do what he or she wants (and I would argue that apart from natural inability (see Jonathan Edwards' distinction between "moral" and "natural" inability), does do what he or she wants), and is therefore morally responsible to God for every word, deed, and intentional thought (and probably other "thoughts" in many ways, too). For fallen man with fallen desires, that's actually what "enslavement" to sin or righteousness means: a sinner freely does what he or she wants to do, as a free agent, but needs God to change those "wants" in a Godward direction to effect salvation and create an "enslaved free agent" of Jesus Christ (please no sports jokes here).

In some ways eternal mysteries are broached when we dive deeper into the relationship of man's moral responsibility to God's meticulous providence over all that comes to pass and the "answer" (or perhaps merely the appropriate paradigm) is surely to do with God's covenantal condescension and incarnation--His ability to sovereignly bring together the eternal and the temporal, infinite and finite, Creator and creature, decree and history, in such a way that each fully retains its own nature and essential attributes and in such a way that the "divine" side of things is ultimate (consider the Chalcedonian definition of Christ's hypostatic union, and the doctrines of enhypostasis and anhypostasis in relation to Christ's person). K. Scott Oliphint has begun to develop a so-called "Reformed Free Will Defense" against the problem of evil in this regard that is very interesting.

Yet when it comes merely to election, and sinners with free agency who desperately need to have their free agency radically reoriented to the things of God, by His grace, through faith in the gospel of His Son, it is actually difficult for me, as a Calvinist, to see how election and "free agency" could be seen as being at odds at all, given that both are properly defined and understood. All men in Adam freely do what they want: sin. God elected some of them for salvation before the foundation of the world. In history, God converts His people through regeneration. They then continue to do what they want, but their wants have changed: righteousness is forefront (though the "flesh" remains and they are mixed men, as it were). Simple!

A couple of other things to note:

In my opinion, for election to truly "exclude boasting" and "promote humility" (as the BF&M says) to the fullest extent that it should, it needs to be understood as nothing less than unconditional election of individuals unto salvation.

Conditional election, by which God foreknows a person's libertarian-ly free decision to embrace Christ by faith, and on the basis of that knowledge, elects a person unto salvation, makes election ultimately dependent on a human being's decision to believe in Christ or not. Many proponents of this view are adamant that the "faith" envisioned here should not be understood as a "work" but as a mere receipt of the gift of salvation, nothing meritorious in itself. Yet opponents continue to wonder just what it is in a person that causes him or her to choose one way or the other (or is it just "chance?" surely not...), and for those that choose Christ, how could it not be something ultimately that could be boasted about over those who rejected Him?

Corporate election is a biblical category, and scholars' appreciation for its importance in the New Testament has risen, especially with the influence of the New Perspective(s) on Paul, which emphasizes the communal aspects of soteriology in the Church. The two most classic passages in the New Testament on election/predestination, Romans 9 and Ephesians 1, are very corporate in their emphases. As N. T. Wright has correctly, as I believe, observed, the New Testament writers in a sense "re-imagined" the corporate election of ancient Israel as the covenant people of God around Jesus the Messiah and those who have faith in Him, namely, the Church. Therefore it is now the Church which is the "chosen Son of God" like Israel was, because it is united to Him, as His holy Bride (to change the metaphor once).

But does "corporate election" exhaust the import of the New Testament teaching on election? Hardly. And certainly, corporate election alone could never eliminate all human boasting! Exegetically, Romans 9 is where Paul begins to answer the question, "If God is so faithful to keep His promises--particularly those beautiful, climactic ones in Romans 8--what about ethnic Israel, most of whom have now stumbled over Messiah in unbelief?" Paul's first answer is, in a word, "remnant." There is a remnant of ethnic Israel chosen by grace, among whom Paul found himself as a believer in Messiah. Yes, " grace." For it is not man who wills or runs, but God having mercy, which ultimately determines election (Romans 9:16).

Of course this has massive corporate implications, and indeed a Jew reading Romans has the election of Israel as a whole in the forefront of his or her mind here. But Paul's examples of election (Isaac, Jacob, Pharaoh--which have national/corporate overtones, to be sure), and most importantly Paul's application of the doctrine of election (Romans 9:6-7), is intensely individual. He is answering the question: why do some individual Israelites not believe in Christ? Answer: unconditional, gracious election, and the hardening of reprobation. Only this doctrine in its most robust form can destroy national/ethnic pride and presumption (for "not all Israel is Israel"), and give hope (still without pride!) to the "ha goyim" Gentile dogs now being incorporated en masse into the elect Israel of God in Christ, because of God's individual election of many of them.

Finally, it will not do to limit election to the idea of election unto vocation or temporal salvation/judgment. Those who press for such a view in Romans 9 really press credulity to the breaking point, in light the of the eight chapters of Romans that come beforehand, especially Ch. 8 which reaches into eternity past as well as eternity future, in explicitly soteriological terms. They also fail to apply principles of typology and see the eschatological import of the Old Testament judgment of Pharaoh, for instance. Predestination unto vocation is surely biblical; Jeremiah's prophethood and Paul's apostleship are two obvious examples we all know.

We may even say that vocational election should ever be joined to soteriological election, so that our salvation serves our progress in stewarding Creation and bringing about (by God's blessing, ultimately) more of the fullness of New Creation. But vocational election does not and cannot exhaust the biblical material on election, nor can it ever remove human boasting by itself.

For these and other exegetical reasons, I believe that the BF&M's right concern that election be understood to exclude all human boasting would only be fully consistent with a Reformed view of unconditional, individual election unto salvation. But I am glad for the careful, broad language the SBC has employed to express the big-picture most important biblical things about election, and then to allow for a multiplicity of specific views on this secondary doctrinal area.