Friday, July 21, 2017

Learning Right Distinctions

“…the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification…Tocqueville saw this coming long ago. Democracies, he wrote, prize equality above all other values. Their ‘passion for equality,’ he observed, is ‘ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible.’ It is not simply a matter of assuring every person equal rights under law. Tocqueville believed, in Patrick Deneen’s words, that democracies inevitably seek to do away with ‘any apparent differences’ among people – ‘material, social, or personal.’ No distinctions are to be tolerated. In fact, Tocqueville wrote that democratic societies have an inevitable tendency toward pantheism, since, in the end, even a distinction between Creator and created becomes intolerable.”
-   - “Passion for Equality,” by Mark Movsesian (posted at First Things on July 10, 2017)

An important strategy to understanding the Revelation is the idea of counterfeit. It’s always been a major point for me when teaching about the “mark of the beast” that it is just a counterfeit to God’s mark on His people from the early parts of the Bible onward. We focus on the beast, and, sadly, tend to ignore the wealth about what God has done.

You’ve probably heard of a similar counterfeit regarding the dragon, beast, and false prophet as imitative of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Mark Movsesian’s article, while not expositing the Revelation, reveals another counterfeit of the enemy of God, who is also the adversary to God’s people. The world system seeks to blur what God distinguishes and counterfeit God’s establishment of unity.

Outside of Christ, God makes distinctions. In the Old Testament, for example, it is between Israel and Egypt (Exodus 11:7), clean and unclean (Leviticus 11:47), holy and profane (Ezekiel 22:26), “between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18). God pronounces “woe” on those who redefine and change these standards (Isaiah 5:20,21).

As Movsesian astutely points out from Tocqueville, even the vital Creator-creature distinction becomes intolerable. We come by it naturally – our first parents fell from their first state because of the temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Whether the king of Babylon’s aspirations to make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14), or the “the man of lawlessness,” also called “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4). We tend, in our study and meditation, to identify this “man” with a single eschatological figure, but this tendency to desire to be God is innate to every fallen human being. The rebellion against biological gender (contra Genesis 1:27, quoted as authoritative by Jesus in Matthew 19:4), the exaltation of abortion rights (contra Genesis 1:28), and the revolt against the creation ordinance of marriage (contra Genesis 2:24, quoted as authoritative by Jesus in Matthew 19:5//Mark10:7,8 and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31) – these three rejections of fundamental reality as created by God show this spiritual psychosis.

The Church has, from the beginning, confessed distinction – not division – in the unity of God. He is “one God, Who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations” (Second London Confession, 3.2). This distinction, faithfully describing the full witness of the Scripture, must be defended against heterodoxy in every generation of the church.

In creation, God has ordained distinctions. In Himself, there are three eternal and Personal distinctions.

However, in regard to the salvation of His elect through faith in His Son, God makes no distinction. He saves all sorts of people.
• The apostle Peter, at the first great Church Council, proclaims, “He [God] made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [non-Jews], cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
• Paul teaches this in his flagship of Christian theology: “…the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:21-25).
• Later, he writes, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for [as it written in Joel 2:32] ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (10:12,13).
• In Ephesians 2:11-22 he describes this great division between Jew and non-Jew abolished for those in Christ.

Paul will also simply and definitively describe this undoing of sin’s distinctions in Christ:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“…you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him - a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11).[1]

Let me circle back to my original thought, prompted by Movsesian’s article and the Tocqueville reference.

What God has distinguished, rebellious humanity seeks to blur. They cannot undo divinely-ordained distinction, but they can twist and deny, even when it seems to be an empirically-established fact. The Church is not immune from this temptation. The New Testament speaks of those inside and those outside the Church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:9,10; Galatians 5:19-21), but I know of believers who are uncomfortable with any exclusive language concerning either membership or any sense of belonging.[2] The Lord Jesus, in asserting the authority of Genesis 2:24, says of marriage, “what therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:5,6). We all know how much of a struggle this is in the Church.

There are worldly distinctions with divisions inherent in them which are dissolved in Christ. This is what the world system seeks to counterfeit. Our society claims to adore seemingly infinite diversity, but in reality this diversity is bound within an unbending conformity. As Movsesian observes, no distinction from this conformity can be tolerated. This is done in the name of an equality that is counterfeit to what God has manifested in Christ.

The danger, and the reason I’ve taken time to scribble (digitally) these thoughts down, is that believers must be biblically-grounded in distinctions and unity. We must not take our cues from the world on what is to be distinguished and what is to be indistinguishable. Worldly power struggles and divisions based on race, gender, socio-economic status, geography, personal preference, etc., cannot be allowed to assert themselves in our worldview as individual believers, in our relationships with each other in the Church (I’m thinking specifically about cliques here, but that’s not the only problem), or in our authority structures in the Church. What has been made equal in Christ must not be divided by worldly standards manifesting themselves in remaining sin in our lives. We cannot distinguish between which people groups or types of people "deserve" the Gospel or which ones are more likely to be changed by its power - all must hear the Gospel, and all are equally dead in sin and can only be brought to life by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

What God has distinguished we cannot declare to be one. Unbelievers are not believers. Men and women are different in some ways ordained by God in His creation. All religions are not equal. The distinguished Persons of the one true God must not be compromised, “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him” (Second London Confession, 3.2).

We will not learn proper distinctions and unities from the world, which is in active rebellion against God and embodies the counterfeit to His purpose, creation, and nature. We must get our worldview from dwelling in God’s Word and taking our cues from it alone. "We ought to seek from Scripture a sure rule for both thinking and speaking, to which both the thoughts of our minds and the words of our mouths should be conformed" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.3). The tension between God’s declaration of reality and the counterfeit will only increase. Daily we must discipline ourselves to truth, prayerfully relying on the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us stand.

[1] Even in the Church we have twisted this to mean assimilation to the standards of the dominant rather than mutual submission to Christ, the only Head of the Church. We struggle with sin and cultural blind-spots – all of us – and still have a long way to go in our sanctification. The good news is, of course, the assurance of Philippians 1:6.
[2] See also Matthew 5:13; 13:48; Mark 4:11; 5:10; 12:8; Luke 13:28; 14:35; 20:15; John 12:31; 15:6; 1 Corinthians 5:12,13; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; Revelation 21:8; 22:14,15.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Providence Permits Many Heretics

“Divine Providence permits many heretics with their differing errors so that at least, when they insult us and ask us what we do not know, we may shake off our sluggishness and long to know the divine Scriptures. This is why the Apostle says [in 1 Corinthians 11:19], ‘It is necessary that there be heresies in order that those who are approved among you might become manifest.’ For those are approved before God who can teach well, but they can only become manifest to men when they teach. They are, however, willing to teach only those who seek to be taught. Yet many are slow to seek if they are not aroused as if from sleep by the troublesomeness and insults of the heretics. Then, embarrassed over their ignorance, they perceive that they are in danger because of that ignorance. If these are men of solid faith, they do not give in to the heretics, but carefully seek what response they should make to them. God does not abandon them. When they ask, they receive, and when they seek, they find, and when they knock, the door will be opened for them” (Augustine, On Genesis, Against the Manichees, I.1.2).[1]

God allows false teaching to motivate true believers to seek the truth and to manifest teachers whom Christ has given His Church.

There is plenty of false teaching, and it is extremely popular. Our small groups shouldn’t be so small, our Sunday Schools should be bursting with students desirous for God’s truth, our Bible studies ought to be crowded, our Bibles should be wearing out faster than our phones, our prayer meetings’ requests should be for knowledge of God above all, our services filled with humble hunger for a Word from the Lord, and the local church should be the vital seed-bed (the meaning of the word “seminary”) for teachers manifested by God to confront the staggering amount of falseness being marketed to Christians. Teachers should be showing their legitimacy as manifestations of God’s provision to His Church by ever honing their craft, their art, their passion, their accuracy, their communication, and their Spirit-wrought authoritative power.

“Should be.” “Ought.”

The heresies are plentiful, Lord. Please, please, please manifest those approved in the teaching and learning ministry of Your precious Church.

“I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

[1] Augustine is meditating on 1 Corinthians 11:19, “there must also be factions [αἱρέσεις] among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” Αἵρεσις is translated “heresy” (its English cognate) by Wycliffe, and in the Geneva Bible and King James Version.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Love Songs of Nature and Architecture

I’ve been teaching through Revelation 21-22 on Wednesday evenings for several months. The “holy city, new Jerusalem,” is compared to “a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). An angel tells the apostle, “Come here, and I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). It is the Church that alone is “the wife of the Lamb” in the New Testament (Matthew 9:15//Mark 2:19,20//Luke 5:34,35; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-33), but we are immediately shown “the holy city, Jerusalem” (21:10), along with an elaborate and incredible architectural description (21:11-22:5). It seems odd when you think about it; how many of you men wooed your sweetheart by comparing her to a well-designed structure with exalted aesthetics? Probably not many. Yet the New Testament often uses the language of temple to describe God’s people in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19,20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). Christian men, we probably shouldn’t start a trend of using architectural language to describe our beloved, but hear me out – when, at the close of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, a description of His Bride is given using this sort of language, she is more majestic, beautiful, and other-worldly than anything in this world (either Herod’s grand Temple in Jerusalem or the many incredible structures of other religions, whose grand remains are still tourist visiting points)! It may not be Shakespeare, but God the Son is saying to His Bride, “I’m preparing you by My Spirit like a master builder; no one in this world can construct anything close to you, My Beloved.”

Now, with this elaborate love-speech in mind, let’s read something that came earlier in the Bible:
“How beautiful you are, my darling,
How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes
Which have come up from their washing,
All of which bear twins,
And not one among them has lost her young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
And your mouth is lovely.
Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate
Behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
Built with rows of stones
On which are hung a thousand shields,
All the round shields of the mighty men.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle
Which feed among the lilies…
…how beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
The curves of your hips are like jewels,
The work of the hands of an artist.
Your navel is like a round goblet
Which never lacks mixed wine;
Your belly is like a heap of wheat
Fenced about with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon
By the gate of Bath-rabbim;
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
Which faces toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads;
The king is captivated by your tresses.
How beautiful and how delightful you are,
My love, with all your charms!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
And your breasts are like its clusters”
(Song of songs, 4:1-5; 7:1-7).

We wouldn’t use this language (well, much of it) to describe our wives, would we, men? Do you notice the similarity in principle, though, between the Song of songs’ description of the King’s Beloved and the Revelation’s description of the Bride? One says, “you are more beautiful than the most breath-taking natural wonders and wealth of our land.” The other says, “all the man-made wonders of the world are poorly-made sand castles compared to you.”

Both of these extended metaphors, odd as they are to our cultural expressions, say one thing: the King loves His Bride, and thinks her more beautiful than anything in this world.

Remember that today, Church.

And if you’re not part of His Church, hear me: all of us, as descendants of that first man Adam, share in both his rebellious nature against God and the penalty for that rebellion. We are born in this world fighting the purpose for which we were created, which is to give God glory in our worshipful obedience and reflection of His image. This is the only true love, peace, and joy for the human being. We spend our brief lives here trying to fulfill that purpose with counterfeits in vain, and leave this world to spend an eternity separated from the only One Who can satisfy. But He, in His infinite love and mercy, came to earth as one of us to do what we could not: live a human life of perfect obedience to God (the condition for spending an eternity with God in bliss) and to take the just punishment for our disobedience upon Himself in death. He lived and died in His Bride’s place, and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven, where He reigns over all heaven and earth until the time comes for the defeat of all rebels to come to an end. The Bible tells us to confess Jesus as Lord, and that in Him we find forgiveness for our sin, adoption into the family of God, and we are granted access to our Creator (the Source of all we’ve ever needed and desired) forever and ever. The Bible uses the bridegroom and bride metaphor to describe Jesus’ relationship to His people, the Church. He loves His Church, and treasures Her above all else in Creation. Repent of your sins, trust Jesus alone for your right standing before God now and forever, and be added by Jesus to those whom He considers His Beloved.

Do this, and the love song’s for you.