Nine Consequences of a State Church Structure

A student recently sent me the photo of a page in a book seeking my advice. This author said:

“There are no records of Paul reproving a church for not growing, or even giving commands and exhortations concerning personal evangelism. This is all the more striking when we remember that Paul sharply reproved churches for division, heretical teachings, and immoral behavior.”

As I read these lines several reasoning came to mind:

  • The author seems to lack a full understanding of the use of New Testament verbs related to evangelizing.
  • The author highlighted two points important to a state church: (1) avoid division at all cost and (2) safeguard against heretical teaching.
  • State church constructs have rarely or almost never been supportive of personal evangelism within their realms. These negative predispositions to personal evangelism taint everything they touch: histories, theologies, commentaries, and lexicons.

Several hours later, in meeting with this student, I was surprised to find that the book was written by a Baptist for Baptists—who have a long history of being persecuted dissenters, primarily due to their emphasis on personal evangelism!

The several lines of this author cited above, led me to consider how differently the Scriptures can be read, whether from a state church perspective or from a freedom of conscience perspective. As the Scriptures are translated, printed and disseminated, a worldview is sometimes injected or imposed upon the text. For the greater portion of Christian history, a state church interpretation has been the dominant worldview.

However, in order to understand how a state church worldview might influence Bible translation and the broader culture, it may prove helpful to extrapolate consequences of a state church religious system on Christian doctrine and practice. The following nine statements posit points of compliance resulting from the acceptance of a state church arrangement.

(1) Moving toward a General Atonement

The first obvious result of a state church was enshrined in the 1525 Diet of Spier: “Whose Region, His Religion.” Accompanying the concept of a state church was the belief that the entire population within a geographic region was automatically under obligation to submit to the system of religious persuasion of its political leader. Hence one religion, and only one religion, for everyone in a given region. This dictum offered a level of legality to the massacre of Baptists across many parts of the Continent of Europe.

With a universal belief system logically follows the necessity for a universal salvation for those living within those political boundaries. Hence, general atonement naturally proceeds from the state church construct.

In the early development of the state church system, there was a little known council, the A.D. 473 Council of Arles. At that Council a series of recantations were drawn up for a certain errant Lucidus by Bishop Faustus of Riez. One of the teachings Lucidus was to recant was, “That says that Christ our Lord and Savior did not undergo death for the salvation of all.” It appears that Lucidus was not teaching in favor of general atonement, and he was reprimanded for his departure from both a general atonement view, and the larger state church consensus.

(2) Unified Doctrinal Guidelines

As elaborated in the point above, in order to properly manage a state church, rules and regulations are required. For the “Orthodox” churches of the time, the Nicene Creed became their foundational document. Let it be noted that the Nicene Creed did not hinder the state church from fully accepting a sacramental system of salvation.

In a sacramental system of salvation, an evangelist is not needed to preach repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Rather, in a sacramental system, a priest is needed to bestow the graces of Infant Baptism, the Eucharist, and the other prescribed means of grace as determined by the consensus of the leadership of the state church.

(3) Centralizing Authority

Along with controlling the church doctrinally, lines of authority are needed that follow the precedent of political lines of authority. If the state government is centralized, then a centralized church authority is needed to properly associate the state church construct with the many levels of leadership of the state. The pages of the Bible were mined for passages tending toward a focus on centralized authority. In this light, Deuteronomy 17:8-13 proves helpful to require absolute submission to a centralized religious system.

(4) Developing Hierarchies of Roles and Offices

With the borrowing of the organizational structures of the state, titles were needed for different levels of leaders. The pages of the New Testament were therefore scoured to find leadership titles to reflect the organizational hierarchies of the state. From the New Testament were drawn terms such as apostle, bishop, deacon, doctor (teacher), elder, and pastor (shepherd). Soon New Testament church titles did not suffice to fill in the state church flow chart. So, other titles were drawn from the Old Testament, such as patriarch and priest. These titles filled in the elaborate hierarchies being applied to the church, even though they represented an organization quite foreign from what is found in the Book of Acts. They came to exist as the state church sought to align its leaders with their political counterparts. Later titles were invented from outside of Holy Writ (archbishop, archdeacon, cardinal, pope).

Interestingly, two less used New Testament titles are evangelist and prophet.

The use of a term as a state church office title is very hard for a reader to shake off. For example, the title Bishop carries with it cultural connotations related to the state church office of a Bishop. The meaning of a state church title becomes enshrined in the linguistic jargon of a people.

(5) Monopolizing Christ’s Ordinances

In order to control its religious identity and monopoly, the state church quickly gravitated to controlling the application and uses of the ordinances of Christ. They could not allow that just anybody could obey the command of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Their state church role was to oversee that only those who upheld a correct (Orthodox) understanding of the ordinances should be authorized to administer the ordinances of Christ. There must be seriousness and unity in the application of the Lord’s Supper, as well as in the administration of Baptism. These two ordinances must be controlled—and they were!

In the case of Roman Catholic Tradition, the names of the ordinances became “Sacrament,” “means of [receiving] grace”—or the reception of holiness based on the root meaning of the Latin sacrum (something consecrated, a holy thing, holy place, etc.). Therefore, the reception of the gift of God’s grace was conferred by these two ordinances, to which five other ordinances were added. Foot washing not being considered one of the Seven Sacraments.

As a follow-up to controlling the ministration of the ordinances of Christ was the extension of church membership into the state-church all those who were “rightly baptized.” The concept of “right baptism” was somewhat fluid as it included Arian Visigoths, a self-baptized Jew from Metz, France, and all those baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit by whatever method or in whatever church. The caveat to this extended church membership was that church discipline [and state discipline] could therefore be applied all who were considered church members by “right baptism.”

(6) Controlling the Preaching Offices

Even as titles were being conferred and the ordinances administered, the preaching office of the church also needed state church oversight. Without state church supervision, how could heresy be kept from the pulpits and from the streets. The regulatory machinery of the state church complex began to decide who could and who could not preach.

In so doing, there is a valid question if state church leaders usurped the authority of Christ, who said, “So send I you.” As in most of the above points, it appears that the true leadership of Christ in His church was being substituted for the leadership of the human hierarchy of the state church.

It was at this juncture that a strong distinction was made between laity and clergy. Soon, in the Western State Church, being considered clergy meant submitting to the state of celibacy. Lay people get married. Clergy remain celibate.

(7) Discrediting Freedom of Conscience

As more and more control was gathered in the state church leadership structure, the right of the people to think religiously for themselves was greatly diminished. As mentioned above, “Whose Region, His Religion.” The state church construct had the tendency to remove all freedom of conscience from their citizens in areas of spirituality and religious practice.

Controlling freedom of conscience is controlling conversion. Persons were not allowed to decide for or against Christ for themselves. At Infant Baptism they had chosen Christ as taught by the state church, and that decision was immutable. The idea of adults willingly repenting and confessing Christ was popularized in English lands through the First Great Awakening—and that not without significant cultural upheaval.

(8) Controlling Bible Translations

The Bible received the highest scrutiny from the state church. After all, the Bible is the one document that provides the followers of Christ with their unified religious constitution. The Bible catalogues the very words of God.

As state churches enlarged their regulatory oversight, after the invention of the printing press in A.D. 1455, Bible publishers and printers of religious materials came under special scrutiny. It appears that one of the factors leading King James to authorize the English translation that bears his name was to quiet the impact of former English translations, such as the Wycliffe, the Tyndale, and the English Geneva. After the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1803, some Continental state churches were not amenable to the free distribution of Bibles in their lands.

(9) Prohibiting Evangelism

Along with controlling the preaching offices within the state church complex, outdoor preaching of the gospel was strongly discouraged, especially by untitled individuals. Only clergy received training to preach, and only clergy were allowed to preach. Obedience of Christ’s Great Commission was restricted to ordained clergy only, which in the case of the Western Church meant that they also had to be celibate.

The two clearest hindrances to evangelism and evangelists throughout the history of the churches have been state-controlled clergy and Infant Baptism. Through Infant Baptism, all the citizens of cities, towns, and parishes were already “born again.” There was no need for an evangelist to come through town and preach, “You must be born again!”:

“Preacher, everyone is all right in this town. We’re all baptized. Leave us and go elsewhere.”

“What, Baptism is not enough? Why, you must be a heretic!”

It was the A.D. 529 Second Council of Orange that formally linked the reception of grace with [Infant water] Baptism.

All These Are Enshrined in a State Church Reading of Scripture

As projected by the quote of the certain author above, these nine consequences of the state church construct run deep in the veins of our English culture. They are very hard to shed or move beyond. Yet the absolute authority of God and His Word, the Bible, demands that we seek to allow Christ to rule His church and our hearts.

Therefore, are there any “commands and exhortations concerning personal evangelism” in the New Testament?

  • How about, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”?
  • Or how about, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”?
  • Or again, “I have sent you to reap”?
  • And, “You shall be witnesses to Me”?

I have several hundred pages of notes on New Testament verbs directly related to evangelism. For example, Paul used the verb “evangelize” (εὐαγγελίζω) 23 times in his writings, and Luke used that same verb 25 times. These are almost never translated evangelize in English, except for the brief season that the Holman Christian Standard did so (1999-2016):

Acts 8:25, “Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing the many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:40, “Philip appeared in Azotus, and passing through, he was evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

Acts 14:7, “And they kept evangelizing.”

Acts 14:21, “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.”

Acts 16:10, “After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”

Rom 15:20, “So my aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, in order that I will not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

There’s something about seeing “evangelize” in the text of the New Testament! In parallel form, Paul exhorted Timothy, “Preach the word!” However, Paul was wise to use the first person when he wrote of evangelism, allowing the reader to transfer the application to himself.

As regards the second part of the quote, “Paul sharply reproved churches for division, heretical teachings.” The state church complex vested within itself the role of doctrinal oversight. Anyone not accepting their particular doctrinal distinctives was deemed divisive and heretical.

Ultimately here comes the question of authority and who has the obligation to obey the commands of Christ to “Take heed,” “Be on the alert,” and “Keep watch.” Eventually each individual will stand before God for himself. And each individual must obey the commands of Christ to “Take heed,” “Be on the alert,” and “Keep watch.” Obedience to these commands cannot be deeded over to a state church.

This essay is being written using the English language. Along with the English language comes a cultural use of church titles and a history of Bible translation related to areas such as evangelism. Knowing that certain predispositions exist can enable us to see beyond them and seek to shed them as we may deem necessary in light of our future accountability to Christ.

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Why Biblical Languages Are a Seminary Priority

I was once a young and zealous seminary student. Every class I took was considered through the lense of “How can this help me on the streets.” I experienced the significant dissonance between academic approaches to the Bible, church history, doctrine, apologetics, etc. My initial response was, “Who needs this?”

This knee-jerk response was unhelpful in two ways. First, the mind does need to be trained, even in areas one considers unimportant at the time. Second, if evangelistically-minded students shun higher academia as unnecessary or unimportant, then they will not funnel-up to replenish the ranks of Bible commentators, church historians, and theologians who train up future generations of students.

I once complained to my father about having to take Greek in seminary. He responded to me somewhat sarcastically, “Then why not go to this other school instead!”

At the time, I did not understand the importance of the study of biblical Greek. It did not cross my mind the depth of the Word of God that can never be fully translated into the English language. My feeling at the time was, “We have the Great Commission. What are we waiting for?”

Now, more than 30 years after having received a Master of Divinity, I view things very differently. For example, consider the power and impact of Moses’ polytheistic education in Egypt:

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22.

Here are some thoughts that may benefit the current seminary student who has an evangelistic heart.

First, keep and nurture an evangelistic heart. Do not let your passion die. Plan into your schedule weekly times of initiative evangelism. A heart for the lost can easily become static or stagnant. Plan weekly opportunities for eye-to-eye contact with lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel.

Second, do not underestimate the importance and power of a deep knowledge of the biblical languages. Without a knowledge of the biblical text, verses that encourage evangelism or clearly affirm the gospel can be changed without your knowing it. For example, evangelistically important verses are often the first to be altered in Bible translations.

When Jesus sent out His disciples in evangelism, He told them to be careful:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.

We may too easily be “gentle as doves” without first being “wise as serpents.” In order to remain vigilant for biblical evangelism, depth of education is crucial.

Third, consider that evangelism and evangelists are often framed out of many topics of study. Whether these omissions are purposeful or unintentional, I will let the reader decide. In order to maintain a Great Commission approach in every subject, the student will need to intentionally seek it out and sometimes reinject it into the topic—if it is difficult to ascertain. This last step must be done with humility and gentleness, just as Jesus stated, in one’s own private study of the topic at hand.

As to evangelism and evangelists in church history, in the study of doctrine, and in ecclesiology. The Great Commission is always there—if Christ is truly Lord of His church. The words of Christ have always been obeyed by some in every generation!

Lastly, don’t give up on the Christian higher education that a seminary provides. The topics taught in seminary are crucial and valid. Especially fall in love with the biblical languages and with every word in the Bible. Become a servant of the Word of God—allow the words of the Word to rule over you. If you do that, then everything else will fall into its proper place, including proper obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

Blessed Are the Poor

A common term for persons lacking money is to call them “poor.” Being financially poor generally refers to lacking the essential elements of life: food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus opened His “Sermon on the Mount” using the metaphor of this condition:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)*
*NKJ is used throughout unless otherwise stated.

Understanding the analogy of Jesus is contingent upon being acquainted with economic destitution. Yet Jesus mined deeper ore than mere financial poverty. Jesus added the qualifier “in spirit.” In so doing, Jesus dove from the physical meaning into a spiritual meaning. It is this spiritual meaning that we will consider in this post.

Jesus, the “Son of David,” found the concept of the “poor” used often from the pen of his namesake, King David in the Psalms. King David likewise mined the rich metaphorical meaning in this term. For example, in Psalm 22, he used term “poor” in synonymous parallelism with those who fear the Lord and those who seek Him:

“My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!”
(Psalm 22:25-26)

In Psalm 34, David wrote:

“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.”
(Psalm 34:6-7)

Again, the Psalmist used “those who fear Him” in parallel with “poor man.” This same pattern is often found in the Psalms. In fact, David affirmed his own spiritual destitution:

“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 40:17)
“But I am poor and sorrowful.” (Psalm 69:29)
“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 70:5)
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 86:1)
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 109:22)

It is likely that it would be a mistake to interpret these uses of “poor” as referring only or primarily to physical poverty, since the context clearly denotes a spiritual need—much as Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount.

So when Jesus spoke of “poor in spirit” in the Sermon on the Mount, he had the antecedent of King David speaking of another kind of lack, that being spiritual destitution. Jesus appears to be saying that those who understand their spiritual poverty are blessed, because they willingly submit to the rule of heaven. Or to put it another way, the key to living with a heavenly focus is to understand our spiritual bankruptcy and to be willing to submit to the rule of heaven in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Clearly, the blessing of Jesus was spoken a particular group of people. His blessing was not generalized to all of mankind, but rather to a subgroup of humanity—that is, “the blessed ones.”

The Apostle Paul picked up on the same theme of poverty, but from a different angle. When Paul was explaining the gospel in Romans he underscored that all people are spiritually destitute:

“For there is absolutely no difference: seeing that all have sinned, and are entirely destitute of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:[22]23, 1605 French Geneva, translation mine)

Paul stated that all people are spiritually and morally bankrupt. They all lack anything and everything that they need to achieve the glory of God. They are totally destitute, or to put it another way, totally depraved. Their spiritual bank account before God stands completely empty.

As Paul argued for the spiritual depravity of all mankind in Romans, so Jesus affirmed that the spiritually bankrupt comprised of a certain group of blessed people. So then, was total depravity a spiritual condition of all mankind (as in Paul) or was it only the spiritual condition of a particular group of people (as in Jesus)?

I argue that Jesus and Paul were communicating the same truth from two different perspectives.

Paul used the concept of a spiritually impoverished humanity to show that everyone on earth is a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus blessed those who recognize that they are impoverished, which was and remains the sign of a receptive heart. For Jesus, it was only those who understood their spiritual destitution that were deemed acceptable for the rule of heaven. Likewise for Paul, although all people were indeed helpless and hopeless, only a special group of people understands and acknowledges their spiritual condition.

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6)

So, according to Paul, Christ died for those that had no spiritual strength. And while all men are “without strength,” only a particular group of men actually acknowledge their spiritual poverty. These few cry out to God for mercy:

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25)

Following this example, it is only those who cry out to God for deliverance from their spiritual poverty who are heard from heaven. Indeed, these are the ones whose spiritual bank account is filled with the righteousness of Christ. These are the ones who follow the example of Abraham, who believed the Word of God:

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Rom 4:3)

This gift of righteousness is then placed in the account of everyone who believes:

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Rom 4:4-5)

As men and women acknowledge that they are spiritually destitute and look to heaven, they find the only answer for their spiritual debt. Christ shed His blood for those few who would acknowledge their spiritual poverty, look to heaven for help, and cry out to God for mercy through Jesus Christ.

So Christ Himself became the blessing of the blessed ones—the “poor in spirit”—gifting them entrance into the kingdom of heaven!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)

The Company of the Beheaded

Last night as I was applying the teachings of Rev 6:9-11 at our prayer meeting, I did not consider a third point of application that came to me in the middle of the night.

This passage in Revelation describes when Christ, the Lamb of God, opened the fifth seal. When He did so, the Apostle John was apparently ushered into the Holy of Holies, and he saw under the altar the souls of the martyrs for the word of God and the testimony of Christ:

Rev 6:9-11, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

Consider that the same verb was used for their death as was used for the death of Jesus in Rev 5:6, 9, and 12. These “slain” Christians were gathered under the altar of God, there, close to the most precious things in the Temple—the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod, and tablets of the covenant. These three items were contained in the Ark of the Covenant (Heb 9:4).

But here under the altar were the souls of the slain, who, while affirming that God was holy and true, were waiting for their blood to be avenged. Even in the presence of God they were still mindful of their unjust treatment on earth, and they cried out “How long?” Their plea echoed the cry of the brokenhearted from the days of Cain and Abel even to the Songs of Asaph. This cry “How long” is sprinkled throughout the Book of Psalms, most notably found four times in Psa 13:1-2.

So God quieted these souls with the gift of white robes. He reminded them of the cleansing work of Christ on the cross, by which their sins that were once red as crimson were made white as snow:

Isa 1:18, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’”

My first application to those listening was that they should be sure that they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They need to be washed in and by His blood and clothed in the whited garments that only He can and does freely give.

But as for the “How long?” my second point of application related to holding in anger, frustration, or bitterness toward others for having been wronged. These emotions amount to exasperation with God for forbearing His judgment on wrongdoers. Even in the Holy of Holies, these souls, who affirmed that God was faithful and true, were still waiting for their blood to be avenged!

So also, we must remember that the “How long?” is not answered on earth. God comforted them with a white garment, and an admonition to refresh themselves and rest a little while longer. Even while the “How long?” was resonating in their souls, God reminded them to find rest in the “streams of living water” that give health both to the body and the soul. Yes, God gives His followers “green pastures” and “still waters” even in the midst of strife.

I ended with this last admonition.

Then in the middle of the night the question came to me, “Are you among the company of the beheaded?” It dawned on me that I had left out perhaps the strongest point of application from this text: living in such a way so as to be able to join the company of the slain under the altar.

Not living in an arbitrarily way, by purposefully putting oneself in harms way. For the Bible says, “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.” (Prov 22:3)

But being committed to the proclamation of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ unto death—if predestined to be the case: first of all, to be dead to self and sin; secondly, to be dead to the opinion of others; and thirdly, to be dead to their threats and persecution.

These are the company of the beheaded!

John wrote of this company in Revelation 12:

Rev 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Are you willing to be among the company of the beheaded?

An Awakening of Good Christian Music

MandolinBanjo

Yesterday I was staining our back deck and listening to the music on my iPhone. As I listened, several things happened: (1) my mind was set at ease; (2) my heart was lifted to the throne room of God; and (3) I became very grateful to the wide range of Christian music that the Lord has allowed our generation to hear and enjoy.

Several years ago John MacArthur came and spoke at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for the Spurgeon Lectures. In one of his sermons he expressed that in his estimation we are in the midst of a Christian revival or Awakening and may not be aware of it. He cited the numbers of people listening to his sermon podcasts from all over the world, then referencing that he is not the only Evangelical pastor whose sermons are being downloaded and listened to all across the globe.

While the spoken Word is definitely the primary agency through which is communicated the things of God, I want to give a shout out today for the Word in song!

One of the more impactful songs that I heard yesterday was Jeremy Camp’s “Revive Me.” It sounded like a song taken right out of the Book of Psalms. I also enjoyed Blue Highway’s “Wondrous Love,” which I had newly added to my collection.

During my listening session while staining, I also heard Kings Kaleidoscope’s “One Righteous Man,” Lecrae’s “Real Talk,” several portions from Handel’s Messiah, Sebastien Demrey’s and Jimmy Lahaie’s “Cherchez D’Abord,” and John Swaim’s “Brethren We Have Met to Worship.”

Yes, we live in a blessed generation. Not only is good preaching available to us at the touch of a screen, but we also have God-glorifying music available to us as well. I agree with John MacArthur. We are living in the midst of an Awakening of Christianity, facilitated by the availability of good preaching and good singing!

Our Great Commission Freedoms!

us flag

With Memorial Day on May 30th and Independence Day on the Fourth of July, I have heard winds of hesitancy from Millennials as to whether or not to include patriotic songs in their worship services.

The arguments go something like this: We worship Jesus in our worship services, not the U.S. flag. We are countrymen of a different country (heaven) therefore it is improper for us to show allegiance to the United States, especially within the framework of our worship services. After all, did not Adolf Hitler demand a commitment to the Third Reich from pastors in Germany?

Then comes the argument that America has never been a “Christian” nation. Moreover, it was not proper for John Winthrop to consider the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “City on a Hill.” Or again, as my college history professor explained with glee: “The American Experiment did not work!” Rather, say these antagonists, the Puritans who settled Massachusetts possessed an inflated self-importance and a misconstrued interpretive model of Christ and culture for even trying to shape a nation from the teachings of the Bible.

Meanwhile U.S. Evangelical Christians are told to mind their own business and keep their religious views out of the political process.

As to the U.S. being a Christian nation, let us remember that the current Pope is calling for “Christian Europe” to accept the immigrant refugees, supposedly buttressed by the teachings of the Bible. Surely the Pope cannot be misinterpreting Scripture when he considers Western and Central Europe to be “Christian.” Interestingly, many Evangelical missiologists consider Western Europe to be “post-Christian.”

Further, the same liberal theologians who deride conservatives for “imposing their morality” every election cycle—simply for voting their conscience—are the same liberals who impose their political views in the name of Christianity. Is it not liberal theologians that invoke “love” and “acceptance of others” from the Bible to allow unhindered access of our public schools to the LGBTQ lobby? Is it not the same liberals who call for civil disobedience if illegal immigrants are kept from entering our country?

They cannot have it both ways: (1) Use the Bible to underpin and buttress their political views and (2) tell conservatives who want to vote and voice their conscience that they are imposing their morality on others.

It is interesting that all students at Wheaton College were required to take a first year Bible class entitled, “Christ and Culture.” The required text for this class was H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture (1951). Niebuhr skillfully framed out of the question the most obvious biblical view in light of the cross of Jesus: “Culture against Christ.”

It is this same “Culture against Christ” view that is being skillfully framed out of the debate in today’s arguments. First of all, America’s unique Christian history and heritage is underreported and virtually ignored. And secondly, the constitutional right that conservative Evangelicals have to voice and vote their conscience is maligned.

Let us remember that U.S. political and judicial framework still retains a remnant of Christian conviction from the Puritans and Pilgrims, from the First Great Awakening, and from our Bill of Rights and the freedoms that we are granted by them.

Do we come to church to worship Jesus? Absolutely. He is the reason that we come together to worship. However, we also live in a country whose laws allow us to freely share the gospel and peaceably assemble. These Great Commission Rights have provided a framework for wonderful seasons of gospel harvest in our history.

It is quite unique in the history of the world that the Lord has allowed us such freedom “from sea to shining sea.” I think America is still something to celebrate. And I am grateful to live in America as an American Born Abroad. And I believe that it is perfectly appropriate in our worship services to thank the Lord for the freedoms that we have in these United States of America!

Spiritualia Seminavimus

In these two words from 1 Corinthians 9:11, spiritualia seminavimus, hangs the essence of Christian ministry. What is meant by “Sowing things spiritual”?

1 Cor 9:11, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?”

Paul here built from the distinction between the spiritual and material also expressed by Moses in the chronologically antecedent Leviticus 10:10-11:

Lev 10:10-11, “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”

In order to understand what specifically needs to be “sown” in 1 Corinthians 9, we must understand what is meant by “things spiritual” (or “things holy” in Moses). Primary views can be roughly divided into four main camps, each of which could be subdivided into other camps:

  1. Things spiritual refers to the spoken Word of God;
  2. Things spiritual refers to doing good deeds on behalf of Christ;
  3. Things spiritual refers to enacting the Ordinances of Christ (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) for a person or group;
  4. Things spiritual refers to calling the power of God down upon the material specimens of the Seven Sacraments on behalf of a person or group.

Clearly all four of these approaches to “things spiritual” are quite different and unique.

However, the issue behind each view lies in several places. Differences relate to what is believed to be the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16):

Rom 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

I argue that the gospel specifically, or the Word of God generally, entails all that is meant by things spiritual. So, if the power of God unto salvation is the spoken Word of God, then “things spiritual” concern the first referent on the list above.

The author of Hebrews explained that the sword of the power of God on this earth is inseparably interconnected with the very words of the Word of God:

Heb 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Such a powerful weapon must-needs be wielded with humility and great care. This power of God found in the words from God can be annulled by one’s own self-aggrandizing “wisdom of words”:

1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

So, how is this power of God communicated to others? Is it not by their first “hearing” it?

Rom 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

But, does “hearing” automatically produce faith in everyone who hears? No! For Paul explained another type of hearing in verse 16:

Rom 10:16, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’”

So, it follows that “sowing things spiritual” means that hearing must be accompanied by a proper reception of the things heard:

1 Thess 2:13, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

A great example of God both opening and not opening hearts is found in Acts 16. Paul spoke to “women” (plural) assembled at a place of prayer. Yet we find that only the heart of one woman, Lydia of Thyatira, was supernaturally opened by the power of the Holy Spirit working in, with, and by the words communicated by Paul:

Acts 16:13-14, “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

So, there are different types of hearing. Now, elsewhere, the proper reception of the gospel is described as the “hearing of faith”:

Gal 3:2, 5, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? … Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Indeed, the author of Hebrews described this hearing as a hearing “mixed with faith”:

Heb 4:2, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”

So, this passage refers to another kind of hearing, not resulting in salvation. In fact, this other kind of hearing is a mere carnal hearing. Paralleling the distinction taught by God to Moses in Leviticus 10. Paul explained the blindness of those who cannot understand the gospel being communicated:

2 Cor 4:3-4, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

God said the same in His calling of Isaiah the prophet:

Isa 6:9-10, “And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.’”

But as to the “hearing of faith,” a clear result of this type of hearing upon the recipient is the reception of the Holy Spirit as a direct result of receiving the words of the Word of God.

That this line of reasoning is a contemporaneous topic of dispute (as noted in the four views listed above) is no surprise. This same topic was also the subject of a major dispute in the Apostolic Age:

Acts 15:7-9, “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.’”

Therefore, in conclusion:

  • The Holy Spirit is NOT granted via a secondary material source (e.g. a material Sacrament);
  • NOR is the Holy Spirit is granted through the ordinance of baptism (1 Cor 1:17);
  • NEITHER is the saving work of the Holy Spirit communicated through the good deeds of a Christian toward another person;
  • RATHER, “things spiritual” are sown by speaking the Word of God, with the result that some are granted a hearing of faith, sealed by the reception of the Holy Spirit, and culminating in immediate salvation and the forgiveness of sins!

Eph 1:13, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

So then, “sowing things spiritual” refers to individual Christians obeying the ordinance of Christ to evangelize, as is commanded in the Great Commission passages, and as is the primary context of 1 Corinthians 9.