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

Being and Building a Better Church: Temple Language in Paul

buildingIn Jesus the Temple Wheaton professor and New Testament scholar, Nicholas Perrin, makes an important correction on the way we read “temple language” in the letters of Paul. He writes, “When we come to the apostle Paul, we find a corpus of literature permeated with temple imagery” (65). What Perrin observes is the way Paul’s Second Temple Judaism forms a vital backdrop for Paul’s choice of words. Instead of being an incidental metaphor, Perrin argues Paul is leaning heavily on his Jewish background and its temple theology.

Whereas modern Christians might use temple language in more abstract or metaphorical ways, Paul uses it in specific, concrete ways. After all, he writes in a day when Jews continued to worship in a physical building. Therefore, when he speaks of the church as a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; Ephesians 2:21), “building” (1 Corinthians 3:9), or “household” (1 Timothy 3:15), when he speaks of the apostles as “pillars” (Galatians 2:9), or when he speaks of the body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), his life as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6), and ethical living as ritual purity (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1), he is not using an accessible metaphor. He is speaking concretely about the fact that the church of God, erected from the cornerstone of Christ, is the new and living temple of God.

Perrin makes his point emphatically as he comments on 1 Corinthians 3:9–10.

Although some readers suppose that Paul’s analogy between the Corinthian community and ‘God’s building’ was more or less arbitrary, as if ‘God’s building’ could just as easily have been exchanged with, say, ‘God’s pyramid,’ with limited difference in meaning, I find this approach unconvincing. After all, had any building served Paul’s analogy, he could have quite easily omitted the qualifier ‘of God,’ but obviously chose not to do so. Second, the effortless slide from ‘God’s field’ to ‘God’s building’ in v.9 is not an abrupt mixing of metaphors, but an appeal to two lines of imagery (architectural and horticultural) that in the Jewish literature finds their convergence in the temple. Third, the very fact that vv. 16–17 of the same chapter explicitly compare the Christian believers to a divinely inhabited temple — and from the Jewish point of view there was only one of these — should further disincline us to think that Paul has anything but the temple in mind here. God’s building is not any old house belonging to God; it is God’s unique temple. (67)

In truth, a brief survey of Paul’s letters shows that “temple language” shows up in a variety of places and a variety of ways. Sometimes the language speaks directly of a temple, a building, or “parts” of the edifice (e.g., foundation, pillar, etc.). Other times the temple language is more veiled, as in the metaphorical “building up.” Such language can be read without any recognition of the temple, but that’s the problem. Such a reading misses the fuller picture.

To correct our vision, let’s consider a number of these references. (Feel free to suggest others in the comments). Continue reading

A Better Understanding of Baptism

baptismBobby Jamieson is a clear thinker and compelling writer. He is also a good friend. But it’s not his friendship that impels me to commend his two books. Rather, it is the fact that I think his two books on baptism (Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Membership and Understanding Baptism) succeed in answering the question: If baptism doesn’t save, why does it matter?

In a day when church membership is often taken lightly and popular ecclesiology focuses on activities and attractions more than exegetical essentials, Jamieson’s two books explain why Scripture requires baptism and why churches need to reclaim the value of this ordinance.

In what follows, I want to highlight three arguments from Understanding Baptism addressing three different kinds of people. First, he makes a case for why Christians reticent to be baptized should be baptized. Second, he explains why baptism is necessary for membership. And third, he shows how membership in the local church is the natural result of baptism.

In truth, this blog can’t do justice to all the Scripture Jamieson considers in his two books. Rather, if you find yourself in one of these camps—(1) an unbaptized believer, (2) baptized but not (intending to become) a church member, or (3) a member indifferent towards baptism—my aim is to spur you on towards picking up his book and going to the Bible to see what it says about baptism and the church. Continue reading

A Perfect Balance: The Church Universal and Local

churchTo 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 —

In the ancient world Corinth collected many cultures and housed large numbers of gatherings. It is not surprising Paul sought to establish a church there (Acts 18) and when he wrote his first letter to them to address concerns he described them as ‘the church of God that is in Corinth.’

In these words, Paul intersected the two aspects of the church—the church universal (church of God) with the church local (that is in Corinth). Such a balanced presentation of the church foreshadows much of what Paul would say throughout his letter and it reminds us that whenever we think of the church, we must avoid two errors:

  1. Parochialism. Focusing so much on the local church one can forget the larger work of God in the world. In this, the local church blocks out a vision of the growing kingdom.
  2. Expansionism. Focusing so much on the universal church one can neglect the importance of the local gathering. In this, the kingdom of God engulfs the church.

Corrective to both of these extremes, we can see in 1 Corinthians 1:2 how the local and universal church intersect. Moreover, in the matrix between local and universal, there is great potential for fruitful reflection, much like the marketplace in Corinth itself. Continue reading

For Your Edification: Baptism, Membership, and Life Together in the Church

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the church, membership, baptism, and life together in the church. As I preach through 1 Corinthians and our church works to update its prospective member class, I’ve found great profit from reading the works of Jonathan Leeman (Church Membership and Church Discipline) and Bobby Jamieson (Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Membership) on these subjects, but I’ve also found help in some shorter pieces.

Whether you are a pastor, a member, or a free-range evangelical, these resources will encourage, challenge, and bring light on the subject of membership in the local church. Perhaps in the weeks ahead I can add a few posts myself.

Is Church Membership Biblical? by Matt Chandler

If you view church as some sort of ecclesiological buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt. For instance, as I interact with others in my own local body, my own slothfulness in zeal is exposed, as is my lack of patience, my prayerlessness, and my hesitancy to associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:11-16). Yet this interaction also gives me the opportunity to be lovingly confronted by brothers and sisters who are in the trenches with me, as well as a safe place to confess and repent. But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen.

You can also find John Piper’s strong affirmation of “How Important is Church Membership?Continue reading

The Body of Christ Calls for Individuality, not Individualism

bodyNow you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
— 1 Corinthians 12:27 —

The modern church is plagued by a “me and Jesus” mentality. Devotionals are aimed at isolated individuals, churches cater to the needs of every affinity group, and budding Christians are taught to read themselves into the Bible with little discernment of how Scripture actually speaks. (For instance Psalm 20:4 — “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! — is a prayer for Jesus, not you).

Addressing this modern perversion of individuality, David Prior writes these insightful words in his commentary on 1 Corinthians. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:27, he states,

As the body of Christ operates in this way, so the individual members will find their real needs met. The need for security is met in the assurance that “I belong to the body.” The need for identity is met in recognizing and working at the fact that “I have a distinctive contribution to bring to the body.” The need for a proper sense of responsibility is met by assuming concern for others in the body: “I need you; I feel with you; I rejoice with you.” So each individual grows as a person and as a Christian in direct relation to his finding his place as a member of the body. The Scriptures speak of individuality, not of individualism. The latter phenomenon is a perversion of our calling in Christ. It plagues the church of God, spoiling its witness and tripling individuals.

This discovery of our individuality within the life of the Christian community remains as revolutionary a message in today’s world as it was in that of Paul and his Corinthian readers. It is a radical alternative both to the tyranny of totalitarianism and to the empty dreams of personal fulfillment to individuals. (The Message of 1 Corinthians, 216; emphasis mine).

Biblical Christianity is personal, individual, and intimate, but it is not private, individualistic, and isolated. Sons and daughters of God are also family, members of the body of Christ. Even as we rejoice in the personal relationship we have with God, may we not forget our familial relations God has given to us in the body of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

All Together at the Lord’s Table

eat[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation]. 

In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.

Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.

For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading

Shepherds After God’s Own Heart

sheep‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
– Jeremiah 3:15 –

In a chapter lamenting the spiritual adultery of Israel, Yahweh promises to give his people shepherds who will feed them with knowledge and understanding. He calls these “pastors” “shepherds after his own heart.” In the context of the prophets (and in Jeremiah especially), the arrival of these God-centered pastors marks the coming of the new covenant. While there were  faithful shepherds in the Old Testament, there were few. It would take the arrival of the Spirit to fulfill this verse and to supply God’s people with shepherds after God’s own heart.

Today, firmly situated in the era of the new covenant, this verse prompts pastors and churches alike to consider the gift, calling, and responsibility pastors have to shepherd the flock of God among them. And from this verse we can see at least four truths worthy of remembrance and application. Continue reading

Theological Triage (pt. 1): Rightly Dividing Truth from Error

TriageTriage.

It is not a word that we often associate with church life, or if we do, the connotation is probably not positive. However, I think the word has great potential for helping us understand and promote unity in the church—local and universal.

In its original context, triage “means the process of sorting victims to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.”  While the term is usually placed on the battlefield or in the wake of a natural disaster, it also has an important application in the church for knowing how to rightly hold the doctrines we believe.

Applied to biblical doctrines, the term has been labeled by Albert Mohler as “theological triage,” and it basically indicates that we should sort out three different kinds of biblical belief—(1) those that separate Christians from non-Christians, (2) those that separate different churches and denominations, and (3) those that individuals may disagree about but which are overcome by greater unity on more primary matters.

Today, I will consider the first level, and later this week days I will follow up with the second and third levels to help us think about our relationship with other faiths, other churches, and other individuals in our church. Continue reading

On Baptism and Children

baptism1A recurring question that all pastors will face is this: Pastor, will you baptize my child? With the (all-too-common, but misguided) pressure to please parents and their young child, it is vital for pastors and churches to know what they believe about baptism and children. For parents too, when little Johnny shows interest in baptism, what should you do?

These are vital questions and ones that have received no little attention among Christians committed to believer’s baptism. To find good answers, we don’t need to recreate the wheel. We simply need to know where to turn. Therefore, in what follows, I have listed a number of helpful articles to help you and I think through this important issue.

A Biblical, Pastoral, Denominational, and Parental Perspective by Jason Allen

In a recent blog, Jason Allen (President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) urges pastors and parents (and the SBC, as well) to “joyfully and wholeheartedly press the accelerator on the gospel while tapping the brakes on the baptistery.” He rightly affirms the fact that it is wise and pastorally-sensitive to affirm children in their desires to follow Christ but to be slow in moving them towards baptism. Since “we must remember it requires more than agreeing to facts about Jesus to be saved,” it is unwise to baptize a young child, simply because they might be able to affirm the plan of salvation. Let me encourage you to read the whole thing.

“Reforming Baptism and Church Membership” by John Hammett (in Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches)

In his excellent book on Baptist ecclesiology, John Hammett, professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary gives sage counsel on baptism as it relates to children. He writes,

Caution is especially appropriate in the case of very young children. Anyone who works with children knows that five-year-olds will readily ask Jesus into their hearts, but until very recently Baptist would never have considered baptizing them. Believers baptism was seen as virtually synonymous with adult baptism. To request baptism was regarded as a decision requiring a fair degree of maturity. For a church to grant it was to welcome the person into the responsibilities of church membership, which would include participation in the governance of the church, which seems inappropriate in the case of preschoolers. Overseas most Baptists delay baptism until the teenage years, but it is difficult to avoid arbitrariness in setting any specific minimum age for baptism. (Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 122)

While it is true that delaying baptism does add a measure of subjectivity, if not arbitrariness, he lists at least four reasons for delaying.

Continue reading