Sunday, September 21, 2008

Law and Gospel: An Introduction to the Book of Galatians (part 2)

[continued from here and here]

The Jerusalem Council

The Jerusalem Council took place in Acts 15, and as the first and only infallible council, the truth proclaimed in it is surely very important to us, and would have bearings on how we are to properly interpret the epistle to the Galatians, and in fact, as we shall see, the Gospel.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

“‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15: 1-29)

To analyze this passage, it may be helpful to look at various aspects of it.

Occasion for the council

The occasion for the council can be seen in verses 1-2, in which certain men from Judea, purportedly from the Jerusalem church, came to Syria Antioch and began to teach a certain doctrine — that salvation is impossible unless the believers adopt the sign of the Old Covenant ie circumcision. Such a sign is to be administered according to the Old Covenant, because it is stated as being "according to the custom of Moses", which is to say what those Judean teachers desire is not merely the 'surgical' cutting of the foreskin, but it being done as a sacramental sign of the Old Covenant. It must definitely be remembered that these teachers came from a Judaist background, being orthodox Jews, and therefore they most certainly know the letter of the Law reasonably well, having being "forced" to memorize the Torah from young.

Such a teaching causes dissension and debate between these teachers on the one side and the apostle Paul and Barnabas on the other side. And the disputation was rather heated, so much so that the church at Syrian Antioch who were disturbed by these Judean teachers decided to send representatives to the Church at Jerusalem to enquire of this issue; to the apostles who are the foundation stones of the church (Eph. 2:20).

Appeal to the Council

As it was mentioned earlier, representatives were sent to the Church of Jerusalem from the Church at Syrian Antioch. However, does this mean that it was an appeal from one church to a "mother church" so that there is precedent for a centralized system of government or Episcopal polity? No, for the appeal was made to "the apostle and elders", while the church body was mentioned in verse 12 and verse 22 as being present while the issue was being hammered out. The appeal terefore was to the apostles mainly, and the elders in the Church of Jerusalem who rule and teach the church in conjunction with the apostles. Further proof that a church-to- church appeal isn't what Scripture is describing nor teaching can be seen in Paul's attitude in this particular episode, which we shall see below.

Paul the Apostle and the Council

Paul, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, certainly had the authority of an Apostle, and he could always use that authority to proclaim authoritative teachings of Scripture, which he in fact did when he wrote his various epistles especially the teaching epistles (ie Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians). As an Apostle, he could always pronounce the infallible truth and judgment on these Judean teachers who were disturbing the Antioch Church (like he did in various epistles he wrote), yet he didn't do so in this particular instance.

Various theories are advanced as to why Paul did not do so, of which being subject to a church council being one of them. Yet such a theory is not viable in light of the fact that verse 3 recounts how he continues to share the conversion stories of Gentiles along their way to Jerusalem, which certainly means that in his mind his mind was made up on the truth regarding the conversion of the Gentiles. We must remember that the Judaist opponent of Paul declared the Antiocheans unsaved unless they partake of the Old Covenant sign of circumcision, so the context is of the salvation of Gentiles who most assuredly do not possess the sign of the Old Covenant. Yet Paul proclaims along his way to Jerusalem the ... salvation of the Gentiles, which would be strange since there is no prior indication that the Council will judge in Paul's favor and if not, then Paul's recounting of the Gentiles' salvation would be strange and outrightly premature.

If Paul was not subjecting himself and his doctrine to the Council, then why would he seemingly subject himself to the judgment of the Council? Or can it be that Paul confidently knew that the Council would definitely judge in his favor? Yet even if so, why? One reason was certainly due to the fact that the Judaists came from Judea, so Paul may have come to the source to solve the problem that seems to be coming from the Jerusalem Church. Another thing was to propel the church to consolidate the position of the Church on this particular pertinent topic — the Gospel message. As we will see in our study of Galatians, Paul's passion was for the Gospel and this issue was one area in which Paul was determined that the Church be strong in.

With regards to the issue of the judgment of the Council, since the apostles are led by Christ, there shouldn't be any conflict between their beliefs as Christ leads them in the Truth, so therefore Paul could be certain about them judging in his favor in the final analysis, which they in fact did.

Subject matter of the Council

On the surface, the Council convened to judge with regards to the issue of circumcision and keeping of the law of Moses. It may thus be thought that the issue is with regards to the rituals of Judaism and whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before becoming Christians. N.T. Wright for example treats this as an ethno-centric issue[1], boosted probably because the works under question were quintessentially Judaist. However, is that truly what the issue merely is, one purely of ethno-centrism, of Covenantal inclusion and exclusion?

As it has been said, a surface reading of the text surely supports this reading as a valid interpretation of the issue before us. For surely, verse 8 does in fact teach that God gave the same Spirit to them as He did to us, says Peter. Verse 9 similarly proclaims that now there is "no distinction between us and them", and that now there is one way — faith — by which all men can be saved, available to both Jews and Gentiles. Similarly, verses 11, and 14-18 proclaims the common position now for both Jews and Gentiles before the Cross.

Now, most certainly, ethnocentrism is a symptom of the problems. In point of fact, Wright's point is correct in that ethnocentrism is a problem, but his diagnosis doesn't go deeper, and thus is in error because it neglects the weightier issues at hand, which is what we would be looking at, in verse 10.

Verse 10 in my opinion is the weak spot for the New Perspective's position on the issue raised in the Jerusalem Council. At the same time, it shows us the heart of the issue of the Law also. In verse 10, we read that the placing of the Law was a yoke which neither the Jews then as like the Apostles nor their forefathers were able to bear. If the practicing of these things was not bearable even for the most orthodox of Jews (cf Phil. 3:5-6), then surely these things were never meant to be practiced with an eye to be saved in any way or shape reformed. Even the talk about Covenantal inclusion/ exclusion fails here, for unless the practicing of the Law was meant to be one big show of hypocrisy like what the Pharisees are often accused of, how can one even begin to talk about obedience to the Law especially prior to the coming of Christ? Notice here that the ability or lack thereof is the issue at hand, not the motive to attempt to obey, as if they meant anything at all in God's sight. After all, judgment by works require truly acceptable works before God, and good motives will not suffice (cf Rom. 2:6-10)

To further confound New Perspectivism, verse 11 follows immediately on the heels of verse 10. On its own, verse 11 may seem to support New Perspectivism, but when placed in context with verse 10, the 'support' vanishes. For in verse 11, the object is God's grace which saves us, and that grace is contrasted (by the word 'But') with the inability of the yoke of the Law which is unable to save since they cannot be kept by any Jew anyway. Such a contrast immediately posits a sharp distinction between Law and Gospel, and confirms that the issue at hand is salvation or soteriology and not merely covenantal inclusion. For if Jewish believers were not saved by the Law but also by grace, whereas previously they were not saved in their law-keeping either, then this Covenant in the New Testament seems to be a new covenant starting with a null set, of which entry into the Covenant was not by law-keeping or obedience or anything else but through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and of which before the Cross this Covenant does not yet exist in time.

So with all this said, it can be seen that the issue before hand is indeed the Gospel message; the message of salvation. Is salvation one of grace through faith, or is one of obedience of the Law by fidelity to the Old Covenant rites and rituals?

Judgment of the Council

As it has been hinted previously, the Apostle Peter in verse 10 proclaims the insufficiency of the Law in saving even the Jews who could not keep them. Nevertheless, the Jewish believers were still very much enmeshed in their traditions and only by much sharing of God's miraculous work among the Gentiles, thus showing forth God's approval in reaching Gentiles as Gentiles, were they finally convinced. The council then proclaims judgment in favor of Paul's position, with a few rules meant to eliminate unnecessary tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians such as abstaining from food offered to idols, strangled food and food with blood, which evidently were practices particularly offensive to Jews

Implications of the Council

The verdict in favor of Paul has important implications for the Gospel. For now the Gospel is emphatically stated to be one of grace apart from observance of the Mosaic Law and especially the rites and rituals of the Old Covenant. The split between the blind adherents to the Old Covenant and those who embrace the New Covenant was beginning and the resulting controversy clarifies to us more with regards to the Gospel, as we shall see as we look to the book of Galatians, written many years after the controversy began in Syrian Antioch.

[to be continued]


References:

[1] John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (IVP, England, 2008), p. 22-23, 133, 147-161.

18 comments:

Matt said...

You mention that the Council of Jersalem was the only infallible council.
Was it the only council in which the Church made an infallible judgement?

PuritanReformed said...

Matt:

In my opinion, yes. Other councils do make orthdox judgments, and where that is so, I believe that they are binding on believers, but that is different from stating that they are infallible. After all, I do not believe that the judgments of councils are norma normans non normata, but norma normans et normata. Only Scripture and the writings and teachings of the apostles ('traditions') which are enscripturated, constitute the infallible norm of faith.

Matt said...

Fair enough.
My difficulty is knowing which of the Councils' judgements are orthodox and which are not. How does one know? By holding them up against Scripture? Whose interpretation of Scripture?
I'm asking not to give you a hard time or to draw you into a debate, but because I'm really unfamiliar with the opinion of the Reformed tradition on such things.
I come form the Lutheran faith, but have left because I have found the doctrine of Sola Scriptura untenable.
Thanks,
Matt

Jonathan Hunt said...

I don't accept that it is right to call one local church sending messengers to another local church a 'council' - I think that is man's interpolation, and it is misleading. Of course, the Apostles were most involved in the matter.

One thing that is asserted by many is that the 'council' met to decide on a doctrinal issue. This is nonsense - the Apostles were the embodiment of pure doctrine by the direct influence of God by His Spirit. They knew what the truth was. To me it seems clear that this meeting was to ascertain whether the Judaisers had been sent out with the church's blessing, and/or whether the church at Jerusalem even knew what was going on. Of course, the ball was in their court to do something about it.

Rather oddly, I have just commenced preaching Galatians.

PuritanReformed said...

Matt:

Reformed orthodoxy embraces Sola Scriptura as a foundational matter of epistemology, so I guess as such your questions cannot be addressed to your satisfaction since we have already disagreed with regards to the foundation. With regards to the question of "whose interpretation", we have held that the Holy Spirit through the medium of language providentially enables Man to cognitively grasp the truth, while the Spirit through His special illuminating work enables Man to embrace the Truth. Christianity from beginning to end is a supernatural and revelatory religion, so therefore questions about interpretation etc at their core can only be answered by the Spirit who gives understanding. Unless this happens, nobody can embrace the Truth as Truth. As it is written:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14)

Also

Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (Jn. 8:47)

Note that the reason why peple cannot hear and discern the Truth is that they are not of God, not the other way around. Apart form the work of the Spirit in anyone's life, that person cannot come to faith in Christ, ever.

So while your question is humanly legitimate, yet it does not take into account the ever present Person and Work of the Holy Spirit who is still on this earth bringing people to the knowledge of the Truth.

God bless,
Daniel.

PuritanReformed said...

Jonathan:

you seemed familiar. Were you from Met Tab previously?

With regards to your comment, I do recognize that as Dr. Masters' take on the subject also - being in London when he preached on that text (1st half of year 2005). I do agree on certain points of his against Counciliarism, and against the idea that the doctrine of salvation by faith apart from the Law was an "open topic subjected to discussion and voting - Da Vinci style" so to speak.

That said, I do not think that the discounting of this episode as a council is valid. I will agree that it is substantially different from subsequent church counils, and also that no doctrine was actually decided in this council. But just as various other councils of the Church, the doctrines of the Church were codified to address doctrinal controversies and heresies erupting within her. I would guess that if this council had not convened, then although the doctrine of salvation by faith apart from the Law would be known and taught by the Apostles, the concept would still be rather vague and not matured in precision and accuracy, thus allowing a higher possibility of the errant party's views to mix in and corrupt the Church sometime in the future after the Apostles were gone from the scene. After all, the [Jewish] Jerusalem Church had started to apostasize sometime after the passing of the Apostles after Titus sacked Jerusalem even with the Council having taken place, what more if it had not took place at all?

With regards to the book of Galatians, it seems that the Spirit is leading a couple of us along the same focus. Galatians is an important book especially in this time and age with its focus on the Gospel. Next to Romans, I guess this is one of the more Gospel centered epistle written by Paul.

Matt said...

Daniel,
Yes, I would say that our differing opinions with regard to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura do make a dialog difficult. However I do agree with most of what you have to say in your comment.

I agree 100% with the verses you cited as well as your statement that "the Spirit through His special illuminating work enables Man to embrace the Truth."

I very strongly believe that the Holy Spirit can and does guide individuals to an understanding of the Truth. A question I would have, though, is whether one can be sure that the revelation one receives can truly be from the Holy Spirit if that "revelation" is at odds with what the Spirit has consistently revealed to the Church for the past two thousand years.

There are currently somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-thousand Christian denominations in this world who all claim to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit to an understanding of Scriptures. Yet they all come to different conclusions. Can the Holy Spirit lead one group to one understanding of the Truth (Calvinists, for example), and another group to an entirely contrary understanding (Arminians)?

You said that Holy Spirit leads us through the "medium of language." I would suggest that the Holy Spirit leads us through the Church. I would also suggest that my question does, in fact, take into account the ever-present Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. But that that Work takes place primarily in and through the Church, the "pillar and ground of Truth."

Oops, this is starting to sound like a debate. Sorry.

PuritanReformed said...

Matt:

>A question I would have, though, is whether one can be sure that the revelation one receives can truly be from the Holy Spirit if that "revelation" is at odds with what the Spirit has consistently revealed to the Church for the past two thousand years.

Who determines whether there is a conflict? Is there an infallible interpreter of the writings of the early Church fathers and the writings of other Christians in from the early church? When reading these historical writings, how does one ensure that one does not commit the fallacy of historical anachronism?

>There are currently somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-thousand Christian denominations in this world who all claim to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit to an understanding of Scriptures

That is a errant and over-inflated figure. As Dr. James White has documented (http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=2235&catid=7), that figure includes all manner of cults and even groups such as Roman Catholicism and Mormons and Swendenborgians and 'Gay/Lesbian traditions'. Furthermore, one single denomination present in every country would be counted as 247 denominations under the calculation system employed by that encyclopedia source (http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=2232).

>Can the Holy Spirit lead one group to one understanding of the Truth (Calvinists, for example), and another group to an entirely contrary understanding (Arminians)?

No, He can't. One is not allowing themselves to be led by the Spirit, insteading clinging to traditions and the philosophies of Man.

>But that that Work takes place primarily in and through the Church, the "pillar and ground of Truth."

And what does the phrase "the Church" here means? Must it be of necessity the Visible Institutional Church, or the true invisible Church within the trappings of Christendom? What are the marks of a true church? Even if you claim apostolic continuity, how does apostolic continuity function? Does the mere maintainance and continuity of externals such as church buildings and church names constitute apostolic continuity?

Jonathan Hunt said...

Daniel

I have my own views and I don't parrot the teachings of others - which is certainly something I used to do.

I left London in 2002 so I never heard the messages to which you refer, although as I have been at LRBS for four years I am well aware of the line Dr Masters takes. I still feel that using the term 'council' is misleading. Semantics, perhaps.

That doctrine was discussed is clear from the text - that it was in any way 'decided' there simply cannot be right unless scripture contradicts itself!

The greatest problem with Acts 15 is how it is used to justify unbiblical extra-church authority. But you knew that anyway! Keep writing...

Matt said...

"Who determines whether there is a conflict? Is there an infallible interpreter of the writings of the early Church fathers and the writings of other Christians in from the early church? When reading these historical writings, how does one ensure that one does not commit the fallacy of historical anachronism?"

Exactly.

"one single denomination present in every country would be counted as 247 denominations"

Even in there are only 247+1 denominations--and I don't know anyone who with any intellectual integrity will claim that there aren't many times that number--who claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit, if two of them teach different doctrine, at least one of them is not the Church.

"And what does the phrase "the Church" here means?"

The "Church" is the “body of Christ” (Col 1.18,24), with or without the external trappings (i.e. vestments and architecture don't make the Church, but they certainly don't disqualitfy a body as "Church." Don't you agree?). Which confessional bodies does this include? Those whom the Holy Spirit has led into "all truth" (Jn 16.13).

Is it possible that every body of Christian believers is a part of that Church? Two confessional bodies that hold contradictory beliefs can't both be true. One of them has to be wrong. Ten thousand worship communities that confess contradictory beliefs can't all be true. Nine-thousand, nine-hundred, ninety-nine of them must be wrong.

Given Christ's promise that the Holy Spirit would guide His Church in "all truth," I can only conclude that those worship bodies that are wrong can not be the Church. For me to claim otherwise would be tantamount to calling Christ a liar. If Christ is the Truth (Jn 14.6), can there exist in His Body any falsehood? No. The belief that the Church is the body of Him in Whom there is “no variation or shadow of turning” (Jam 1.17) absolutely excludes the possibility of contradictory or conflicting doctrine.

If it's true that there are thirty-thousand--or two-hundred, forty-eight--Christian "denominations" in this world that all hold different beliefs, then there can be precisely one that is the true Church.

The million-dollar question, of course, is: which one?

Is there a Church that can claim to have been founded on Pentecost, and that all the evidence points to as having preserved the faith—including doctrine, practice and worship—of the Apostles, unadulterated, unmodified, unaltered?

PuritanReformed said...

Jonathan:

certainly, the reason why I was mentioning Dr. Masters is because you have stated in your bio that you were/are at LRBS, and on the denial of there being a council, both of you are in agreement on that [single] point.

With regards to whether it should be called a "council", I guess it depends on whether you think the covening of a meeting whereby representatives from different churches sit together to discuss doctrine and pass a judgment should be termed a council. Historically also, the Church have maintained that this was a council, as seen in the councils of the early Church with the most famous being the one at Nicea. So I guess I would continue calling it a council.

God bless,
Daniel.

PuritanReformed said...

Matt:

>if two of them teach different doctrine, at least one of them is not the Church.

Are you saying that it is not possible for two different ecclesiastical bodies to differ on any single doctrine without one of them not being part of the Church?

>The "Church" is the “body of Christ” (Col 1.18,24), with or without the external trappings (i.e. vestments and architecture don't make the Church, but they certainly don't disqualitfy a body as "Church." Don't you agree?).

Agreed.

>Which confessional bodies does this include? Those whom the Holy Spirit has led into "all truth" (Jn 16.13).

Luther was the person who coined the phrase that the Church stands or falls on the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Although it is reductionistic in a certain sense, there is truth in it. So the confessional bodies which are part of the Church are those who believe in the same apostolic Gospel message.

>Is it possible that every body of Christian believers is a part of that Church? Two confessional bodies that hold contradictory beliefs can't both be true. One of them has to be wrong. ... Given Christ's promise that the Holy Spirit would guide His Church in "all truth," I can only conclude that those worship bodies that are wrong can not be the Church. For me to claim otherwise would be tantamount to calling Christ a liar.

Do you think it is possible that Christians can believe in various errors in doctrines sometimes? Or must it be that only those who agree on every single jot of doctrine would then constitute the true Church?

>If Christ is the Truth (Jn 14.6), can there exist in His Body any falsehood? No.

Is perfection available to believers on earth? If not, then why can't there exist falsehood in His Body while we are on earth and not yet perfect?

>Is there a Church that can claim to have been founded on Pentecost, and that all the evidence points to as having preserved the faith—including doctrine, practice and worship—of the Apostles, unadulterated, unmodified, unaltered?

Just for your information, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are not the only two "denominations" that claim to have been founded on Pentecost. Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism and Reformed all claim it (at least their founders did), which I too. Whether their claim is valid or not is something to be discussed, but it is untrue that [traditional] Protestantism do not claim apostolic continuity. A cursory reading of Calvin's Institutes would help on this one.

Regarding "preservation of doctrine, practice and worship" of the Apostles, how do you decide on this topic? All Rome (and Constantinople -figuratively speaking) can prove is that their practices are old, but how can anyone claim that their practices date from the Apostles? Even before Constantine granted religious toleration of Christians, there was a variety of practices in the early Church, as a cursory read through Eusebius' Church History would show you. For example, both sides in the Quartodecimian controversy claim apostolic mandate regarding the celebration of Easter - whether it should be on Nissan 14th regardless of day, or whether it should be celebrated on the Sunday following that. (NPNF2-01 accessed at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.xxiv.html). So therefore I do not see any church body that can prove even with a higher probabilty to have preserved the "Apostolic practices"; claims do not count. They may, they may not, but no one can know.

Regardless, the most important thing is not practice, which is often culturally conditioned, but doctrine. You have already seemingly agreed that there is no one infallible interpreter of the writings of the early Church. So in the end, all such claims of authority are to be accepted by faith. As for me, I have decided to place my faith in the Inspired Scriptures as being self-interpreting through the power and work of the Holy Spirit living within me.

Matt said...

Daniel,
I have very much enjoyed our discussion. You are very thoughtful and discerning and I will continue to follow your blog with great interest.
I will make just a few more comments, and then I will let you get back to what you were doing.

"Are you saying that it is not possible for two different ecclesiastical bodies to differ on any single doctrine without one of them not being part of the Church?"

I'm saying that the Church is the "fullness [not "partiality"] of Him who fills everything in every way," the Body of Christ--the Truth, Himself--in Whom there is "no variation or shadow of turning." I simply don't see where that leaves room for doctrinal falsehood.

"the confessional bodies which are part of the Church are those who believe in the same apostolic Gospel message."

I agree that those bodies that are part of the Church do believe in the same apostolic Gospel message. However, of those who differ on what that message means or what to do with it, one or more of them are wrong and, therefore, cannot be the Church.

"Do you think it is possible that Christians can believe in various errors in doctrines sometimes? Or must it be that only those who agree on every single jot of doctrine would then constitute the true Church?"

Yes, I do believe that individuals can, and do, fall into error every day. However, that does not mean that the Church, against whom Christ promised the gates of hell will not prevail, can fall into doctrinal error.

"Is perfection available to believers on earth?"

No

"If not, then why can't there exist falsehood in His Body while we are on earth and not yet perfect?"

The Church is not simply a multitude of errant individuals. It is a body. No one person on earth is the "pillar and foundation of Truth." That distinction belongs to the Body as a whole. Individuals can profess heretical beliefs; the Church cannot.

"Regarding "preservation of doctrine, practice and worship"...no one can know."

You may be right. Perhaps no one can really know. In the same way, how can we really know with absolute certainly that the Apostles--or Christ--even existed? We do the best we can with what information we have. A cursory read through the Epistles will show that there were a variety of practices, and beliefs, within the New Testament-era Church as well. Not all of them were right or in accordance with the apostolic teaching. St Paul was quick to correct those that weren't. I would suggest that practice is important where it strengthens one's undertanding of the Truth, points the way to salvation, and bolsters our Communion within the Body of Christ.

Keep up the good work.

Matt

alamb said...

Yes, salvation is due to God's grace. He is very gracious and without His grace, none of us will be saved. BUT identifying Jesus as Christ does not save us. MANY will say on that day, "Lord, Lord" and go on to give examples of what they DID for Jesus, which will be PROOF that they had identified the true Christ as Jesus. Jesus Himself makes it clear that those who practice "Lawlessness" will be banished. Jesus was VERY clear about this. Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord and NOT do what I say?" How clear does He need to be, it IS important to be obedient.

Twice, Jesus' Revelation tells us who the saints are. There are two identifying marks: those who have the testimony of Jesus AND keep the commandments of God.

That is scripture. We must confess Jesus as Lord and we must obey our Lord. Sin is serious. Jesus said if your eye offends you pluck it out. If your foot offends cut it off because it is better to enter into the Kingdom lame than to enter into Hell whole. There is no ambiguity.

We must forsake our sins which involves a very definate focus on listening to the Holy Spirit and obeying Him.

Jesus is able to make us stand according to Jude, *but* MANY will say Lord, Lord and He will say depart from me you who practice lawlessness.

I believe this parroting of the reformed church about grace only leads some to mistakenly think they don't have to worry about daily putting away of their sins. Are we saved by God's grace? YES. Do we just sit by and do whatever we want now while He supernaturally cleans us and we do nothing? NO. We must WALK a narrow path that leads to Jesus. Jesus said few find the way. We WALK. WE/WALK. We follow Jesus or we don't. We continue to follow Jesus or we don't.

I love the reformers, I am so grateful to them, but let's remember, they were coming out of darkness. They were overjoyed to learn about the GRACE versus the unbiblical works of the Church 'for salvation'. They focused on the Grace to the point that when we read their words today, or rather quote them, many begin to believe we don't actually have to immitate Jesus, following Him, putting our sins away DAILY. WE begin to believe that Jesus will do it all for us, that we don't have to put away our sins, He puts our sins away. Not true! Jesus did die for our sin. Jesus did take our place. Jesus finished the death penalty that was ours. This does NOT mean that we can live however we want.

To belong to Jesus we must not partake in sin. If we slip and fall, we repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. This is a DAILY process. It takes focus. We must FOCUS on Jesus.

As John said, "His laws are NOT burdensome".

In our Good and Gracious Sheperd,
Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

Lamb

PuritanReformed said...

Matt:

you are very welcom, thanks.

IMO, I think the issue at contention is that you think that any deviation from the singular Truth must need be heresy, not matter how slight. I do not agree with you on this. For example, on the issue of baptism (credo- vs pedobaptism), I would agree that only one of them must be true, but I will disagree with you that the wrong party is believing in heresy. Therefore, although some churches and denominations have wrong beliefs, I do not think that they are therefore by definition false churches believing in heresy because they disagree on for example this issue, or the issue of eschatology, to take another example.

PuritanReformed said...

Lamb:

I have mentioned in my first post in this series that I am similarly against antinomianism or the no-Lordship position. That some people abuse grace and miappropriate the teachings of grace unto licentiousness/ sensuality (cf Jude 1:4) does not mean that we don't preach grace at all.

The New Testament holds together the realities of justification, santification and regeneration, such that it is impossible to have any one without the other (cf Rom. 8:30). It is therefore impossible to be justified and not to undergo sanctification. Historic Reformed theology have kept them together, and it is only accompanying the rise of Dispensationalism that the divorce of justification and santification began.

So in the end, we are discussing apples and oranges. My focus in this series is on the nature of salvation especially with regards to the Law and obedience, whereas the Lordship salvation focus is on the nature of the faith which appropriates this salvation. They are totally different issues, and must be treated as such.

Matt said...

Daniel,
Perhaps I came at the subjet a bit more heavy-handed than necessary. Let me try to rephrase.
Baptism is a good example.
I happen to believe that both credo- and pedobaptism are proper and necessary.
HOWEVER...any baptism that is not performed in the prescribed manner (i.e. in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is invalid.
Now, when you get to the discussion of immersion v pouring v sprinkling etc. I don't know.
I can't say (and I hope I haven't) whether any and every deviation in belief or practice is heretical. That's not for me to determine.

But I can say with confidence that of the thousands of confessional bodies out there that can't see eye to eye on on their understandings of the nature of the Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ; the role of good works; the proper place of Mary and the Saints; the right approach to Scriptures; the definition and means of salvation, justification, sanctification, glorification; the meaning, method, and timing of baptism; the substance of the elements of Communion; the proper understanding of atonement, original sin, mortal sin, venial sin; predestination versus freewill; imparted versus imputed righteousness; lordship salvation versus free grace; efficacious versus prevenient grace; total versus limited depravity; conditional versus unconditional election; premillennialism versus postmillennialism versus amillennialism etc, not all of them can be the Church.

Cheers
Matt

PuritanReformed said...

Matt:

of the lists of beliefs you have stated, I do not agree that all of them are essential doctrines. For example, the details of eschatology are not that essential IMO. And many doctrines such as the exact nature of grace (ie efficacious vs. prevenient grace) are developed second-order doctrines of which many people are not logically consistent in their beliefs and therefore do not neccessarily hold to the logical conclusion of these beliefs. So therefore, I do not think that we can label anyone heretics based on the mere profession of such wrong second-order doctrine.

In the final analysis, what defines the Church is the Gospel. Anything that undermines the Gospel directly would render that body a false church, while those beliefs that lead to logical conclusions that undermine the Gospel may not be so since people and groups are seldom logically consistent.