KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
1. ESCHATOLOGY AND
2. "ARE THEY
3. CHRIST'S METHOD FOR
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ISSN 0888-8513 September 2001 Vol. 16, No. 2
Eschatology and Office
Charles G. Dennison*
At the beginning of my article "Worship and Office,"1 I mention Paul Woolley's comment about the future of theological study. He stated that it would concentrate on the doctrines of the church and eschatology. My article was what I called a "lesser contribution" to a discussion in which I hoped one day for better integration of these two great doctrines. What I have to say today is another "lesser contribution" in the interest of the grander enterprise that awaits some remarkable individual or individuals the Lord is pleased as yet to raise up.
Let me start with comments about eschatology. To say the least, there has been a radical shift in the last century when it comes to the subject of eschatology. Negatively speaking, this redirection has come about because of : (1) the modern antipathy toward the supernatural; and (2) the exhaustion and frustration over the failed schemes of nineteenth century millennialism and the
* Complete documentation has been supplied by the editor with the assistance of Grace Mullen, Acting Librarian, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. This previously unpublished paper is dated 1995.
1 Cf. Mark Brown, ed., Order in the Offices: Essays Defining the Roles of Church Officers (Duncansville, PA: Classic Presbyterian Government Resources, 1993) 257-79.
fantastical claims of the cults. More positively, this shift was the result of a growing suspicion about the adequacy of the traditional systematic theology format with its concentration on logical categories and its leveling effect on all doctrines.
Most pressing, however, in the area of sophisticated theological discussion, was the collapse of the liberal view of Jesus and its Kantian conviction that Christianity equals ethics. Men like Wilhelm Wrede (1859-1906), Johannes Weiss (1863-1914), and Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) recognized that the apocalyptic in the Biblical record was anything but marginal, as the liberals had contended. Schweitzer's "consistent eschatology" approach to the New Testament rescued Jesus from the liberal misinterpretations, but delivered him into the apocalyptic fevers of first century Messianism with its overactive interest in the imminent eschatological events. But the questions now became, what do we do with this bizarre Galilean? If eschatology is central to Jesus' self-consciousness, how do we relate to such extremism?
Schweitzer answered that, contrary to liberal opinions, we must look to Jesus' eschatological interest for the timeless and eternal. That the historical Jesus had expectations of the immediate catastrophic arrival of the kingdom of God and died a disappointed man makes no difference. The important thing is the impact of the eschatological habit of mind on the behavior of those who would profit from the historical Jesus. Only such a habit of mind can appreciated the power of Jesus' "world-negating" ethic and its freedom from the "world-accepting" and self-protective habits of modern theology and Protestantism generally. (Schweitzer's medical work in French Equatorial Africa was consistent with his reading of the gospels.)
With eschatology redefined and made all the more insistent in its demands, the battles over eschatology erupted in this century. At their center stood the imposing figure of Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). Bultmann very bluntly said:
But while rejecting the particulars of New Testament eschatology, Bultmann labors, as Schweitzer, to salvage the category. He therefore redefines eschatology as an event in which man encounters the truth of his own existence.3 Such an encounter confronts man with the continual end of an old world and the beginning of a new. There is no future consummation, only its existential realization as man comes to understand that he is placed before a decision for the future every moment. Here is genuine eschatology and true freedom.
C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) accepts Bultmann's conviction that the world will not end as the Bible describes, and he agrees that eschatology has nothing to do with last things. But while for Bultmann, the kingdom in Jesus' preaching is wholly future, according to Dodd, it is wholly present. Dodd's famous book The Parables of the Kingdom (1935) sets forth what he calls "realized eschatology", the view that Jesus' language, while cloaked in apocalyptic fantasy, means to call attention to the genuine experience of the eternal in the here and now. What references, therefore, we might find in the gospels to the future of the kingdom are either interpolations by the first century church to meet its eschatological crisis or texts that have been misinterpreted. For Jesus, the kingdom was spiritual, said Dodd—a perspective, it has been noted, not far removed from the older liberal point of view.4
In the middle of this debate, both chronologically and theologically, stands Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999), whose book Christ and Time appeared in 1946. For Cullmann, Christ is the so-called mid-point of history. His message announces the kingdom's presence, but also anticipates its future appearance in an "already/not yet" tension. But does this orthodox sounding analysis of Jesus'
2 Cited by Ned B. Stonehouse in Eschatologie and the Gospel (Reprinted from the Studenten Almanac: Vrije Universiteit te Amsterdam, 1960) 212.
3 Norman Perrin, The Promise of Bultmann (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969) 41, 42.
4 Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1962) xxxi.
message present a real alternative in the discussion we have reviewed thus far? Cullmann admits that linear time is only background to what is really important, namely, the present-future tensions.5 But if linear time is reduced to background, what about the reality and importance of linear time's movement to a definite conclusion? Cullmann may be in reaction to modern theology's removal of the end of the world from its catalogue of accepted doctrines, but is he anymore committed to it? It appears not, and his "present-future" construct becomes just as philosophical as Bultmann's eschatological moment and Dodd's spiritualized kingdom.6
To summarize, despite the intense debate, those most directly involved in the recent discussions about eschatology have argued two things. First of all, eschatology is not about last things; instead it is about ultimate things. In fact, an eschatology that insists upon talking about a literal end of the world, be it from Jesus or anyone else, is primitive, unscientific and unacceptable. Second, and as contradictory as this sounds, eschatology is at the center of New Testament consciousness. To be true to this consciousness and to humanity's greatest interest, the church must retranslate the New Testament's primitive eschatology and place that retranslation at the heart of her life and theology.
It is in the context of this discussion that a number of figures from within Reformed orthodoxy, and especially from within the Westminster Seminary tradition, have made a great contribution. Coming to mind are Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), Ned B. Stonehouse (1902-1962), Edmund P. Clowney (1917- ), Meredith G. Kline (1922 - ), Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (1936- ). Also of great significance is Herman Ridderbos (1909- ) of the Netherlands. All of these scholars have been deeply influenced by the twentieth century debate and have concluded that eschatology is the center of the Biblical consciousness. This conclusion has been pursued in the interests of a biblical-theological commitment. The result is that biblical theology and its eschatological concern have
5 Christ and Time, rev. ed. (1964) 9.
6 Cp. Cornelius Van Til, The Great Debate Today (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970) 33-42.
brought tremendous pressure to bear upon the traditional systematic theological enterprise and typical discussions about eschatology.7 For example, Vos's insights that the historical precedes the theological and that eschatology precedes soteriology have become lynchpins to this approach.
As a result, many who have felt the pressure of their insights to the traditional scheme have responded in uncertainty and even open hostility. Some have suggested that Vos and company are merely playing off of and into the hands of the modernist agenda. But in all fairness, it is important to acknowledge how hard both Vos and these men have fought against the modernist position. To begin with, they insist on the biblical doctrine of the end of this world order by God's direct action. A contrast of Vos's and Cullmann's famous diagrams illustrates the point. Vos's, as you know, anticipates a literal endpoint.8 Cullmann's, as you might not know, does not.9 Also, the Reformed biblical theologians insist on the present interaction between the present world and the real substantive world to come, as well as (for the saints) a participation in that highest heavenly world now. Again, the contrast between the Vos and Cullmann diagrams is significant. Vos's vertical interest clearly comes through.10
At the same time, it must not be forgotten that Vos saw himself as defending Reformed orthodoxy and, although judged innovative by some, as actually reintroducing the genius of Reformed theology into the discussions. Here Vos contended that the covenant, the Reformed faith's contribution to the theological world, has at its center the hope of a higher and eternal existence in which permanent communion with God is the greatest blessing and that this hope belonged to man even in the garden prior to the fall. According to Vos, Reformed theology, being covenantal, is inherently eschatological in its most basic impulse and particularly suited to address not only the profound meaning of Scripture but the current crisis over eschatology.
7 Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1961).
8 Cf. The Pauline Eschatology, 38.
9 Christ and Time, 83.
10 Cp. The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974)..
If the past one hundred years have witnessed unsettling changes in the area of eschatology, what might we say about office? The old view saw office as a unique calling grounded in God himself (and specifically in Jesus Christ). As God preceded and stood above the man called to fill an office, so the office itself preceded and stood above the man. The man had the office confirmed on him; he entered the office the language here reflective of this perspective.
Many things, however, have been at work in the church to change this view. For instance, universal enfranchisement and general endowment have increasingly taken their toll. A few months before his death, Machen complained that fundamentalists held to a democratic view of office. Fundamentalism said any "man who 'has been washed in the blood of Christ and saved'" had a right to office.11 Recently, Gregory Reynolds has provided a useful analysis of the democratizing trend in the church.12 His study references the convictions expressed by others that the roots of this phenomenon in this country are found in the emerging evangelical movement, in the misshapened notions of the relationship of secular government to church polity, and eventually in the convictions of the charismatics.13
One result of the democratizing trend, especially among conservatives, was the trivializing of office. Ordinarily, imbued with dignity and commanding respect, office became common. Often it was received as a mere formality, providing title where it was thought necessary to satisfy social and ecclesiastical custom, but unessential for ministry. After all, everyone has a ministry.
Many conservatives rallied to these conclusions because of their interests in greater access to the culture and greater effectiveness in outreach. At the same time, mainline theology was doing its part to downgrade office and that in a way which worked well with the attitudes gaining ground among
11 Letter of J. Gresham Machen to James E. Bennet, Oct. 23, 1936. Cf. the entire exchange, letters dating from Oct. 22 to Oct. 29, 1936 in the Archive of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.
12 "Democracy and the Denigration of Office," Order in the Offices, 235-55.
13 Cp. my "Worship and Office," ibid., 257-79.
conservatives. A growing anti- or supra-denominationalism, for example, could not help but relativize views of church polity. This was, in part, Machen's concern in his battle against the 1920 Plan of Union and against the attitude of J. Ross Stevenson and Charles Eerdman at Princeton. Machen's logic was simple: if the Westminster Standards were biblical and therefore true; and if the Westminster Standards taught Presbyterianism; then Presbyterianism is true and meant for the whole world.13
But even apart from the growing anti-denominationalism, the polity issue had entered a critical phase of its history. The struggles in England in the earlier part of this century illustrate the point. As highly as the Church of England had held the office of bishop, views began to be heard within it calling into questions age-old fundamental convictions. B. H. Streeter challenged established Anglican order with his statement: "there is no one form of church order which alone is primitive, and which therefore posses the sanction of apostolic precedent."15 Arthur C. Hedlam said, "[Christ] left the Church to organize its own form and order."16
As these statements become representative of an attitude pervasive in mainline Protestantism, they give us a fair idea of where things presently stand. Not only do Episcopal claims about apostolic succession fall to the ground, but so do any claims about the early church's structural uniformity. Also left without support are those drawing upon the jus divinum doctrine that God has established in his word one form of polity.
Of interest in this regard, and closer to our situation, is the statement in the PC(USA)'s Confession of 1967:
14 J. Gresham Machen, The Attack upon Princeton Seminary: A Plea for Fair Play (Princeton, NJ: 1927) 9.
15 The Primitive Church Studied with Special Reference to the Origins of the Christian Ministry (Macmillan, NY: 1929) 268.
16 The Church of England (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1924) 13.
This statement is far distant from the commitment of historic Presbyterianism as found, for instance in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says, "The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of church-officers . . . "17
Another reason for the downgrade of office within mainline theology, at least from the perspective of orthodox Protestant expression, is the rise of existentialist interpretation. The existentialist approach builds upon the critical conclusions of the last century, particularly the views of F. C. Baur (1792-1860) and the Tubingen school.
The upshot of this position is that the original liberties of Paul's view of faith and church life are brought beneath the stifling restrictions of an emerging early Catholicism.
This position has been updated and powerfully presented by Ernst Kasemann (1906-1998), who has brought an existential philosophy to bear on the question of church order. Kasemann was convinced that the fact the world did not end, as the early church had hoped, threw the church into an organizational crisis. As a result, Paul's rather free and functional approach to the
17 XXX, 1; cp. "The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government" (1644); "A Directory for the Public Worship of God" (1645) found in The Confession of Faith (The Publications Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1967) 395-416 and 369-394 respectively.
18 Charles G. Dennison, Ernst Kasemann's Theology of Early Catholicism: An Inquiry into the Success of the "Lutheran Gospel" (Pittsburgh, PA: M. A. Thesis, Duquesne University, 1984) 9.
church's structure was reassessed in light of the rising strength of an early Catholicism. Office and church structure were objectified in the new order, and the Spirit was joined to office by definition,19 polity was established by an appeal to a permanently settled definable past, and church unity was mandated as an essential expression of organizational strategy.20
Over against this early Catholicism stood Paul's gospel, the enemy of all who look to external guarantees for the inward realities of faith. Paul's gospel loses ground to the church that places its confidence in office, order, and tradition. Needed is the proclamation of the eschatological event of the turn of the ages. Such proclamation, as takes place in the word and sacraments, calls for a decision. Only in the encounter through proclamation is the Lordship of Christ exhibited. True authority exists only in the event of obedient service. Office exists only in ministry; that is, only in the act of ministry.
To summarize our discussion about office, we take note of the general drift of the church. Traditional understanding has been subjected to radical reassessment inherent to the democratizing and anti- even supra-denominational attitudes that prevail so widely. Office loses not only its historic definition but its definitive Biblical warrant as the twentieth century decides the New Testament provides no settled polity At the same time, Scripture (or at least certain portions of Scripture) are claimed as normative for polity, but only insofar as order and office are juxtaposed with the Spirit and reinterpreted as an event.
Clearly, discussions about office have become quicksand. Even from a traditional Reformed and Presbyterian point of view, this may seem to be the case. (Note the difficulties many are having with the two-office/three-office debate.) Thus, the question becomes one about the quest for solid ground. In this quest, no simple appeal to the Bible will do without a commitment to a wider vision of the Bible's meaning.
19 Ernst Kasemann, "Ministry and Community," in Essays on New Testament Themes (Napierville IL: A. R. Allenson, Inc., 1964) 70.
20 Ernst Kasemann, "Unity and Multiplicity," in New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969) 257.
Ironically, Kasemann, despite his radical orientation, may be of help. His attempt to bring the issues of polity into connection with an over-arching eschatology is interesting. Not that we are interested in or believe the particulars of Kaseman's eschatology. However, in his zeal for eschatology as that which is concerned with ultimate things, Kasemann has admitted to eschatology's pervasive reach and to the fact that it touches upon the entirety of Christian existence, even the matters of office and order. To this extent, we should be listening.
Eschatology and Office
If Kasemann is a prod for us in the providence of God, it is to the end that we would appreciate the depths and riches of our Reformed heritage and look again at those whose interest in eschatology lays before us hints of the relationship between eschatology and office. I say hints because there has not been as thorough a working out of the biblical-theological approach to the church and its offices, keeping in view the Bible's eschatological interest.
Many hints are found in the programmatic work of Vos. Although he does not draw out the implications explicitly for office, his insights into the eschatological character of Christian existence are foundational. His work on Pauline eschatology shows that Christ's work has in view the eschatological goal to which he is brought by his death and resurrection and that by the Spirit the believer's union with Christ is not only unto glory with Christ in heaven, but a participation in glory in a provisional way presently.21 Vos's work on Hebrews makes similar points, although here he is specifically concerned with the linear progression from the old to the new covenant and to show the heavenly reality's relationship to both. In the old covenant, the heavenly reality is shadowed down; in the new, the very substance of that reality has become available or accessible through the ministry of Christ, our great and final high priest.22
21 Cp. "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit", Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980) 91-125; The Pauline Eschatology (1930), especially chapter 1.
22 Cp. The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1974) 57.
The doctrine of the church is, of course, implied in the work Vos sets before us in his studies of Paul and Hebrews. It is expressly considered in his study of The Teaching Of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (1903). Again, office does not enter the discussion, but Vos is direct about the relationship of eschatology to the church. He writes, "The church actually has within herself the powers of the world to come. She is more than the immanent kingdom as it existed before Jesus' exaltation. She forms an intermediate link between the present life and the life of eternity."23 Along these lines, Vos stated his position more fully in his Biblical Theology where he wrote about Matthew 16:18-20:
23 The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951) 84.
24 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948) 428-29.
Drawing from these sources for Vos's view of eschatology, we are able to summarize his position under two headings: first the category of motion which would be inclusive of the redemptive-historical movement from promise to fulfillment (as from Old Testament to New Testament) and the consummating movement from this world to the next; second is the category of the consummate kingdom itself or better heavenly reality which intrudes upon the present life of the church from the future but also provides the pattern and substance from the heavenly world for the church's enjoyment and well-being presently.
It has remained to others beside Vos to work with these categories when it comes to the relationship of office and the eschatological character of the church's life. Edmund Clowney has written extensively on the doctrine of the church from a biblical-theological point of view. He has stressed the eschatological character of the church as the assembly of the Lord, the body of Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. He is very much aware of how the church through the work of Christ and the blessing of the Spirit, comes into possession of the heavenly realities and is made heir of God.25 Thus far, Clowney's position builds well on the second category, that of consummate kingdom and heavenly reality, in our analysis of Vos's eschatology. When it comes to office, the emphasis will fall on the first category that of motion as the church moves toward her goal in ministry. To be sure, Clowney sees offices grounded in Christ,26 but his interest is as these offices are effective for ministry in the areas of worship, edification, and evangelization;27 in other words, as they are useful for the church in making progress toward her goal in this world.
Clowney's labors have been greatly beneficial. He has self-consciously built upon Vos for the purpose of bringing the biblical-theological and eschatological structure of revelation to bear upon the matters of the church, its life, and offices. But, as yet, Clowney has not related these matters fully to the second category we cited earlier, namely, the category of the consummate
25 The Biblical Doctrine of the Church (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979); "The Final Temple." Westminster Theological Journal 35 (1973):156-89.
26 Cp. his article "The Biblical Theology of the Church," in The Church in the Bible and the World, ed. by D. A. Carson (Exeter/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker, 1987) 76.
27 Ibid., 77, 78.
world and heavenly reality. The individual who has begun to move us in this direction is Meredith G. Kline.
First of all, Kline has recognized an intra-testamental development that has much to say about eschatology and office. He lays this out in his book The Structure of Biblical Authority (1972). Kline observes that each testament develops along a similar line. Looking at the Old Testament, we see first the people of God constituted under a mediator during the days of the redemption from Egypt, the wilderness wanderings, and the Transjordan conquests. Next, we see the people temporarily under charismatic leadership in the period of Joshua and the Judges. The third stage finds the people established in the land as the administration of the Old Testament kingdom takes on a sense of finality and permanence. The temple and the institutions of the kingdom speak of permanence, a settledness, and as such they bear the stamp of eternity.
These three stages anticipate what comes in the New Testament. Here we witness again the formative stage in the gospel narratives in which Jesus Christ the final mediator appears for God's great work of redemption. Next comes the period of charismatic leadership and church expansion under the apostles when the Spirit's special gifts abounded. This period is covered in the Acts and evidenced in certain of Paul's letters. Finally, there takes shape "the stable, the permanent, stage of church order,"28 which is reflected in a number of "bridge documents", especially the Pastoral epistles.
Made all the more obvious to us from Kline's presentation should be the interconnectedness of the Old Testament and New Testament. Increasingly clear should be the validity of those arguments that insist upon Old Testament roots to the New Testament offices. Our Presbyterian forebears, the Westminster divines, lacked the finely developed biblical theology of Dr. Kline, but they hardly missed the point when they, without embarrassment or hesitation, grounded the office of the New Testament ministry in the Old Testament priesthood and looked to the Old Testament elder as the precursor to the New Testament governor.29
28 The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972) 106.
29 Cp. the sections on the "Pastor" and "Other Church Governors" in the Westminster Assembly's The Form of Church Government; also Dennison, Order in the Offices, 271-73.
But more to the point of our argument, the development marked out by Kline carries us toward that which is permanent and, in its New Testament expression, that which uniquely conveys the substance of the heavenly eschatological order. However, the question now becomes, has not the heavenly eschatological order always been there preaching, and providing pattern, and in the end supplying substance to things here on earth, particularly the church in its redemptive-historical context?
Kline moves us toward consideration of these things in his book Images of the Spirit (1980). Kline's thesis is this: Genesis 1:2 introduces the theophanic glory-cloud into the creation account with the words "the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters." The Spirit/glory-cloud provides the heavenly paradigm for the creation and for man himself; thus linking them to the heavenly archtype. In the fallen world, the glory-cloud revisits the earth in the Exodus, again bringing order to God's redeemed people and restoring the image of God in the glowing face of Moses, the investiture of Aaron, and subsequently in the exaltation of the king and the commissioning of the prophets. With the New Testament, what had been anticipated in the Old Testament is realized in Christ, who is himself identified with the Spirit/glory-cloud; he becomes, in his service and by his death and resurrection, the fulfillment of Old Testament types seen in the temple and sacrifices, the realization of the Old Testament offices, and the center of God's new creation.
But Kline's position moves us toward equally profound conclusions when we look at the church. Is there a session in heaven, rooted in God in his triune nature, but also coming to expression in the divine counsel of God and his angelic host? Is not the earthly gathering of church rulers derivative of and correspondent to the heavenly gathering? Will not the earthly assembly, created in the Spirit, in its order and its offices, find its origin and counterpart in heaven? The parallel of Old Testament and New Testament order, therefore, is because they derive from the same heavenly source, with the New Testament order more glorious because it is, as Vos says, the heavenly reality actually manifest in the earth, the Old Testament order being merely shadow.
How exalted then the church and her officers become by the grace of God! Christ declares his church to be, with him, of the eternal order "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18). And in its authoritative use of the
keys of the kingdom of heaven, the church finds the bond between its earthly decisions and the decisions council (Mt. 16:19). But even more glorious is the church, in its order and its offices. For it seems that it is more dear to God than the angelic assembly and its council in heaven above. When Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel in Exodus 24 climb the mountain and there behold God with the pavement of sapphire beneath his feet and there eat and drink in God's presence, it is as if a displacement has occurred. The earthly order with its offices is derived from the heavenly pattern, to be sure, but it is destined to be brought to a position higher than the angelic assembly with its elders. Indeed, "he did not subject to angels the world to come" (Heb. 2:5). "And do you not know that you shall judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6:3).
We come to the end of our study, which is only a preliminary suggestion with much work to do. Hopefully we have learned or been reminded that our Reformed faith is wonderfully able to address the present day struggle over eschatology. In fact, the debate is elevated and we are able to rise above millennial squabbles. With a firm grip on the Biblical view of history and on heaven to which history answers, we know that eschatology is about ultimate things and last things. And we are prepared to deal with the relationship between the two.
As far as office is concerned, we know better than to oppose order to order, office and Spirit. Also, in the quest to find solid ground, we know to look to the Scriptures. But we are not so naive to think that consideration of Scripture can be well pursued apart from commitment to its over-arching structure and interest, elevating the discussion and finding resolution to the question of how many offices.
Finally therefore, it is my hope that, in taking stock of the Bible's over-arching structure and interest, we will keep in mind that the heavenly end to which we press by grace is already given to us as the means by which we press, that it all might be of grace. Particularly, when applied to church order, there stands above us the heavenly original by which we are brought to our exalted position already and in glory. Hence we know that, in glory, we who are in and with the twenty-four elders will fall down before God and before the Lamb, cast our crowns before them, having led all creation in this consummate chorus:
Blessing and honor and glory and power
In that day, we will also know how much God has desired to display his glory in its full and perfect radiance before his elders in the heavenly Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem (Is. 24:23).
"Are They Hebrews?"
2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Jeong Woo ("James") Lee
We live as if drifting on the vast ocean of life, often caught in the fierce storm of competition, tossed around by the fickle winds of fortune, in a restless, dizzying undulationat one moment, riding high on the crests of arrogance and the next, falling deep into the troughs of envyfrom the heights of euphoria to the depth of depression. So much of our happiness, our sense of well being, seems to depend on who we are and what we have in comparison to others. This doesn't mean that we have to have more than others. We just don't want to feel too deprived, too far behind when we look around. But maybe you don't want your happiness to be dependent on this game of competition. Maybe you are one of those who have chosen to submerge themselves far beneath the manic-depressant waves of ups and downs because the ups seem far too short compared to the downs and you fear the stomach-churning sense of falling straight down from the top. You have cautiously set your expectations safely low so as not to be disappointed. Maybe if you expect nothing from life, you may find happiness in little thingsthe happiness of low expectations.
Oh, saints, how about you? Are you drifting or are you submerged? Does the gospel matter in these things at all? My goal is not to offer you just another brand of self-help to cope with all the chaotic, pressing affairs of life. But my desire is that you gain a heavenly perspective, in which and by which Paul
lived and ministeredthe life Paul lived out of his union with Christ. We get a glimpse of it in Paul's interaction with the Corinthians regarding the intruders.
"Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ . . . ? I more so." Through these words of Paul, we know for certain that the false teachers at Corinth were Judaizers. Who were the Judaizers? About the Judaizers, we learn two things from our text. First, they were Jews (v. 22). Second, they also considered themselves servants of Christ (v. 23). Why, then, do we call them Judaizers and not Jewish Christians? You see, Jewish Christians would be those Christians who happened to be Jews ethnically. They would be Christians first and foremost. Their ethnicity would be of only incidental importance, if any importance at all. Their ethnicity would be without any significant bearing on their Christian faith or their standing in the church of Jesus Christ. Does it matter whether one is an African, or an Anglo, or an Asian in the new covenant community? Neither should it matter whether one is a Jew or not. Even for Jewish Christians, what is essential to their identity must be Christianity, not their ethnic background. However, to these false teachers, their Jewishness was more than ethnic identity.
We can see why. Under the old covenant, to be a Jew meant much more than ethnic identity. To be a Jew was to be a member of Judaism. Israel was a theocracy. In a theocracy, culture and religion are inseparably and indistinguishably connected with each other. A civil crime requires a religious atonement. A religious crime is subject to civil, criminal punishment. To belong to the kingdom of Israel as a full citizen was also to accept and practice Judaism.
What is more, Judaism was the religion of the old covenant, which God himself established by his decree. Israel had been the central figure in redemptive history. God chose Israel to be his special people and entered into a covenant relationship with them. As such, the Jews were given a special status among all peoples. They were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2). God gave them the law, the prophets, the temple, the sacrificial system, the land, etc. God also gave them circumcision as a sign and seal of the covenant.
We know from Paul's letter to the Galatians that Judaizers demanded that Gentile converts be circumcised according to the Mosaic covenant (Gal. 5:2ff). We also know from Paul's letter to the Colossians that they required Gentile converts to keep the Jewish dietary laws as well as the religious feasts of Israel (Col. 2:16). But at Corinth, the problem that the Judaizers caused was deeper and more subtle. They were promoting not so much certain tangible ritual practices that could be readily identified. Rather they were promoting a certain spirit and attitudewhat we call triumphalism.
Triumphalism is a belief that rejects suffering and pain as incompatible with Christian faith and living. This belief is closely associated with what theologians call "realized eschatology". Realized eschatology sees the present age as the ultimate arena in which all of God's promises and blessings are being fulfilled. Therefore blessings are defined in earthly terms. As you can see, this is quite different from "semi-realized eschatology", which we believe to be true. What semi-realized eschatology teaches is most clearly expressed in the phrase "already and not yet". According to this view, we believe that the kingdom of God has already come in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but is not yet fully consummated and will only be at the second coming of Christ. When Christ returns, this present evil age will be completely displaced and replaced by the age to comethe first creation will be completely replaced by the new creation. According to realized eschatology, however, there is no future displacement and replacement of this present age. This present age, this present world is where all of God's promises and blessings will be realized and harvested. This view does not deny that a new age has come in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But this new age, to them, is simply and purely a chronological, horizontal phenomenon; there is no vertical, heavenly dimension in it. For them, the new age brings the perfection of earthly blessings.
Triumphalism shares the exact same quality with realized eschatology. It is called triumphalism because its theology characterizes Christian living in terms of triumph. Orthodox Christianity, too, would characterize the Christian life as victorious. Paul declared in Romans 8:37 that we are more than conquerors. But our victory in Christ in this day and age is spiritual, not physical. While we reign with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; cf. 1:20), we suffer tribulation
and persecution in this world (Rom. 8:18; Phil. 1:29, etc.). Jesus himself talked of this duality of our spiritual victory and physical suffering in this world in John 16:33: "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." Christians now live in that semi-eschatological tension between spiritual victory and physical suffering. This tension will be resolved only at the second coming of Christ.
But triumphalists can't wait that long. They must have their victoryboth spiritual and physicalnow! According to their theology, there is a direct proportional correlation between their spiritual maturity and physical blessings. The greater faith they have, the greater the material blessings. The reward for their faith is not just their spiritual wellbeing but also material abundance, financial security, power and influence over the world and success in whatever they do. They won't allow the world to persecute them or even look down on them. What they want from the world is its admiration and envy. They want to have more of all that the world wants, provided that they are not evil, immoral things. Their evangelism slogan is, "Do you see all that I have in this world? If you want what I have, believe in Jesus Christ!"
The Judaizers at Corinth were triumphalists. This should not surprise us. For there was something in Judaism that fostered such an attitude. We do not have to look any further than the last portion of the Sinaic covenant, renewed in the Book of Deuteronomy. Of particular interest to us is the sanctions portion of the covenant, recorded in Deuteronomy 28. The Lord says in v. 2, "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the LORD your God." The catalogue of God's blessings follows:
You get the idea. What strikes us is the ubiquity of God's blessing on faithful Israel: God's blessings are everywhereon everything and everyone.
Not only the Israelites but also their offspring; but not only their offspring but also the offspring of their herds and flocks; and not only the offspring of their herds and flocks, but also the produce of their ground will be blessed. The Israelite, if they were faithful, would not be able to escape God's blessings. God's blessing would be ubiquitousthat is, God's blessing would be apparent in every arena.
But another fate awaits the Israelites if they disobey:
The list goes on and on through the end of the chapter. What strikes us, again, is the ubiquity of God's curses on Israel: God's curses are everywhereon everything and everyone. Not only the Israelites but also their offspring; but not only their offspring but also the offspring of their herds and flocks; and not only the offspring of their herds and flocks, but also the produce of their ground will be cursed. The Israelites, if they were disobedient, would not be able to escape God's curse. God's curse would be ubiquitous through the land of Israel. God's curse would manifest itself in every arena of Israel's life.
As you can see, the blessings and curses of the covenantthe rewards for obedience and the punishments for disobedienceare promised in terms of earthly, material categories. More precisely put, the blessings and curses are related to the nature of the old covenant environment. What was the environment in which the old covenant was nestled? The environment for the old covenant, the environment for the covenant community of Israel, was the Promised Land in Palestine. In so far as Israel was an earthly, physical representation of the kingdom of God, the blessings and curses of the covenant
also took an earthly, physical form. Israel's national inheritance was an earthly real estate called the Promised Land and all that it containedthe land and its produce, the animals that grazed and pastured on the land, and the quality of life on the land, such as having children and family, having a plot of land to one's own name, having houses and storage, and having security from the enemies.
Steeped in the Mosaic covenant, the Judaizers still expected the blessings and curses of the old covenant for their spiritual conduct. That is why they boasted of their Jewish pedigree, oratorical skills, social connections and trouble-free life. That is why they viewed Paul with suspicion. The suffering and affliction that characterized Paul's ministry made them seriously doubt the legitimacy of his apostleship. Why would he suffer so much if he did things right? Why would God allow his servant to go through so much affliction if he served God faithfully?
But Paul declares to the Corinthians that a new age has arrivedthat the old covenant has been displaced and replaced by the new covenantthat the people of God have been brought into a new environment! This he declares through his resume of sufferings. For what we have in Paul's resume is a complete reversal of the old covenant administration!
Please pay attention to the language of ubiquity in Paul's resume, particularly in verses 26-27: "I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." Paul's sufferings are ubiquitous. Paul experiences hardships everywhere and from everyone.
This language of ubiquity, which Paul uses to describe his sufferings, is strongly reminiscent of the language of Deuteronomy 28, isn't it? Particularly, in Deuteronomy 28:16, we read, "Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country . . . ." Don't you find a definite, undeniable similarity between these words in Deuteronomy 28:16 and Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 11:26, which say, "dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness . . ."? How
remarkable is this phenomenon when viewed in its redemptive historical progression? Can this great redemptive historical reversal be any clearer? It is as if Paul were saying, "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deepbut, oh, how blessed I am to be considered worthy to suffer for his sake! Blessed am I when I am on frequent journeys! Blessed am I when I face dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers! Blessed am I when I face dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles! Blessed am I when I face dangers in the city; blessed am I when I face dangers in the wilderness and blessed am I when I face dangers on the sea! Blessed am I when I face dangers among false brethren! Blessed am I when I am in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure!" The covenant curses of the Mosaic Law are now listed in Paul's resume as his beatitudesas a proof of his apostolic calling!
This reversal does not imply contradiction between the old covenant and the new covenant. This reversal is designed to unmistakably mark the arrival of what was foreshadowed from the beginning. The reversal signaled that the time of shadows was past and now the time of the true substance had finally arrived. For even under the husk of the old covenant, we can still find the kernel of the new covenanthidden yet present. You see, even the old covenant did not present the earthly blessings and curses as the ultimate goal of the covenant. The blessings in the land were but incentives; the curses in the land were but preventative measures. And these incentives and preventative measures could not be the ultimate goal; they were there to help achieve the goal. Parents might promise certain gifts to their children if they do well in school. But the parents certainly don't want their children to think of the gifts as the ultimate goal; the ultimate goal is to do well in school. In the same way, the ultimate goal of Israel's covenant with God was not the blessings in the land; rather it was Israel's covenant union with YHWH itself. That is why, even under the old covenant administration, the Levites were not given the inheritance in the land. Regarding their inheritance, the Lord said to the Levites, "You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel" (Num. 18:20). Do you see? The Lord withholds from the Levites the blessings of the Promised
Land in order to accentuate the fact that he is their true inheritance! That is why Habakkuk, too, was able to say,
He is deprived of all the blessings of the land. Yet, he is able to rejoice because the Lord is his salvation, his true inheritance forever. Indeed, the deprivation of the earthly blessings helped Habakkuk to see this blessed truth! Yes, the Israelites were promised many blessings in the land if they obeyed the Lord. But the true blessing was found in their faithful and joyful obedience to the Lord itself. For that joyful obedience was a direct, clear sign of the union of hearts and wills between God and his people. That their union with God was without conflict and hostility was a blessing in and of itself. And the opposite was true. To rebel against almighty God in disobedience, to cut off their fellowship with the God of infinite love, was a curse, the worst kind of curse, in and of itself.
In Paul's life and ministry of suffering, this principle was demonstrated clearly and radically. What do you think was going through Paul's mind when he found himself often in unthinkable suffering and pain? Can you imagine what could have been going through his mind when he spent those long, lonely hours in prison cellsdark, damp, cold and filthy? What about each time the whip whizzed through the air and cracked on his chest and back, bursting his skin open, his body cringing under the shock of the unbearable pain? What about when he was being flogged by rods, when the sharp pain dug into his bones and sinews? I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to be actually stoned. The adrenaline rush must have averted some pain but how horrible must have been the impact of the jagged stones mercilessly landing on his skull, on his face, on his arms and hands that covered his head, on his ribs, on his back and even on his shin bones! What about when he
was shipwrecked and had to spend a night and a day in the sea? It is one thing to sail through a storm on a rocking ship; it is quite another to be thrown overboard and into the heaving and crashing waves of the raging sea; to paw the air just to stay afloatand to do that through the utter blackness of the stormy night and through the lightless day!
How long the lashing must have seemed to Paul! I wonder what kind of thoughts went through his mind between one whipping and the next! Was he too overwhelmed by the excruciating pain of the moment? Or did he have just enough sanity to vow never to preach the gospel again? Or could it be that, even in the midst of lashing and whipping, flogging and stoning, his eyes were directed to heaven?
Strangely, the pain did not drive him away from his devotion and allegiance to Christ. Instead, it drew him even closer to his Master and Lord. Each time he was struck with a rod, each time he was lashed, he remembered his Lord Jesus, who suffered on his behalf. While his skin was being gashed open, his union with Christ was being bonded even more tightly and inseparably. Paul was not a sick masochist, who was irresistibly drawn to pain itself. He could not have enjoyed the pain. Truly unbearable was the pain that all those lashing and whipping inflicted on him. But something greater, something far greater than all that pain gripped him even while that pain was being inflicted on him!
He once saw Stephen, the first martyr (whom Paul himself condemned to be stoned); did he not see Stephen calling upon the Lord, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"? Did he not see Stephen being stoned and falling on his knees, yet crying out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"? What he witnessed with his own eyes and yet could not believe now became a reality in his tribulation. He once regarded Stephen as a man cursed by God. But now, he considered him blessed! Now, Paul considered himself blessed to share in the sufferings of Christ as Stephen did! The reality of the new covenant in Jesus Christ, the reality of the kingdom of heaven outshone the pain of physical suffering and emotional humiliation. It was this spiritual reality that enabled him to endure all manner of suffering and pain that were all too real and all too frequent! But more importantly, it was this spiritual reality that gave him an unshakable assurance.
Friends, do you see? To Paul, this theological truth was not something that just sounded good. It mattered to himit meant everything to himin his daily struggle for the gospel of Jesus Christat those very moments when his body was put through the most excruciating torture and pain. Anyone steeped in the Mosaic covenant would have looked at his catalogue of sufferings and said, "Cursed! This man, subjected to such horrible hardships, is certainly cursed by God!" As a former Pharisee, Paul knew that better than anyone. But Paul, now an apostle of Jesus Christ, knew something greater had arrived to change all that! Indeed, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enabled Paul to exclaim triumphantly, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting" (1 Cor. 15:54-55)? If death, which is the ultimate punishment of our sin, the ultimate curse of the law, has lost its sting by the death and resurrection of Christ, how much more our miseries and sufferings in this world? Christ, in his death and resurrection, has removed the curse of the law forever from his people. The curse of the law has lost its sting. It has been forever swallowed up in victory! Paul's resume of sufferings brings this reality to a dramatic expression.
Friends, are you still living under the Mosaic covenant? Do you live as Judaizers did? Do you still depend on what things of the earth you have for your happinessthe things that are temporary and perishable? Are you arrogantly complacent because things seem to go well with youto the point that you have no longing for intimate fellowship with Godto the point that you look down on the less fortunate?
Or, when troubles come at you, when your life seems to be a mountain of obstacles one after another, the next one always seeming worse than the last, do you feel abandoned and cursed? But I declare to youI declare to you on God's eternal faithfulness, "That is not true! There is nothing in both heaven and earth that can separate you from the love of Jesus Christ!" The world might think that you are cursed by God because of all your troubles. Sometimes you yourself might agree with that! But when the stones of affliction and doubt are thrown at you, when the world strikes you with rods and whips of suffering and pain, when you feel all alone, ready to drown in the vast ocean of life, lift your eyes to heaven and see your Lord of glory in heaven! There, in
him, is your reward! There, in him, are all your blessings and treasure! Then you will be able to say with Paul,
You can be sure that you shall never be separated from the love of Jesus Christ! For Jesus Christ, your Savior, was condemned, cursed and abandoned by God on the cross so that you may never be separated from your God! Oh, may you testify to this powerful reality especially at the very moment of your suffering and pain! And with patience, let us look forward to that time when our faith shall be sight, when God himself will wipe our tears, when suffering will be replaced with the endless bliss of heaven!
New Life Mission Church of La Jolla (PCA)
Christ's Method for Maturity
David W. Inks
Most of us drove a car to church this morning. The invention of the automobile has proven to be one of life's great delights. It has also proven to be one of life's great annoyances and headaches. To increase the delight of car ownership and to decrease the mental anguish there are an abundance of manuals to repair them and to maintain them. Paul Harvey, the radio personality who brings us "the rest of the story", advertises "Mr. Goodwrench", the talented and trained specialist who will repair and maintain your car with precision and dependability. But Mr. Goodwrench doesn't just toss a manual at you when you pull into his shop. He's a trained specialist who both understands the manual and how to capably use it so as to return to you a smooth running vehicle.
In like fashion, Jesus Christ has raised up specialists in his Word to preach it for the repair and maintenance of his church. Christ wants his church to be healthy, strong, running peacefully, and free of conflicts. He has given ministers of the Word as gifts to the church for this end. Yet after 2000 years of practice we are faced with a proverbial crisis in ministry. Do those who preach only rehearse the dead written letter or should they receive direct, living messages from God? And what is the job description of a pastor? Is it "minister of the Word" or is it "coach and equipper of the saints"? Do pastors minister or simply equip others who then in turn do the real ministry in the church?
Today I will be contradicting some current, conventional wisdom regarding ministry. For some I will be asking you to take a renewed look at an old proof-text. If I say something contrary to a view you hold, please hear me out completely. My concern is to be faithful to the passage before us. This section in Ephesians falls quite easily into three parts regarding the flow of ministry and growth in the life of the church. It starts with Christ's heavenly headship in verses 7-10. It flows through his earthly ministers in verses 11-12. And it pours into the building up of his body in verses 13-16. This is Christ's method of maturity for his church, his body. Like Mr. Goodwrench, Christ's gifts are specialists, ministers of the Word for the repair and maintenance of his church.
Christ's Heavenly Headship
Paul had just urged the Ephesians in the beginning of chapter 4 to "be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Like an elementary school classroom that is first disciplined and peaceful, it is now ready and positioned for learning and growing to maturity. Growth in the body flows from its head, the heavenly Christ. Christ our Benefactor gives grace to each member and he also gives "gifts to men". Paul wants us to understand that in the New Covenant the community of God's people are nurtured and structured for growth from their heavenly Lord, patterned after the Old Covenant. So Paul employs Psalm 68. This Psalm had enjoyed a distinctive use in the life of Israel. It had been read for years on the day of Pentecost, a day which became a focal point for the recollection and thanksgiving for the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Moses had ascended in the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai. Forty days later he descended with the glory of the Old Covenant revelation contained in the law. He was also given on the Mount a set of blueprints blueprints for the construction of the temple. Christ fulfills this pattern in the New Covenant. Having made purification for sin on his cross and then rising from the dead on the third day, he entered heaven by ascending in a cloud to Mount Zion as recorded in Acts 1:11. Then on the day of Pentecost he descended in the Holy Spirit with the prophetic word of the New Covenant community. Hebrews 12 contrasts these two Mounts where God spoke his Old and
New Covenant words. The Spirit was given on Pentecost because Jesus was glorified in the heavenlies.
Peter's sermon in Acts 2 connects this outpouring of the Spirit with the revelatory Word of prophecy. Jesus had told his apostles of the Spirit's revelatory function in John 14 and 16. "The Spirit of truth" would "teach and bring to remembrance." The Spirit "will guide you into the truth . . . speaking and disclosing" the things of Christ. This descent of the Spirit from heaven is the descent of Christ with New Covenant revelation to the apostolic community. In John 17, Jesus had prayed for his church to be sanctified by the truth, which is God's Word. The belief of the community, Jesus said, would occur through the Word of the apostles (Jn. 17:20). So we then find in Acts 2:42 the infant church abiding in the apostolic teaching, the Word of the apostles. The New Covenant church is begotten and formed by the heavenly Christ. It is formed by the revelatory Word in the glory cloud of the Spirit of Christ descending from Mount Zion. The Christ who "ascended" is the same who "descended" and "gave gifts to men". The church did not emerge as an organizational effort at the hands of men. The church's source and life and covenant Word are from heaven, from Christ. And so too its ministry flows not from its own ecclesiastical resources, but from Christ. Its blueprints for its construction and growth, for its ministry, flows from Christ's heavenly headship. The New Covenant Word is transmitted from the heavenly Christ in the Holy Spirit to the body by means of gifted men. As verse 8 states, "He gave gifts to men." Now we move from the heavenly Christ as the giver and Benefactor to the gift of Christ's earthly ministers, the Benefit.
Christ's Earthly Ministers
"And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." Paul lists four ministers of the Word or officers as the gifts of Christ to the Church. Regarding these ministers of the Word, I have two questions to ask which are currently receiving competing answers.
The first question is: "Are there apostles and prophets receiving direct, unmediated revelation from God today?" The answer to this question depends on whether or not these offices can be historically differentiated. In other words, do the apostles and prophets belong solely to the apostolic era of the first century or, as some charismatics insist, do their offices and activities remain with us to this very day? Listen to Paul in chapter 2:19-20: "you . . . are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord." Paul differentiates between two historic phases in the construction of the church, the temple of Christ. Those phases are the foundation and the superstructure. The foundation consists in the apostles and the prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. The redemptive work of Christ, his death for sinners and his resurrection from the dead, is the once for all historic cornerstone of the foundation. It is the redemptive deed the Old Testament anticipated. This is the "once for all" never to be repeated work of Christ.
Coupled to this foundation deed is the unique role of the New Testament apostles and prophets. Their role is brought forward particularly in 3:3-5: "by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." Note this phrase: "has now been revealed". The ages of redemptive history strained forward in longing for completion. Christ has fulfilled that longing. And to the apostles and prophets of the New Covenant it has "now been revealed". They are the recipients of the revelatory Word. They were part of the "once for all" foundation of the temple as organs of revelation. What they received from Christ they delivered to the church. This is "the faith" as Jude 3 speaks, "which was once for all delivered to the saints." The work of Christ, along with the revelatory offices of the apostles and prophets constitute the "once and for all" foundation.
Thus, contrary to some charismatics there are no apostles and prophets today! And there is no longer any direct Word from heaven! Revelation is canonized and closed. Christ's ministers of the Word were given for its two
respective phases, foundation (apostles and prophets) and superstructure (evangelists and pastors). The fundamental difference between these two groups lies in their reception of revelation. The first were direct and unmediated recipients of revelation. The evangelists and pastor-teachers as part of the superstructure phase received the Word dependently and mediated through the Scriptures. The second group is entirely dependent upon the Word of the first group as recorded as the New Testament Scriptures.
This very distinction can be traced from Paul, as we see the ministerial baton passed to Timothy. There is no mention of Timothy's ministry consisting in the exercise of prophecy. Rather, he is to "retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me" (2 Tim. 1:13). Timothy was to work with a static body of truth received from an apostle. Paul went on to instruct this second generation minister that "the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). A teachable body of truth transmitted to others was the characteristic work of a minister of the Word in the superstructure stage of the church.
The Montanists of the second century re-introduced prophetic gifts into the life of the church. The larger church rightly rejected them. In the early nineteenth century in London, a Presbyterian minister named Edward Irving encouraged and allowed prophetic utterances to grow in the life of his congregation. In the midst of the fervor of this charismatic outbreak, a lawyer named Robert Baxter confronted Irving with his own remorse over participating in what he deemed delusions of prophetic utterances. Baxter recognized the emotionalism and error of his ways. But Irving would not turn back. This charismatic experiment ended in disaster for Irving and his church.
You would think that by the twentieth century the evangelical church would have learned its lessons from history and kept its fingers out of the fire of prophetic utterances. On the contrary, in disregard of the Biblical foundation/superstructure distinction and examples from history, wild prophetic fires have still grown. We find more and more churches fueled by experience and claims to direct messages from God while drifting from its historic foundations as laid in the apostolic Word. But contrary to this modern madness, true ministers of the Word, whether Evangelists to the world or Pastors to the church,
build on another revelatory foundation, the one embedded in the pages of Holy Scripture.
The second question has to do with a modern spin on the very identity of the pastor. Is the pastor fundamentally understood to be a "minister of the Word" or an "equipper of the saints"? Is he a preacher of the Word or a coach of the crowd? Does he do the ministry or does he enable others to do the ministry? The issue of the pastoral identity is no small one. It seems that some folks desire to radically redesign the traditional pastoral role on the basis of a peculiar reading of the three prepositional phrases of verse 12. Here's how the newer, innovative view explains this verse. In verse 11, Christ gives officers to the church and then in verse 12 the purpose or duty of these men is delineated. Christ gave them, as the first phrase states in most of our Bibles, "for the equipping of the saints." We are told that once these saints are "equipped" they in turn are to perform the next two prepositional phrases: "the work of ministry" and "the building up of the body of Christ." Despite its grammatical oddity, the second two phrases of "ministry" and "building" are nestled into the first phrase. The distinctive outcome is that the saints are "equipped" by the gifted men, so that, they can in turn do the "ministry" of "building the body" of Christ. From this perspective the pastoral office is one of "enabling" a working oneself out of a job by enabling others to do the work. The pastor becomes a spiritual gifts specialist to manage the saints in achieving their goals through group dynamics. This defaults to the pastor as a coach, manager, or even worse, CEO.
This particular exegesis of the passage has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by house church advocates, anti-clergy groups and mega-church ranchers. Even the Geneva Study Bible has uncritically adopted it. But is this what the passage teaches? There are at least three good reasons to reject this modern interpretation of the text and its conclusions for the identity of the pastor. First, another view has been championed by older exegetes such as Calvin, Owen, Hodge, and moderns such as Andrew Lincoln and David Gordon. That view understands these three prepositional phrases in their more natural grammatical sense. Here we see that the three phrases are all dependent upon the controlling verb in verse 11"He gave".
Christ gave these ministers to do the following three items: to equip, to minister, and to build. In this case each phrase refers back to what Christ gave these ministers to do. They are three separate, supporting purpose phrases each developing the work of the gifted ones. This is the plain sense of the grammar. It is an awkward construction to insist that two of the phrases are nestled under and explanatory of the first phrase, as the modern view sees it. In agreement with Calvin and the others are the translators of the KJV. There are no textual variants clouding this issue. So listen to how the KJV reads verse 12. Paraphrasing verse 11, "He gave these offices" and then verse 12, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." The verse simply states the threefold work of the "gifted ones". They perfect, minister and build the body. This is what the Word does. Thus, this is what a minister of the Word does also.
Notice that with this understanding of the verse the grounds used to pack the definition of a pastor with managerial freight is removed. Does this mean that the saints have nothing to do for the growth of the body of Christ? Of course not! The saints have much to do in building the body. But this verse does not describe their role at all. Neither does it redefine the role of the pastor in the garb of a coach or CEO after the order of a manager of modern group dynamics.
A second problem with the modern understanding of this verse is the translation of the word "equip". Matthew 4:21 says that the disciples were "mending their nets." The same word. Galatians 6:1 states that "if anyone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness." Outside the New Testament, the word is used in the context of "setting a bone". The sense of "equipping" someone to do something else is not within the normal range of this word. Rather, the ministers of the Word "mend", "restore" or "perfect", as the KJV translates it. This is what the Word of God does to broken sinners; it mends and restores them. And thus it is what the minister of the Word does as he preaches. The translation of "equip" neither fits its range of use or the context here in Ephesians 4. By correcting this translation problem, we also correct the perceived role of the pastor. He is not an "equipper" or coach or manager who enables others to do the "real work" of ministry, but rather one who wields the instrument of restoration and
thereby "restores, mends and perfects" the lives of those who come under its instruction. His preaching of the Word restores and is the ministry, which builds the body of Christ.
Thirdly, the witness of the rest of the New Testament to the ordained offices is completely out of step with this modern notion of equipper/coach and is supportive of the older view of minister of the Word. Acts 6:4 describes the gist of the apostolic calling to be "ministry of the Word and prayer." Titus 1:9 requires the elder to "hold fast the faithful Word . . . to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict." Paul catalogs these traits for Timothy as being able to teach, to nourish the brethren on the Words of the faith as mined from himself and Scripture, to instruct, to study, to reprove, to labor in word and doctrine, and to "preach the Word". These all serve to indicate what is at the heart of the pastor's and evangelist's calling. The older model (which understands the pastor and evangelist as ministers of the Word) is the Biblical one. The new view relegates his central work to "spiritual gifts specialist" who coaches and manages a team of people. This is in reality a concession to the modern demand to meltdown the clergy-laity distinction. It is simply fueled by our spirit of democratic egalitarianism. It is coming to Scripture with one's own cultural assumptions as to how group success is achieved and then reading and translating this "wisdom" into the text
Look around you. What methods does the evangelical church at large invest in today? Who would they have lead them? Some are mesmerized by charismatic preachers claiming intimate dealings with God so as to have "heard from the Lord." Others are looking to dynamic managers who have learned the latest techniques for moving the masses. But Christ's methods for growth, as found in this text, are ministers of the written Word, verifiably godly and gifted men in evangelism and pastoring. These are Christ's gifts to the church. Such men should be gladly received, and supported, and affectionately embraced and encouraged. Not for their own sake, but as those whom Christ has given for the welfare of his church. Which brings us to the last point in this text, Christ's body, the beneficiary of Christ's gifts.
Paul wraps up this flow of ministry with the effects of Christ's gifts to the church in verse 13. They perform their work "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." The faithful ministry of the Word in a church will cause it to grow and be edified unto "unity" and a "mature man" in Christ. Of course this level of unity and maturity is the eschatological goal of the church. Not until the consummation will we realize what Paul calls the "fullness of Christ". But between now and then as we battle day by day in the "already" of Christ's fullness, we press on through the ministry of the Word of God to win the day of ultimate conformity to Jesus Christ. We continue on that redemptive historical highway which ends at last in the celestial city.
If verse 13 is what Paul holds before us as the goal into which we are growing then in verse 14 Paul tells us what we are growing out and away from. "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." Under the ministry of the Word we leave behind the independence and ignorance and instability of immaturity. We are to move away from the fallen tendency to be pluralized children, independent entities, each demanding his own way. By the mending, restoring Word we grow into the unity of our singular manhood in Christ. We learn the way of Christ's cross, of self-denial and servanthood. We grow from ignorant children to knowledgeable and skilled men. And we grow through the ministry of the Word from gullible and unstable to perceptive and stable adults in the ways of Christ. How? Verse 15 again bookends Paul's emphasis that we grow by the truth of the Word: "but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." Such a flow of ministry issues in a harmoniously working body as verse 16 concludes: a strong body, a healthy body where all the parts are now able to meaningfully make their own distinctive contribution and therein also play their crucial role of "causing the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." Body life does not
eclipse the role of the minister of the Word in this program. Rather, it confirms it. It carries it to completion. It assists, applies and furthers its impact by "the proper working of each individual part."
This is Christ's method for maturity. It is a flow of ministry like a waterfall that proceeds from a high cliff, runs over a series of boulders then plunges into a pool of refreshing water which swirls around and around before continuing to its destination. It is Christ's pattern. It is his method for the growth of his body, both in quantity and quality, by Evangelist and Pastor. Our great heavenly Benefactor's methods are being set aside in many segments of the church these days for what appears to be more exciting benefits. However, the long-term yields are proving to be of very low interest. If we are to be truly the beneficiaries of his great wisdom and gifts, then it behooves us to listen again to this text of Ephesians. Christ, our Benefactor, just didn't toss a manual at his church for its own repair and maintenance. He has given his church the benefit of his gifts, specialists in the Word of God. Through them he visits, and redeems, and feeds his church with the means of grace. These godly and gifted men need to be recognized by his church, trained in her courts, and embraced to her bosom for the ongoing repair, maintenance, and maturation of her daughters and sons in Christ.
Lynnwood Orthodox Presbyterian Church
According to the Biblical view of reality there are two ages: this present evil age, and the age to come (Matt. 12:32; Gal. 1:4, Eph. 1:21). These two ages provide an overarching framework for understanding our identity as Christians. The unbelieving world around us denies that there is any such thing as an age to come, and invests all of its energy in attempting to improve this present evil age. Unbelievers therefore find their identity in and have their thinking shaped by the earthly-minded values and fleeting prospects of this age.
We, as Christians, on the other hand, live not for this passing world but for the glory of the age to come, the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells, and where the glory of the triune God will engulf the cosmos that God may be all in all. Our minds and our identity are shaped by a transcendent reality the eschatological glory of God's eternal reign in heaven. These two ages, then, are all-encompassing in their scope and determine our ultimate priorities. Every individual is living in and for one of these ages pursuing the glory of self or the glory of God, living for earth or for heaven, for the city of man or the city of God.
* Reprinted with permission from The Presbyterian Banner, magazine of the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, August 2000.
This two-age view of reality takes on an additional twist in the New Testament. According to the teaching of Jesus in the gospels, the age to come (or the Kingdom of God) has arrived earlier than expected (Mark 1:15; Luke 17:20-21). The powers of the age to come have intruded into history in the person and work of Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. And those who by faith are united to Christ have been transferred from this present evil age into the power of the eschatological age of the Spirit. They have entered the Kingdom of God.
The Tension of the 'Already' and the 'Not-Yet'
As real and life-changing as the arrival of the eschatological Kingdom is, however, we who are believers in Christ have not yet arrived to its fullness. For those who have been transferred into the age to come by the Spirit still dwell on earth in the flesh. This creates a tension in the Christian life. On the one hand, we have been raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). On the other hand, we are yet groaning in mortal tents as we suffer in this present age, longing for the glory of the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:1-5). In other words, the age to come overlaps the present age, creating a temporary eschatological tension in the period between the two comings of Christ. Paul speaks of this tension in the following terms: "Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
Sound and Unsound Approaches
Redemptive-historical preaching begins with this two-age understanding of the Christian life. It strives to bring the hearers into a fuller awareness of their position in Christ: already raised with Christ, yet groaning in this present age and longing for the second coming of Christ. The implications of the believer's eschatological and Christ-centered identity are comprehensive and practical. It is the redemptive historical preacher's goal to bring out those implications ("applications") from every text of Scripture.
This approach differs dramatically from the contemporary preaching method I call "the application bridge." This is the misguided attempt to make Scripture relevant by crossing the chasm between the ancient text and the modern world by building man-made application bridges. Redemptive-historical preaching denies the existence of the chasm in the first place, thus eliminating the need to "make" Scripture relevant or applicable. The text does not contain certain abstract principles or ideas that can be extracted, processed, and then applied to our situation. Rather, the text itself is an extension of the incarnation. In the history of redemption in the Old Covenant, God has ordained a typological anticipation of the coming of Christ in the flesh. And the text of the New Covenant is the apostolic proclamation of the fulfillment of the Old Covenant history and the inauguration of a new creation by Christ. United to Christ by means of the text, we live and move and have our being, not in this present evil age which is passing away, but in Christ himself.
If we take the application bridge approach, we are in effect denying that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We would be saying that our lives are ultimately tied to this passing evil age, rather than to the eschatological Kingdom to which we are bound by our union with the crucified-but-now-exalted Christ. The application bridge denies union with Christ with the Christ in whose death we were severed/crucified from this corrupt, present evil age (Gal. 6:14) and in whose resurrection we have ascended into the incorruptibility and glory of the age to come.
The application bridge says that we must derive certain timeless principles or moral applications form the text, then process them through a Kantian grid that enables them to be conveyed in a contemporary form applicable to our current needs as modern men and women. Thus, the people of God are united not to Christ and his death and resurrection, but to a philosophical system of principle, extraction and translation.
Most evangelical preachers today have succumbed to the problematic of the application bridge and thus they essentially deny that the text is the God-ordained means of uniting us with Christ by faith. Their preaching method belies a spirit of unbelief. For them the text is insufficient unless it is periodically updated or made relevant to the contemporary situation. But they fail to realize that this contemporary situation will ultimately pass away and is there-
fore itself doomed to irrelevance. The redemptive historical preacher, by contrast, believes that the age to come is abiding, and therefore it alone is truly relevant.
Hebrews: A Case Study
I have found that when I discuss my philosophy of preaching with those who take an application-bridge approach, the issue of the Epistle to the Hebrews often emerges. Hebrews is clearly an example of a sermon from the apostolic age. The author identifies his epistle as "a word of exhortation" (Heb. 13:22), a description applied in Acts 13:15 to Paul's sermon at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. If Hebrews is a sermon, then we ought to consider the kind of application that Hebrews employs. I would argue that the applications of Hebrews should not be characterized as the building of application bridges, but as redemptive historical applications. There are at least three differences between Hebrews and modern preaching.
(1) REDEMPTIVE-HISTORICAL POSITION: The application bridge method assumes that there is a profound and ugly chasm between the ancient text and the modern world. The author of Hebrews assumes that the saints of the Old Covenant and those he is addressing stand in the same redemptive-historical position pilgrims between the exodus and the inheritance, that is, between two ages, the already and the not-yet. (There is a difference, to be sure, since the church stands at the end of the ages, and her "already" is the realized eschatology of fulfillment, rather than the realized eschatology of typology and promise. But that difference only serves to underscore our fundamental unity with the Old Testament saints Heb. 11:39-40.)
(2) VERTICAL vs. HORIZONTAL: The application bridge method strives to develop applications that are contextually relevant to the contemporary situation in this passing age. The author of Hebrews applies his sermon by taking his hearers and placing them in their heavenly environment and situation, that is, to the age to come. He tells them that they have come to Mount Zion, that they have a Great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary made without hands, that they have here no abiding city but one which is to come, whose builder and maker is God, etc. The difference here is as antithetical as the two ages
themselves. Thus, the direction of the application bridge is horizontal (from ancient text to modern world), while the direction of the author or Hebrews is vertical (from this passing world to the heavenly world above).
(3) INDICATIVE-GROUNDED IMPERATIVE vs. BARE IMPERATIVE: The application bridge method, having erected the bridge, then invites the hearers to cross that bridge by means of acts of obedience (that is, by works). The author of Hebrews calls, warns, urges, and exhorts his hearers not to do something in the first place but to lay hold of their heavenly position by faith. The constant exhortation/application of Hebrews is to faith, that is, to enter the heavenly Sabbath rest (4:1-11) of that inheritance which has already been achieved by Christ's meritorious works. Only once this faith-application has been established with crystal clarity in the first twelve chapters, does the author then make specific calls to live in light of that heavenly reality by loving the brethren (13:1), honoring marriage (13:4), obeying their leaders (13:17), etc. In other words, the call to obedience is grounded in and flows from their heavenly position which has been grasped by faith. Obedience does not cause one to enjoy one's heavenly position. Only faith does. But if one's heavenly position is a reality, then one's life must be in accord with that reality.
A Specific Example-Hebrews 10:25
Let's apply what we have said by looking at the specific example of the command to "not forsake the assembling of yourselves together" (Heb. 10:25). The application bridge method might argue something along these lines: In the ancient world of the Old Covenant people of God, believers would go to an ornate temple of gold and precious stones to worship God. But now, in our modern world, we no longer have temples. Therefore, the modern application of Old Testament temple worship is to go to church. Now you people tend to be late to church. So make sure you set your alarm clock and give yourself plenty of time to get ready! What is missing in the above? The awesome statement in vv. 19-22 that "we have boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh . . . ." The author of Hebrews does not tell his hearers that they are unlike the Old Testament saints in that they do not have a temple. No, he tells them
that they are just like them, since they are entering the inner sanctuary itself by the blood of Jesus (point 1 above same redemptive historical position).
But he goes a step further, for in fact, they are in a better position than the Old Testament saints: they have a heavenly (not an earthly) temple, to which they (not just the high priest once a year) may enter with boldness (not with fear). The application is not horizontal but vertical (point 2). And thus, the call to go to church is really a call not to do something that they really don't want to do (getting up early on Sunday morning), but to lay hold of their heavenly position in Christ, thus doing by faith what they already are. The application then is to faith to believe that they have a new and living way, and a great High Priest in heaven; to believe that their hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience and their bodies have been washed with pure water and thus to enjoy this heavenly position by not forsaking the assembling of themselves together (point 3).
What, then, is redemptive historical preaching? It is preaching which strives to imitate the preaching of the New Testament itself by making applications that are determined by the redemptive historical, eschatological, and Christocentric nature of the text. Applications which merely build a bridge from the ancient text to the modern world leave the people of God still in the hopelessness of the present age. Applications which show them who they are in Christ (indicative), and which exhort them to live in light of the implications of that union with Christ (imperative), bring the people of God into the heavenly arena of the glory of the age to come.
Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel