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  • Kevin D. Johnson 9:44 am on June 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Guidance of History in Interpreting Scripture 

    Jerry Bowyer sat down with N.T. Wright recently and the conversation is available online at Forbes. Here Bowyer is busy explaining that we need to take into account the actual historical context of the Gospels in order to properly interpret them. On the whole, I agree with such a statement as any capable interpreter of the Scriptures would. However, there is more to the story.

    We can all agree that Second Temple Judaism is a historical context that is relatively important to interpreting the Gospels. However, we also can’t forget that much of the scholarly work done in this area is by folks that have little commitment to Christian orthodoxy and often postulate wild ideas about both the Scriptures and the historical context around them. There has, of course, been some orthodox pushback in recent years by scholars like Bauckham and Hurtado — I would generally include Wright in this category though his postmodernism and British social considerations often blur his witness as to what really is important to consider from this historical era.

    We also have to be careful to remember that scholarly appropriations of an era do not make for the actual context in which Jesus and his disciples lived and this becomes especially true the more scholars depart from an actual orthodox consideration of the subject.

    So, while I agree with the basic premise of what’s being said by Bowyer here I have to register at least a little caution and say it’s just not that simple.

    Additionally, it’s not at all clear that the Scriptures were meant to be understood only in light of their original cultural environment.  As Christians, we don’t understand the Old Testament this way, the Apostles felt free to interpret the Old Testament in light of the revelation of Christ quite apart from the original context, and it’s clear that the Gospels among other passages of Scriptures were written with more than just the current issues and problems of Second Temple Judaism in mind.  More properly speaking, the Gospels were written within an ever-expanding context of Christian mission and Gentile outreach that quickly became a universal force for cultural, civilizational, sociopolitical, and even technological change.  In fact, by the time the Gospels were written and well-received in the churches the first century Jewish context was already radically different than Second Temple Judaism.

    Furthermore, the Scriptures are a product of divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and also have to be seen in a canonical and theological light that often transcends any immediate cultural observation about them.  History and culture are proper tools to understand Scripture, but they’re also not meant to guide or control meaning without cause.  For example, simply because Jesus references seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22) we can’t immediately assume that Jesus is referring to the 490 weeks of Daniel (490=70 * 7) or that his hearers would be immediately cognizant of the same.  Perhaps they were, but the real meaning and application of the passage has little to do with the eschatological concerns of Daniel or particular segments of Second Temple Judaic thought.

    This fact brings up another point about the cultural era in question.  Second Temple Judaism was actually a period of great religious diversity both among the Jews and the wider Roman culture.  Practically speaking, this means it’s very difficult to pin down exactly who Jesus was talking to and why unless the Gospels make that explicitly clear.  Part of the reason why it’s popular among some to think like N.T. Wright in examining the Gospels in light of Second Temple Judaism is because postmodernism sees great value in how different communities might receive and deal with the biblical texts.  This methodology in interpretation gives further room to different interpretations and takes on what Jesus was doing and what the Gospels mean.  This postmodern take at its worst point is a form of interpretive maximalism that allows for a less than traditional read on any given passage.  For example, in less than orthodox circles, this interpretive gambit is what allows more liberal scholars to posit the ridiculous idea that the Gospels never taught the divinity of Jesus–an astoundingly inaccurate claim all things considered.

    One last consideration is found in the fact that these studies by scholars can lead to a situation where the average person or even pastors become dependent on them in order to understand the Gospels because to sift out all of the potentially relevant historical and cultural contextual material is no small feat.  This mindset strikes hard against the fact that the Scriptures are available and clear for all to interpret in light of the work of the Holy Spirit and for our salvation (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7).  If we really need all this scholarly historical and cultural work to grasp the truth of the Gospels as far as our salvation and life in the Lord is concerned, how is it that we avoid placing the scholar as mediator in our spiritual walk with God?  Pastors need to be very careful in remembering the true clarity that is available to the people through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Scholarly study is not bad and often necessary, but it also isn’t meant to take the place of receiving what the Scriptures are actually saying to people in the life of the church as far as their salvation and sanctification are concerned.

    So, in short, yes historical and cultural contexts are important to consider when looking at the Scriptures but their existence doesn’t necessarily drive the meaning or import of the text itself without any sort of qualifications like I’ve made clear above.  We would do well to remember “my sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) when attending to issues like this or we risk compromising the clear character of God’s word in our lives in favor of an endless round of scholarly postmodern takes on what the Bible has to say.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 8:10 am on June 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Michael Foster’s Series on Marinov’s Ecclesiology 

    Michael Foster begins his own series on Bojidar Marinov’s ecclesiology.  Here’s an excerpt from part II, we’ll be watching for more:

    In the era covered by Calvin’s Company of Pastors, these vagabonds wouldn’t submit to the rulings of various churches or presbyteries. They would simply “wander” to another another church and start doing the same thing. The issue, ultimately, is that they weren’t submitted to any particular church or presbytery. They are wanderers and vagabonds. Yes, their morality in life and doctrine is the clear issue. However, the overarching issue is that they are either previously deposed or self-appointed. They operate outside the visible institution of the church.

    The similarities between Durbin’s status update and Beza’s 1593 sermon are striking. These concerns aren’t just modern baptist concerns. They are pastoral concerns that have long been in the church. They certainly are keeping with the reformed tradition. Hence, I find Marinov’s initial claim to be completely and clearly fallacious.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 8:21 am on June 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Bojidar Marinov Contra Spurgeon on Local Church Membership 

    Bojidar Marinov refers to Spurgeon at length when it comes to the notion of private judgement. But, does he do the same for Spurgeon in terms of how he viewed membership in a local church? Sadly, the answer is no. Spurgeon had some very strong words for those who avoided membership and full participation in the local church. The following comes from a sermon he gave entitled Joining the Church delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on June 18, 1914 in the evening:

    “Now, I know there are some who say, “Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because—”Now, why not?” Because I can be a Christian without it.”

    Now, are you quite clear upon that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient?

    Well, suppose everybody else did the same, suppose all Christians in the world said,
    “I shall not join the Church.”

    Why there would be no visible Church, there would be no ordinances. That would be a very bad thing, and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all— why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that church? I do not believe it, sir! nor do you either. You have not any such a belief; it is only a trumpery excuse for something else. There is a brick–a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick; until it is built into the wall, it is no good. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose; you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.

    Additionally, Spurgeon also spoke very clearly about Lone Ranger “professors of religion”:

    If you cannot live without being a rogue, do not be a professor of religion; it will be quite as well for you to go to hell at once, as you are, as to go there with a mill-stone about your neck through having made a profession, a base and wicked profession of godliness, which you did not cry out. No, sirs, if you will not, in the strength and spirit of God’s grace, strive after consistency of moral conduct, you have no right to talk about giving yourselves to the Church, which you will disgrace. You will only sin yourselves into a deeper condemnation; therefore keep away from it.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 7:16 am on June 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part VII 

    The Consistory in Geneva was the pastors and elders in the city and provided punitive discipline as needed. The Consistory functioned in conjunction with the “state” (the city councils) to enforce discipline but was not really a state agent. In fact, the Consistory spent its early years in conflict with the state in attempting to raise moral standards in the city. However, its reach was not just in the city but in the surrounding rural areas as well. Additionally, Calvin’s influence provided this paradigm for many more areas under Reformed control in Europe during that time. Later, many communions (including the Puritans early on in England and later in the New World) adopted a similar model though without the complexity and tensions of Geneva’s government. Among them were the Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed–the two main branches of Reformed practice today remaining somewhat dominant in America as the inheritors of the original magisterial Reformation.

    Even still, as Manetsch makes clear every major communion in play during the sixteenth century used punitive discipline to enforce moral codes in one way or the other.  He writes:

    All of the major Christian confessions during the early modern period— Roman Catholic, Lutheran, the Church of England, Anabaptist, Reformed— were committed to defending orthodox doctrine and enforcing standards of public morality among their adherents. Nevertheless, reformed churches following Geneva’s example gave special prominence to moral discipline and created institutions to oversee societal righteousness and encourage personal sanctification.

    So, for Marinov to claim otherwise is certainly not in line with the history of the matter. It is true that there were figures like Hooker and Andrewes that believed that lay elders shouldn’t have any participation in disciplinary action on the part of the church, but they also didn’t completely jettison the notion of excommunication or disciplinary procedures in the church. Instead, they reserved its use for the ordained clergy when absolutely needed.

    The point here, however, is not to say that Geneva was universally normative during the Reformation. Rather, the essential biblical model of church discipline that was elder or minister-led, rightly punitive on occasion in terms of suspensions/excommunications from the Table, and that later informed more modern Reformed practice was part and parcel of what it meant to be Reformed. Geneva is just one particularly historic and influential implementation of these biblical truths where we have really good records to display and fill out what it is a magisterial Reformer like Calvin in the main believed that later largely influenced whole communions. Other Reformed communions held to the same general principles in varying degree.

    Mr. Marinov has claimed that Reformed theology has virtually no place for elder or even ministerial rule, that there really is no such thing as punitive discipline in the churches led by duly appointed or ordained officers, and that sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith (to say nothing of others like the Belgic Confession) must be edited where it’s been made clear that the normal ministerial offices of the church remain authoritative on the basis of God’s Word to guard and discipline the flock. That is what at odds with the Reformed tradition on the whole, and not the specifics of any historic implementation of it like Geneva. Geneva merely provides us with a convenient and obvious example.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:38 pm on June 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Guest Post Contra Bojidar Marinov II: Inaccurately Citing Calvin 

    [ The following post is written by guest blogger Michael Foster]

    In his rambling three part tome on “mandatory” church membership, Marinov claims, “In [Calvin’s] “anti-Nicodemite writings” he made it very clear that in the case where the churches in an area were all impure, the best course for a true Christian was to leave them and worship in private. Yes, worship in private!” Marinov then gives the following citation:

    “Some one will therefore ask me what counsel I would like to give to a believer who thus dwells in some Egypt or Babylon where he may not worship God purely, but is forced by the common practice to accommodate himself to bad things. The first advice would be to leave if he could. . . . If someone has no way to depart, I would counsel him to consider whether it would be possible for him to abstain from all idolatry in order to preserve himself pure and spotless toward God in both body and soul. Then let him worship God in private, praying him to restore his poor church to its right estate . . . .”

    I was immediately interested in those pairs of four littles dots in the middle and end of the quote. What did these two ellipsis omit? Well, thanks to some friends, I tracked down the whole quote in context. Here it is with what had been omitted (found in the second and forth paragraph):

    “Some one will therefore ask me what counsel I would like to give to a believer who thus dwells in some Egypt or Babylon where he may not worship God purely, but is forced by the common practice to accommodate himself to bad things. The first advice would be to leave if he could. For when all is well considered; happy is he who is far from such abominations, because it is very difficult to be so close to them with sullying oneself in them. So let him withdraw to a place where he would not be forced to get involved in such garbage, or to hear God’s name and word blasphemed, keeping silent and dissembling as if he were in agreement. On the other hand, [it would be a place] where it would be permissible for him to profess his Christianity in the assembly of Christians, to be a partaker of the holy doctrine of the gospel, to enjoy the pure and entire use of the sacraments, and to share in the public prayers. In my opinion, this would be the best thing to do.

    If someone has no way to depart, I would counsel him to consider whether it would be possible for him to abstain from all idolatry in order to preserve himself pure and spotless toward God in both body and soul. Then let him worship God in private, praying him to restore his poor church to its right estate.

    Finally, let him do his duty by instructing and edifying the wretched ignorant souls as much as he can. If he replies that he cannot do that without the peril of death, I grant it. Yet the glory of God, which is involved here, should be much more precious to us than this perishable, fleeting life, which to tell the truth, is no more than a shadow.”

    These omissions are significant because it underscores that Calvin saw private worship as a last resort and one that should be temporary. Calvin says that the best thing to do is to find an assembly where the believer can openly profess his Christianity. If such an assembly can’t be found, then the believer should move. If that can’t happen, then the believer can worship at home. However, Calvin goes on to say that the believer can’t simply worship at home. He has a duty to instruct the ignorant. This instruction has end, which is made clear in Calvin’s anti-Nicodemite sermon on Psalm 27:4. This sermon is also found in the work Marinov quoted from. Perhaps he didn’t finish the book.

    Calvin writes:

    “As for those babblers who ridicule us, wondering if one cannot get to paradise except by way of Geneva, I answer: would to God they had the courage to gather in the name of Jesus Christ wherever they are, and set up some sort of church, either in their houses, or in those of their neighbours, to do in their place what we do here in our temples! But what do we find? Not deigning to use the means God provides them, they still want to be saved. It is like asking if they cannot come to port rowing backwards, or if they cannot tempt God and still enjoy grace. Well, let them make themselves as big and strong as they like in order to break their own neck; but let the children of God be very careful not to exalt themselves with them. And, whoever has no means of being in the Christian church, where God is worshipped purely, let him groan night and day, ‘Thins altars, Lord; it is only thine altars that I desire, my God, my king!” And let this fire remain always lit in all good hearts, so that, come what may, they never weary of being thus transported. Let not the length of time cool them so that they stop seeking to be led to the flocks. Furthermore, let everyone look well to himself and see to it that he gathers quickly to the banner, as soon as our Lord gives him the means to do so. This is how one must show that he was not faking when he made this request to dwell in the house of God.”

    In short, Calvin allows for private worship when attendance at a true church cannot be achieved. However, that private worship should, in God’s providence, lead to something more and more approximating a true church. It should only be a temporary situation and one that the believer is always eager to remedy. What we see here in Calvin is what is later codified in the confessions. Namely, that the visible church is the normative means of salvation and therefore should be cherished.

    I should also add that this is the difficulty in dealing with a man like Marinov. His writings are loaded with references and citations. That is a good thing assuming that they are using rightly. That is not what I’m seeing as I go through and check every single one of his citations in his against “mandatory church membership” series.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:32 pm on June 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Guest Post Contra Bojidar Marinov I: The Nature of the Genevan Church 

    [ The following post is written by guest blogger Michael Foster]

    It is stunning how casually Marinov makes assertions that are obviously false. Perhaps he doesn’t know any better. Maybe it is truly an oversight and he isn’t as versed in church history as he should be. That, I think you’ll agree, is the most charitable possibility. The other option is that he is knowingly misrepresenting the facts of history. It is one or the other. I’ll leave determining the motives to the reader.

    Now, let me give you an example of an obviously false assertion. Marinov claims:

    “The Reformers worked to Christianize societies but they never mentioned anything about “local church membership.” In Geneva of Calvin, the city had a number of church buildings for church members to gather on Sunday (and every day, for that matter), but there was never a division of which family goes to which church, or any membership in a specific church.”

    This is demonstrably false. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Calvin’s Geneva should know that this isn’t true!

    The reality is that Genevan children were suppose to attend their parish church for their catechism instruction. Likewise, communicant Genevans were suppose to take the Lord’s Supper in their parish church. This is clearly outlined in the Ecclesiastical Ordinance (1541). For example, Calvin writes:

    “For bringing children to catechism, and for receiving the sacraments, the boundaries of the parishes should as far as possible be observed; that is, St. Gervais embracing what it had in the past, the Magdalene similarly, St. Peter what belonged formerly to St. Germain, St. Cross, Our Lady the New, and St. Legier.” (LCC p. 62 Also, see p. 69)

    This wasn’t simply for practical reasons. There was a pastoral motivation behind it. Calvin writes:

    “The Sunday before the celebration, intimation is to be made, in order that no child come before it has made profession of its faith as proved by examination by the Catechism, and also that all strangers and new-comers may be exhorted first to come and present themselves at the church, so that they be instructed and thus none approach to his own condemnation.” (LCC p. 67)

    In other words, Calvin doesn’t have a wishy washy view of the Lord’s Supper. Only those that have demonstrated what we would know refer to as a “credible profession” along with a good moral standing were welcomed to the table.

    The table was protected by the pastors. So much so that consistory would typically be very busy with resolving church discipline cases just prior to the quarterly communion service. In essence, they wanted all those that demonstrated repentance to be welcome to the table but that required that the consistory rule on their case. Conversely, the want to keep the table from those that would shirk discipline. This is why Calvin required them to attend their parish church. Calvin had wrote to Bullinger expressing his concern that Genevans saw them simply as preachers and not as pastors. This practice then allowed for a degree of pastoral oversight.

    Also, consider the fact that Calvin had hope that reform would lead to weekly communion. It is reasonable then to conclude that he would have advocated for Genevans to attend the same church every Sunday. I suppose that is debatable but the rest isn’t. Marinov is wrong. There were requirements placed on what church Genevan should attend. It wasn’t weekly requirement for adults but quarterly requirement was an application of pastoral theology.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:06 pm on June 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part VI 

    What an odd chart if the elders of the Consistory in Geneva in Calvin’s day and beyond never practiced punitive church discipline or had no biblical basis for it.  We need to be careful that our representations of Reformed theology and practice actually accord with the history of the matter (as reported in Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors):

    The book goes on to describe sixteenth century Geneva and the nature of punitive discipline as practiced by the city’s elders and here are some choice quotes from Manetsch in that regard:

    “The Ecclesiastical Ordinances recognized two kinds of excommunication, minor excommunication (usually called suspension) and major excommunication. The penalty of minor excommunication or suspension was the least severe and far and away the most common form of interdiction: around 96–97 percent of all known excommunications in Geneva between 1542 and 1609 were of this sort. Described in the sources variously as a ban ( une interdiction ), a suspension ( une suspension ), or a prohibition ( une défense ), minor excommunication barred the sinner from the sacrament of the Lord’s Table but not from social contact with other church members or from public worship services. The ministers and elders expected that suspensions would be of short duration, for one or two of Geneva’s quarterly communion services, after which sinners were to be reconciled to the church…The penalty of major excommunication ( l’excommunication ) was a more severe judgment but was employed much less frequently. Between 1542 and 1609, only around 3–4 percent of all interdictions were of this more extreme variety. “Very rarely must one resort to excommunication,” Beza once commented in a letter to Heinrich Bullinger. The Consistory reserved this type of discipline for hardened sinners who stubbornly refused to repent, or who were guilty of egregious public sins such as habitual usury, flagrant sexual misconduct or religious heresy.”

    “Before 1541, townsfolk had freedom to move between temples and attend the preaching service of their choice. This practice, Calvin feared, fostered the perception that the ministers were preachers, not pastors. The Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541) addressed this concern by requiring that children hear the weekly catechism sermon and adults take the Lord’s Supper in their local parish temples.

    Although men and women were still permitted to attend sermons of their choice in other parishes, this stipulation assured at least a degree of pastoral oversight.”

    “Calvinist discipline in Geneva depended upon an elaborate system of surveillance and pastoral supervision within the city and countryside parishes. The Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541) required that twelve lay elders be assigned to each of the city’s neighborhoods so that they might “keep an eye on everything.” In a similar fashion, Geneva’s ministers lived in different neighborhoods of the city so that they might know the members of their local congregation and be in a better position to exercise pastoral care and corrective discipline. In addition to pastors and elders, city officers known as dizeniers —minor magistrates whose primary duties were military and administrative—were given broad powers of supervision over each of the city’s twenty-five civil districts to warn sinners and if necessary, send offenders to Consistory.”

    “At the same time, the Ecclesiastical Ordinances created an institution called the Consistory, a church court consisting of the city pastors and lay elders that was to meet each Thursday at noon for the purpose of overseeing public morality and doctrine, and admonishing and disciplining people guilty of flagrant sin.”

    “Every Thursday at noon, dozens of people were summoned to the Consistory’s chambers for interrogation or to provide testimony. Most defendants came voluntarily; those who did not were brought forcibly by the lieutenant of the Consistory (called the sautier ) or by the rural garde.”

    “In 1556, the magistrates allowed for the first time that formal oaths be administered to witnesses who testified in disciplinary cases; henceforth lying to Consistory constituted the civil crime of perjury. The following year, the council issued an edict that required people who had been suspended from the Lord’s Supper to be reconciled to the church within six months, on pain of banishment from the city. The Edict of 1560 extended the ministers’ role even further in that it gave them new advisory powers in the annual elections of elders to Consistory, allowed men of bourgeois status (and not just full citizens) to be appointed to the office of elder, required that major excommunications be announced publicly from the church’s pulpits, and mandated public reparations for sinners guilty of notorious scandals.”

    “The Consistory was required to follow the guidelines for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. In cases of private vice, the pastors and elders were first to admonish the sinner in private. If the offender ignored these warnings, he or she should be summoned to Consistory for examination and formal rebuke. Those sinners who remained obstinate, who refused to repent or reform their behavior, were to be suspended from the Lord’s Supper for a brief period of time so that they might “humble themselves before God and better recognize their error.” In cases of public misbehavior, the Ordinances stated that the ministers and elders might forgo private admonitions and summon the offender directly to Consistory for examination and censure. Defendants suspected of criminal conduct were to be delivered to Geneva’s magistrates for additional civil punishments. In all of its deliberations, the Consistory was expected to treat offenders with moderation and gentleness, recognizing that these “corrections are nothing but medicine to bring sinners back to our Lord.”

    Obviously, this is far different from Bojidar Marinov’s claim that:

    “[C]hurch discipline is teaching and training, not punishments. Where there is no teaching or training, or where the people have been fed only the fundamental milk of the faith, there is no discipline. Excommunication is a very minuscule part of discipline, and it is not given as a prerogative to elders. It is a responsibility and a privilege of the whole church, of all the individuals in it; and subject to it must be first and foremost the very teachers and leaders in the church…Thus, when John MacArthur complains about people moving from church to church, “never submitting to the care of elders,” he accuses these people of “misunderstanding of the believer’s responsibility to the body of Christ.” The truth is, MacArthur only shows his ignorance of the Biblical teaching and of Reformed theology. Under the principle of the right and duty of private judgment, this is exactly what people should be doing: listening to sermons in the churches and judging the preachers according to the Word of God.” [emphasis in the original]

    Of course, Reformed theology since the time of Calvin has most certainly demonstrated a preference for elders to govern the church in conjunction with the Christian magistrate using punitive discipline where necessary and this is exemplified not only by the actual history noted above but also through the way they interpreted the Scriptures in doing so.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 8:58 pm on March 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    An Interlude: Bojidar Marinov and Ecclesiastical Docetism 

    When Karl Barth is right, he’s right!  What a profound rebuke to what we have seen in Bojidar Marinov’s treatment of the local church:

    There is an ecclesiastical Docetism which will not accept this, which paradoxically tries to overlook the visibility of the Church, explaining away its earthly and historical form as something indifferent, or angrily neglecting it, or treating it only as a necessary evil, in order to magnify an invisible fellowship of the Spirit and of spirits. This view is just as impossible as christological Docetism, not only in point of history, but also in point of substance. For the work of the Holy Spirit as the awakening power of Jesus Christ would not take place at all if the invisible did not become visible, if the Christian community did not take on and have an earthly-historical form. The individual Christian can exist only in time and space as a doer of the Word (James 1:22) and therefore in a concrete human form and basically visible to everyone. Similarly the Christian community as such cannot exist as an ideal commune or universum, but–also in time and space–only in the relationship of its individual members as they are fused together by the common action of the Word which they have heard into a definite human fellowship; in concrete form, therefore and visible to everyone. If we say with the creed credo ecclesiam, we do not proudly overlook its concrete form; just as when we confess credo resurrectionem carnis we cannot overlook the real and whole man who is a soul and yet also a body, we cannot overlook his hope as though the resurrection was not also promised to him.  Nor do we look penetratingly through this form, as though it was only something transparent and the real Church had to be sought behind it; just as we cannot overlook or look through the pleasing or less pleasing face of the neighbour whom we are commanded to love. We look at the visible aspect of the Church–this is the state of it. And as we look at what is seen–not beside it or behind but in it–we see what is not seen. Hence we cannot rid ourselves in this way of the generally visible side of the Church. We cannot take refuge from it in a kind of wonderland.  The credo ecclesiam can and necessarily will involve much distinguishing and questioning, much concern and shame. It can and necessarily will be a very critical credo.  In relation to the side of the Church which is generally visible it can and necessarily will express what does not amount to much more than a hope and a yearning. But it does take the Church quite seriously in its common visibility–which is its earthly and historical existence. It confesses faith in the invisible aspect which is the secret of the visible. Believing in the ecclesia invisibilis we will enter the sphere of labour and conflict of the ecclesia visibilis. Without doing this, without a discriminate but serious participation in the historical life of the community, its activity, its upbuilding, its mission, in a kind of purely theoretical and abstract churchliness, no one has ever seriously repeated the credo ecclesiam. Those who try to repeat it in a way which looks above the Church, only dreaming of its existence in time and space, must see to it that they are not secretly pandering to a christological Docetism as well, or, at any rate, that they are really taking seriously the true humanity of Jesus Christ. Faith in His community has this in common with faith in Him, that it, too, relates to a reality in time and space, and therefore to something which is at bottom generally visible. If, then, we believe in Him, we cannot refuse–however hesitantly or anxiously or contentiously–to believe in His community in its spatio-temporal existence, and therefore to be a member of it and personally a Christian.

    Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.I:653-654

  • Kevin D. Johnson 2:55 pm on March 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part V 

    This is the fifth part of a series against Bojidar Marinov’s articles against local church membership. The links to the previous series are below. In this section, we’re going to be looking at the synagogue and its relevance to the New Testament church.

    The origin of the synagogue in Old Testament Israel is somewhat clouded in the fog of history as far as modern scholarship is concerned. Many scholars today treat the synagogue as appearing after the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian Exile. The reason for this has more to do with the way modern scholarship works in treating only explicit or extant evidence from the Second Temple Period (530 BC to 70 AD) either available from history/archaelogy or in the biblical text. Modern scholarship wouldn’t typically treat the relationship of Leviticus 23:3 with passages like Acts 15:21 except in the isolated twin towers of Old and New Testament studies.

    For our purposes, we assume with Burtchaell that the synagogue in one form or another existed very early on in Israel’s settlement of the land, was put in place again after the Babylonian Exile, and was highly developed by Jesus’ day sufficient to offer itself as a paradigm for local church membership. Much of this post is going to borrow from Burtchaell’s book titled, From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Other good general sources to consult on synagogues remain Lee Levine’s The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) and The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

    Whatever your opinion as to the origin of the synagogue, the local New Testament church is clearly and originally based off the more developed first century synagogue that existed during the time of Apostles and later grew into its own. The word “synagogue” simply means an assembly and the Jews both nationally and locally called themselves an assembly in the Scriptures as we discussed to some degree in the last post.

    Synagogue comes from the Greek term synagoge and is represented by Hebrew terms in the Old Testament where the assembly or congregation is specified as the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 23:3-4; Proverbs 5:13-14; Nehemiah 7:66; Micah 2:5). Philo himself calls the origin of the synagogue the assembly of God’s people at Sinai (as quoted in Burtchaell, p. 209). As we discussed in the last post, the assembly of the congregation–in Greek synagoge or ekklesia–was seen in the Old Testament as the gathering of the called-out ones for a variety of national and local events or convocations. The list provided by Burtchaell is instructive (p. 209-210):

    1) Corporate military decisions (Judges 20:2; Judges 21:5, 8)
    2) Ratifying the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:10; Ezra 10:1)
    3) Acclaiming rulers (1 Chronicles 28:2; 2 Chronicles 10:3; 2 Chronicles 23:3)
    4) For hallowing/making holy (1 Chronicles 13:2-4; 1 Kings 18:24; 2 Chronicles 30:2-4)
    5) For receiving communications (Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Jeremiah 25)
    6) For bestowing official honors (1 Chronicles 29:20)
    7) For judgment, including capital crimes (Ezekiel 23:46; Numbers 15:32-36; Proverbs 5:14)

    The synagogue, however, was not just the national gathering of the Jewish people but also constituted the weekly local gathering for worship in cities/towns and villages. And, in fact, the presence of Jewish towns and villages had a hierarchical design often spoken of as “cities with their villages” (Joshua 15:32; Joshua 15:36; Numbers 21:25; 1 Chronicles 7:28-29). The Mishnah helps clarify that people in villages that were too small for synagogues would regularly go to the town associated with them in order to attend synagogue services and other important events (Burtchaell, p. 216).

    To be clear, the local synagogue during the first century was not merely an incidental part of Jewish life but served as the center of public life. The synagogue was the public seat of leadership, community, and regular worship for the Jewish people. The synagogue was where the elders resided and judged aberrant members of the community (including punishment of offenses), where the Scriptures were read and exposited on the Sabbath, where the Scriptures were presented to the people in their own languages, where children were instructed, where charity to the poor was dispensed, it remained the house of prayer for the local people, and where business and commerce even took place (cf. Levine, pp. 135-173). This is so much the case that the Romans themselves recognized the judicial character of the synagogue and had little problem allowing the Jews to manage their own affairs (Levine, p. 136).

    The primary difference between membership in a synagogue and membership in a church was that for most early Christians, membership was a matter of voluntary conversion to Christianity whereas membership in the synagogue was by birth and through circumcision. The grace of God was chiefly offered in a particular way to the Jewish people by birth and the advent of the New Covenant extended that grace to all people everywhere provided they repent and join the church in her worship of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

    Typically, very few Gentiles ever converted to Judaism because of the physical barrier of circumcision. The New Testament clearly identifies God-fearing Gentiles as friends of the synagogue that were believers in the God of Israel but not natively Jewish (Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26). These God-fearers too were called to a higher standard of local church membership in Christ’s church than they enjoyed in befriending the synagogues and that fact alone should register huge doubt as to the claim Bojidar makes that membership was unnecessary for local Christian churches.  For them, unlike Bojidar, becoming a Christian and joining the local church was a matter of rejoicing because it meant going from a mere friend of the faithful to a real member of the faithful (Acts 13:48).

    If you were part of a community and Jewish or Christian, you’d be part of the local synagogue or church respectively. This is so much the case that early Christian churches very much resembled Jewish synagogues and only very gradually moved to distinct entities as history progressed. All of the essential qualities of local synagogues were transferred in one way or another to Christian churches including local punitive discipline, the reading/study of the word, prayer, weekly worship, the exposition of the word, and the like. To say that local church membership was not required of Christians in this sort of social setting is simply to deny the reality of what it meant to be Jewish or Christian. In fact, this is so much the case that eventually the Christians were formally barred from membership in synagogues and suffered persecution due to their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah (John 9:34; John 16:2; Acts 13:44-52). If there was no such thing as local synagogual membership, how could one be put out of the synagogue or driven from the community? The same ability to be put out of the Christian church through excommunication was also a feature of first century local churches as 1 Corinthians 5 makes quite clear.

    Regardless, nowhere do we find the sort of independence from local churches and elders that Bojidar Marinov has maintained when we look at the every day synagogue life of Jewish towns, villages, and homes as they practiced it as outlined in the Scriptures and in the pages of history. Regular weekly Sabbath worship was a vital part of being Jewish and that transferred directly to the Christian world upon the advent of the New Covenant. The local institutional presence of the Lord’s people, her elders, the word, sacraments, prayer, and praise have been around for several millenia and to say that it doesn’t mark the fundamental identity of God’s people is to ignore vast sections of church history and what the Bible puts forward in both the Old and New Testaments.

    Before we examine the New Testament in more detail, the next installment of this series will review the early history of the church in terms of discipleship and baptism–what it meant to become a Christian in a local church even before the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

    [[ Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV ]]

  • Kevin D. Johnson 11:23 am on March 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part II 

    Bojidar Marinov does treat select passages of Scripture in his three-part attack on local church membership (I, II, III). However, his treatment of Scripture is notably one-sided, incomplete, and all things considered quite light when it comes to examining the relevant details of local church membership. This post will examine some of Marinov’s missteps as well as provide more in the way of a biblical approach to local church membership.

    The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us in Q/A 54 that the church at root is really everyone from beginning to end that has been called out for everlasting life. This means the church existed in one form or another from Adam until now in various forms and that overall Scripture speaks to its existence and importance in several places. In fact, in Genesis 4:26, we have the first instance where public corporate worship appears as a matter of practice among God’s people.

    Of course, the revelation of God’s Word is a progressive one for his people–the earliest cases of public worship and collective fidelity only tell a part of the story and more complete commentary on things like local church membership are going to become clearer as one advances through the pages of Scripture. The institution of the church in its local form changed over the years due first to God’s covenantal administrations and second to circumstance and providence.

    But, that fact alone doesn’t stop Bojidar from attempting to note lone characters in the Bible that don’t seem to have any level of affiliation with others like they might in a New Testament church. Marinov brings Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and even John the Baptist to provide testimony, all apparent examples of the sort of Lone Ranger Christianity he espouses.

    The problem, however, is that each of these figures really do not present the sort of absolute example Marinov would like once all the facts about their lives are out on the table. The question here, however, is not whether the lives of Abraham and others approximated 21st century church membership standards, but rather whether or not each figure participated in local expressions of God’s church and life and to what extent we can see that in the pages of Scripture. Marinov’s citation of each is notably incomplete as we shall see.

    Abraham was definitely called away from his home, but it was not “to wander alone all his life” as Marinov claims. The singular calling of Isaiah 51:2 only means that Abraham was singularly called by God as a covenantal head and patriarch of the new nation God called out for himself, the verse says nothing about wandering alone all his life or doing so alone. Sarah, too, had obligations as a part of this calling (1 Peter 3:6). Isaac and Jacob shared in Abraham’s calling and were invoked as heirs of the promise and identified as living with Abraham “in a foreign land, in tents” (Heb 11:8-9). Genesis 12:1-3 tells us that Abraham left his homeland to go to a land God promised so that he might become a great nation and blessing. But, Genesis 12 and following tells us more. Abraham, in fact, did not go alone. His nephew Lot comes with him in addition to his wife and all the members of his household.

    For Abraham, this was not just a nuclear family departing bravely from their homeland we’re talking about (as Bojidar’s language might imply) but rather an entire tribe of people moving to God’s promised land. In Genesis 14:14 we learn that just the male members born in his household numbered over 300 people–a number four times larger than most any congregation in America (75 is the national average, though sources vary in terms of the exact number).

    We aren’t offered a complete record of Abraham’s activities, but what we do know doesn’t exactly sound like the Lone Ranger approach Marinov prefers. In Bethel, Abraham made an altar to God and “called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8). Later, after Abraham returns from the famine and the episode in Egypt he sacrifices again in Bethel ‘calling upon the name of the LORD.’ (Genesis 13:4) Here public repeated worship remains a pattern for Abraham and his larger-than-a-local-church household and indeed marks his journeys.

    But, the language here echoes the same language about public corporate worship we find in Genesis 4:26. It would be absurd to think that Abraham himself was offering sacrifices without the clear involvement of his household and tribe especially when we see the author of Genesis (Moses!) utilizing the same language to describe the public worship of God’s people in both places.

    In fact, we see Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek in a very public way (Genesis 14:17-20), circumcising his entire household at the command of God (including his servants, Genesis 17:10-14; Genesis 17:23-27), offering three angels of the Lord hospitality after God appears to him at the door of his tent (Genesis 18), and finally tested at Moriah with his son Isaac and his sacrifice in Genesis 22. Even here, Abraham is not alone as he brings two servants with him in addition to his son.

    There simply is no evidence that Abraham was a Lone Ranger Bojidar Marinov Hebrew as he wandered in following God’s calling for his life. Clearly, the fuller evidence speaks otherwise.  Abraham consistently led his family, his servants, and anyone who traveled with him in the local, regular, public, and corporate worship of God’s people.  In essence, given that he had his household and servants circumcised, he went far above and beyond any modern requirement for membership in today’s churches!

    Less is known of Elijah than Abraham, but the Bible isn’t telling us a story about where Elijah went to church. The context is an entirely different narrative and so we can’t immediately assume one way or the other about what local worship habits he had. Marinov is simply arguing from silence to mention a figure like Elijah because the text isn’t speaking to the subject. However, even when we examine Elijah there are clues that he was never acting exclusively alone. Public communal worship to God alone is defended and maintained by Elijah (1 Kings 18), Elijah’s call to hide alone in the wilderness is temporary and when the word of the Lord comes Elijah is directed to action in the community (1 Kings 18:8-9), Elijah’s visit to the widow of Zarephath foreshadows the nature of the church’s ministry to the Gentiles (1 Kings 17:9-24; Luke 4:26), Elijah’s work is continued by Elisha (2 Kings 2:15), and when Elijah does want to be alone and in a cave God commands him to resume his prophetic duty in Israel among God’s people (1 Kings 19:16).

    We also know more generally that the prophets of the Old Testament weren’t acting alone. There was a company or school of prophets (1 Samuel 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2:7; 2 Kings 4:38-44), they associated together–a hundred men at least–in community and doubtless functioned as a refuge from the general godless idolatry of the time.

    Again, the point here is not to read specific 21st century church membership requirements or polity expressions into the text of Scripture, but to note that the normal communal, public worship, and identity of God’s people in local assemblies is part and parcel of every age mentioned in Scripture and only looks different due to differences in the providential exercise of the particular covenantal administrations given to God’s people at the time. The next post will examine further biblical evidence, Moses, and John the Baptist in our continued look at this subject contra the claims of Bojidar Marinov.
    [[ Part I, Part III, Part IV ]]

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