Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Church

A Christian is someone who has repented of their sins, trusted in Christ, been adopted into God's family, and has been mystically united to Christ. The Church, in this sense, is the family of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. The entire group of Christians, past, present, and future, is called the Church. This is sometimes called the "Invisible Church" because it's identity is only known to God.

As the Baptist and Shorter Catechism says:

Q. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

The purpose of the Church in the world is to worship and glorify God. The primary way the Church is to worship and glorify God is by the preaching of the Gospel. The mandate and commission that has been given by the Lord himself is to make disciples of all nations and administer the Sacraments of the Lord's Supper and Baptism.  The ultimate goal, based upon the authority of Christ, is one of uniting all believers to God in one family.

The Church only accomplishes it's mission by gathering together regularly. This is why it is necessary to organize into local congregations. Or in other words, the only way to accomplish the mission given by Christ is by establishing local churches. The Church is represented visibly on Earth in the form of local societies, fellowships, communities, congregations and churches. The local Church is the company of those in a specific geographic area, who have decided to fellowship together on Sunday, the Lord's Day. It is where the Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments are rightly ministered, and involves all those things that are necessarily required to so.

The Baptist and Shorter Catechism again says:

Q. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is the organized society of professing believers, in all ages and places, wherein the Gospel is truly preached and the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper rightly administered.

Richard Hooker writes, "By the Church…we understand no other than only the visible Church. For preservation of Christianity there is not any thing more needful, than that such as are of the visible Church have mutual fellowship and society one with another. In which consideration, as the main body of the sea being one, yet into a number of distinct Societies, every of which is termed a Church within itself. In this sense the Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society. For although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although any multitude of Christian men congregated may be termed by the name of a Church, yet assemblies properly are rather things that belong a to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before." (Book III, i, s. 14, Laws)

Another aspect of the Church should be considered here as well. I agree with the Nicene Creed when it says, "I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." That isn't the Roman Catholic Church. It's called "One" because it has one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. It is called "Holy" because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, sanctifying all its members and gives gifts of grace. It is called "Catholic" because it is universal, and holds at all times, in all places, and for all people, all of the truth about Jesus Christ. It is called "Apostolic" because it received its divine mission from Christ through his Apostles, and continues in the Apostles teaching and fellowship.

This may sound all well and good, but why all the division? Thomas Cranmer said in a letter to John Calvin, "One of the greatest evils of our time, is that the churches are so widely separated from each other. The body of Christ is torn asunder because the members are separated." Why is it like this?

The London Baptist Confession says, "The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name."  (LBC 26:3)

Article 19 of the 39 Articles indicates further exactly where the most error can be found in the Church, "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith."
The parables of our Lord clearly indicate that the visible manifestation of the Church contains both wheat and weeds, sheep and goats, good fish and bad fish, good slaves and evil slaves. So I would argue that although the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, and Rome have greatly erred, they are nonetheless still part of the visible Church in much the same way that the northern Ten Tribe Kingdom was part of Israel even though it was guilty of gross idolatry. The Church is not confined exclusively or restricted to any one group, organization, sect, or denomination within historic Christianity.

Although very fragmented and split, I look forward to the day when the prophecy of the Apostle Paul concerning the future unity of the Church will be realized.

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." - Ephesians 4:11-15 KJV

Notice that the reason why apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are given is for the eventual unity of the Church.  Jesus prayed, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." - John 17:21 KJV

When this happens, when the Church is finally united, then the world will believe that Christ was sent from God.  The great commission can only be finally accomplished by a united Church. Although division may be necessary for now, given the nature of the errors of the Orthodox and Roman Churches, it is nonetheless an evil situation. Let us pray that those groups and bodies that are in error would repent and that the Church would be one.

To conclude this post, I post a hymn by Samuel J. Stone.

The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Gentile Times Discovered!

"The gentile times have ended...," was the cry of the Watchtower.  However, how long are those Gentile Times according to the Bible?  When did they start and end? I think I may have found the key....

"And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." - Luke 21:20-24 KJV

Verse 24 has the key phrase here.  This passage clearly has to do with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and I don't think anyone here would argue with me on that one.

This phrase in verse 24, as it is the linch pin to the Watchtower's entire system. It the Gentile times are not 2520 days, then the Watchtower's 1914 doctrine falls apart. And if their 1914 doctrine falls apart, they have not been chosen as God's mouthpiece or organization.

The question should be asked, how long were the "Gentile times"?

"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months." - Revelation 11:1-2 KJV

Notice it mentions the temple of God and the Holy City.  Just in case you didn't figure out by this obvious statement which city this is, there is an explainable in verse 8.

"And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." - Revelation 11:8 KJV

This is clearly Jerusalem.  Notice the exact same phrase is used:

"Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." - Luke

"The holy city shall [the Gentiles] tread under foot forty and two months." - Revelation

So the Gentile times are 42 months or 1260 days. Notice it is NOT 7 Times, or 2520 days.

This is fulfilled in the events of the Jewish-Roman War, in the 42 months from A.D. 67-70.  The fact that the Gentile court is spared I think symbolizes the shift in God's favor, from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Federal Headship and Original Sin

"How come I am guilty of someone else's sin?  Why am I condemned because of what Adam did?"  This is a common objection to the doctrine of Original Sin (also called Inherited Guilt).  If you reject the idea that we are guilty in Adam, then you have to reject the opposite as well. What do I mean? Well simply put, if you look at the last half of Romans chapter 5 it becomes clear that the way death is passed to us from Adam is the way life is passed to us from Christ. If you think one is unfair you are forced to think both are unfair. Why should I be guilty of Adam's sin? Well, why should you be pronounced innocent because of Jesus death and resurrection? It's the same thing. If we don't inherit guilt from Adam, then we don't inherit life from Christ. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22 KJV) The last half of Romans five is all about this.

If then, sin and death are passed to us from Adam is the exact same way righteousness and life are passed to us from Christ, how is that?

It has to do with COVENANT. Adam was our "Covenant head", our "Federal head", or our "Federal Representative". All of humanity was represented in Adam. We are familiar with this sort of thing. Our government is based upon Federal Representation. Our elected officials go to Parliament or Congress in our place. They represent their constituents. We are all Adam's constituents. God made an agreement, a covenant with Adam and all humanity in Adam. Adam broke that covenant knowing full well that the consequences that "breach of contract" would have for his posterity. But he didn't care.

Christ is the last Adam. God has provided him to take the punishments stipulated in the Adamic Covenant. The Covenant with Adam required two things: obedience and death if you failed. Christ gave perfect obedience, and then died as our representative. Now that the conditions of the Adamic Covenant have been satisfied in Christ, God offers a New Covenant in Christ. Christ becomes our new Federal Head and Representative. His obedience and life become ours.

In Adam, our first father, we all die because we were part of Adam when he sinned. It's not that our God singled us out as individuals to "punish" us per se. He punished Adam - in whom we all resided - unborn. We were Adam, unformed, unconscious and "innocent" though we were.

Adam was a real person. Jesus believed he was a real person and that's good enough for me. Jesus IS the truth and our Father said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." - Matthew 17:5 KJV

Jesus will not reject his own body. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." - Romans 6:4 KJV

"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." - Ephesians 5:28-30 KJV

The key here is if Christ is going to be our Federal Representative, then we have to be in Christ. We have to die with him in his death, and rise with him in his resurrection. The Spirit makes those in Christ into a New Creation and a New Humanity with a New Covenant.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquakes are NOT the End of the World.

For all those who are completely freaking out over the latest Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, I just wanted to say, it's not the end of the world. (And neither were the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti. Of course there are going to be earthquakes in these places! It's a fault line in the tectonic plates for goodness sake!) As much as you may think it is, it really isn't. Earthquakes are not a sign that the end is about to come.

But some of you are going to go straight to the Olivet Discourse, (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21).  However, we need to understand something crucial here. All three of these chapters are the same sermon. In order to get a complete picture as to what Jesus is saying and means you need to read all three together, and especially Luke.  Matthew is the most cryptic because his audience are Jews who knew their Old Testament Scriptures.  Luke is writing for a predominately Gentile audience and explains in plain language what Matthew says in obscure Old Testament metaphors.  If you do this, you will realize that the Olivet Discourse is a Judgment prophecy upon Judea and Jerusalem.  Here is a prime example:

"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand: ) " (Matthew 24:15 KJV)

Notice how Luke describes this:

"And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh." (Luke 21:20 KJV)

That they refer to the same thing is proven by the next verse in each:

"Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains" - Matthew 24:16 KJV

"Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains" - Luke 21:21 KJV

This prophecy concerns the Second Temple, and the City of Jerusalem. Jesus said that everything he says in this discourse would happen within 40 years and it did. In 70 A.D. the Romans Armies destroyed Jerusalem just like Jesus predicted. The earthquakes mentioned in this discourse do not relate to the Second Coming or the end of the world, but the end of the Jewish Age in A.D. 70.

Besides, those who claim that Earthquakes are getting worse and more frequent and use that as a sign that the end is nigh are mistaken. Those earthquakes that make the news headlines are obviously those that cause chaos and destruction to humans. But there are as many as 50 earthquakes around the world every single day, they just don't get elevated from local or national news onto the world stage.

If every earthquake was a harbinger of an impending apocalypse then I think I would go look for a different omen or live in perpetual disappointment.

From an official US Government site:

Earthquake Myths:

Q: Why are we having so many earthquakes? Has earthquake activity been increasing? Does this mean a big one is going to hit? OR We haven't had any earthquakes in a long time; does this mean that the pressure is building up?

A: Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.

There are several reasons for the perception that the number of earthquakes, in general, and particularly destructive earthquakes is increasing.

1) A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications.

In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more that 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly.

The NEIC now locates about 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 50 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes. According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 18 major earthquakes (7.0 - 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year. However, let's take a look at what has happened in the past 32 years, from 1969 through 2001, so far. Our records show that 1992, and 1995-1997 were the only years that we have reached or exceeded the long-term average number of major earthquakes since 1971. In 1970 and in 1971 we had 20 and 19 major earthquakes, respectively, but in other years the total was in many cases well below the 18 per year which we may expect based on the long-term average.

2) The population at risk is increasing. While the number of large earthquakes is fairly constant, population density in earthquake-prone areas is constantly increasing. In some countries, the new construction that comes with population growth has better earthquake resistance; but in many it does not. So we are now seeing increasing casualties from the same sized earthquakes.

3) Better global communication. Just a few decades ago, if several hundred people were killed by an earthquake in Indonesia or eastern China, for example, the media in the rest of the world would not know about it until several days, to weeks, later, long after such an event would be deemed �newsworthy�. So by the time this information was available, it would probably be relegated to the back pages of the newspaper, if at all. And the public Internet didn't even exist. We are now getting this information almost immediately.

4) Earthquake clustering and human psychology. While the average number of large earthquakes per year is fairly constant, earthquakes occur in clusters. This is predicted by various statistical models, and does not imply that earthquakes that are distant in location, but close in time, are causally related. But when such clusters occur, especially when they are widely reported in the media, they are noticed. However, during the equally anomalous periods during which no destructive earthquakes occur, no one deems this as remarkable.

A temporal increase in earthquake activity does not mean that a large earthquake is about to happen. Similarly, quiescence, or the lack of seismicity, does not mean a large earthquake is going to happen. A temporary increase or decrease in the seismicity rate is usually just part of the natural variation in the seismicity. There is no way for us to know whether or not this time it will lead to a larger earthquake. Swarms of small events, especially in geothermal areas, are common, and moderate-large magnitude earthquakes will typically have an aftershock sequence that follows. All that is normal and expected earthquake activity.

See NEIC's Earthquake Statistics webpage for the tables of earthquake counts by magnitude and year.

There is a passage of scripture that can be applied here though...

"There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Luke 13:1-5 KJV

Suppose ye that these Japanese were sinners above all the Japanese, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those ten thousand, upon whom the tsunami waters fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt on Earth? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Calvin and Servetus

My good friend Mark posted some helpful facts from Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin in regards to the Servetus affair.  Even though Bruce Gordon is quite critical of Calvin in other areas, he clears his reputation in the Servetus affair. This post is very important for clearing Calvin's name both inside and outside the Church.  Inside the Church there are Arminian's like David Hunt writing books with second rate research that blame Calvin for Servetus execution, and use this as the basis for their rejection of Calvin's theology.  Of more interest to me is the recent Watchtower article on Calvinism, which on the whole was quite charitable for a Watchtower article.  Predictably, they look to Servetus as a martyr and Calvin as a villain. They do so because Servetus, like the Watchtower, denied the Trinity.  I highly recommend the reading of this post.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Watchtower and the Mediation of Christ.

Jehovah's Witnesses are told (at least the vast majority of them) that Jesus is not their mediator. (1 Tim. 2:5) Their Bible Dictionary: Insight on the Scriptures (1988), under the heading: Those for Whom Christ is Mediator, says:
The Watchtower
“The apostle Paul declares that there is ‘one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all’—for both Jews and Gentiles. (1 Ti 2:5,6) He mediates the new covenant between God and those taken into the new covenant, the congregation of spiritual Israel. (Heb 8:10-13; 12:24; Eph 5:25-27) Christ became Mediator in order that the ones called ‘might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance’ (Heb 9:15); he assists, not the angels, but ‘Abraham’s seed.’ (Heb 2:16) He assists those who are to be brought into the new covenant to be ‘adopted’ into Jehovah’s household of spiritual sons; these eventually will be in heaven as Christ’s brothers, becoming a part with him of the seed of Abraham. (Ro 8:15-17, 23-25; Ga 3:29) He has transmitted to them the promised holy spirit, with which spirit they are sealed and are given a token of what is to come, their heavenly inheritance. (2Co 5:5; Eph 1:13,14) The total number of those who are finally and permanently sealed is revealed in Revelation 7:4-8 as 144,000.”—Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, page 362.

The publication, "Worldwide Security Under the 'Prince of Peace'" on pp. 10-11 says,

      "Likewise, the Greater Moses, Jesus Christ, is not the Mediator between Jehovah God and all mankind. He is the Mediator between his heavenly Father, Jehovah God, and the nation of spiritual Israel, which is limited to only 144,000 members." 

And the Watchtower from 1979 April 1 p.31 concurs,

      "Is Jesus the "mediator" only for anointed Christians? … So in this strict Biblical sense Jesus is the "mediator" only for anointed Christians. …The "great crowd" of "other sheep" that is forming today is not in that new covenant. However, by their associating with the "little flock" of those yet in that covenant they come under benefits that flow from that new covenant."

 The quotations above officially excludes millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses from true reconciliation with God. Hebrews is the only letter in the New Testament that explains Jesus’ priesthood and it specifically limits it to those in the New Covenant.

"But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. - Hebrews 7:24-26 HCSB

Now the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation ), He entered the holy of holies once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. - Hebrews 9:11-12 HCSB

“For it is clear that He does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”—Heb. 2:16,17 HCSB

Why is this important? It is because of the nature of the Gospel and the nature of propitiation. Propitiation is the removal of God's wrath. "For God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18 HCSB) "They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood." (Romans 3:24-25a HCSB) "For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sin." (Matthew 26:28 HCSB) Jesus' death is the sin offering that turns away God's wrath and forgives the sins of those in the New Covenant. If you are not in the New Covenant, you are in covenant with Adam, and thus under the Wrath of God. "For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22 HCSB, compare with Romans 5:12-21)

Ask the next Witness who calls on you who is his mediator? If he says Jesus Christ, ask him if he is in the New Covenant? If is not in the New Covenant what covenant relationship is he in other then the Prelaspsarian Ademic Covenant? The vast majority of Witnesses are even forbidden from taking communion. They have no part theologically and practically in the body and blood of Christ. They have no basis to claim to be sons of God or the children of Abraham. So, they don't have Jesus Christ as the mediator between themselves and a Holy God because they are told they are not in the New Covenant. They have not experienced the new birth, and are thus dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-9). They can't claim to be saints, and thus much of the New Testament isn't even written to them or for them. Does the witness at your door view himself as a son of God? If he is not a son, how can he speak of Jehovah God as his Father? Is he led by God’s spirit? If so, how can he deny being a sons of God when the apostle Paul said “All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons.”—Romans 8:14 HCSB

What the Watchtower teaches here is demonic.  It denies people the only way that they can be saved, that is through the Gospel. The Gospel is that "God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." (Romans 4:24-25 NIV) They claim that you do not have to have Christ as your mediator to be saved.  But the words of Christ the Lord are crystal clear: "So Jesus said to them, 'I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,'"(John 6:53-54 HCSB)

If you are a Jehovah's Witness, please hear me:  You don't need the Watchtower or the "Faithful Slave", you need JESUS and the forgiveness of sins he offers in the New Covenant.  Outside of that, you have no hope.