Quotes from The Christian Faith by Michael Horton
“A mystery is inexhaustible, but a contradiction is nonsense. For example, to say that God is one in essence and three in persons is indeed a mystery, but it is not a contradiction. Believers revel in the paradox of the God who became flesh, but divine and human natures united in one person is not a contradiction. It is not reason that recoils before such miracles as ex nihilo creation, the exodus, or the virginal conception, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is the fallen heart of reasoners that refuses to entertain even the possibility of a world in which divine acts occur” (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 101).
“Faithful reasoning neither enthrones nor avoids human questioning. Rather, it presupposes a humble submission to the way things actually are, not the way we expect them to be. Faithful reasoning anticipates surprise, because it is genuinely open to reality. If reality is always exactly what we assumed, then the chances are good that we have enclosed ourselves in a safe cocoon of subjective assertions. Unbelief is its own form of fideism, a close-mindedness whose a priori, untested, and unproven commitments have already restricted the horizon of possible interpretations” (Horton, The Christian Faith, 102).
“Ethical imperatives are extrapolated from gospel indicatives. The gospel of free justification liberates us to embrace the very law that once condemned us” (Ibid., 640).
“In the Greek language we must differentiate between the indicative mood, which is declarative (simply describing a certain state of affairs), and the imperative mood, which sets forth commands). For example, in Romans Paul first explains who believers were in Adam and their new status in Christ (justification) and then reasons from this indicative to the imperatives as a logical conclusion: ‘Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…’ (Ro 6:13). He concludes with another imperative (command), but this time it is really an indicative: ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace’ (v.14)” (Ibid., 649).
“Where most people think that the goal of religion is to get people to become something that they are not, the Scriptures call believers to become more and more what they already are in Christ” (Ibid., 652).
“Although we cannot work for our own salvation, we can and must work out that salvation in all areas of our daily practice. When God calls, ‘Adam, where are you?’ the Spirit leads us to answer, ‘In Christ’ (Ibid., 662).
“It is crucial to remind ourselves that in this daily human act of turning, we are always turning not only from sin but toward Christ rather than toward our own experience or piety” (Ibid., 663).
How to Evaluate Christian Leaders?
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christian leaders be criticized or criticize, and even call other Christian leaders names because of disagreement on such things as politics, the pandemic, and policies regarding justice. And not surprisingly, those who are not leaders are also jumping into the fray and lobbing grenades too.
How many people, however, actually think through the appropriate way to evaluate Christian leaders? And how many people know what reasons Scripture gives for concern? How many Christians have a sort of theological triage they use to evaluate and make these important decisions?
There are doctrines of “prime importance and great weight” that we must insist on. “There is a time to fight. There are certain hills that must not be surrendered, even if the cost is losing our lives.” Some of the hills that we must be willing to die on are the deity, life, death, resurrection, and Second Coming of the Lord Messiah Jesus.
Other doctrines, beliefs, and convictions are, or should be, a little further down the list of importance. Just as a doctor would jump to help the patient with a gunshot wound to the chest before she would help someone with a broken pinky finger. It is not that the pinky finger is not important; it is that the gunshot wound is more important and dire.
So, let’s look at some biblical criteria by which to evaluate Christian leaders. It should be understood that these criteria do not have the same weight. The criteria of “Christology,” for example, should be given more weight of importance than “Clarity.”
1. Christology (& sound doctrine)
Christian leaders have the duty to communicate God’s transforming truth, exalt Jesus Christ, teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and encourage conformity to Christ (see e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). Faithfulness to the revelation of God and preaching Christ are paramount (Col. 1:28). If the word of God and Jesus the Messiah are not being preached then you have reason for concern.
If false or unhealthy things are said or taught about God, His word, or Jesus the Messiah then you have great reason for concern and should share your concern and likely leave that individual’s leadership. It is important that we are aware that leaders sometimes don’t preach the truth. Peter told us that there will be false teachers among us, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought us (2 Pet. 2:1).
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
So, in evaluating a Christian leader, ask yourself:
- “Does this person preach/teach true, healthy doctrine? Does this person preach/teach the goodness and glory of Messiah Jesus?”
- “Do I like the style etc. of the person?”
See also: Deut. 13:1-5; 1 Jn. 4:1-3; 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 1:28; 2:8 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13.
The leaders own life should be in order. That is, the leader should have Christ-like character. Leaders and teachers can “profess to know God” and yet “deny Him by their works” (Titus 1:16). That’s partly why it’s so important that Christian leaders meet the biblical qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:1-9).
Disagreement Over Doctrine
Doctrine matters. Doctrine can cause delight or be very damaging. And sadly, false doctrine is more common than many people realize.
It’s not just me that says deception and damaging doctrine is prevalent though. That’s what Scripture says (see Matt. 24:11, 24; Mk. 13:22; Acts 28:31). False teaching is not a small concern. There is false teaching that is the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Remember, as Ephesians 6:12 says, we are at war not with humans but with unseen spiritual powers. This is serious. Paul says this will happen in “later times.” That’s where we are now. We are in the last days, the days in between the Ascension and the Return of Jesus Christ.
It’s helpful here, however, to consider that not everything we disagree with is the “doctrine of demons.” So, it helpful for us to consider “theological triage.” There are some teachings that are especially connected to the good news of Jesus Christ and there are other things that are further down the list of importance.
There are some things that are absolutes, like the deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the authority of Scripture. There are, however, things that are less critical when it comes to theological triage. For example, what we believe about the end times is not as critical as what we believe about Jesus and how people are saved.Read More…
The Work of the Spirit | pt. 6
You can see the previous post in the series here.
There is no exegetical reason for believing the gifts have ceased. Ninth, despite what many believe, there is no convincing exegetical argument for the cessation of the grace gifts. 1 Corinthians 13:10 plays a prominent role in many cessationists’ arguments. It did for me when I was taught as a kid. There is another hermeneutical issue, however. Thomas R. Schreiner says,
To see ‘the perfect’ as referring to the New Testament canon is an example of anachronism…
Instead of referring to spiritual maturity or to the canon of the New Testament, ‘the perfect’ most likely refers to the second coming of Christ, the end of the age. The perfect is equivalent with seeing God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).
John MacArthur says although many “scholars [e.g. B.B. Warfield, Richard Gaffin, Robert Thomas, Thomas Edgar, Simon J. Kistemaker] disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect,’ they all reach the same conclusion—namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.” He goes on to say that “we must look elsewhere than 1 Corinthians 13:10, to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”
Many, such as John MacArthur, Richard B. Gaffin, along with Schreiner, end up making the argument that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased because they claim, otherwise, the canon of Scripture would be in jeopardy. That, however, is rather a different issue than if the gifts of the Spirit continue or not. For one, the canon of Scripture, as well as the very existence of the Church, has been in jeopardy since the outset. The way to defend Scripture, as well as the church, is a more robust understanding of what Scripture teaches, not fear.
The Work of the Spirit | pt. 5
You can see the previous post in this series here.
Gifts of the Spirit confirm the gospel. Fourth, the gifts of the Spirit serve to authenticate the gospel message (e.g. Rom 15:18-19) and that is still necessary especially in certain contexts but that is not the exclusive reason that God gave the gifts of the Spirit. D.A. Carson correctly points out that just “because miraculous signs have a distinctively attesting role in some instances, it does not follow that this is the only role they play.” Although some assert that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the canon they make that claim without biblical warrant. As Carson says, “There is no exegetical warrant for thinking certain classes of the Spirit’s manifestations cease once the crucial points of redemptive history have passed.”
Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in the last days. Fifth, the gifts of the Spirit are part of what it means to be in the last days and we are in the last days.
Cessationists who claim that the healings of Jesus and the apostles where merely authenticating signs of their status as bearers of canonical revelation misunderstand Jesus’ own explanation of them. For Jesus, they are rather expressions of the liberating reign of God, bursting into history, and it is as such that they attest the message of the kingdom.
The gifts of the Spirit are to be expected because they indicate the presence of the Kingdom in the last days. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a sign of the new covenant.
The Work of the Spirit | pt. 2
God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit
God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God. The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force. That is who the Spirit is.
Second, it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers. The Spirit elicits personal response to God. The Spirit equips individuals for leadership. We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).
The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2). The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans. It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).
Who is Jesus?
Who is Jesus? That is the all-important question. That is the hinge on which history hangs.
That question has been a question for centuries. John the baptizer even said, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). Islam says Jesus is a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses say Jesus is a mighty being, even a god. But not God. They do not believe in the Trinity.
So, who is Jesus?
For us to answer that question, it’s important that we consider what Jesus Himself said. So, who did Jesus Himself say He was? Jesus is asked about His identity in the Gospel of John. People asked Jesus, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48).
Proof of God’s Grace #3: Overcoming Grace
Scripture teaches that it is the Spirit that overcomes people’s hardness of heart and gives spiritual life. So, John 6:36 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (see also Ezek. 11:19-21; 36:25-27). Notice it says, “the flesh is no help at all.” The Apostle Paul also says it is “the Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Thus, salvation does not come from “human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). So Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
James 1:18 says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Whose will was it? It was “His will.” Of course, God uses means to accomplish His will. People are brought to new life through “the word of truth” (cf. Rom. 10:14; 1 Pet. 1:23).
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). That is because, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). It is the supernatural work of God that makes a person a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). That is why we “must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). And of course, no one can make himself or herself be born, let alone born again. It is the Spirit’s prerogative; the Spirit works the way He works (Jn. 3:8). We also see that even faith is a gift from God (1 Chron. 29:14; Jn. 3:27; 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). No one would believe without God first giving the gift of faith. Therefore, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16 cf. v. 19).
So, we say with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again.”
Proof of God’s Grace #1: Planned Grace
The Bible shows us over and over again proof of God’s abundant grace. Here we are going to look at the acronym PROOF to look at God’s grace. We are going to look at: Planned grace, Resurrecting grace, Outrageous grace, Overcoming grace, and Forever grace.
Why is it important that we consider the proof of grace? First, because when we understand all the proof of God’s grace we praise and glorify God for His abundant grace. Second, anything that is the teaching of Scripture is important and profitable for us to understand (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Third, when we understand the extent of God’s grace it humbles us. Fourth, when we understand more of the extent of our desperation we will (or should) love God more (Lk. 7:47).
The subject of church discipline is a difficult but important one. Many things must be understood regarding church discipline if we are going to faithfully carry out the task that Jesus has given to His Church.
Is church discipline culturally acceptable? Many people may say that church discipline is not acceptable now; however, that is not the question. There are many things that are not acceptable to our cultural but that does not make them right or wrong. The cross is not acceptable, it is foolishness! Yet we must never deny it. The question is rather: “Is it biblical?”
So, is church discipline biblical?
Yes. Although, if you search for “church discipline” in your Bible it won’t return any results. But the teaching is there. It is found in both Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.
Church Discipline in Matthew 18
In Matthew 18, we see the fourfold process of church discipline. It has been said that this passage is “severely practical as well as ruthlessly idealistic,” and so it is. So, this process, though used in formal church discipline, has practical insight for more common issues within the church as well.
If there is unrepentant sin, we are to first go to the offending party one on one and try to work things out on that level (Matt. 18:15-16). If we have not resolved the problem at that point, second, we are to go with one or two others (v. 16). Third, we see if the person does not listen, we are to tell it to the church (v. 17a) but if he or she is still impenitent then, fourth, he or she is to be treated like those outside of the church, i.e. excluded from communion (v. 17b). The next couple of verses talk about the authority that God has entrusted to the church, His representatives on earth.
Church Discipline in 1 Corinthians 5
Paul is adamant that he does not want the “so-called brother” to have community with the church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 13). Perhaps the three other steps of the church discipline process happened or perhaps they did not for whatever reason, that we cannot tell, but we do know that there certainly are times when it is appropriate to exclude people from church fellowship. The case in Corinth was clearly one of those times. Thus we see that the passage is not necessarilyprescriptive, unlike the principals laid down in Matthew 18, but descriptive. That is, Paul is writing a letter to tell the Corinthians what to do in that context at that time.
Putting Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 Together
I conclude from the two passages briefly looked at that pastor/shepherds and the church as a whole are to use biblical loving wisdom in each church discipline case. There is in fact no “cookie cutter mold” for each case but simply overarching principals to be applied to each different situation.
For instance, there are many passages that seem to reference church discipline besides Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 but some of them look quite different (Acts 8:17-24; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 Jn. 9-10). Many of Paul’s letters deal with discipline and correction yet they look very different depending on the situation. Paul was always pastoral and wise in the way that he handled each situation (cf. Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 4:2).
Look, for example, at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter… have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Paul says, “Have nothing to do with him” yet “warn him as a brother.” It is unclear what exactly this looked like in practice but it seems to me that it is a different approach to that in 1 Corinthians 5.
What I conclude then, is that church discipline is an important and clear teaching from Scripture. It, however, is not always as clear exactly how it should look in the local body in each specific case. So after we boil down all we have seen in these passages what are some overarching principals to keep in mind? (1) Keep the matter as private as you can. (2) Church discipline is done as an act of love to keep the individual from damning sin. (3) Church discipline should always be done with gentleness and love though that is not to say without boldly calling the erring person to repentance. (4) If unrepentance continues the person must be removed from the church. (5) Church discipline is ultimately done for the glory of God. We desire that Jesus’ bride be pure and holy (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27).
I believe we see from the collective passages that reference church discipline, that there is no exact formal that most always be followed. There are, however, principals laid down and a clear call to practice church discipline whatever each individual case might entail. Thus, in evaluating church discipline cases we do not simply have a list of sins, some warranting discipline and others not. Rather, we look at the witness that the person has before a lost world. We ask, Are they defacing the name of Jesus?
Jonathan Leeman talks about “A Gospel Framework for Understanding Discipline.” I think he gives a very helpful approach. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, have been given the “keys to the kingdom.” The local church and the leaders within that church have been given the serious task of administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These things give credibility to the genuineness of one’s faith. In the same token, church discipline is the church removing that affirmation. It is the church formally denouncing the person’s faith. Thus, as Jonathan Leeman rightly says, church discipline is “driven by a single question: does the church still believe an erring member is really a Christian, such that it’s willing to continue declaring so publicly?”
The Manner and Motivation of Church Discipline
How should we approach church discipline? We must do so with much gentleness and humility (1 Thess. 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 10:1; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; Phil. 4:5). We must remember that we too are sinners, we are not above the very same sin they are being disciplined for. That is why Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” And then he says, “Keep watch on yourself.” Why Paul? (we ask), “Lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). We, you and I, are not above sin, any sin, and we should not act as if we are. As Paul says elsewhere, let the person that thinks they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
We must remember that the goal in church discipline is restoration. We want those living in sin to repent and once again join the fellowship. If they do repent then we, as the church, must cheerfully welcome them back (I think of the prodigal son here). Notice, that after Jesus teaches on church discipline in Matthew’s Gospel he teaches on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35).
We may not have an exhaustive how-to-book on church discipline but we are given principals that can and indeed need to be applied in each individual case. We, as the church, are God’s representatives on earth and so we must seek to have His church be holy and filled with true followers of Christ. Therefore, as is warranted by the situation, we must practice the steps outlined in Matthew 18, though of course with appropriate Christian sensitivity.