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The idea that Jesus set up an apostolic succession in Matthew 16 is unfounded. Contextual exegesis, which I don’t have time to currently demonstrate in this setting, roundly debunks such mythology. Reference to ecclesial tradition to establish apostolic succession is petitio principii, and thus is a non-starter. The only authority Jesus Christ set for His church is Himself; He did not imbue that to popes or pastors. The Gospel is the authority for the church, not any person or institution. Christians in the Bible are witnesses to God’s authority in Christ; we hold each other to this regulative standard, and prophetically bear witness of God’s reality in Christ to the world. As such church structures, governments, or organizational strategies have nothing to say to me about my standing before the living God; only the living Christ has that capacity. The problem I am noting isn’t just unique to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or higher church liturgically oriented traditions; it is a problem for them, but it is also a problem for low-church, congregational evangelical churches just the same. No pastor has inherent authority to speak authoritatively into someone else’s life, only Christ has that office. The pastor, as is the reality for all Christians, has a requisite-derivative authority only insofar as they point people to Jesus Christ. Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth to make pronouncements and bring judgments into His people’s life apart from mediating that through pastors, church governments, and/or the self-perceived institutional church. The church has no authority to speak authoritatively for the church’s head who is the Christ.

Nevertheless we see the evangelical churches, the institutional churches (in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox trads), the higher churches in the Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist et al. shot through with this presumption of holding a mantle of authority over people’s lives in the name of Jesus Christ. Pastors and church institutions do not have the keys to the Kingdom; only Christ, the son of David does. Pastor, Pope, Bishop you are out of line if you think you live in some sort of genetic line of sacerdotal authority vis-à-vis Christ. Why should I pay attention to you? You’re just a man; you’re not God, nor are you God’s absolute representative on earth. The Bible does not give you this authority; church tradition is not a viable reference for giving you God’s authority; and your popularity among the people cannot give you this authority. So why do you think you have such authority? In each case, whether scriptural, traditional, or cultural your case for authority is a non-starter. I stand before God and none other; I don’t stand before you, a man. So repent of your false self-importance and false pretense upon which you stand as a spiritual authority in the church; that’s not how things operate in the economy of God’s Kingdom come and will be done. Who are you oh man? . . .

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I’ve been thinking lately, and for along time, off and on, about the local church and a theory of ecclesial authority. I’m thinking from my own context of Free low evangelical churches in North America (my background is Conservative Baptist and then even Calvary Chapel for a formative period of my Christian life). My thoughts interlace with theories of church government, and how those inner-structures (self-referentially definitive) might provide greater or lesser contexts of authority in the lives of the parishioners of those various churches. In particular what I’m thinking about is the role that church discipline plays (or doesn’t) given a congregationalist church government (like a Baptist church operates from). What brought this home for me, most recently, was a tweet from a pastor I follow of a Conservative Baptist church; it has to do with church membership and discipline. He tweeted:

Church leaders, make sure you include a clause in your constitution or by-laws that will allow the church to reject a membership resignation in cases of church discipline. You don’t want to be held hostage by your policies so that you’re not able to obey Christ’s commands.

In principle I can appreciate the desire to have a responsible framework for discipline in place, but it always leaves me rather empty when people who are self-proclaimed (for all intents and purposes) leaders elevate themselves—even from within the inner-structure of their institutions—to a capacity that leaves me wondering where that capacity comes from. In other words so often it seems as if the standards that many of these pastors are holding people accountable to have more to do with the accretion of evangelical sub-cultural pietisms and “values” rather than to the reality of the Gospel itself. This is why I’m usually left with this ad hoc feeling when I read statements like the one we see in the tweet I’ve referenced.

I am a Free church proponent (and I’ll have to do a post getting into what “Free church” even means), and this is why I’m probably so leery of what counts as the bases for church discipline (which honestly, in the main, I don’t think discipline of any kind is carried out in most of these churches to begin with); I don’t think pastors-teachers in the local church have an inherent authority bestowed upon them in ordination or because of the office they hold. I think the only authority a pastor has in the local church, and in the church catholic, is one that is derivative and grounded in the authority that all Christians have; an authority to hold each other accountable to the reality of the Gospel and God’s holiness itself (to me this is an implication of the Priesthood of All Believers).

The feeling I often walk away with, particularly in Baptist churches (or congregational) that are caught up in a movement like Mark Dever’s 9Marks, or even as we get into more classically Reformed confessional churches, is almost this sort of ecclesial-heavy understanding of the church; its leaders almost taking on a vicaresque sense, such as we find in the Roman Catholic church. I do recognize the Bible speaks about pastors being responsible for the people under their care, but the basis upon which that care (authority) is framed, I believe, is only as a proper understanding of the Gospel itself is held to by both the leadership and laity the same. And yet this presents a dilemma: given the reality of so called pervasive interpretive pluralism, how people understand the Gospel and its entailments (in regard to holiness etc) is diverse; as such it makes it difficult, to say the least, to discern when a church is acting within the entailments of the Gospel and the authority it allows others to have for others.

One other thing, as I already alluded to above, is the way these so called Free churches, as local churches, are operating. They are operating as if they have an inherent capacity to be authorities over others in the name of Christ when they themselves, as pastors, are simply ministers of the Gospel (alongside peers) often elevated to even that office by a voluntary movement they have made on their own initiative to be a pastor. In other words, many pastors have risen to where they have not because they even meet the biblical qualifications for what it means to be a pastor, instead they have risen in their rank primarily because of their personalities and ability to speak (gift of gab).

I’m out of time, I have more to pontificate on, but I’ll leave it here for now.  

There seem to be magisteriums everywhere; interpretive that is—something Christian Smith identified as Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism. It is the saddling of Holy Scripture with certain authoritative church structures—such as we find in Roman Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy—or certain authoritative confessional/catechetical structures (again funded by a certain theory of ecclesial authority found in many of the Protestant and classically Reformed and Lutheran Confessions). We also find this same type of harnessing of Holy Scripture in Low Church traditions; these are typically associated with particular personalities/pastors. Beyond this, and this is the whence of many liberal and evangelical communions, there is a stirruping of Holy Scripture with the wits of this or that historico-critical biblical exegete and their idiosyncratic engagement and interpretation of the text of Scripture (Rudolf Bultmann on one hand, and NT Wright on the other come quickly to mind). There is this always already attendant hermeneutical problem, it seems, when someone wants to engage with Scripture. A complex within which Scripture is received, and within this complex there is an attendance of various claims to Scripture’s actual meaning for the church. Whatever the expression of this might be one thing stands out: the Bible and its meaning, more than not, has become slavishly tied to the layering of various historical and linear accretions of meaning that bind the Bible’s reality to the warp and woof of an abstract human history rather (as situated within an ecclesial superstructure) than to the living reality of Scripture given over and over again by the miracle of the Holy Spirit as Jesus Christ breaks through such accretions as the risen One who is indeed King of the world; and in particular, King of the Church wherein Scripture has been given embassy to reach into the lives of every tribe, nation, and tongue.

I think, once again, what is at issue is how ecclesiology and the text have been thought together; and how Authority for the Christian is thought from there. If the ground of the church is understood as something inherent to the church and not ecclesia quae extra nos (outside of us as the church), then Scripture’s meaning as corollary will become bounded to this type of inherent pure natured reality, and not understood as the Free floating instrument that is intended to be managed by none except its living reality in Jesus Christ. Karl Barth opines masterfully here (which is the inspiration for this post):

If, then, apart from the undeniable vitality of the Church itself there stands confronting it a concrete authority with its own vitality, an authority whose pronouncement is not the Church’s dialogue with itself but an address to the Church, and which can have vis-à-vis the Church the position of a free power and therefore of a criterion, then obviously in its writtenness as “Bible” it must be distinguished from and given precedence over the purely spiritual and oral life of ecclesiastical tradition. It is true that this real, biblical Canon is constantly exposed to absorption into the life, thought and utterance of the Church inasmuch as it continually seeks to be understood afresh and hence expounded and interpreted. Exegesis is always a combination of taking and giving, of reading out and reading in. Thus exegesis, without which the norm cannot assert itself as a norm, entails the constant danger that the Bible will be taken prisoner by the Church, that its own life will be absorbed into the life of the Church, that its free power will be transformed into the authority of the Church, in short, that it will lose its character as a norm magisterially confronting the Church. All exegesis can become predominantly interposition rather than exposition and to that degree it can fall back into the Church’s dialogue with itself. Nor will one banish the danger, but only conjure it up properly and make it acute, by making correct exposition dependent on the judgment of a definitive and decisive teaching office in the Church or on the judgment of a historic-critical scholarship which comports itself with equal infallibility. If we assume that one or other of these authorities is worthy of the Church’s highest confidence, then either way the Church goes astray in respect of the Bible by thinking that in one way or the other it can and should control correct exposition, and thereby set up a norm over the norm, and thereby capture the true norm for itself. The exegesis of the Bible should rather be left open on all sides, not for the sake of free thought, as Liberalism would demand, but for the sake of a free Bible. Here as everywhere the defence against possible violence to the text must be left to the text itself, which in fact has always succeeded in doing something a purely spiritual and oral tradition cannot do, namely, maintaining its own life against the encroachments of individual or total periods and tendencies in the Church, victoriously asserting this life in ever new developments, and thus creating recognition for itself as a norm.[1]

A Free Bible; I like that! There almost seems to be a nihilism about Barth’s approach to Scripture; a healthy nihilism, in my view. In other words, if one were to take to heart what Barth is expressing (like I do), you would almost feel a sense of helplessness; as if church tradition, the “critical” exegetes, and my pastor cannot provide the type of authoritative reading of Scripture that I’d always hoped to have. Ultimately, I don’t think Barth is against any of the aforementioned offices in the church (in fact I know he’s not), but he wants to ensure that the Bible, and more importantly, the Bible’s reality, have the actual freedom to be the norming norm that Protestants, in particular, claim it to be. I don’t think though that most Protestant churches, let alone Catholic and Orthodox, have provided the kind of freedom for the Bible that Barth is calling for. This is because, as Barth notes implicitly in his explication, the churches have so absorbed various accretions and interpretations into their relative identities (across the spectrum from Catholic to Low Church evangelical), that Scripture’s reality, Jesus Christ, no longer has the regulative space to confront and encounter people with His voice as it is spoken in Scripture afresh and anew. So in this sense I think Barth’s nihilism is a necessary acid that needs to be applied to the Church’s approach to herself as the church, and as corollary to the Church’s deployment and appropriation of Holy Scripture (one way or the other) within the lifeblood of her existence as the Church.

Barth might seem almost anarchical when it comes to things like this (in fact to almost every doctrine he touches), but that’s only because he is calling people back to the reality that Jesus is Lord, and that we are not. People generally rebuff such exhortation, and simply label all of Barth (genetically) as a heretic; but this, in my view, is to their own destruction. Does the Bible have the Freedom in your life, in your church’s life that Barth is calling for? If it doesn’t, why not?

 

 

[1] Karl Barth, CD I/1, 103-04.

In Karl Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics he has a whole section titled Deus Dixit (lat. God has spoken). As a section prologue he writes:

Christian preachers dare to speak about God. The permission and requirement to do so can rest only on their adoption of the witness of the prophets and apostles that underlies the church, the witness which is to the effect that God himself has spoken and that for this reason, and with this reference, they too must speak about God. This assumption can arise only because they take it that God’s address is directed to them as well. It means that with fear and trembling they recognize God as the true subject of the biblical witness and their own proclamation.[1]

In Barth’s latterly composed Church Dogmatics I/1 he writes something very similar. Here he is critiquing the theology of his modern period wherein theology, according to Barth et al., had become anthropology; as such theology had become nothing but a cacophony of people talking-to-themselves; something we might see in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest rather than what we would expect to find in the church of Jesus Christ. He writes:

As regards the main concept of proclamation this exegesis stands first in antithesis to Modernist dogmatics. This, too, is acquainted with the function specified but it is not aware of its essential distinctiveness as compared with other functions in the Church—a distinctiveness accrues to it when it rests on a commission to and for men, when as man’s talk about God it has to serve God’s own Word spoken from an ineffaceable antithesis to all humanity. Modernist dogmatics is finally unaware of the fact that in relation to God man has constantly to let something be said to him, has constantly to listen to something, which he constantly does not know and which in no circumstances and in no sense can he say to himself. Modernist dogmatics hears man answer when no one has called him. It hears him speak with himself. For it, therefore, proclamation is a necessary expression of the life of the human community known as the “Church,” an expression in which one man, in the name and for the spiritual advancement of a number of others, drawing from a treasure common to him and to them, offers, for the enrichment of this treasure, an interpretation of his own past and present as a witness to the reality alive in this group of men.[2]

This not only applies as a critique to modern-liberal-hyper-subjectivist theology, but it can be applied, I would contend, to the church (pre-critical) in general. In principle (de jure) when we, as Christians, do Christian theology, we should be committed first and foremost to the idea that we cannot do any type of proclamation, any type of dogmatizing or theologizing, without first attending to the voice of God that has spoken (Deus dixit). As Thomas Torrance has written in reflection on this type of theological reality, and as commentary on Barth’s theology:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.[3]

God has spoken in Jesus Christ; he has exegeted himself for us in Jesus Christ: “18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”[4] This is why as Evangelical Calvinists we are committed to what Thomas Torrance calls ‘dialogical theology’, which is of a piece with Barth’s ‘dialectical theology’; the idea being that theology can only be done when a person is confronted by the living voice of God (viva vox Dei) in Jesus Christ. And the confrontation itself, much like Moses’s confrontation by Yahweh in the burning bush, becomes a personal and relationally charged encounter that calls for response—this is the way of Christian theology.

If we apply this to the development of classical theism, as an example of what we could find in the history of ideas of the Christian and ecclesial heritage, what happens? What happens to the doing of theology that is principially shaped by the idea that we cannot do theology, that we cannot construct categories, that we cannot create trajectories or emphases, prior to encountering the living God in Christ? It seems to me that the typical philosophical categories—all categories developed pre-encounter-with-God, or outwith such encounter by definition [i.e. since such categories were developed by pagans]—like impassibility, immutability, pure being, pure nature, omni-theology, so on and so forth all become suspect; at the very least. In other words, there seems to be an backwardness to the way Christian theology is usually done; even in the history.

Be that as it may, nevertheless, the theological heritage is there. Has it really been engaged in in such a way that it genuinely has been done only after God has spoken; or has it been artificialized to the point that we have brought so many pre-God-has-spoken categories to help us grammarize God that we have ended up with a sacred-monster rather than a sacred God? These are the ongoing questions I continue to struggle with. I am not an advocate for primitivism, or restorationism, or for the idea that there was a golden-age in church history (i.e. the first century N.T. church) wherein a theology genuinely done only after-God-has-spoken can be found. I do believe that the remnant of ideas scattered throughout church history represent a good faith effort wherein the people of God, and “mind of the church” has sought to provide right doctrine (orthodox) for the church. But I remain unsatisfied, in many ways, that what counts as THE orthodox heritage has adequately provided THE proximate witness to who God actually is (like in static ways). In other words, there is still work to be done; a work that is always attempting to reach that high goal of doing a theology only after-God-has-spoken. I do think much of church history has lost her way by indulging herself on the spoils she has rummaged from Egypt, by slurping from the muddy waters offered by the metaphysicians. If Jesus Christ (as he was for St. Athanasius et al.) is not genuinely regulative for the theological task, then in what way can it be said that the church is actually doing theology, is doing proclamation, is doing preaching that is done after-God-has-spoken? If the church is coming to God with a bunch of gold and silver skimmed from the gentiles, offering it up as worth-ship to him, saying it best represents him; I wonder in what way this differs from Aaron’s Golden-Calf? Are we not prone to wander? Doesn’t the Protestant Reformation itself (the need for it) attest to the reality that God’s people can wander; even for the centuries?

[1] Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction on the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 43.

[2] Karl Barth, CD I/1, 58.

[3] Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, 196.

[4] John 1.18, NRSV.

I just recently attended a theology conference sponsored by the Davenant Institute. The Davenant Institute is an institute that seeks to provide resources, from the classically Reformed tradition, for the renewal of the church. Attending the conference they put on here in Portland, OR reminded me once again of how important ecclesiological consideration is; and how significant it is in regard to how we think of God’s relation to people in general. It made me think about issues having to do with authority; in other words, what is the place of the church in the economy of God? Does the church serve a mediatory role between God and humanity, or is that reserved for Christ alone (I Tim. 2.5-6)? Indeed, this issue of authority, and definition of the church seem pretty important for understanding what the renewal of the church might look like. If we don’t have a proper doctrine of the church we might be renewing something that should be discarded instead; and I’m referring to our respective concepts of the church, not the church itself.

What this conference reminded me of, as well, is that there is a whole movement among younger evangelical and reformed types who are attempting to resource the past found in the Protestant development of Reformed theology in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to renew the 21st century Protestant Reformed and evangelical churches. But something of concern, to me, is that in this resourcement there seems to be a heavy emphasis upon a very ecclesiocentric approach; something we see prevalent in the work of someone like Peter Leithart and his Reformed Catholic move. In other words, even though these folks are Protestant and Reformed, they appear to give the church more of an absolute authority when it comes to the way Scripture is not only interpreted but applied. For some this means a turn back to Rome itself, and for others a turn to a more Anglican or Anglo-Catholic approach; and for a large bulk it simply means a turn to the confessional Protestant Reformed church, and seeing the confessions and catechisms, therein, as magisterial compendia that help to not only articulate the most faithful interpretation of Scripture; but as we see in the three forms of unity, these folks see the confessional web providing an ecclesial and authoritative structure wherein a catholic identity can be founded for the Protestant mind and church. These folks, in my view, end up imbuing certain structures of the church (whether that is formal or material structures or doctrines) with divine ordinance, such that the church itself is seen as a mediator and means of grace between God and humanity. Someone I have been interacting with on Facebook on this issue wrote this (this person was actually at the conference I mentioned, and is representative of the young evangelicals I have in mind):

Yes, but as her Founder, the Church inevitably draws her authority from Christ. Since He has instituted it, it is not a natural body but a supernatural one. Those who submit to Christ, therefore, will do so through His Body, and, in fact, have few means to exercise such submission or any true devotion EXCEPT through His Body, the Church. Point being, you’re [sic] statement is technically accurate, but far from slighting the authority of the Church, it serves only to further solidify it.[1]

He is responding to a post I put up on Facebook where I merely stated that: “Jesus is Lord, not the church.” But maybe his response helps to illustrate what I am describing in regard to the way many of these younger evangelical/reformed think of the church. Keith Johnson summarizes all of this this way:

In The Younger Evangelicals, Robert Webber provides and often surprising account of the changing commitments of the most recent generation of evangelical scholars and church leaders. One shift that he notes among these younger evangelicals is their desire for “a more visible concept of the church.” This desire stems, in part, from their reaction against what they perceive as the overly individualistic tendencies of modern evangelicalism. They believe that these tendencies lead to the same kind of “ahistoricism and spiritual subjectivism” that Philip Schaff called “the great disease which has fastened itself upon the heart of Protestantism.” Younger evangelicals have dedicated themselves to fighting this disease. Right doctrine and a commitment to evangelism are no longer enough; they want, in Webber’s words, “an embodied presence of God’s reign in an earthed community.” To find it, they are turning to high forms of liturgy, ancient spiritual practices, sacramental worship, and a renewed engagement with the historic faith through catechisms and confessions. They are, in other words, looking beyond the evangelical tradition for resources that supply new and more concrete forms for their faith and ministry of their churches.[2]

In and of itself there doesn’t seem to be anything problematic about this; i.e. a desire to find more depth, both doctrinally and ecclesially, among the younger (and even older) evangelicals. But the concern, for me anyway, is that as these folks are looking into the depth dimension that stands behind evangelical and reformed theology is what we have already noticed previously. There is this abiding desire to have substance, but when folks look back what they find is not only a catholic tradition in the church, at a doctrinal level, but they also start to see how this type of catholic tradition comes with an almost inextricable linkage to a certain theory of both the church and authority therein (or at least that’s what they think); viz. there is an association with the development of orthodox doctrine with a church government that comes to be the place wherein such development necessarily and absolutely inheres. With this realization the church—whether Catholic or Protestant—comes to have a prevalence and authority such that it is the means by which God’s grace and proper understanding of him necessarily is mediated to the seeking humanity. In other words, the church becomes conflated with the Lord of the church, such that the church necessarily speaks for the Lord with the result that the Lord and the church are no longer distinguishable in any meaningful sense. Yes, these folks, after gaining understanding, will attempt to make principled or localized distinctions between Christ and his church, nevertheless, de facto, the church comes to be the space wherein God speaks without remainder, and the church practices become the means by which God’s grace is mean[ingfully] mediated; my unnamed Facebook interlocutor illustrates this type of sensibility in some ways.

Johnson summarizes all of this further as he reflects upon Karl Barth’s concerns with this approach to the church:

The ecclesiological cost of this type of solution, however, proves to be too high, and this is especially evident when we consider this solution’s effect on the form of the church’s vocation. To see the nature of this problem, we turn to Barth’s worry that an ecclesiology which focuses upon the mediation of God’s grace through church practices inevitably makes the reception and possession of this grace the primary end of human action in the church. In his view, when the telos of the church is the facilitation of the ongoing reception, preservation, and cultivation of Christ’s benefits in our lives, then the distribution of these benefits through ecclesial practices becomes the church’s primary vocation. This is the action that “counts” in the church. The task of witnessing and proclaiming God’s Word to those outside the church become secondary to the task of cultivating God’s grace in the lives of those inside the church. As a result, Barth argues, the “being and act of the church [becomes] a circle closed in on itself”: the church’s reason for existing resides in the reception of the gift of God’s grace, and the church witnesses to God precisely in its reception of this gift. This description sounds very much like Webber’s account of the vision many younger evangelicals have for the church. For them, “The church does not ‘have’ a mission. It is mission, by its very existence in the world.” The inevitable result of this kind of ecclesiology, Barth contends, is that the “Church becomes an end in itself in its existence as the community and institution of salvation.” I never needs to look outside its own walls to realize its true vocation.[3]

As an evangelical, and as someone who wants depth in my relationship with God in Jesus Christ, as someone who wants a deep understanding of what the church is; what we have been sketching thus far is very dissatisfying for me. Not only that, I think at a purely theological level, at least for an evangelical Protestant this understanding of the church does not jive with the evangelical sensibility of seeing Jesus as Lord of the church in distinction from the church, and yet as its always already constituting voice and reality; and with seeing the evangel as the primary point of the church’s reality. This is where Barth’s critique of the classical Protestant and Catholic turn, and the ecclesiology therein, offers a helpful alternative; indeed, an alternative outwith I would feel a real sense of loss, and lack of intelligibility when attempting to think a genuinely (in the spirit) Protestant understanding of who and what the church is. Johnson provides some very helpful description of Barth’s understanding, and indeed corrective of what I think is a faulty way forward for Protestants (what we have been engaging with thus far, in regard to what many evangelicals and Protestant Reformed are resourcing as the way forward for the evangelical/reformed churches). At length Johnson writes (if these images aren’t clear enough click on them to enlarge):

.[4]

I hope some of this resonates with you, and allows you to see the vision I have when it comes to who and what the church is. It is a church that flows from the Missio Dei of God’s life for the world; for all of humanity. The church’s reality is founded not in an ongoing quest to instantiate and mediate God’s life for the elect, but instead it is found in the life and history of God’s life for us in Christ; it is found in his finished work of redemption, and in that completed reality the church has the freedom to be who she was intended to be for the other.

As we can see, at least according to Johnson’s treatment of Barth, the church was never intended to be a terminus in and for itself; instead it is intended to be the people of God who by this relationship are those who freed up to bear witness to the Lord of the church. The church in the Barthian account is opened upward and outward, it is freed up to look away from herself, and to listen to and hear the voice of her Lord; and then bear witness to that voice by proclaiming the goodness of his life to each other (in fellowship and discipleship), and the other who is found in the world. I am afraid that this reality of the church will be lost if the trend that we are seeing take place in the church continues; there is an inherent inward turn to the resourcement movement we are seeing in the church. And in this turn there is an elevation of the church as an absolute voice and means of God’s grace that the church was never intended to bear; her capacity instead is a witness bearing one.

 

[1] Unnamed Facebook Source, accessed 01-15-2018.

[2] Keith L. Johnson, “The Being and Act of the Church: Barth and the Future of Evangelical Ecclesiology,” in Bruce L. McCormack and Clifford B. Anderson eds., Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), 201-02.

[3] Ibid., 224.

[4] Ibid., 224-26.

I have had a chance, as the day unfolded, to reflect further on the so called Nashville Statement; the statement that a hundred and fifty evangelical signatories signed their names to. It seems to be their attempt to draw a line in the sand in regard to what they see as a pressing problem for the church, and in particular, their evangelical church. The problem for them, of course, is the progression and in-roads of the LGBTQ, homosexual gay agenda, as they see it transforming not only the body politic of culture in general, but its pressing into the church itself.

But I have a problem with it. For me, the problem has more to do with these leaders’s conception of how the church ought to operate in regard to its witness to the Gospel in relation to the world at large. As I see it, they are presuming upon an us versus them dynamic that the Gospel itself does not presume; instead, the Gospel is an equalizing reality. The Gospel as the Word of God in Jesus Christ stands as judge not just over those guys and gals out there, but as judge of the church itself; as Peter notes: “17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”[1] In other words, the Nashville Statement places itself in the place of God’s Word, as if its signatories are the judges; it actually and ironically displaces the Word of God with its own word over against others. If these signatories were to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his admonition to the American churches, as he saw it back in the 30s, they may well not have penned such a statement. Bonhoeffer wrote:

American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of “criticism” by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s “criticism” touches every religion, the Christianity of the churches and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics. A symptom of this is the general adherence to natural theology. . . . But because of this, the person and work of Jesus Christ, must for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognized as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.[2]

Do you see what Bonhoeffer is getting at, particularly when he references ‘natural theology?’ It is when churches displace her reality, founded in Jesus Christ alone, with a perception of herself as possessor of God’s absolute Word, and not just as possessor, but as dispenser, that she has presumed too much. She begins to elevate herself beyond the culture of which she is ensconced, and presumes that she has divined things, and thus has become able to pronounce things in absolute and damning ways, that in reality belongs to the Lord of the church alone; the living Word of God. Bonhoeffer’s point, is that when the church sees herself as coextensive with the Word of God itself, in an absolute way, that she actually loses her voice to bear witness to the living Word of God who not only stands in judgment of his church, but of the world at large.

Similarly, John Webster, as he comments on Barth’s critique of the liberal church in Germany is somewhat and ironically parallel with Bonhoeffer’s critique of the American church as he saw it. Here Webster, in line with Bonhoeffer points out how, in the thought of Barth, morality and ethics become too much aligned with the ‘moral and absolute self’ such that the Word of God loses its place for the Christian, and at the same time becomes coterminous with the Christian’s perception of the world at large and her pronouncements toward the world. Webster writes:

A large part of Barth’s distaste is his sense that the ethics of liberal Protestantism could not be extricated from a certain kind of cultural confidence: ‘[H]ere was … a human culture building itself up in orderly fashion in politics, economics, and science, theoretical and applied, progressing steadily along its whole front, interpreted and ennobled by art, and through its morality and religion reaching well beyond itself toward yet better days.’ The ethical question, on such an account, is no longer disruptive; it has ‘an almost perfectly obvious answer’, so that, in effect, the moral life becomes too easy, a matter of the simple task of following Jesus.

Within this ethos, Barth also discerns a moral anthropology with which he is distinctly ill-at-ease. He unearths in the received Protestant moral culture a notion of moral subjectivity (ultimately Kantian in origin), according to which ‘[t]he moral personality is the author both of the conduct with which the ethical question is concerned and of the question itself. Barth’s point is not simply that such an anthropology lacks serious consideration of human corruption, but something more complex. He is beginning to unearth the way in which this picture of human subjectivity as it were projects the moral self into a neutral space, from which it can survey the ethical question ‘from the viewpoint of spectators’. This notion Barth reads as a kind of absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness’. And it is precisely this — the image of moral reason as a secure centre of value, omnicompetent in its judgements — that the ethical question interrogates. [3]

The Nashville Statement exudes this sense “of [the] absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness.” The Word of God has now been conflated with the Nashville Statement, as if a hundred and fifty signatories, backing fourteen theses on homosexuality are what God himself believes about the state of affairs in regard not just to homosexuality but other moral proclivities.

What concerns me most is the culture, in the evangelical church, that fosters the idea that such statements are healthy and good. In what way do such statements bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the living Word of God? It ends up reducing the church to an organization of people who appear to be oriented around a cluster of ethical principles and mores instead of an organic reality who finds her sustenance in and from Christ. Whether or not homosexuality is contrariwise to the ethics of the Kingdom[4], the church herself should be more concerned with her own blights and inadequacies. The church should evidence humility before God wherein she is constantly crying out to him for his mercy and grace, such that this posture, before the world, bears witness to the reality of God in Christ. The church should avoid placing herself in positions where she appears to believe that she has become the absolute mouthpiece for God, in regard to perceived moral inequities, and instead submit to the personal reality of God herself. It is this repentant posture before God and the world wherein the power of God will be most on display. It is up to God in Christ to bring transformation into the lives of people; he alone justifies and sanctifies, the church does not!

Who do we think we are? Jesus is LORD, not the church!

 

[1] I Peter 4.17, NIV.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Protestantism without Reformation,” in No Rusty Swords, ed. Edwin H. Robertson (London: Fontana Library, 1970), 88-113 cited by George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 71-2.

[3] John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 35-6.

[4] Which personally I believe it is.

*Artwork of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Mark Summers.

As I noted on my FaceBook wall I am planning on writing a mini-exegetical paper on the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, as held to by both Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox in their own respective and distinct ways (i.e. please don’t think I’m assuming that RC and EO are just different sides of the same coin, I’m not. But they do share a similar view of Apostolic Succession in regard to their theory of the church and theory of authority). My exegetical paper will be an analysis of the locus classicus texts found in both Matthew 16 and 18. I will argue how and why 16 should be read in tandem with 18, and if read in this way, paying attention to the Greek grammar, the idea of Apostolic Succession is severely undercut; at least in the Dominical teaching of Jesus Christ. But my ultimate conclusion will remain chastened to the reality that Apostolic Succession and its attendant theory of the church is more complex than simply defeating it through an exegetical analysis of some Matthean texts.

The above noted, in this post I simply want to share something from Matthew Levering’s book Engaging the Doctrine of Redemption. In his introductory remarks he offers a quote from a Catholic scholar named O’Collins (of course that’s his name!); O’Collins is delineating how he sees tradition, church, and scripture working together as an organic whole. I thought something like this would be good to share particularly in light of my forthcoming paper on Apostolic Succession. Levering writes:

Regarding Tradition, O’Collins first shows that its practical necessity has been ecumenically accepted, and so the question now is how to distinguish authoritative Tradition. With respect to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, he points out that “if the community’s tradition, along with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, led to the formation of the Scriptures, one would expect tradition to remain active in interpreting and applying the Scriptures.”⁵⁵ The Bible in this sense cannot be separated from the Church, even though, as Dei Verbum affirms, the Church’s magisterium serves the scriptural word of God rather than the other way around. The Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church includes working through the bishops (including uniquely—the bishop of Rome), rather than simply working through “individual believers reading the Scriptures, preachers expounding the Scriptures, and ministers using the Scriptures in administering the sacraments.”⁵⁶ It is the Holy Spirit that enables the Church to hand on Tradition—that is, to hand on the entirety of what has been revealed in Jesus Christ. O’Collins discusses eight elements that guide the Church and individual believers in discerning the true content of this Tradition: the magisterium, the Vincentian canon, the “sensus fidei,” continuity with the apostolic Church, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, apostolicity, Scripture, and the risen Lord. He remarks that the Church of each generation inevitably hands on Tradition in a somewhat different form from that in which it had been received, although “an essential continuity is maintained.”[1]

This thickens things a bit, at least in regard to how I might be writing my mini-exegetical paper on Matthew 16 and 18. At the least it illustrates how my exegesis of Matthew 16 and 18 will not be the silver bullet in undercutting a doctrine of Apostolic Succession; my goal is not that triumphant. Really what I’m hoping to accomplish with my paper is to simply have something I can refer to, online, when I encounter people who appeal to that as proof positive for Apostolic Succession.

In regard to what I just shared from Levering and O’collins, it might be somewhat difficult to overcome the theologic being articulated if someone like Karl Barth hadn’t come along. Yes, the whole Post Reformed orthodox period of development has many direct responses to all of these claims and theologic provided for by Levering/O’Collins, with particular reference to the Scripture principle (which Barth himself appeals to in his book The Theology of the Reformed Confessions and in his CD etc.) and Sola Scriptura, but honestly I really don’t think Post Reformed orthodox theology (think of the work of Richard Muller and his Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) has the actual ecclesiological chops to move away from the pressure provided by the theologic of Levering/O’Collins. In other words, I think any theology that appeals to natural theology will have a hard time escaping the ecclesiocentric approach to things that Rome is funded by; the Westminster Reformed types have the same ecclesiocentrism present in their theology. It is Barth, and really, modernity itself that supplies the type of theological escape route that one needs to be able to critically move away from the type of ecclesiocentrism that we find in both Rome and Post Reformed orthodoxy (with its heavy reliance upon its Confessional magisterium etc.).

 

[1] Matthew Levering, Engaging the Doctrine of Redemption: Mediating the Gospel through Church and Scripture, 26 Scribd.

*A post I originally wrote in 2008; I wasn’t an Evangelical Calvinist at this point, only seminally (and unconsciously). But I still think there are some good points here, particularly with reference to the quote I provide from my former undergrad professor Dr. Rex Koivisto. I would rewrite much of my own comments here, but again, I still think there is an important point to be made by Koivisto in regard to what he calls “level I orthodoxy” and “level II orthodoxy.” By the way the language of “catholicity building” comes from Koivisto as he had us do what he called “catholicity builders” as part of his ecclesiology class. We had to visit various churches, outside of our personal tradition, in order to get a sense of Christianity’s presence outside of our small perspective. I visited a Roman Catholic church, Greek Orthodox, and one more; can’t remember what that was. 

There is constant debate and schism over secondary issues within the Church of Jesus Christ, especially amongst those of us who might be identified as Evangelical Christians.  The problem comes in when secondary issues are elevated to main or primary issues, as if, for example, Calvinism or Arminianism are actually the gospel themselves–when clearly they are not!

I am going to quote at length, Dr. Rex Koivisto (one of my wise profs while attending Multnomah Bible College), he wrote a book entitled One Lord, One Faith (an excellent resource that I would advise all to pick up). In his work he provides some excellent clarification on how we should think about the essentials of Christianity (esp. in regards to salvific issues) vs. secondary issues; he provides a catchy distinction between the two that all Christians (who are interested in catholicity) should take heed to. Anyway lets hear from Koivisto:

The objective content of the Gospel message. One cannot doubt that the New Testament attests to the centrality of the Gospel message as the minimal “gate” through which one passes from death to life. Paul is not ashamed of this message, because it is God’s power for the salvation of all people (Rom. 1:16-17). It is the message he passed on to the Corinthians “as of first importance” (I Cor. 15:1-8). Yet the full content of the Gospel message is not contained in any one verse or group of verses in the New Testament. The reason, of course, is that the New Testament literature was not written as evangelistic material, but as instructional material for those already converted. Nevertheless, allusions to the Gospel are plentiful enough (in, for example, the evangelistic messages in the Book of Acts and in direct references to the Gospel in the Pauline epistles) to make a reconstruction of its core details relatively easy. Collecting these into one convenient statement, one could say that the Gospel message is simply this:

God sent His Son into the world to die as an atonement for sin, and God raised Him from the dead, so that anyone who places faith in Him receives the free gift of salvation.

Each of these statements has several levels of presuppositions and implications, which would be developed in many ways by the church in succeeding centuries. I will refer to the fuller implications that are not worked out within the New Testament itself as a “level II orthodoxy,” or a “sustaining orthodoxy” to be discussed later in this chapter. But there are also some clear presuppositions and implications of the Gospel message that are demonstrable from the New Testament itself. That is, its writers meant certain things by terminology they employed in communicating the Gospel; and they understood the Gospel to have certain important implications. It is the Gospel and its presuppositions and implications, as understood by the New Testament writers, that serves as the “level I orthodoxy,” or core orthodoxy around which the church catholic centers itself.In contrast to the term sustaining or level II orthodoxy of subsequent centuries, level I orthodoxy (core orthodoxy) we will call “saving orthodoxy.” The reason for this latter terminology is due to the pragmatic elements connected with the nature of the Gospel: it saves people. Level II, or sustaining orthodoxy, is the subsequent reflection on the saving orthodoxy of the Gospel that enables us to understand how and why it saves people, but the Gospel can save without an understanding of these elements. But an incorrect explanation of the how and why can lead to serious error and distortion of the saving message of the Gospel. Both dimensions are therefore important, but the pragmatic tilt must be given to level I, or saving orthodoxy as outlined in the brief statement, along with its New Testament presuppositions and implications.[1]

A lot to take away here! Let me highlight a few important implications of what I see Koivisto’s thoughts leading to: first he underscores the fact that the scriptures are the seed-bed and provision that has authority in defining what features of the Gospel are important for the appropriation of salvation. Second, he makes an significant observation regarding the purpose and audience of the New Testament; viz. he points out that the New Testament was written to people already “saved” which should bring perspective to many texts that we place as primarily focusing on “how” the appropriation of salvation takes place–when in fact these texts might have a different orientation all together (i.e. discussing issues of sanctification rather than justification). Third, Koivisto provides a healthy dichotomy between what he calls “Level I orthodoxy” and “Level II orthodoxy;” the former being the simple message of salvation necessary for the appropriation of eternal life, the latter being reflection by the church (i.e. tradition) on the “how” and the “why” of salvation (or other doctrine). Level I orthodoxy is what is primary and unites all Christians (i.e. simple trust in the free offer of salvation in Christ) throughout the centuries in Christ. Level II orthodoxy reflects paradigms like Augustinianism, Pelagianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Nominalism, Thomism, etc.; these are all interesting points of discussion relative to the Gospel, but they are not the Gospel. And this is the significance of Koivisto’s point, we should not elevate “sustaining or Level II orthodoxy” to that of Level I–when we do the result is clear (just scan through the blogosphere or churches throughout America and the world), schism arises, and fellowship amongst all those who hold to Level I orthodoxy (or saving orthodoxy) is broken.

Let me challenge you, as I speak to myself as well, affirm the distinction Koivisto brings to light; do not give into the temptation to elevate “your” particular “Level II orthodoxy” to the same altitude that “Level I orthodoxy” has. To often I see people castigating one side or the other, as if they “aren’t brothers and sisters” in the Lord; when all along both opposing camps affirm “Saving Orthodoxy” (Level I). How we work out Level II has some important implications as well, but on the sliding scale of soteriological significance, it does not and should not have the pre-eminence that Level I has relative to fellowship amongst ourselves as Christians.

Addendum:

To be clear, I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t debate or dialogue vigorously around Level II orthodoxy issues; but the attitude that should shape such discussion should be motivated by grace for one another. I believe denominations are a reflection of the reality of Level II orthodoxy, and I think this is actually healthy–all I’m calling for is that we don’t become arrogant and think MY interpretive tradition is the same as the Gospel. Level II orthodoxy will indeed distinguish but it should not divide!!

 

[1] Dr. Rex Koivisto, One Lord, One Faith,  196-97.

 

The following quote from Andrew Sullivan[1] might sound, at a theological level, rather pelagian; but I think it represents some rather good cultural commentary on where the church is at in the 21st century—particularly for those of us in low church North American evangelicalism. Sullivan’s article, from which the following quote is taken, is a lament on the devastating effects the smartphone beinghumanculture has had on western societies; he calls it “living-in-the-web.” He is lamenting the impact that technology has had upon the human psyche, such that quiet places and silence (in our heads) is a thing of the past. Indeed, Sullivan himself, refers to himself as a social-media addict, and he actually went to “treatment” to disabuse himself of it (which cost him money, since he made money as a social-media and business personality). What I found striking about his critique was how he applied it, in the following paragraph, to the church; as an evangelical this insight hits very close to home, and resonates deeply with my own lived experience. Sullivan writes:

If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary. But the mysticism of Catholic meditation — of the Rosary, of Benediction, or simple contemplative prayer — is a tradition in search of rediscovery. The monasteries — opened up to more lay visitors — could try to answer to the same needs that the booming yoga movement has increasingly met.[2]

There has, of course, been a kind of movement called ancient church that has indeed attempted to resource some of these types of contemplative and even mystical spaces from the past. But of course, when something like that is artificially generated, among evangelicals in my case, it loses that actual space we are seeking; it becomes all too self-focused, and identity driven. Anyway, I thought Sullivan’s point about ‘distraction’ versus ‘hedonism’ was a valid one; even if the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive in the way he seems to intimate.

 

[1] H/T: Jason Goroncy, he shared the link to Sullivan’s article via his blog in his post: ‘i used to be a human being.’

[2] Andrew Sullivan, I Used to be a Human Being, accessed online 10-22-2016.

Eschatology in the realm of systematic theology often means something different from eschatology within a biblical exegetical frame of things. Maybe it isn’t that it means something different, per se, but its focus is broader and more hermeneutical; i.e. it doesn’t necessarily get into the nitty gritty exegetical minutiae of trying to figure out what millennial scheme we should hold (i.e.
leoxpremillennial, postmillennial, amillennial, etc.), or who the anti-Christ might be, so on and so forth. Richard Bauckham summarizes this different emphasis well when he writes:

Traditionally, eschatology comprised the ‘four last things’ that Christian faith expects to be the destiny of humans at the end of time: resurrection, last judgement, heaven, and hell. They formed the last section of a dogmatics or a systematic theology, a position they still usually occupy. But in the twentieth century, eschatology ceased to be merely one doctrinal topic among others to be treated after the others; it became something more like a dimension of the whole subject matter of theology. Karl Barth famously claimed in 1921, ‘If Christianity be not altogether thoroughgoing eschatology, there remains in it no relationship whatever with Christ’ (Barth 1968: 314; cf 1957: 634-5). While the content given to the term ‘eschatology’ has varied considerably over the subsequent period, in which Barth’s claim has become a favourite quotation in discussions of eschatology (e.g., Moltmann 1967:39; Pannenberg 1991-8: iii. 532), the indispensable role it attributes to eschatology has been widely endorsed. Moltmann writes, ‘From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology…. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day’ (Moltmann 1967:16).[1]

I largely subscribe to Barth’s view that Christianity is eschatology through and through. I subscribe to the cosmic nature of Christianity, of the reality that all of creation has its telos from, in, and for Christ. I affirm the reality that this world is God’s world, and this world is the theater wherein God breaks into it through the Son, Jesus Christ, and sets to right all things according to the order of His Kingdom come.

But because I am an evangelical I have grown up in a Christian sub-culture that has given (and continues to give, in some sectors) an inordinate amount of focus to working meticulously through the details of the books of the Bible such as Revelation, I&II Thessalonians, and other prophetic books with a gaze towards answering all of the various “bible prophecy” questions (you know what I mean). This exegetical approach, funded in many instances by an overly wooden-literalistic engagement with the text, has attempted to provide exegetical conclusion to a variety of interpretive questions in regard to such things as: the millennium, who the anti-Christ is, if there is such a thing as the rapture (within the dispensational approach), how current events relate to biblical prophecy and its fulfillment (within the dispensational approach), and many other like foci. To be honest, as much as I have moved away from much of that, it still interests me at some level; even if that interest, at points, is at the level of social-curiosity.

Given my curiosity, I found it very interesting to run across how Richard Muller defines what the Latin language for anti-Christ, antichristus, entailed in the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox period (i.e. 16th and 17th centuries). Muller writes at length:

antichristus (from the Greek, ντίχριστος): antichrist; scriptural use of the word is confined to the Joannine Epistles (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7) where a distinction is made between (1) the many antichrists now in the world, who work to deceive the godly and who do not confess Christ, and (2) the Antichrist who is to come who will deny Christ and, in so doing, deny both the Father and the Son. John also speaks (1 John 4:3) of the “spirit … of the antichrist” which “even now … is in the world.” Following the fathers, the medieval doctors, and the Reformers, the Protestant orthodox identify the final Antichrist of the Johannine passages with the “man of sin” or “son of perdition who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God” foretold by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:3-4. The orthodox can therefore distinguish between (1) the antichrist considered generally (generaliter), as indicated by the plural use of the word in 1 John and by the “spirit of antichrist” now in the world, and (2) the Antichrist considered specially (specialiter et kat’ exochen), as indicated by singular usage. The former term indicates all heretics and vicious opponents of the doctrine of Christ; the latter, the great adversary of Christ who will appear in the last days. Of the latter, the Antichristus properly so called, the orthodox note several characteristics. (1) He arises from within the church and sets himself against the church and its doctrine, since his sin is described as apostasia (q.v.), or falling away. (2) He will sit in temple Dei, in the temple of God, which is to say, in the church. (3) He will rule as the head of the church. (4) From his seat in templo Dei and his position as caput ecclesiae, he will exalt himself above the true God and identify himself as God. (5) He will cause a great defection from the truth so that many will join him in his apostasy. (6) He will exhibit great power and cause many “lying wonders,” founded upon the power of Satan, in a rule that will endure until the end of time. On the basis of these characteristics the orthodox generally identify the Antichrist as the papacy, the pontifex Romanus. Some attempted to argue a distinction between an Antichristus orientalis and an Antichristus occidentalis, an Eastern and a Western Antichrist, the former title belonging to Muhammad, the latter to the papacy; but the difficulty in viewing Islam, or any form of paganism, as an apostasy, strictly so-called, led the orthodox to identify Rome alone as Antichrist. They also reject the identification of Antichrist with the imperium Romanum, the Roman Empire, on the ground that the Antichrist is not a secular power or a result of pagan history. Finally, they also reject the identification of any single pope as Antichrist on the ground that Antichrist’s rule and power extend farther and endure longer than the rule and power of any one man. Thus, Antichrist is the institution of the papacy which has arisen within the church and which assumes religious supremacy over all Christians, seats itself in the temple of God, and builds its power on lies, wonders, and apostasy.[2]

Clearly, for the Post Reformed orthodox, the papacy as an institution represents the office of the eschatological Antichrist. I would imagine that this still holds true today, particularly for Orthodox Presbyterians, and maybe the Presbyterian Church of America; i.e. that the papal seat and Vatican city, and what they represent, serve as emblematic and as the embodiment of the personal Antichrist. It isn’t just the Post Reformed orthodox, and the Reformed in general who held, and may continue to hold this view; we once attended a Lutheran church (Wisconsin synod) that made a point to emphasize that they see the Roman See as the embodiment of Antichrist. More sensationalistic than this, evangelicals, of the dispensational sort (like Dave Hunt, Chick tracts, etc.), have also seen the papacy as a potential candidate for fulfilling the role of the Antichrist.

Attempting to answer this question, of the identity of the Antichrist, is not a bad thing in my view; it reflects a people who take the Bible and its various teachings seriously. I may have given the impression, earlier, that I find such things pedantic; I don’t. What I do find pedantic is when people become consumed by the sensationalistic aspects of all of this, and fail to miss the bigger picture of eschatology, theologically and hermeneutically, and what that is all about. It is about God’s Kingdom, come, and coming every day. We live in a world that needs to hear and know that good news. Within that framework, we can attempt to work through the exegetical questions and various biblical foci; but never losing sight that we ought to be living as those who are simply looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, “Eschatology,” in John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance eds., The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 306.

[2] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 39-40.

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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