Is It Finished? Clarity and Conviction about the Miraculous Gifts (1 Corinthians 12–14)

sermon photoIs It Finished? Clarity and Conviction about Miraculous Gifts

On the cross Jesus exclaimed this glorious truth: Tetelestai! It is Finished!

Our eternal security is settled by this truth. And this week we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday because Jesus Christ finished his gracious work of redemption on on the cross. 

Strangely, we are less certain about the finished work of the Holy Spirit. Some might even question whether he has finished anything. Isn’t the Holy Spirit still working in our midst today? Of course he is, but this doesn’t deny his finished work of revelation and the inspiration of God’s Word. In the Bible, we find the Holy Spirit’s finished work.

Considering both the finished work of the Son and the Spirit, Sunday’s sermon marked the final message on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–-14, where I answered the question: Is the work of the Spirit finished?

After seven messages on 1 Corinthians 12–14, this message sought to summarize our findings  in those chapters, understanding their historical context and making practical application today. This was not intended to be a typical exposition of the text, but an doctrinal and applicational sermon answering many questions related to the cessation of the miraculous gifts and the continuation of their intended purpose—the confirmation of God’s Word and the ongoing work of the Spirit by that Word.

You can read the sermon notes here, listen to previous expositions from 1 Corinthians 12–14, and find discussion questions below. Resources for further study are also available below. Continue reading

On Pentecost and Its Centrifugal Effects: Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

spirit2On the Jewish Calendar, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. According to Leviticus 23, Pentecost was a Feast Day—the Feast of Weeks to be exact. It was a day when Israel worshiped God by bringing a new grain offering to the temple. But today, this Jewish Feast is best known for what happened fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.

In Acts 2, Jews from all over the world were celebrating Pentecost. And it was on this day that God poured out his Spirit. Why some confusion, and accusations of drunkenness, occurred on that day, more confusion has come since. Therefore, we need to see what Pentecost is and how Luke presents its centrifugal effect throughout the book of Acts.

Pentecost Proper

Importantly, Pentecost was the day Jesus began to build his new covenant temple. This was the day when the church was born. And this was the day when the apostles were filled with the Spirit, empowering them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel—the means by which the church would be founded.

In Acts, Pentecost is accompanied by powerful signs and wonders. Fire from heaven touches earth; tongues of fire are located above the heads of the people. Just like the pillar of fire stood above the tabernacle, and just like Solomon’s temple was filled with the Holy Spirit, so now Christ’s Spiritual temple (i.e., his covenant people) is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And as the book of Acts displays, the Spirit they received is also shared with Gentiles as the Gospel goes forward.

At Pentecost, we also hear reports of tongues being spoken. Most wonderfully, these tongues are not inarticulate utterances, or some heavenly prayer language. They are real languages, proclaiming the wondrous works of God. Acts 2:9–-10 list more than a dozen nations from around the Mediterranean. And v. 11 says: “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

On Pentecost, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed in other languages. Just as at Babel (in Genesis 11) God gave the people new languages to divide the nations. Now God is giving new languages to preach the gospel to the nations. Whereas the first ‘gift’ of tongues was a curse, now this gift of tongues is a true nation-uniting blessing. Pentecost, therefore, is the foundation of the universal church and the beginning of the Spirit-empowered mission to unite all nations through the preaching of the gospel.

Still, we might ask the question: What about the baptism promised by Christ, what we might call Spirit baptism? Does it always look like Pentecost, or might Pentecost be a one-time event? Continue reading

Learning to See the Beauty of a Gospel-Centered Church

churchThis Sunday we start up a new cycle of membership classes at our church, what we call Discover OBC. And in our first part we look at the Gospel and the Church. I love teaching about these two subjects, because they are at the core of Christianity. The gospel is the message which brings hope to a sinful world; the church is the community created by that gospel and commissioned to protect and proclaim that gospel so that the whole world might hear of King Jesus.

I love the gospel and the church, and I can’t wait to teach about them Sunday. But it wasn’t always that way.

How Do You See the Church?

Admittedly, for me, I was slow to understand and appreciate the importance and beauty of the local church. In high school and college, I came to faith, began sharing the gospel, and learning how the Word of God impacted all of life. In this time, church was important, but only as an extension of my individual Christianity.

For me church was an a la carte affair. I was committed to worshiping on Sunday, but not to any particular church. As long as I heard the Bible somewhere, that was enough. I was committed to evangelism and discipleship, but I did not see them as necessarily connected to the local church. As long as the gospel was going forward, surely that was enough. Right? What did the local church matter?

Well, near the end of college I “sensed the need” to join a church. I didn’t have any biblical reasons for the desire; it was just something I felt. (N.B. I am glad for this decision, but I don’t think it is the way the Bible teaches us to make decisions). After five years of walking with Jesus, I moved across the country to join a Bible-teaching, elder-led local church. And “attach” is probably the right term, because I still conceived of the church as the place individuals attach themselves to one another, more than a covenant community created by Jesus and bound by his Spirit.

As I look back, I realize how much I conceived of the church and Christianity in radically individualistic ways. I had come to believe the gospel, but the operating system of my life was still the expressive individualism I inherited from my culture. Not surprisingly, this is how I approached church. Even after joining the church, I still approached church this way. It wasn’t until I began to study the Scriptures on the matter, that I began to see that the Bible was and is at odds with the individualistic Christianity that I first adopted.

Four Metaphors for the Church

Most helpful to me in understanding what the Bible says about church were the many metaphors Scripture gives to us about the church. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:15 says we are God’s household; 1 Corinthians 12 calls us the body of Christ; Ephesians 5 likens us to Christ’s bride; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 describes us as God’s temple; Ephesians 2:19–22 says the same thing; and 1 Peter 2:5, 9 adds that each of us are living stones in that temple. I have written about these things before and will cover them in our new members class, but today I want to suggest four others word-pictures that might help you and I think about what church is and isn’t.

  • First, the church is a family home not a spiritual hotel. That is, the church is not an amenity-filled temporary residence; it is meant to be a long-term, family-filled gathering place where we do life together. While our culture teaches us to be consumers, a church based on God’s Word teaches us to be brothers and sisters.
  • Second, the church is a military outpost, not an earthly resort. While there is a place for retreat and rest, the church is a royal embassy engaged in spiritual warfare. Therefore, we come to church not just to escape, but to be equipped and to work together to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to a hostile world.
  • Third, the church is a heavenly practice, not an earthly pit-stop. On a long journey, rest is needed. But if we treat church as merely the rest on our journey, we miss that church is actually the goal, not the pit stop we take on the way to something else. More accurately, gathering to worship and fellowship is the way we practice our everlasting life. It is not given to merely assist us in earthly labors; it is meant to subvert earthly labors as it teaches us to store up treasures in heaven. In this vein, God may be calling you to use your gifts to build up the body of Christ, imperfect as it is, rather than using your GPS to find the service that best meets all our needs. But to embrace that we must remember the church is not yet perfect.
  • Fourth, the local church is a temporary shadow, not the full and final substance. How often do we complain (if only in our hearts) that church is not like we want it? In truth, this is how it will always be. Until all of God’s people, from all ages and all places, are gathered around the throne room, we will experience the thorns and thistles of this age—even in the church. Therefore, it may help to remember that our local assemblies are but grace-filled shadows of God’s ultimate goal—a new creation filled with resurrected saints.

Indeed, these kinds of word-pictures have helped me think more clearly about the biblical picture of the church. Based on the metaphors of Scripture, they have enlarged my heart for the church—in all of its grace and grit. A gospel-centered church is truly a beautiful creation. I pray these images will help you see its beauty and mission as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Another Step Toward a Biblical Ecclesiology: Acts 9 on Baptism, Membership, and the Church

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2The book of Acts is pivotal for understanding the nature and function of the church. It is also challenging, because it presents a church that is “born” on Pentecost, at first contained to Jerusalem, but later expanded to Judea and Samaria and finally unleashed the ends of the earth. At the same time, it’s founding members were believers before receiving the Spirit and yet the gift of the Spirit is one of the distinguishing marks of the church as it spreads from Israel to Italy. In four instances (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19), the Spirit is given, but in no two instances are the exact events the same. For instance, speaking in tongues accompanies the Spirit in Acts 2, 10, 19, but not Acts 8. Likewise, water baptism precedes the Holy Spirit in Acts 8, but follows in Acts 10.

From just a sampling of evidences, the book of Acts is both foundational and frustrating for understanding the nature of the church. It is foundational because of the patterns we see in how churches are formed—the Word of God is preached, Jews then Samaritans than Gentiles repent and believe, they are baptized, and then gathered into churches. Yet, it is frustrating because not everything in Acts is reproducible today. The personal visitations by Jesus, the miracles of healing, the speaking in tongues, and the survival of snake bites are all incidents that we might say have discontinued—unless one believes otherwise. For now my point is not to defend or deny cessationism, but to merely highlight how that debate among others finds difficulty in Acts.

Any point of ecclesiology, therefore, needs to be aware of Acts transitional nature. It should take into account how the Holy Spirit has given us this book to teach us about the founding of the church, but it is not a manual for every point of doctrine. That being said, where else do we turn in Scripture to find how to plant, revitalize, and shepherd churches? Therefore, we do need to watch for patterns and principles in Acts, but always with awareness of some discontinuity between Acts period of transition and our own day.

Clearing Up Two Points of Ecclesiology

With this approach to Acts in mind, I want to clear up two points of ecclesiology from Acts 9. From this chapter, I have heard two statements about the church:

  1. Paul’s baptism by Ananias suggests a local church is not (absolutely) needed for a legitimate baptism.
  2. The Church is fundamentally a universal concept, as Acts 9:31 describes the church regionally, not locally (i.e., in one spatio-temporal location).

While there is truth in these statements, ultimately I think we are on more solid ground to say

  1. Paul’s baptism was unique, but not so unique as to break from the normative pattern of the New Testament. We should exercise caution when making application from his experience, but at the same time, we can see how his unusual experience fits the larger pattern of baptism and “church membership” in Acts.
  2. The universal Church “throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria . . .” is a located in spatio-temporal “locales” (something I’ve tried to describe elsewhere).

In what follows, I will argue that Paul’s baptism is both a unique point in redemptive history and one that follows the pattern of baptism and church membership (i.e., association with other disciples in a local church). Exploring the relationship of Paul’s baptism to the churches in Damascus and Jerusalem will also prove the corollary: life in the universal church is experienced through local assemblies. In the end, I will list seven points of application from this chapter related to ecclesiology. Continue reading

The Testimony of Two: Why Baptism Requires a Harmony of Witnesses

baptism1In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.
— John 8:17 —

In recent months I’ve been in discussion about the meaning of baptism, and who is saying what when a believer is immersed for identification with Jesus. Is baptism an individual’s testimony (alone)? Or is it the church’s testimony? Or, is it both?

With this question in mind, I recently read John 8 where Jesus makes the axiomatic statement in verse 17: “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” In context, he is preparing to say he and his Father both testify to his messianic identity, even if the Pharisees in all of their well-studied folly could not receive this testimony. The point Jesus makes is that his identity is secured by multiple witnesses. In fact, John’s whole Gospel hangs on this premise, that there are a dozen or more witnesses testifying to Christ.

From this consideration, my question is, What role does the legal requirement of two or three witnesses play in baptism? If baptism is a legal act, whereby the disciple of Jesus is marked out and publicly identified, should this not include more than one witness? And have some churches misunderstood (or misapplied) baptism when they teach and practice that all that matters is the individual’s faith? Certainly, the one undergoing baptism is testifying to their allegiance to Christ, but what role, biblically speaking, does the legal requirement of two or three witnesses play in the ordinance of baptism? Continue reading

The Church’s Place in *Framing* the Gospel (A Review of 1 Corinthians 1–10)

sermon photoIn 2016 our church has spent the year in 1 Corinthians, at least the first 10 chapters. As we turn our attention to the birth of Lord in just a couple weeks, we took time to review a few aspects of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) that we’ve seen in Paul’s letter. For now the debate about Trinity-gender analogies (1 Corinthians 11:3) and head coverings (11:6, 10) will have to wait.

In what we considered yesterday, I made seven applications from 1 Corinthians 1–10 related to the universal and local church. Here they are in list form. You can listen or read the sermon notes; study questions and further resources are listed below.

  1. The church is both local and universal.
  2. The universal church is made of local churches.
  3. Individual Christians experience the universal church thru the local church.
  4. The local church calls the universal church to walk together as disciples of Christ.
  5. The local church (not the universal church) has been given leaders who know their sheep.
  6. The local church has power AND wisdom to exercise the keys of the kingdom.
  7. The local church provides visible boundaries for the universal church.

All sermons in the series “The Life-Changing Gospel in God’s Local Church” can be found here. Continue reading

“All [Ecclesiology] is Local”: Why Experiencing the Universal Church is a Local Occurrence

churchYesterday, I argued that the universal church is comprised of a myriad of local churches and that for those who look carefully, this pattern can be seen in Paul’s language about the universal church and his letters to local churches. Today, we turn the looking glass slightly to see the places in Paul’s letters where he speaks of the church as a singular, (more abstract) universal church.

While at first this might seem to be a counter-example to the preceding argument, I believe when we look at these examples, we will see that when Paul speaks of the universal church, he does as speaking about (1) a certain kind of people, (2) an eschatological community, or (3) one universal church manifested through a myriad of local churches—yesterday’s argument.

From Paul’s letters, I see four things we can say about the universal church that further support the thesis that local churches make up the current universal church on earth. (This does not discount the chronological aspect, that the universal church also includes the people of God in the past and future). Here are the four ways Paul speaks of the universal church. Let me know what you think. My explanations are below.

  1. The Universal Church as a Certain Kind of People
  2. The Universal Church as Christ’s Body and Bride
  3. The Universal Church as a Persecuted People
  4. The Universal Church as an Extended Family (Multiple Local Households)

Continue reading

An Ecclesiology of Churches: Why the Universal Church Is Best Regarded as a Myriad of Local Churches

 

lights To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,
called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.
– 1 Corinthians 1:2 –

When someone says, “I’m a part of the universal church,” what do they mean? Do they mean they are a Christian and by implication they must be a member of the world-wide communion of saints? In our day of individual expression and come-as-you-are spirituality, I think this is what many mean. But it’s not just those who try to do Christianity on their own that may feel a pull towards the universal church sans the local church. There are plenty of well-read, Bible students who have also found fellowship and community outside a local assembly.

But if that is so, where do universal church-ers, to borrow a phrase from Jonathan Leeman, celebrate communion? Under whose authority are they? And does such spiritual oversight need to come from a church? Is there any connection between the church they attend on Sunday and the elect of God from all nations? If not, why go to a local church at all? But if there is a relationship between the local church and universal church, what is it?

How Do I Get to the Universal Church?

I ask these questions because I suspect many Christians have not given lengthy thought to the relationship between the church or churches they attend on any given Sunday (i.e., a local church) and the elect of God who will one day gather around the throne of Christ (i.e., the universal church). After all, when was the last time you heard a sermon on the differences and distinctives of the local and universal church? Continue reading

Israel and the Church: Continuity, Discontinuity, or Something of the Two?

haysIn his influential study on intertextuality, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of PaulRichard Hays argues the apostle Paul’s hermeneutic is “functionally ecclesiocentric rather than christocentric” (xiii). In a series of essays, he shows how the apostle applies Old Testament texts to the New Testament church, and in so doing he questions the commonly held assumption that Paul wrote with a Christocentric approach to the Old Testament.

In comparison to the Gospels, especially Matthew and John, Hays shows that Paul is much more reticent to cite messianic prooftexts. Rather, writing to local churches who are comprised of the eschatological people of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11), he applies the Old Testament scriptures semi-directly to the church. I say semi-directly, because the old covenant scriptures only apply through the mediation of Jesus Christ, a point Hays goes on to affirm: “christology is the foundation on which [Paul’s] ecclesiocentric counterreadings are constructed” (120).

For Hays, his aim is to observe the hermeneutical principles at work in Paul’s letters. My question is more systematic. What does Paul’s method of interpretation say to us about the relationship between Israel and the Church? Debates rage between Dispensationalists who make a clear division between Israel and the Church and Covenant Theologians who have ostensibly replaced Israel with the Church. Thankfully, these hard divisions have been revised in recent years—Progressive Dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the Church (even as they retain a unique place for Israel), and Covenant Theologians like Richard Gaffin and Anthony Hoekema have centered Old Testament promises in Jesus Christ and his new covenant people. Still, the debate continues: how should we relate the testaments? 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