Friday, April 29, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 3

So we started this little series on how Christians can better engage and evangelize Jehovah's Witnesses by outlining a bit of their history and some basic theological beliefs. Then, to see the distinction between what the Witnesses believe and what the Bible teaches (as well as preparation for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday), we took a look at a summary of the Bible's Christology.

To be properly prepared, though, we have to be familiar with some basic textual and translational issues in key passages in the New Testament, And so in light of the clear and consistent evidence that the New Testament presents Jesus Christ to the world as God Himself, one might wonder what leg the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to stand on. After all that, how could they deny that Jesus is God?

To understand this, we have to examine the Witnesses' understandings of some key Christological texts and contrast such understandings with a consistently Biblical interpretation. Because much of their defense is to question the accuracy of modern translations of the Bible and to distort the New Testament text, it will be necessary at times for us to get somewhat technical in our evaluation and critique. But stay with me. Don’t let that discourage you or scare you off. This is precisely the work that the contemporary Church—laden with laziness and anti-intellectualism—must be roused to undertake. It’s in this way that we’ll be equipped to demonstrate that the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New World Translation, and the Watchtower Society fail to stand Biblical scrutiny and fall short of a Biblical Christology.

God the Savior: Titus 2:13

The first significant text that we’ll look at is Titus 2:13.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of the deity of Jesus is the explicit identification that He is God. In Titus 2:13, Paul writes that believers anticipate “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (NAU), and thus identifies “Christ Jesus” as “our great God.” However, the NWT renders the text: the “glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus…”

Did you catch that? They supply the word “the,” as is indicated by the brackets. And in so doing they interpret the phrase as referring to two different persons: (1) Jehovah, “the great God,” and (2) Jesus, “[the] Savior of us.”

But there is simply no warrant for adding that extra article—i.e., the extra “the.” The Greek text simply reads, “the great God and Savior of us.” To support their biased translation, Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to Titus 1:4 as a lens through which to interpret 2:13. They argue that this text “clearly differentiates between [the Father] and Christ Jesus, the one through whom God provides salvation” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 421).

Sharp’s Rule

Now, they may not know this, but that understanding of Titus 2:13 violates a standard principle of Greek grammar, called Sharp’s rule. Scholars looked at sentences that have this identical structure (i.e., article-noun-kai-noun; “the God and Savior”), And they observed that when both nouns meet three criteria, they always refer to the same person. Those criteria are:
  1. Both nouns are personal, meaning they refer to a person as opposed to an inanimate object or animal.
  2. Both nouns are singular.
  3. Both nouns are not proper. A noun is considered non-proper if it is unable to be pluralized (see Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 272 n.42). So, for example, “God” is not a proper name, because it can be made plural: “gods.” On the other hand, “Timothy,” for example, can’t legitimately be made plural, so it is a proper name.
So, in a construction with this structure (article-noun-kai-noun), when both nouns are personal, singular, and non-proper, they refer to the same person (see Wallace, Greek Grammar, 270ff). Since the phrase, “the great God and Savior” is governed by a single article (not two articles, as the NWT reads), the nouns must be understood to have a single referent: Jesus Christ.

In fact, if Paul had wanted to show a distinction between “God” and “Christ Jesus,” he could have done so easily and unambiguously by inserting another article (as the NWT has done) before “Savior.” But, of course, he did no such thing, because it was his intention to identify the Lord Jesus our Savior as our great God. (Another Sharp’s construction that identifies Jesus as God is found in 2 Peter 1:1, literally: “…the God and Savior [TSKS] of us, Jesus Christ.”)

So in an interaction with a Jehovah’s Witness, you should prepare yourself to defend the deity of Christ on the basis of the original text. It might seem daunting if you don’t know much Greek. But if we are to effectively engage the Witnesses, we have to avail ourselves of all the evidence, and certainly the clearest and most compelling evidence.

Even if You Don’t Know Greek

But even if you didn’t know any Greek at all, you could still demonstrate that Titus 2:13 refers to Jesus as God. You’d simply have to appeal to the teaching of the Old Testament. Even in the NWT, Isaiah 43:11 declares “I—I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no savior.”

So, if there is no savior besides Jehovah, then Paul’s identification of Christ as “our Savior” in Titus 2:13 requires that Jesus is Jehovah, God Himself. The only other conclusion would be to say that Jesus is a savior besides Jehovah, and that flatly contradicts Isaiah 43:11.

Further, you could also appeal to the fact that Paul uses “God our Savior” and “Jesus Christ our Savior” interchangeably throughout his letter to Titus:
  • Titus 2:10 – …showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. This is likely referring to the Father.
  • Titus 2:13 – ...looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus… As demonstrated above, this is unmistakably referring to Jesus.
  • Titus 3:4 – But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared… This is likely referring to the Father.
  • Titus 3:6 – …whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Again, this is unmistakably referring to Jesus Christ.
And so the case for orthodoxy is only strengthened.

The conclusion for this key text, then, is that we as Christians should lovingly yet confidently challenge the Witness to engage both the textual (i.e., Sharp’s rule) and contextual evidence in Titus 2:13. We shouldn’t shy away from the technical aspects of the Greek text that only clarify the historic Evangelical position of the deity of Christ. But we should also make use of the arguments available even from the English.

The important point is: don’t be thrown off by their arguments. The sufficient Scriptures are on your side. Make use of them!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What the Lord of the Universe is Comforted By: Reposted

As I've been meditating on the truths of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday -- the events surrounding and the Scripture passages commenting on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, I was reminded of a post I wrote a while ago, entitled, "What the Lord of the Universe is Comforted By." I thought that it fit well with the death and resurrection themes, and so I decided to re-post it. I pray it's a benefit.

And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

Jesus is acknowledging that the time for His crucifixion is near. We learn from the next verse (which we'll look at in a minute) that He was troubled. And that's not terribly surprising. It's not that He's just going to die an agonizing and ignominious death at the hands of those who have perverted His Father's holy Law, and have subjugated His people under a yoke of slavery that no one in history has been able to bear (Ac 15:10). That would be enough to trouble any of us, certainly.

But Jesus' trouble went deeper than that. He was troubled at the fact that soon He would lose the delightful and exuberant fellowship that He had always enjoyed with the Father. There would, for the first time in eternity, be a horrible change in their relationship; it would go from one of perfect communion, love, blessing, joy, and delight in each other, to abandonment, hatred, cursing, wrath, and shame. On the cross, Jesus would experience the full exercise of the righteous wrath of His Father -- wrath He had known objectively but never experientially. The bitter cup that He never deserved to drink would soon be pressed to His lips, and the delightful, well-pleased smile of His Father -- the apple of His eye from all eternity -- would be hidden from Him.

Very literally, Jesus is about to go through hell.

And so He's troubled. But even at that point (in verses 23-26), He is comforting Himself with the promises of His Father. He speaks of His impending death -- both physical and spiritual -- as being "glorified." Rather than focus on the condemnation He will suffer for His people, He remembers that His Father will not let His Holy One undergo decay (Ps 16:10), and that as a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied (Is 53:11), He will be allotted a portion with the great (Is 53:12). And so He reminds Himself that His death will eventually mean His glorification. He reminds Himself and His disciples that it is through this kind of self-sacrifice that one doesn't waste his life, but bears much fruit... that eternal life knowing the Father and knowing Christ (Jn 17:3) is better than a comfortable life on earth for 80 years.

And yet in the moment, He still says, "Now My soul has become troubled."

And then he asks, "...and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour."

That's so beautiful. "Father, I am troubled. My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death (Mt 26:38). I don't want to leave You. I don't want to be abandoned by You. I don't want to lay down the privilege of the consummate joy and love and delight that We've had for all eternity. I want to continue to know Your blessing and Your smile. I want to continue to be well-pleasing to You. Father, I am troubled.

"But Father I trust You. I entrust Myself wholly to You (1Pet 2:23). For I know You are in control of all things. And I know that You are most wise. And I know that at the heart of Your very Being that You are good, for I have witnessed firsthand the overflow of Your beneficence in all creation and providence. So I will not ask that you deliver me out of this trial. No, this is precisely why I have come."

And so He doesn't ask that His suffering be removed. But what is amazing, what is staggering, what is so refreshing, is what He does ask for.

"Father, glorify Your name."

That's what He wants! That's what comforts the Savior's soul! He wants to see His Father's name be magnified and honored and made to look as big and as sweet and as desirable as it actually is! He wants to see His Father's glory! The glory of the Father is so pleasing, so delightful, so enjoyable to the Son that it is what He asks for to comfort Him before the greatest trial, the greatest suffering, that anyone has endured in history.

Oh, we've got to see this! This is not just amazing self-sacrifice on Jesus' part. Jesus is not merely saying, "I'll give it all up as long as God is glorified." He's saying that, but that's not nearly the whole story! He's actually saying that what He wants to calm His troubled, deeply grieved soul is the sight of His Father's glory! This is what reassures Him of His Father's sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness. It is knowing that He Himself will be glorified with this glory that He so enjoys, as He enjoyed before the world was (Jn 17:5), that comforts Him and gives Him strength to do this terrible, awesome work. The Father's glory is the joy that was set before Him for which He endured that shameful cross (Heb 12:2)!

And the Father grants His Son's request: "Then a voice came out of heaven: 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.'"

Oh I pray that you feel the weight of that, Christian! I pray that this awesome interaction between Father and Son lands on you!

And how instructive it is for us in our Christian life, especially through the trials and sufferings that God has granted to us (Phil 1:29). In every aspect of our lives, what should be our comfort? What should be our request to God for strength to do the work He's given us? Our request should be, "Father, glorify Your name." Our comfort should be the seeing and savoring of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Cor 4:6; 2Cor 3:18; Ex 33:18).

I can bear the scoffing and mocking of an unbelieving generation. I can gladly sacrifice popularity among my friends. I can endure the disowning and snubbing of my own family. I can face cancer, disease, and arduous medical procedures with joy. I can live my life with next to no money and worldly comforts for these 80 short years. I can lay down my life... if... if my Father will glorify His name! If the name of my God would be lifted up and exalted and magnified, if I can see Him and enjoy Him in all His majesty, well then for me to live is Christ! And to die is gain!

Be instructed, dear friends, and be comforted by what the Lord of the universe is comforted by.

...for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance
through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
according to my earnest expectation and hope,
that I will not be put to shame in anything,
but that with all boldness, Christ will even now,
as always, be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me,
to live is Christ
and to die is gain.
- Philippians 1:19-21 -

Sunday, April 24, 2011

That's My King!

I doubt this will ever get old, and I can't think of a better Resurrection Sunday post.

I rejoice this day in the resurrection and the life of my King, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, King Jesus the Christ, the Name above all names.

Rejoice with me.

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance,
God is now declaring to men that
all people
should repent,

because He has fixed a day
in which He will judge the world in righteousness
through a Man whom He has appointed,
having furnished proof to all men
by raising Him from the dead.

- Acts 17:30-31 -

Jesus said to her,
"I am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,
and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
- John 11:25-26 -

He proved it.

Do you believe this?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 2

A Summary of Biblical Christology

We mentioned last time that the Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses falls woefully short of the Christology revealed in the pages of Scripture. In fact, one would need to study diligently to find a more well-attested Biblical doctrine than the deity of Jesus Christ. Robert Bowman and ed Komoszewski provide a helpful mnemonic for assimilating the weight of Biblical evidence for Christ’s deity: Jesus shares the HANDS of God—His honors, attributes, names, deeds, and seat.[1] Soak in these truths, such that they become part of your arsenal of defense against those who would assault the glory of Jesus Christ by robbing Him of His deity. (And be sure to mouse over the references and read the passages, otherwise this post just doesn’t make any sense.)

The New Testament presents Jesus as the recipient of honors reserved exclusively for God. He is lauded as the Creator and Sustainer of the world (Col 1:16–17), honored in doxologies (2 Pet 3:18), and is the object of the saints’ worship (Rev 5:9–10). The Son is to be honored just as one honors the Father (John 5:23), and God Himself commands all the angels to worship Him (Heb 1:6). Such a command would be unseemly if Jesus were a mere angel. Indeed, the angels rightly refuse such worship (Rev 19:10; 22:8–9), while Jesus Himself accepts it without reproof (Matt 14:33; John 20:28).

Jesus also shares the attributes of God, for “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9); He is “the radiance of [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3). He is the Holy One of God (John 6:69), is called Faithful and True (Rev 19:10), is righteous in all He says and does (2Tim 4:8), and is the embodiment of love (1Jn 3:16). He is eternal (John 1:1), omnipresent (Matt 28:20), omniscient (John 21:17), immutable (Heb 13:8), and sovereign (Phil 3:20–21).

A study of the names applied to Jesus also reveals His deity. He is not infrequently called God (John 1:1; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8), even the true God (1Jn 5:20)! As mentioned earlier, He is the Holy One (Acts 3:14; 13:35). He is the Son of God (Matt 16:16), a title for which the Jews sought to stone Him for blasphemy (John 5:18; 10:33; 19:7). On multiple occasions He identified Himself as the “I AM” (John 8:24, 28, 58; 18:5) and thus equated Himself with the covenant God of Israel as revealed in the Old Testament (Exod 3:14), which the Jews recognized as outrageous (John 8:59; 18:6). And of course, He is most frequently hailed as Lord (Lk 2:11; Acts 10:36; Phil 2:11), which is translated from the Greek word kurios. This word is used over 6,000 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to translate the divine name.

Further, Jesus shares the deeds of the Father. As mentioned above, He has both created the world (John 1:1–3; Col 1:16) and does now sustain it by the word of His power (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17). Most significantly, Jesus both declares and demonstrates His authority to forgive sins, something that even His opponents understood to be the work of God alone (Lk 5:20–21). Correspondingly, He gives eternal life to His sheep (John 10:28) and gives the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) and His gifts (Eph 4:8–11) to the Church. He also controls the forces of nature (Matt 8:23–27), raises the dead (John 11:25–26), and judges the world (Acts 10:42).

Finally, Jesus shares the seat of the Father, the very position and place of God Himself. He has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named” (Eph 1:21; cf. Phil 2:9–11). The very throne of God is called “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1, 3).

In light of the clear and consistent evidence that the New Testament presents Jesus Christ to the world as God Himself, one might wonder what leg the Jehovah's Witnesses have to stand on. After all that, how could they deny that Jesus is God? In upcoming posts, we'll examine the Jehovah's Wintesses' understandings of some key Christological texts and contrast such understandings with a consistently Biblical interpretation.

For unless you believe that I am He,
you will die in your sins.
- John 8:24 -

[1] This post was greatly influenced both by the Bowman and Komoszewski book (Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007] ) as well as the Theology II class notes and discussion provided by Dr. Andrew Snider at The Master’s Seminary.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 1

It may not be an exaggeration to suppose that nearly every Christian family has experienced that sudden sense of panic when a well-dressed pair of zealous visitors knocks at their door early on a Saturday morning. The fear that results from not knowing how to effectively defend one’s position from Scripture, as well as from knowing even less about one’s opponent’s position, renders most Christians either coldly unloving or woefully outmatched against the prepared answers and clever arguments of these bold proselytizers.

Yet in each iteration of this all-too-common scene precious opportunities for the preaching of the Gospel are lost, and damnable teaching goes undisputed. For the sake of the propagation of sound doctrine and the purity of the Gospel, it is necessary that Christians be equipped to effectively engage and evangelize Jehovah’s Witnesses. I hope that a short series of blog posts will contribute to the education of fellow believers regarding the heretical doctrines of the Watchtower Society and will equip true followers of Christ to defend an orthodox Christology from the text of Scripture.

A Synopsis of their History and Beliefs

The sect known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses began in 1872 as their founder, Charles Taze Russell, gathered a group of people for Bible study in western Pennsylvania. Over the next 35 years the organization grew to official and even international status before suffering a split and change of leadership in the early 20th century.

Though the formation of the Watchtower Society was seemingly gradual, Witnesses acknowledge its establishment in 1914, as they believe that it was then that a “spiritual ‘second coming’ of Christ occurred” (Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 72). At this time, God “personally set up the Watchtower Society as His visible representative on earth” (Rhodes, 23), and thus the only viable arbiter and interpreter of spiritual truth. Thus, the Watchtower Society is to Jehovah’s Witnesses what the Magisterium is to Roman Catholics. “At this time Christ began to gather to himself a faithful remnant and commissioned them to be Witnesses of Jehovah and his Kingdom” (Metzger, "The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ," 69.

Throughout history, such witnesses will not exceed 144,000, for they believe—based on a faulty interpretation of Rev 7:1ff—that those finally saved will not exceed this number. They establish such aberrant interpretations with the aid of a specious translation of the Scriptures, the New World Translation, which reputable scholars have condemned as “radically biased,” “reprehensible,” and “intellectually dishonest.”[1] The NWT is uniquely prejudiced to maintain the theological predilections of the Witnesses.

Among the many doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their Christology is what chiefly distinguishes their teaching from historic Christian orthodoxy. Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ is not God incarnate, but rather the first created being through whom the true God, Jehovah, made the world. They argue that He is begotten, not self-existent (John 3:16), the beginning and firstborn of the creation, not eternal (Rev 3:14; Col 1:15), and the instrument of creation (Col 1:16), but not the Creator Himself (Aid to Bible Understanding, 391).

Therefore, they teach that Jesus is inferior to Jehovah. They support such teaching by citing passages of Scripture which speak of Christ’s functional subordination to the Father. Jesus Himself said, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Paul told the Corinthians that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), and later said the Son will be subjected to the Father (1 Cor 15:27-28; see their Reasoning from the Scriptures, 410). And so they conclude that Christ is not equal in essence with Jehovah God. They seem unable to allow an essential equality yet functional subordination between the Father and the Son. Yet that very distinction is established between husband and wife (1Cor 11:3, 7–12); they are inherently equal, but have differing and complementary roles. Surely one may see this distinction in regards to marriage. Why not, then, within the members of the Trinity?

They do, however, stipulate that Christ existed before His incarnation, yet not as God, but as Michael the Archangel (The Watchtower [May 1969], 307). They draw upon similarities such as the fact that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Jesus will return at the voice of the archangel, who is identified in Jude 1:9 as Michael. Further, Revelation 12:7–12 says that Michael will do battle with Satan, yet Revelation 19:11–16 speaks about Christ leading the armies of heaven against the nations of the world. Thus Michael and Christ must be the same person.

Consequently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ. In His appearances after His death and burial, He was not a glorified human being, but was recreated as Michael the Archangel (Rhodes, 71). His appearance to Thomas and the others with the evidence of His crucifixion was only His using “a body with wound holes.”[2] Such a spiritual resurrection harmonizes with the “spiritual second coming” mentioned above.

What to Make of All This

The Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, falls woefully short of the Christology revealed in the pages of Scripture. In fact, one would need to study diligently to find a more well-attested Biblical doctrine than the deity of Jesus Christ. In the next couple of posts I hope to clearly lay out the Biblical evidence regarding the person of Jesus Christ, to the end that the saints be better equipped to engage and refute the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That way, when you hear the knock on your door on Saturday morning, it won’t be chills you feel running up your spine, but the steel that strengthens you in Christ to love your neighbor as yourself, having mercy on those who are deceived, and compassionately snatching them as brands from the burning.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to make a defense
to everyone who asks you to give an account
for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence;
and keep a good conscience
so that in the thing in which you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
- 1 Peter 3:15-16 -

[1] As cited in Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 96. Cited are Dr. Robert Countess, Dr. Bruce Metzger, and Dr. William Barclay, respectively.

[2] You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1982), 143.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Arrogance is the New Humility

The context for the below video is set in the current controversy over Rob Bell, his heretical universalism, and "evangelicalism's" utter disbelief that anyone would ever call him out on it. That's not what this blog post is about. Rather, in answering this question, Doug Wilson makes some phenomenal points about the nature of Christian ministry that I was hoping to echo in this series, and particularly in this post.

I absolutely love what he says about being a herald. Pay close attention to that around 3:00.

This must characterize our ministry. We are not to preach ourselves. We are not orators who have the luxury of altering our message or our method in order to win the favor of our audience. We are heralds -- men under assignment who must preach the message with which they've been commissioned and let the chips fall where they may.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On the Leading of the Holy Spirit

Have you ever heard somebody say that the Spirit “led” them to do something? Or something like, “I felt led to” do such and such? I’ve heard those kinds of statements. I’ve said those kinds of things, too. But what do people mean when they say that? And, more importantly, is that a Biblical way of understanding and speaking about the Spirit’s ministry among believers?

It might surprise you, as it did me, to learn that the phrase “led by the Spirit” occurs only twice in the New Testament:
  • Romans 8:13-14 – For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
  • Galatians 5:16-18 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
You’ll notice that both occurrences of “led by the spirit” come in the context of the mortification of sin. The Holy Spirit’s testimony about His own role in “leading” believers is specifically set alongside the putting away the desires and deeds of the flesh. To do that is to walk by the Spirit; that is, to walk by means of Him: to be led by Him. And so if we are going to be relentlessly Biblical, this has to be the way we primarily understand and use that phrase: being led by the Spirit. “The Spirit led me to put off my anger and bitterness.” “The Spirit led me to mortify my lust for attention and recognition.” And so on.

That’s Not How We Use It

But people rarely do restrict their usage of this phrase to the specific context of mortification. Instead, I’ve observed that we use it in (at least) two ways. First, we say that the Spirit led us to do something in order to give glory and credit to God for favorable and gracious circumstances and providences that we’ve experienced. Some good thing has happened, and we simply are being conscious to not take any glory for good things to ourselves. Rather, we desire to ascribe the various mercies we receive to the good, meticulous providence of a sovereign and loving God who ministers to His people through the agency of His Holy Spirit.

And I think this is good. Even though we must stipulate that we’re not using the phrase exactly as Paul coined it, we aren’t trying to slip in any weird theology. We’re just trying to give credit where credit is due. And besides, since Scripture does teach the absolute sovereignty and meticulous providence of God, we have a theological basis for speaking this way. It is good, and right, and proper. In fact, I’d even say that we must give credit to the Spirit in this way.

But some people speak about being led by the Spirit in another way, too. They use it as a seal of their authority for what they have to say or what they propose to do. This is wrong, for it assumes that the Spirit is subjectively “leading” them in some revelatory sense, similar to how Paul was forbidden to enter Asia in Acts 16. (In fact, these people may often cite such passages in Acts, entirely ignoring the drastic differences in redemptive history between then and now.) This is not only not what being “led by the Spirit” means in its Scriptural context (cf., again, Rom 8:14 and Gal 5:18), but it misunderstands how God speaks and how the Spirit guides us in this age: namely, both through the sufficient, Spirit-inspired and God-breathed Scriptures.

It All Comes Back to Authority

The issue of authority is, I think, the kicker for how this second sense of the phrase differs from the first, and also how it errs theologically. When people in the first category are saying that the Spirit led them to do something – for example, God seems to have “laid it on your heart” to pray for someone – they’re simply trying to deflect glory for a good thing that has already happened. By contrast, when people in the second category are saying that the Spirit is leading them to do something – for example, to sell their house and move in with you (true story) – they’re trying to garner authority for something that has not yet happened.

Thus, aside from the strictly Biblical usage of the mortification of sin, the “leading of the Holy Spirit” is discerned much like the decretive will of God: only in retrospect. We’re able to look back on a good thing that God has accomplished in our lives – even something as internal as feeling led to pray for someone some particular week, only later to find out that they had a really rough week and needed that prayer – and discern: “The Spirit was leading me to pray for you this week!”

On the other hand, it is without Scriptural or theological foundation and thus entirely invalid to say, “The Spirit is leading me to sell my house and just step out in faith,” or “The Spirit is leading me to preach in your pulpit this Sunday.” Though the person might be sincere, this really is just scrambling for some authority to validate one’s own subjective gut-feelings and impressions.

And if you disagreed with me, what if I told you that the Spirit led me to write this blog post? What could you do? You'd be entirely stymied by my appeal to the authority of the Spirit with no objective means of evaluation. You most certainly wouldn't want to resist the Holy Spirit, would you? You see how that just becomes a power play?

Scripture is Our Authority

But God has already given us a perfectly sufficient means for evaluating and validating such impressions: it is His perfectly sufficient, always-profitable (2Tim 3:16-17), everything-we-need-for-life-and-godliness (2Pet 1:3) Word, as revealed in many portions and in many ways in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. Peter declares that the prophetic word as revealed in Scripture is something more sure even than the personal eye-witness of the transfigured Christ (2Pet 1:16-21, ESV)!

is our authority. And if anyone attempts to elevate his own subjective impressions to be at least on par with the authority of Scripture by flippantly adding that he was “led by the Spirit” to do something, he dishonors the sufficiency of what the Holy Spirit has already led men to speak and write as the uncontestable Word of God (2Pet 1:21). Indeed, the “things of the Spirit” (ta tou pneumatos; Rom 8:5 cf. 1Cor 2:14) are the words spoken and written by the Apostles as they were taught by the Spirit (1Cor 2:12-13).

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father,
and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory,
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,"
we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven,
for we were with him on the holy mountain.
And we have something more sure,
the prophetic word,
to which you will do well to pay attention
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
- 2 Peter 1:16-19, ESV -

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Priviliges of the Ministry: An Exhortation to Diligence

It's that time of the semester at The Master's Seminary. Much is due, time flies, and sleep is scarce. The manifold responsibilities of a student who would labor diligently and minister faithfully call out and compete for constant attention. Case in point: this is our "Spring Break," and for many of us it is simply a time to work on multiple large research projects and catch up so we can finish the semester above water.

One assignment among the many has been to read and review Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. In it, there was a small section on the privileges of the ministry, which I think will serve both me and my seminary brothers -- along with all who are weary in the task of some sort of pastoral ministry -- to put away all complaining, to recognize how graced we are with such business, and to labor diligently and happily in the glorious work for which God has called and equipped us.

To my TMS brethren: Be encouraged men. You're studying at the best place in the world to study, and there are thousands of men who dream of being so buried under theological dictionaries and research papers as we are. Let Baxter bring you back to reality:

Is it nothing to be brought up to learning, when others are brought up to the cart and plough? and to be furnished with so much delightful knowledge, when the world lieth in ignorance? Is it nothing to converse with learned men, and to talk of high and glorious things, when others must converse with almost none but the most vulgar and illiterate?

But especially, what an excellent privilege is it, to live in studying and preaching Christ! to be continually searching into His mysteries, or feeding on them! to be daily employed in the consideration of the blessed nature, works, and ways of God! Others are glad of the leisure of the Lord's day, and now and then of an hour besides, when they can lay hold upon it. But we may keep a continual Sabbath. We may do almost nothing else, but study and talk of God and glory, and engage in acts of prayer and praise, and drink in His sacred, saving truths. Our employment is all high and spiritual. Whether we be alone, or in company, or business is for another world.

O that our hearts were but more tuned to this work! What a blessed, joyful life should we then live! How sweet would our study be to us! How pleasant the pulpit! And what delight would our conference about spiritual and eternal things afford us! To live among such excellent helps as our libraries afford, to have so many silent wise companions whenever we please -- all these, and many other similar privileges of the ministry, bespeak our unwearied diligence in the work.

May we press on, with attuned hearts, sweetened study, and unwearied diligence. And may we do it for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, ever striving to live in such a way to make His supreme worth manifest to all.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing;
so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent,
children of God above reproach
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you appear as lights in the world.
- Philippians 2:14 -

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence,
which has a great reward.
For you have need of endurance,
so that when you have done the will of God,
you may receive what was promised.
- Hebrews 10:35-36 -

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Holy! Holy! Holy!

A true love of God must begin
with a delight in his holiness,
and not with a delight in any other attribute;
for no other attribute is truly lovely without this.
- Jonathan Edwards -

As it seems to challenge an excellency above all His other perfections,
so it is the glory of all the rest;
as it is the glory of the Godhead,
so it is the glory of every perfection in the Godhead;
as His power is the strength of them,
so His holiness is the beauty of them;
as all would be weak without almightiness to back them,
so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them.

Should this be sullied, all the rest would lose their honour;
as at the same instant the sun should lose its light,
it would lose its heat, its strength, its generative and quickening virtue.
As sincerity is the luster of every grace in a Christian,
so is purity the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead.
His justice is a holy justice,
His wisdom a holy wisdom,
His arm of power a "holy arm" (Ps. 98:1),
His truth or promise a "holy promise" (Ps. 105:42).
His name, which signifies all His attributes in conjunction, "is holy," Psalm 103:1
- Stephen Charnock -