From Capital Punishment to Christ’s Propitiation: What Leviticus 20:13 Means for Christians Today

 

orlando-tragedy

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, our summer intern (Timothy Cox) and I drew up a biblical response for our church. Our hopes were to clarify the differences between the Bible and the teachings of Islam. Although one Bible verse (Leviticus 20:13), taken out of context, calls for the death of gays and lesbians, Christians should never accept this as a blanket endorsement for the violence we witnessed in Orlando. Rather, Christians must defend the poor and oppressed without running roughshod over the Bible. The fulfillment of the law is love (Romans 13:8), and thus as the sacrificial love of Christ constrains us to share the gospel of grace and truth with a lost and dying world, so it compels us to rightly interpret Scripture so that we may be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in the gospel. That was the intention behind this article. 

May God use these words to clarify what Scripture does and does not teach about capital punishment, so that Christians would love *all* their neighbors. And may all our neighbors know the propitiating love of God promised in the Law and fulfilled in Christ.

**********

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
— 1 John 4:10 —

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, where 49 people were killed and over 50 injured at a gay night club, Christians weep for the loss of life and are left wondering what to say or do. On social media, trending topics have included gun control, terrorism, homophobia and Islamic extremism. In light of the terrorist’s professed allegiance to ISIS and other radical Islamic groups, it is especially important for Christians to distinguish between the Quran’s teaching on homosexuality and the Bible’s. Now, more than ever, it is important we convey gospel-centered compassion, even as we hold firm to biblical truth.

In order to do that, we must look at Leviticus 20:13:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death.”

Read by itself, this passage may seem to catch Bible-believing Christians red-handed with a verse that proves their Bible needs to be updated or abandoned. However, because the Bible is not a collection of individual sayings; Leviticus 20:13 must be read in light of its historical and covenantal context. Indeed, only a whole-Bible theology of sexual ethics and capital punishment can rightly explain this verse.

With this in mind, we will show why this verse does not permit violence against homosexuals, and why the Bible is fundamentally different than the Quran and Islam’s other holy books, which do endorse violence towards the LGBT community. In actuality, the command for capital punishment in Leviticus 20:13 becomes a pathway to Christ’s substitutionary death, not a harbinger of hate. Continue reading

How the Lord’s Table Defines Its Dinner Party

 

whoA number of years ago, as I ate dinner with friends at an outdoor café, I was wrongly identified as a famous race car driver. It was more than a little awkward, as the mistaken gentleman belted out: “Dale!! Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?!? Is that you? Awww . . . I love you, man!”

With sorrow and embarrassment, I had to say: “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy.” He quickly recognized his mistake and passed on, as we continued to laugh about the boisterous error.

Misidentification is common in our world. Who has never misidentified a friend in a crowd? Or drunk from the wrong glass? Or put the wrong beverage in the glass? In our fallen world harmless mistakes like this abound. But so do more serious ones.

Sin is a Case of Gross Misidentification

In 1 Corinthians Paul constantly reminds the church who they are. In chapter 3, he tells them “You are God’s field, God’s building . . . God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (vv. 9, 17). Likewise, in chapter 6 he says of them individually, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). In the context of deciding who will inherit the kingdom of God, he says that those who persist in their sin—i.e., who define themselves by their greed, drunkenness, or immorality—will not enter the kingdom. But you, beloved children, Paul says, are new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). Continue reading

George Eldon Ladd on “The Kingdom and the Church”

alreadyIs the kingdom present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how?

In evangelical circles this question has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand, even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23).  At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both replacement theology and classical Dispensationalism.

Today, his works remain invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology are missing the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as his biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows is a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]  Continue reading

Blood Moons and Smoke-Filled Skies: An Already and Not Yet Approach to the Day of the Lord

moon

When we read in Acts 2:19-20, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the  sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” we who are unaccustomed to apocalyptic literature are quick to scratch our heads and ask: What does this mean?  Our doctrinal convictions keep us on the trail: Scripture is perspicuous (i.e., clear) and true, therefore, Peter must means what he says. He is surely not incorrect. But how can the moon turn to blood? Should we really expect the Sea of Tranquility to fill with blood, just like the Nile in Exodus?

When reading such language in Scripture, we do well to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture and that in this case, the apocalyptic language of Joel 2 is being cited by Peter to explain the historical events of Pentecost–the outpouring of the Spirit foretold in Joel 2:28. However, for reasons we will see, Peter also includes the more troubling language. Therefore, to understand the whole section lets consider four biblical-theological points that will help us see how the Day of the Lord is both a present and future reality—a method of interpreting the Old Testament that the Apostles often employed.

1. Historical Acts 2 quotes apocalyptic Joel 2.

Importantly, the strange language comes not from the historical narrative of Luke, but rather the prophetic literature of Joel. In this way, he is quoting an Old Testament prophecy to explain the events of recent history—i.e., the ostensible drunkenness of the disciples (Acts 2:13). Therefore, we must not read these words as portending to a literalistic interpretation—the moon is dripping blood. Rather, Luke is telling us how these strange, poetic words have come come true in the historical events of Pentecost. Continue reading

The Sevenfold Spirit of God: Seven Truths About the Doctrine of Illumination

 

menorahIn the book of Revelation John speaks of the “seven spirits of God” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). While enigmatic, the symbolic use of the number seven in Revelation gives credible explanation: The seven spirits are God is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the perfect and complete Spirit of God. In no way does the number represent something contradictory to the triune nature of God (three-in-one), nor does it crassly suggest there are seven spirits who represent God. Rather, as with so many images in Revelation, the numeral seven represents the fullness of the Spirit abiding in God’s throne room and dwelling with the churches. Wonderfully, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in God’s heavenly temple (1:4) has been sent to dwell in local churches (5:6).

At the same time, the sevenfold spirit of God may also refer to Isaiah 11, where the Spirit of the LORD is said to “rest upon” the shoot of Jesse (i.e., the forthcoming king from David’s tribe). Greg Beale affirms the plausibility of Isaiah 11 (and Zechariah) being in the “background of the ‘seven spirits.’”[1] In that passage, which “shows that God’s sevenfold Spirit is what equips the Messiah to establish his end-time reign,” the prophet writes,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (11:1 –5)

Verse 2 is where the seven descriptors of the Spirit are found, in that the Spirit is

  1. Of the Lord
  2. Of wisdom
  3. . . . and understanding
  4. Of counsel
  5. . . . and might
  6. Of knowledge
  7. . . . and the fear of the Lord.

This sevenfold description locates the work of the Spirit in the realm of wisdom and knowledge. While Lordship and might (גְּבוּרָה) are mentioned, the primary emphasis is cognitive. Significantly, this stands behind much of what Jesus says in John’s Gospel (see 14:26; 15:26; 16:13–14). As mentioned in a previous essay, the working of the Spirit is not seen primarily in visible acts of supernatural power, but in granting spiritual life and mental receptivity of God’s work of salvation. While the Spirit has power to restore creation (Isaiah 32:15) and raise the dead (Romans 8:11), the primary way he works today is in the granting spiritual understanding, what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10–16. Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

Not Hardening Our Hearts Against the Hard-Hearted: A Pastoral Meditation on Hebrews 3:12–14

heart12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
— Hebrews 3:12–14 —

Until the day when Christ returns, churches will be faced with the mystery of iniquity. And more, we will be faced with the challenge of responding to erring church members with grace and truth.

Hebrews 3:12–14 gives us a number of things to consider when a Christian acts upon their hardness of heart. What follows is a five-fold meditation on how to address the hard-hearted without hardening our own hearts.

1. We must read Hebrews as speaking to Christians.

The threat of Christians being led astray by sin, the devil, and the world is very real. Verse 12 crushes any notion that salvation makes Christians impervious to sin. The author addresses “brothers,” meaning his words are for Christians, not some other spiritually-mixed community.

Accordingly, we learn the new birth doesn’t—in this age—make us sin-free, even as it frees us to fight sin. Even so, there are times when sin deceives us, ensnares us, and we need the help of the church to free us. Conversely, the church needs to patiently endure the words and actions of its members. It must preach the gospel to them and bear with them as God’s truth brings change. Continue reading

A Brief Meditation on the Minister’s Rest

farmerWhen I lived in Indiana I was surrounded by fields and farmers. From spring planting to fall harvesting, these men and women worked hard to bring fruit from the soil. As Paul indicates in 2 Timothy 2:6, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” In Paul’s day, like ours, farmers are known for their hard work. The same is true for those who sow and water with the word of God. Like the farmer, early mornings, long nights, and constant concern for the Lord’s harvest are a heavy burden.

Fortunately, God gives seasons to farmers. In the winter months, hard-working farmers receive a time of rest and recovery. But at the same time, these hard-working farmers take time to plan for the next year, for the increase of the harvest. I remember talking to them in the winter months as they would be making their seed orders, learning more about new techniques, and equipping themselves with the latest machinery. Sure, there were trips to the beach, holiday celebrations, and the ability to take an afternoon nap. But far more, these men and women spent their time preparing for the upcoming harvest.

This imagery is helpful when we think about a sabbatical. In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to take a sabbatical from the land every seven years (Exodus 23:10–11). Following in the footsteps of their heavenly father (Genesis 2:1–3), they were called to rest. Rest in the Bible is never a time of inactivity or lethargy. Rather it is a time when God and his people enjoy one another. Such is the background for ministers of the gospel who occasionally take a season of rest and refreshment. The goal is not to pull away from the church, the Lord, or his work. But rather, it is a time of reflection, rest, and refreshment for future ministry.

Indeed, Charles Spurgeon spoke of the necessity for “holy inaction and consecrated leisure.” In his Lectures to My Students, the London pastor said,

It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this ‘heavy clay’, but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.” (161)

This principle of rest is true for all Christians, and especially those who labor to feed and tend the flock.

Personally, rest is a difficult practice for me. That being said I am growing to see my need to schedule “holy inaction” and “consecrated leisure.” Though my go-go-go mentality fights against it, taking time to periodically unstring the bow and sharpen the axe does not steal away from productivity. It actually does the opposite—it ensures that I trust in God to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), even as I labor in the strength he provides (Colossians 1:28–29). Yes, he gives spiritual strength, but such grace is not divorced from our responsibility to care for our physical body’s.

While the work of the ministry is a spiritual endeavor, it is not immaterial. Lest we deny our own created-ness or become neo-Platonists who pit the spirit against the flesh, we must learn how to pace ourselves as we run God’s race. This includes scheduling physical rest, sometimes even a prolonged sabbatical like we recently gave to one of the pastors at our church. Because we are vessels of clay, we must establish a rhythm of work and rest, lest we invite physical exhaustion and spiritual/emotional collapse.

Therefore, as we strive to abide in his rest (Hebrews 4:11), may God grant us strength through the appointed means of holy inaction and the spiritual discipline of consecrated rest. May we find Sabbath rest in Christ (Hebrews 3–4) and take time to let our physical bodies recover for more fruitful service.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How the Doctrine of the Trinity Cultivates Church Unity (1 Corinthians 1–2)

 

paulHere is a long-form piece that came from our recent sermon series on 1 Corinthians. While many commentaries do not recognize the trinitarian nature of 1 Corinthians 1–2, Paul highlights doctrines related to each member of the trinity in order foster unity in the church at Corinth. May the Lord grant doctrinal unity to his church, as its members tether themselves to his triune gospel of grace.

******************

What do you do when a church begins to fight? What do you say when members of the church begin to take sides and misrepresent the other? Where do you turn? What truth(s) do you recall? How do you bring peace to a divided church?

Sadly, many faithful followers of Christ find themselves in churches divided by various doctrines and competing practices. In one church I served controversy broke out concerning the doctrines of election, regeneration and faith, and the extent of the atonement. Or at least, those “doctrines of grace” appeared to be the problem. From my vantage point, those problems were merely used to protect a deeper, darker problem—the baleful commitment for various groups in the church to maintain control over what their church.

Commitment to self-interest in the church is all too common. It appears in modern churches who fracture over various worship styles, and it appears in ancient churches who sought to identify themselves with certain charismatic leaders. It appears on the pages of church history and it is found in Scripture itself, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians. Continue reading

The God of Comfort Who Grants Tailor-Made Mercy

peterThe last two chapters of John’s Gospel are full of personal revelations and tailor-made mercy. John records Jesus’ revelation to Mary in the Garden (20:11–18), to the disciples in the Upper Room (20:19–23), to Thomas eight days later (20:24–31), and finally to seven disciples on the Sea of Tiberias (21:1–23). Each of these “revelations” bring faith in the risen Lord (see Thomas’ response, 20:28), because each of them reveal to doubting eyes the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

At the same time, each of these revelations are intensely personal—meaning, they cater to the weaknesses and experiences of each individual. For instance, with Thomas Jesus answers his need to see the wounds in Jesus flesh (20:24–25) with an invitation to “put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side” (20:27). Jesus command (“Do not disbelieve, but believe”)—an instance of the effectual call?—is undergirded by giving Thomas the personal revelation he needed to trust in Jesus.

The same is true with Peter. After Jesus had appeared, Peter went back to fishing—not knowing Jesus’ plans for him. John makes a clear connection between Jesus words around the “charcoal fire” (21:9) and Peter’s denial, which also took place around a “charcoal fire” (18:18). In this personal visitation, Jesus restores Peter with his three-fold question: “Do you love me more than these” (21:15–19)? If it is to the fish he is speaking, Jesus is very personally addressing Peter. He is bringing up his painful past and using it against him—rather for him! Continue reading