September, 2014

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 8

We are a Biblical Community

The word “Gospel” can be a tricky word to define. It is a type of music. It is a genre of biblical biography. It is the content of the message of the Bible. It is the proclamation of the message of the Bible. Various organizations will use the term “Gospel” but never really say what it is. Do we just assume what is meant by the term Gospel? The Latter Day Saints (Mormons) use the term “Gospel” throughout their 13 Articles of Faith. Just using the term doesn’t mean much.
The word “Gospel” comes from the Old English words god “good” + spel “story, message”. Gospel is good news. This is also the meaning of the Greek term “evangelical.” Eu “good” + angelion “proclamation”. Simply put, the gospel is the good news. But the good news of what?
In one of my Senior classes in seminary I was given the task of answering the question, “What is the Gospel?” This is a question so simple you shouldn’t be able to get into seminary without being able to answer it…and also so deep that the most learned professor will stumble over it. Our group put forward this:
The gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. This consists of the narrative that he lived the perfect life we could not; died a death on the cross in order to take on the Father’s wrath against sin; was raised by the Father vindicating Him. He ascended to sit on the right hand of the Father and send His Spirit to indwell all believers – all this as a gracious gift through faith in Christ. In doing this, he brought all His people together into one community and leads us into His prepared good deeds. He will one day return to make all things new. The gospel also consists of our response to this new – either in faith leading to change or rebellion leading to death.
When we talk about the Gospel, we are speaking both simply and fully. Simply speaking it is Jesus is Lord. But more fully, it is the whole counsel of God. The above definition seeks to incorporate aspects of justification, sanctification, ecclesiology, propititation, the Trinity, sin, faith, repentance, redemption, and restoration. The both/and aspect of the Gospel (both simple and full) is part of what makes it tricky to define. It is right that we attempt to distill the gospel into simple 4 point outlines, but we must also hold that in tension with the fact that the gospel is the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, cf. 1 Peter 1:23-25).
As a Biblical Community, we seek to be a community that is centered on this good news. This proclamation that Jesus is Lord is good news. It is the message of hope, redemption, and restoration for us. It is the victory over sin and death. It is the core of the life of faith. This means that our worship, our lives, and our relationships are governed by the gospel; that is, governed by God’s Word. This is what it means to be gospel-centered. We live as a community under the gracious requirements, stipulations, blessings, and warnings of God’s covenant.
Biblical Community that is gospel-centered has two aspects. The very concept of something having a center necessitates that it also has a periphery. We acknowledge that there is a basic core understanding of the gospel that unites us with all believers. We can be together for the gospel. The Church is catholic, that is, universal. Incidentally, that is what is meant by “Roman Catholic.” It is the Church Universal whose head is in Rome. Protestants also believe in a catholic Church but one whose head is Christ.
The 17th century proverb said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Boundaries are important because they define what it ours and what is not. While we are gospel-centered there is a periphery to our Biblical Community that is also important. As we seek to understand, teach, and proclaim the “whole counsel of God” there will be points of disagreement between us and others who claim to be gospel-centered. This is okay. We can agree on the center, but that doesn’t mean we will always agree on the edges. Nor does it mean that the boundaries are unimportant. It doesn’t mean we neglect them. It doesn’t mean we jettison them or risk the fellowship we have in the gospel. It does mean, however, that the manner in which we exhibit lives that are gospel-centered will look different from some of our brothers and sisters. It also means that we will hold to our particular beliefs without apology but with graciousness.
The gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. This is central to who we are as a church. We are gospel-centered. But our understanding of the periphery, the whole counsel of God, also determines who we are. We are through and through a biblical community.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 7

God’s General and Special Revelation provides us with the basis for everything that can be known. We understand the world and our place in it based on God’s Revelation. And we most clearly understand General Revelation only through the “spectacles” of Special Revelation. Consequently, God’s Special Revelation to us, that is Holy Scripture, must serve as the foundation upon which the structure of life is built. Any other foundation will be suspect and will eventually crumble.
Everyone holds presuppositions. Presuppositions are things tacitly assumed before the beginning of a line of argument or course of action. They are foundations. The question for us is what kind of presuppositions do we hold? The Christian must take God’s Word as the foundational presupposition in order to “take every thought captive” to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). If God and His Word are not the presupposition, then something else will be. There is no middle ground. My theology professor in seminary, John Frame, would often quote Bob Dylan, “you gotta serve somebody.” The totality of thinking flows from one’s presuppositions. The order and commitments of one’s life are the result of one’s presuppositions. And they will either be based on God, the Creator, or they will be based on something else, the creation
When we claim to be a “Biblical Community” we are affirming that we place God’s Holy Scripture as our foundational presupposition. We affirm that the Bible is God’s Word. This commitment means that we honor God’s Word above all other words. Other words may be important. But their importance is always secondary to God’s Word. We also acknowledge that all have varying degrees of knowledge and understanding of the Bible. But we seek a growing knowledge and understanding and a willingness to submit one’s life to God’s Word. As a “Biblical Community” we understand God’s written Word to be our ultimate authority.
This understanding of God’s Word will put us in conflict with those who hold other presuppositions. A dominant presupposition in society today is that of naturalism. J Gresham Machen wrote, “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God” (Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 2). Naturalism views the universe as a closed system. There are no external (divine) forces at work in the world. There is only action and reaction. All truth can be derived solely from General Revelation. Naturalism argues that man has evolved from cosmic chance. The notion of “God” is the result of man’s evolving religious ideas. In this case, God did not create man…but man created God.
This view dominates modern scholarship in the humanities and sciences. Almost without notice this presupposition in the form of Science is spoken of with a religious reverence and awe. What is the answer to society’s ills? Science and technology! If you don’t believe me, go listen to the last decade’s worth of State of the Union addresses.
We see this conflict at work when we see the Church wrestling with doctrines that go against naturalism. The virgin birth, creation ex nihilo, the resurrection, penal substitutionary atonement, and the like are banished as being outdated for the modern mind. The majority in our community at large do not see the Bible as relevant to their lives because they have replaced it with naturalism. But this naturalism leads to despair and judgment. The Church must be counter-cultural in this regard. We must continue to hold to a biblical presupposition. We must continue to find the foundation for our faith and practice in the Scriptures.
A “Biblical Community” in a modern world means that we will find our hope not in the promise of evolution, science, or technology. Instead, we will look to the Scriptures for what is necessary for salvation. God’s Word will be the means by which we may be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The Scriptures will dictate how we live. The Scriptures will determine how we worship. The Scriptures will be an infinite fount of hope. The Scriptures will provide our identity and purpose. And the Scriptures will be the spectacles by which we understand the world. As a “Biblical Community” we see God’s Word as the foundation for every activity and function the Church. All other foundations are sinking sand, but God’s Word is a firm foundation.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 6

We are a Biblical Community – Special Revelation

The word “revelation” comes from the Latin term revelare which means “to lay bare.” The etymology of this Latin terms gives the idea of removing a covering or a curtain. Last week began by looking at General Revelation. General Revelation is all which God has revealed to people generally. It reveals enough of God’s nature such that any person should look at the creation and say, “There must be a Creator and I should know him.” Calvin comments, “Knowledge of this sort, then, ought to arouse us to the worship of God but also to awaken and encourage us to the hope of the future life” (Calvin, Institutes, 1.5.10). But this knowledge itself does not save.
God in his grace planned from the beginning to reveal himself most clearly in his Word. The Word acts as a set of “spectacles” to “clearly show us the true God” (Institutes, 1.6.1). And in showing us this true God, the plan of redemption is laid out for God’s covenant people. The plan of redemption is told and the person of the Redeemer is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
This revelation is “Special” because it reveals what cannot be revealed by creation. Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” This is General Revelation. But the “reviving of the soul, the making wise the simple, the rejoicing of the heart, and the enlightening of the eyes” (Ps 19:7-8) comes from God’s Word, his Special Revelation. God has spoken to his people throughout history. Those words have pointed forward to the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).
This Special Revelation includes, but is not limited by, the Holy Scriptures. This statement should cause you to pause. What special revelation is there that is not contained in Holy Scripture? Scripture tells us that there things Jesus said and did that were not included in Scripture (John 21:25). Those words and that revelation is lost to history. But the revelation we have in Scripture is the finished product of God’s Special Revelation to us.
The 66 books of the Old and New Testament are the only works that show the marks of being God’s Special Revelation to us. Today, it alone is sufficient and complete. And as God’s clear word about himself and his plan of salvation, it the ultimate authority for us. The Scriptures teach us what man is believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (WSC 3). This clear knowledge of God is essential, “for errors can never be uprooted from human hearts until true knowledge of God is planted therein” (Institutes, 1.6.3).
This distinction between General and Special Revelation is important. We affirm that non-Christian people in the world know many things. They can know many true things. They can study the creation and understand the order and majesty that is reflective of its Creator…whether they acknowledge a Creator or not. But the distinction is important because it also tells us that no matter how erudite and sophisticated their knowledge appears, as long as it denies the Creator, it will be insufficient and faulty. Until people come to a clear knowledge of God, all they do is in vain.
The benefit for us as God’s Covenant People is that we have a firm foundation upon which our lives may be built. By viewing General Revelation through the “spectacles” of Special Revelation, we can rightly see the creation and the Creator. We are able to understand the central story of all creation. We are able to know the covenant promises and blessings that God has given to his people. We are able to know how we have fallen short of these covenant requirements by breaking God’s law and worshiping the creation as the Creator. We are also about to know the beauty of salvation, “in that while we were still sinner, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
One of the central claims we make when we claim to be a “Biblical Community” is that we understand the distinction between General and Special Revelation. We understand and embrace the essential difference between the Creator and the creation. We worship God as the one true God and “shall have no other gods before Him” (Ex. 20:3).

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 5

We are a Biblical Community – General Revelation

The word “revelation” comes from the Latin term revelare which means “to lay bare.” The
etymology of this Latin term gives the idea of removing a covering or a curtain. When we speak
of revelation, we are speaking of the act of revealing some established truth to a wider audience.
The magician reveals that his assistant has disappeared. The lawyer reveals the hidden motive
behind the defendant. The detective reveals an important clue. The scientist reveals his new
discovery.
It is with this sense that we need to think of revelation; this idea of some established truth being
uncovered for a wider audience. In Reformed Theology we think of revelation in two different
categories. There is General Revelation and Special Revelation. Over the next few weeks we will
look at what it means for us at Covenant Presbyterian Church to be a “biblical community.” This
week we will focus on the idea of General Revelation. Next we will look at Special Revelation
and its content. We will answer the questions: What is the distinction between General and
Special Revelation? Why is revelation important? And how does it benefit us as a church family
that claims to be “biblical”?
As Christians we claim that everything which is not God was created by God. We find the
opening words in Genesis to be foundational to all of life. “In the beginning, God created heaven
and earth” (Gen 1:1). Before creation there was God and nothing else. From nothing, ex nihilo,
God created all things. God created all things and as the crowning glory of his creation he placed
man and woman, his very image-bearers, in the center of this world. He instructed them, “Be
fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens and over every living things that moves on the earth” (Gen
1:28). Man was put in the garden to “work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).
This instruction to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it has been the task of man
since the beginning. Man has sought to understand this creation and which fills it. Science and
the Arts are the human expressions of this endeavor. What else is engineering than subduing
creation and bending it to man’s will? Modern science is still a continuation of Adam’s task of
naming the creation as God brought it to him. The Arts seek to use the elements of creation to
produce beautiful, sweet, and delicious fruit that pleases the senses. Every work of art,
symphony, and literary classic is in some way the result of man’s effort to work and keep the
garden.
This is General Revelation. God has revealed all of his creation to man. He has instructed man
and put it at the core of his being to work and keep the garden. So man has sought to understand
this creation. He has sought to reflect the creative work of the God in whose image he is. The
opening words of Genesis give us a foundational presupposition that all we have, are, and know
comes from God. If we understand this opening word from God, then the rest of the Scriptures
will fall into place.
But General Revelation is not sufficient. If we explore the skies, “When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place” (Ps 8:3), then we
should understand some things about God. If we study all of creation, we should come to some
knowledge about God. “For what can be know about God is plain to them, because God has
shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have
been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made”
Rom. 1:19-20). The apostle Paul tells us these things have been “clearly perceived.” But sin has
blinded the minds and hearts of men. “For although they knew God, they did not honor as God”
Rom. 1:21). All should see General Revelation and respond by saying, “There must be a God
and what would this God have me to do?” But sinful man often responds, “There must be a god
and I must be him.” Creation has revealed that there is a Creator, but man has rejected that
revelation.
A look up to the expanse of the heavens or down to the detail in a butterfly’s wings should cause
us to be glory in the God who would make this. The reason most universities were founded by
Christians is because Christians should seek to understand and explore the universe more than
any other. We should seek to catch a glimpse of the divinity and power of our great God. We
should seek to continue to work and keep the garden. We, above all, should seek to understand
what God has revealed to us about himself in General Revelation.