A Brief History of Sanctification

When reading Berkhof’s Systematic theology one comes away with the notion that justification and sanctification were inseparably conflated and that works based theology reigned until the Reformation, (Berkhof, 529-30). While it is true that the Reformers were the first to articulate the doctrine of justification by faith alone and to draw out the distinction between justification and sanctification, it is not true to say that the church was uninterested in the process of sanctification until the Reformation.

Sanctification is, as the word suggests, the process by which a person is made holy. The distinction has historically been made between definitive sanctification, a setting apart by God at one’s regeneration and baptism, and progressive sanctification, the lifelong process by which a believer, by grace, is enabled to more and more die unto sin and live unto righteousness, to paraphrase Westminster. To say that the church never rested in the “apartness” of baptized believers or that the church never sought to become more conformed to God’s law would be incorrect. Furthermore, after Augustine, everyone in the West taught and believed that everything in a believer’s life was totally and completely of and by grace.

Since though we do not see traditional reformed systematic theological categories in the first fifteen centuries of the church, what do we see? I propose that we see different models of sanctification throughout the life of the church. These models are more or less chronological. They are:

  1. Martyrdom (1st-4th) – the intense early phase of the church. The passion of standing for one’s faith in the face of torture and death and the contagious fervor that this threat posed served to sanctify the early church.
  2. Orthodoxy (4th-6th) – Right belief in the era of the Creeds and Councils. Sanctification through right belief.
  3. Mystical Theosis – Eastern contemplative. Becoming God-like through spiritual disciplines and contemplation. Related to orthodox belief.
  4. Sacramental Divinization (5th-7th) – Augustine’s Western counterpart to Theosis. Being made God-like through grace by hearing the word, participation in the liturgy, sacraments, and prayer.
  5. Communal Regulative formation (5th – 11th) – Benedict of Nursia. Sanctification through faithful (full of faith) and evangelical (belief and adherence to the gospel) submission to a rule of life in the community of believers. Still assumed the Augustinian notion of sanctification by grace.
  6. Corporate Sacramental Participation – Carolingian period (8th-10th c). A form of Augustine’s notion, but more emphasizing the entire body being sanctified corporately instead of individual believers.
  7. Curative Pastoral Application – Innocent III (13th-14th) Emphasis on individual participation and involvement in pastoral care to bring sanctification.
  8. Mystical Contemplation (13th-15th) – Mystics like St. Francis and Bonaventure building on the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius in the mystical contemplation of the Trinity. There is some of this in Augustine too.
  9. Imitation of Christ (15-17th) – Thomas à Kempis and the other devotio moderna adherents. Contemplation and imitation of Christ. There is some of this in Francis as well.

The Importance of Reading Scripture in Worship

Al Mohler comments on a Mark Gali article in Christianity Today remarking on modern Christians’ lack of appetite for hearing passages of Scripture read in church.

This is why we keep the traditional set of scripture readings in our services at Christ Our King. I often tell our people that my opinion as an expositor and preacher may be informed by education, wisdom, and experience, but my sermons are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. We need to read and hear Scripture so that we can make space in our worship for the Lord to work in changing our hearts and lives.

One way to look at it is that the reading of Scripture should be the main event. The sermon is simply explaining and applying what we have just read from God’s holy and inspired Word. All too often, it is the sermon and not the Scriptures (or communion!) that is the main event. This is a modern aberration in the history of Christian worship. Christian worship has always made the reading of Scripture the primary event, as it should be. In the standard worship service of most of the 2,000 years of Christian worship, passages of God’s Word were read from the Old Testament, The New Testament, and the Gospels. These lessons, as they are called, are often thematic to the time of the church year. At other times they relate to each other as one main text is being moved through sequentially (the Gospels, for instance).

In the historical worship service, the reading of scripture is highlighted and glorified by being interspersed with the singing of Psalms, Scripture Songs, and Hymns. In this kind of service, it is God’s Word that is magnified and honored, not the opinions and self-importance of one person. Is it any wonder that as the practice of reading scripture has lessened in our churches that the cult of personality has increased with celebrity pastors and mega-churches? What would happen if we read more scripture, sang more scripture, celebrated communion more often and had a shorter sermon? GASP!

Are we afraid to let God’s word to take precedence in our worship? Isn’t it a bit conceited and even idolatrous to think that my sermon could ever do a better job of edifying and strengthening the flock than the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God?

Knox on Baptism

We utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food for our souls.

-John Knox, The Scots Confession, 1560

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_Confession

And when you Fast

Christ in the Wilderness- Ivan Kramskoy- 1872
Christ in the Wilderness- Ivan Kramskoy- 1872

This is part three of a series on Lent. Part one: On the Origins of Lent; Part two: The History of Lenten Fasting.

Fasting is a biblical practice. In the sermon on the mount Jesus denounces the false fasts of the Pharisees, yet he assumes that fasting will nevertheless be a part of the Christian life. Twice in Matthew 6:16,17 Jesus says, “When you fast.” That Christians should fast is assumed by our Lord.

Despite this clear biblical teaching, while I’ve heard a great deal from Reformed teachers concerning when we shouldn’t fast and what fasting isn’t about, I’ve heard scarcely little written in a positive fashion about when and how we should fast. Now, what the recent teaching on fasting has done well is to offer a corrective to the idea that fasting is some sort of spiritual discipline. Fasting is not a spiritual discipline. In the Bible, fasting is always accompanied by prayer and is done for a specific purpose. Just do a simple word search and see for yourself.

Yet while we have had this needed corrective to the concept of fasting, we have not yet replaced it with a helpful, positive view of what fasting should be. This is what I want to explore for a bit in this article. Secondly, I want to explore whether this new reformed kind of fasting has a place in Lent.

What then is fasting for, and when should we do it? In the Bible people always fast for a specific purpose, and fasting is always coupled with prayer. Therefore, you never find a person in the Scriptures fasting as a general spiritual discipline (except the Pharisees). There is always a reason for the fast. People in the Bible fasted when they wanted an answer to prayer.

Furthermore, there is a strong connection in the Bible between fasting, mourning, and repentance. I will give two examples of this from the book of Samuel. In 1 Samuel 7, the people were oppressed by the Philistines and longed for deliverance. Samuel, now Judge of Israel, calls the people to put away their idols and repent of their sins so that Yahweh will deliver them. The people then respond to Samuel by obeying his word, and then in verse 6 we find that they fast and pray as a sign of repentance and to ask Yahweh to deliver them, “So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the LORD and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.” So the people fasted as a sign of repentance and the Lord delivered them from the Philistines.

Another example of this is from the life of David in 2 Samuel 12. After David commits adultery with Bathsheba and is called out for his sin, he repents of it. Still, as a result of David’s fall, Nathan says that Yahweh is going to take his first son by her. When the child becomes sick (the text says that Yahweh afflicted the child) we find this in 12:16, ” David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.” Again, we find that fasting is coupled with mourning, repentance, and a request for deliverance.

Example after example from the Scriptures can be brought forth in support of this general idea (see Nehemiah 9 and Joel 2 for two other examples). What the biblical data shows us is that we fast when we are in a very serious situation. We fast when we are mourning and asking for deliverance. We fast when we are  penitent. We fast as a physical manifestation of our urgency in crying out to God to hear and answer us in our time of need.

The criticism of fasting in the Bible that we find from Jesus and the prophets is not that it is a bad practice, but the criticism is that it is not done in a sincere way. The Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday in the Book of Common Prayer is Isaiah 58:1-12. In that text the fasting is performed in an outward but insincere way. The text continues that fasting must be coupled with acts of righteousness. It must be accompanied by true contrition and true faith. Outward acts alone are not enough, but they must flow from the inward condition of the heart.

Given this, should a Christian undertake regular times of fasting, or should it be irregular and infrequent? Ask yourself: is the church called to sacrifice itself for the life of the world? Do we take seriously our call to die to self? Is it just when circumstances in my own life are bad that I should mourn and fast, or should I, we, the Church, fast and mourn on behalf of our broken, fallen world, our friends and neighbors, asking for our God to deliver it from evil and for His Kingdom to come? Do we not see enough reasons around us to fast and mourn for the deliverance of our city? Our nation? Our world? Do we have our eyes open?

Perhaps we should view fasting as a type of memorial like the Lord’s Supper, though to a lesser degree. In the Scriptures a memorial is something that primarily serves to remind God, and only secondarily serves to remind us. A good example of his is the rainbow. In Genesis 9:13-15, God tells Noah that he will set the rainbow in the clouds to be a reminder to Him, and that when God sees it, God will remember his covenant with the creation not to ever destroy it again by a flood. Of course, since the rainbow is a physical sign that we can also see, we are also reminded of God’s promise when we see it, yet it is primarily to remind God. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial, and when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are primarily reminding God of his covenant promises to us, and only secondarily reminding ourselves of Christ’s death on our behalf. Nevertheless, the two, God’s remembering and our remembering, are inseparable.

In the same way, the Bible also speaks of prayer as a memorial. One clear example in Acts 10:6 where God appears in a vision to Cornelius the gentile and tells him that his prayers and his alms have ascended as a memorial before God (see also Acts 10:31). As a result, Cornelius is to send for Peter who will preach the gospel to him and his household. As we know, Peter comes, he preaches the gospel, and the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles assembled there as He did at Pentecost. Then Peter baptizes all of them.

Now my point in mentioning this is that twice in this account by Luke, in verse 6 and in verse 31, prayer is called a memorial, and it is clearly a memorial that reminds God. In the same way we can see fasting as intensified prayer and that fasting too is a kind of memorial, a sacrificial offering that ascends to the Lord and gets his attention. Now, this may raise our hyper-calvinist hackles, but this is the way the Bible speaks.

Therefore if prayer is a memorial and fasting is an intensified type of memorial prayer, then  we can see why the church would want to enter into regular periods of prayer and fasting for the sake of the broken world around us. We are called as the church to take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus: follow Jesus into the wilderness; follow him as he gives his life for the life of the world. Lenten fasting is one small way in which we follow Christ by offering up our memorial before the face of God, asking him to act on our behalf.

Therefore what are we fasting and praying for in Lent? We are mourning and fasting because of our own sins. We are acknowledging our part in the broken condition in this world, and we are calling on God to act in our lives to heal us of our own sinfulness and to help us to lead lives of righteousness. Furthermore, we are fasting and praying for the life of the world. We are crying out to God to come and fix our broken world, and we are denying ourselves as a memorial before his face that he will act to strike down evil and cause his kingdom to come in evermore increasing ways in this world. In this way, Lenten fasting is a sacrificial act by the church on behalf of our world. Through it we are crying out to God to fix all the brokenness and pain we see around us: all the death, the sin, the wickedness, the injustice, the poverty, the disease, the war, the infertility, the loss, the hurt, the loneliness – every single way in which this world is fallen and broken – we are crying out to God to heal, to save, to deliver.

So, you see, we do have reasons to fast during Lent. We have good biblical and theological reasons for our fasting and abstinence. Through our fasting we are acting as living sacrifices, living memorial stones, asking God to heal our world, a world that we can surely seen is in desperate need of His healing touch.

This is part three of a series on Lent. Part one: On the Origins of Lent; Part two: The History of Lenten Fasting.

Nourishment for the Lenten Journey

But those who are in his body appropriately eat the body, in order that while he is on the journey, through the body of Christ alone he might be refreshed by his flesh and learn not to hunger for anything but Christ, to thirst for nothing but Christ, to taste nothing but Christ, to live by none other, nor to be anything other than the body of Christ.

-St. Paschasius Radbertus, 831 AD

The Significance of Anointing in the Bible

In Luke 4:18 Jesus claims that he has been anointed a Messianic Prophet:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (Luke 4:18 ESV)

What does it mean to be anointed, and why was Jesus anointed? Well, both the Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible for anointing literally mean “to smear oil on something.” Yet the question arises, what does smearing oil on something have to do with preparing one for ministry? In the Bible we know that priests, kings, and prophets were all anointed. What is it about rubbing or smearing oil on someone that is beneficial for these tasks?

If we study ancient near eastern bathing practices we find that oil had a prominent place in bathing. Oil was used like we use soap, to aid the water in the cleaning process. Also, oil was used after the bath in order to protect the skin against the harsh arid climates surrounding the Mediterranean.  We see evidence for this in the Bible in 2 Sam. 12:20. Therefore we see that oil aides the water and oil protects the body.

What else does oil do? We also find in the Scriptures in Psalm 104:15 that oil makes the face shine. Shining faces speak of glory. When Moses went in to speak with God, he had a shining face. So rubbing oil on the head and face makes one glorious.

What else? We also find in the Scriptures and in other ancient sources that the weapons of warriors, and even the warriors themselves would be anointed with oil for battle. The purpose is unclear, but it seems to have served a protective purpose. Thus we see that anointing is for cleansing and protection, to aid in battle, and to give one a glorious shine.

Yet Jesus stands up in the synagogue and says: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me.” Now this removes the physical oil completely from the equation and reduces the anointing to its spiritual significance. Yet we must not forget what an anointing with oil does: it cleanses, it protects, it makes ready for battle, and it glorifies. Here we see that the spiritual reality of an anointing is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Specifically, this anointing which Jesus is proclaiming about himself occurred at his baptism, where he was washed with water, and the oil of the Spirit aided the baptism and was applied to Jesus in conjunction with the water. After His baptism, Jesus is now the Messiah, the Anointed One, and he is cleansed, protected, glorified, and made ready for his new ministry (battle) that is before him.

Maybe you bristled just now when I said that Jesus was cleansed by his baptism and his anointing. “Wait a second,” you say, “ wasn’t Jesus perfectly sinless? Why then did he need to be cleansed?” Well, I agree that Jesus was perfectly sinless. Yet he was made incarnate into our own fallen human flesh. It wasn’t his own sin for which he needed to be cleansed, but for the sins of all of us. Jesus was baptized for us so that we could follow him through the waters of baptism into the new creation that he is bringing into the world. The cleansing of his baptism and anointing, therefore, cleansed our fallen humanity and readied it to be able to “pass through the heavens,” (Heb. 4:14) to sit at the right hand of God as the Ruler and Judge of the entire cosmos.

Thoughts on 40th General Assembly, Part Four: Intinction

This is part four of a four part series. Part one can be found here. Part two here. Part three here.

The fourth part of my series on this year’s GA deals with the issue of intinction. Inctinction is a mode of administering the Lord’s Supper whereby bread is dipped (Latin: intinctum) into the wine and that dipped bread is given to the communicant to eat. This dipped bread suffices for receiving both the bread and the wine.

The practice of intinction has become more common in PCA circles these days. The reasons given are practical and theological. On the practical side there are arguments that state that the practice is quicker (for certain situations that require a quick communion service, like the military) and easier to consume (for situations where hospital chaplains are administering the Lord’s Supper to the sick and elderly). Then there is the theological argument that states that partaking of one common cup is both theologically and aesthetically more fitting for the rite of the Supper than all the little plastic cups. Then, these men move from this theological rationale to a sanitary concern that many people find it revolting to drink after others for fear of disease. Thus dipping bread into the common cup and then eating is found to be more palatable.

Many folks in the PCA are uncomfortable with the practice of intinction. In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally against the practice for both theological and biblical reasons. Yet there are a sizable group in our denomination who not only oppose the practice, but want to make it illegal to practice. I am not a member of this later group for reasons I will explain below.

What occurred at this GA is that an overture came from the Savannah River Presbytery (Overture 30) proposing an amendment to our Book of Church Order (BCO) that would make the practice of intinction illegal in the PCA. In committee this overture was actually answered in the negative by a vote of 49-37-2. This means that the overtures committee were against banning intinction in our denomination. That the committee decided this is significant and leads to a certain prognostication about how this will be received in the presbyteries. More on this below.

In the same way as the recommendations on paedocommunion and the creation of Adam,  the minority on the committee composed a minority report on this recommendation by the committee. Under our current rules, a minority coming from either the RPR or the Overtures Committee is allowed to make a minority report and make a substitute motion on the floor of the General Assembly. The substitute motion was, of course, to answer the overture in the affirmative, which would start the process of amending the BCO. More on this process below.

A few words should be said about the debate on this issue. First of all, the debate on this issue occurred in the Thursday night session, the last session of the GA. This session was held after dinner and worship, starting at 9PM. As you might imagine, attendance for this session was low, some 100 votes or more lower than the earlier sessions. You may draw your own conclusions as to who might be more likely to remain out at dinner and not make it back to the late night sessions.

Debate went on for a good while, but not for the entire allotted time of one hour. Those who spoke for the substitute (for the ban on intinction) made sweeping claims of “liturgical anarchy” (ed. note: what liturgy?) and stated that since the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of our church, we shouldn’t mess with it. They argued largely form scripture, from the institution narratives, especially 1 Corinthians 11.

Those who spoke against the substitute (against the ban) had several reasons. There were those practical and theological reasons stated above. In addition there were those, like myself, who do not believe that banning the practice is necessary. They argued that we should not be fighting over such relatively trivial matters, and that this strong armed maneuver would be injurious to the unity and peace of the church. Several who spoke against made the point that many of our churches already do not follow the letter of the biblical account nor our Confession by partaking of grape juice instead of wine. On a personal note: I felt that this was a very good point. How can people who do not obey the bible and instead use grape juice hold others to the fire for doing intinction? It just doesn’t make any sense.

After about 45 minutes the question was called and we proceded to vote. The vote was very close, and again, as with paedocommunion and the creation of Adam, a standing count was called for. When the dust settled, the substitute motion passed by 14 votes. Fourteen votes, my friends, out of 1,000 commissioners, that is all the majority could muster. Remember, there were 100 or so commissioners still out at “dinner.” I wonder how the vote would have broken down among them? I guess we’ll never know.

So what does this mean? First of all, it does not mean that intinction is now illegal in the PCA. The process to amend the BCO is a three step process and takes two years to complete. The first step is that it must pass GA. The second step is that it must pass 2/3 of all presbyteries by a majority vote. The third step is that it must pass the next GA.

I do not believe this will pass 2/3 of the presbyteries. My reasoning is twofold. First, because of the close nature of the vote on the floor of GA. The majority could not even muster a majority that would suffice as a statistical difference in any intro to statistics course. In other words, it may have passed, but it does not express the opinion of the majority, statistically speaking. To use election polling lingo, 14 votes is within the margin of error.

Secondly, I believe that the vote of the Overtures Committee better expresses the will of the PCA on this issue. The reason for this is that the Overtures Committee is a delegated body, meaning that only one elder and one pastor may come to that committee from each presbytery. The General Assembly, however, is not a delegated assembly. Every pastor and two elders from each particular church in the PCA may attend. Thus presbyteries that are closer to the Assembly, or who may have a greater proportional desire to engage on the GA level will be disproportionally represented in the GA. For this reason, I believe that this BCO amendment will not pass the presbyteries.

Lastly, what are we to make of all this? I said before that I was against the practice of intinction, but not for banning it. Why is this? Well, I am not for banning it because I do not believe that we should force our brothers to cease a practice that they of their own biblical and theological study and pastoral wisdom applied to their particular contexts have deemed is best for them and their congregations. I do however believe that we should engage in a debate and a discussion on this matter. My preference is that we would attempt to persuade our brothers, in love, and not to strong arm them. This is not the way of love. The world sees this and thinks, “Same old Christians. Same old junk.”

Yet, my overall impression is that entering into this first step of amending the BCO to ban intinction is a good thing. Why is that? I believe this because for the first time on the floor of GA I saw men taking out their bibles and making arguments from the scriptures regarding ritual and liturgical theology. I believe that this issue will force us to have rich conversations about what the bible has to say about ritual, liturgy, and sacramental theology, and I believe that that can and will be a good thing. I would encourage brothers in their presbyteries to have official colloquia at their stated meetings and invite men who are knowledgeable and studied on issues of biblical ritual, liturgics and sacraments to debate and discuss these issues. To be frank, our denomination has not reflected on these issues of ritual, liturgy, and the administration of the sacraments in a mature biblical way. If this forces us to do that, then I’m all for it.

Ultimately though, I hope that the amendment does not pass. I urge our brothers to discuss, debate, and dispute, in love, but not force our brothers against their will. Thus the same principle rings through all four of these major issues before the GA this year. In all of these a group wanted to force at least half of their brothers to do something against their will. The other half wanted the PCA to remain broad and inclusive for the sake of the kingdom and the gospel. Which side will ultimately win? The future of the PCA is at stake. I pray that we will all learn to understand that just because a brother across the country, or even across town, does not do everything exactly the way I do, it does not mean the gospel is at stake. On the contrary, if we make everything into an essential of the gospel, we have turned the gospel into pharisaical legalism and made the word “essential” meaningless. Furthermore, we have broken the commandment the Lord gave us on the night he was betrayed: ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)

These issues are important issues. We do not simply stand by idly and not debate and discuss these important issues. But we must do it in love. We must bear with each other in love and trust that Christ will rule over his church. I think many times we do not obey the command to love simply because we do not trust Christ. We don’t think he really meant what he said, and we don’t see how the church could possibly governed in love. Brothers, let us take this commandment seriously, and let us love one another and trust that our Lord Jesus, King of all and Head of the Church, knows exactly what he is talking about.

For further reading see this post on Vintage 73.