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Thursday, August 22, 2013

What is Ecclesiology?

As we have worked our way through some deep theological questions on Sunday mornings recently, we have seen that our theology has practical implications for how we live our lives.  What we believe determines how we act.  The doctrine of God’s sovereignty and the related doctrines of grace impact us on many levels, from how we regard suffering in our lives to how we go about sharing our faith.  Theological study should not be an extra-curricular activity for saints.  It is inherently practical.
One often overlooked area of theology that affects the way that we live is ecclesiology.  Ecclesiology is the doctrine of the church, or the branch of theology concerned with the nature, constitution, and function of the church.  The Bible gives us remarkably detailed teaching regarding what the church is and what the church is to do.  Just as remarkable is that in spite of this clear teaching many local bodies do not closely resemble what the New Testament prescribes.  Perhaps because of unfamiliarity with the Bible, some of us believe we have an abundance of freedom regarding who should lead the church, who should be in the church, what the church should do, etc., when in reality God has given us precise instruction on these matters.  We would do well to periodically measure ourselves against the plumb line of Scripture to see if we are conforming to God’s design.
For this reason, we are going to begin a study on ecclesiology during our Wednesday night teaching time, beginning on September 4.  If your children are involved in AWANA and you are not an AWANA worker, why not spend your Wednesday evenings with us next door at Partners in Prime?  Over the course of the Fall and early Winter, we will answer such questions as:
-       How does the church fit into the big story of the Bible?
-       What is baptism, who should be baptized, and who is qualified to baptize others?
-       Is there anything magical, mystical, or mysterious about the Lord’s Supper?
-       Why is church membership such a big deal?
-       Why should we thank God for church discipline?
-       What are the spiritual gifts and how do I know what my gift is?
-       What are the offices of the church and how should they function?
-       In what capacities should men and women serve in the church?
-       What does Paul mean when he writes, “women should keep silent in the churches”?
-       What is the place of “mercy ministries” and “social justice” in the church?
-       What kinds of decisions should the church vote on?
-       Why does it matter how we “do church”?
While these may seem like curious or unimportant questions, they actually lead to very consequential things like:
-       How I may be damaging the church by not confronting a brother’s sin
-       How the exercise of my spiritual gift serves to build unity in the church
-       Why it is unloving to neglect the gathering of the saints
-       What are and are not good reasons to leave a church
-       Why I should carefully examine the life of an elder or deacon candidate
-       Why submission to authority in the church exalts Christ
-       Why I should consider “difficult people” in the church to be gifts of God to me
-       Why I should seek to differentiate between my convictions and preferences and how this benefits the church
Ecclesiology is intensely practical.  Like any other area of theology, if God has given us teaching on these things, He has a good reason for it.  It is in some way “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Join us this Fall as we seek to answer all these questions and discover how ecclesiology matters in our day-to-day lives.
 Posted by Greg Birdwell 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Christ as a model for submission

We are all familiar with the admonition in Ephesians 5:22-33 for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and for wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ.  A marriage that functions biblically is a beautiful picture of the gospel relationship between Christ and the church.

Some wives, perhaps under the influence of an increasingly liberal culture, may feel as if they are getting the raw end of that metaphor.  “Husbands get to emulate Christ, while wives only emulate the church.”  We may read into that metaphor a natural superior/inferior kind of relationship.  Christ certainly is superior to the church…He is the Creator of all things (John 1:3; Heb 1:2) and He is before all things (Col 1:17).  But we should not deduce from the fact that Christ is superior to the church that the husband is superior to the wife.

The Bible teaches that men and women are both created in the image of God (Gen 1:27).  If men and women are equal in bearing the image of God, men and women must also be equal in value and personhood, for the value of man, as opposed to the rest of creation, is tied to his being created in God’s image (Gen 9:1-7).  Where men and women are different is in their God-given roles.  In the home, God has given the husband the role of loving headship and the wife the role of submissive helper.  We should never allow these different roles to lead us to regard one as more important or valuable than the other.

Did you know that there is authority and submission within the Godhead? The Son submits to the Father (John 8:28-29) and the Spirit submits to the Father and the Son (John 14:26, 16:7).  Yet, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one essence in three persons, that each member of the Trinity is co-equal, each is fully God.  Equality within the Godhead is perfectly compatible with authority/submission within the Godhead.  It is only our fallen minds that would infer form an authority/submission relationship that one party must be superior in value to the others.

Paul uses the relationship between the Father and Son to help us understand the relationship between husband and wife. 1 Corinthians 11:3 reads, But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  The word “head” is a reference to authority. If Christ is the head of every man, He has authority over every man and every man is to submit to Him. Paul shows this to be parallel with the husband and wife and with the Father and Christ.  The head of the wife is her husband as the head of Christ is God. Therefore, the wife is to submit to her husband as Christ submits to God. 

That puts a magnificent face on the concept of submission, doesn’t it? Jesus Christ, Creator and Lord of all things, submits to authority.  He is equal with the Father and He submits to Him.  In the gospel of John, Jesus says explicitly that He came to the earth because the Father sent Him, which obviously implies submission to authority (John 5:37; 6:44, 57; 8:16, 18, 42;12:49; 17:21, 25; 20:21).  He also indicated that it was His joy to submit to the Father; He did not regard it as demeaning or loathesome (John 17:1-26; Heb 12:1-2).  He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me…” (John 4:34).

So, the wife has two biblical examples of godly submission.  She may emulate the church in her submission to Christ, and she may emulate Christ in His submission to the Father.  And contrary to what our world would say to the Christian wife who aspires to godly submission, she is not demeaned in doing so.  In fact, we could say that she is never more like Christ than when she lovingly and joyfully submits to her husband. 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Understanding Matthew 23:39

In our study of Matthew 11:25-27, we have not taken much time to address typical objections to the doctrine of election.  There are three main Scripture references that are frequently used to deny that God sovereignly determines who will be saved.  They are 1 Timothy2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and Matthew 23:37.  Having already written extensively on the first two (you can find those articles by searching this blog), I would like to take a minute to address the third, Matthew 23:37. 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37 ESV)

The argument is made that this verse indicates that God’s desire concerning salvation can be thwarted by the will of man.  God may desire to save certain persons – in this case, the children of Jerusalem – but if they are not willing, they will not be saved.  (To be precise, this argument speaks more to the issue of effectual calling than to election.  According to Grudem, effectual calling is “an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith.”[1] In other words, effectual calling teaches that those whom God has chosen to save will inevitably be saved – He will act in such a way as to secure their response in saving faith.)

At first glance, Matt 23:37 may seem to contradict other things that we have been studying together on Sunday mornings.  However, a closer look shows that it is perfectly compatible with Matthew 11:25-27.

First, the concept of God’s “desire” or “will” in the Bible can refer to two different ideas. The first is God’s sovereign will, which refers to His eternal plan that includes literally everything that ever happens.  It always succeeds, it cannot be thwarted, and it is meticulous in nature (Ps 33:11, 115:3; Isa14:24-27, 46:9-10, 55:10-11; Dan 4:25; Eph 1:11). It is impossible for God’s sovereign will to not come to pass.  It is this sense of God’s will that we have been studying in the sermon series on Matthew 11:25-27.

The second sense is God’s moral or revealed will.  It includes all of the moral commands in Scripture, from the moral law in the Pentateuch to the imperative sections of the epistles.  God “desires” that these commands be kept.  It is quite possible for God’s moral will to not be kept – it happens every time we sin.  So, Jesus’ desire to gather the children of Jerusalem must refer to one of these concepts, either God’s sovereign will or His moral will.

To decide between the two, we must ask which makes more sense in the context.  Jesus said, “how many times would I have gathered your children.”  So what has Jesus done in the gospel of Matthew to gather the children of Jerusalem?  He has preached the gospel of the kingdom, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  We have noted repeatedly in our trek through Matthew that this gospel is an imperative, a command.  If it is a command, what sense of God’s will or desire must we be talking about?  It must be God’s moral or revealed will.  God’s sovereign will is not commanded…He simply performs it.  This deduction alone deals with the objection to the doctrines of grace.  This passage is not dealing with the sovereignty of God, but rather with His moral call for all to repent. 

But to be thorough, it would be wise to look at a second important factor in dealing with the objection.  We must consider what is the point of this passage in its context.  It is not to teach that God’s sovereign will can be thwarted, since we have already seen that it deals with His moral will.  Rather, the point is to show that the ground for the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees is their own rebellion against Christ in leading others away from the kingdom. 

Context is king.  Matthew 23 could be the most confrontational message spoken by Jesus in the Gospels.  In it, He pronounces judgment on the scribes and Pharisees for a number of different expressions of their rebellion:
·      For burdening their people with laws they were not willing to bear themselves (v4)
·      For practicing their righteousness for all to see and for seeking honor (vv5-7)
·      For not entering the kingdom of heaven nor allowing others to enter (vv13-14)
·      For making their proselytes “twice as much a child of hell” as themselves (v15)
·      For being blind guides of morality (vv16-22)
·      For neglecting weightier matters of the law (vv23-24)
·      For being all about outward righteousness while being filled with greed and self-indulgence (vv25-28)
·      For following in the steps of their murderous fathers (vv29-36)

It is only after the pronouncement of these woes that Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  The major sin of the scribes and Pharisees was that of hypocrisy – they pretended to be righteous, yet they led the people away from the gospel of the kingdom.  This is what Jesus is referring to in Matt 23:37.  Notice that Jesus does not say, “How often would I have gathered you, Jerusalem,” but “ How often would I have gathered your children.”  Jesus is not addressing the unwillingness of all the Jews to follow Him in repentance, but rather the Jewish leaders working to prevent the people from following Him.  This verse should not be read in isolation from the preceding woes.  It all goes together. 

So the point is not that the Jews or Jewish leaders prevented Jesus from getting what He wanted.  It is that Jesus desired (in a moral sense) the repentance of all the Jews and the Jewish leaders worked against that repentance.  Therefore, Jesus declares in v38, “See, your house is left to you desolate.”  That is, they are condemned.

This fits well with one truth we saw last Sunday.  When man is condemned for his sin, he alone is blamed, not our sovereign God.  Moral responsibility for the rebellion of the Jews falls at their own feet, for they were doing what they most wanted.  The same is true of those who rebel today.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

[1]Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 693.