You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:
- An Introduction
- Augustine’s Two Cities
- Two Kingdoms in Luther
- The Reformed Confessions (Part I)
- The Reformed Confessions (Part II)
- The Reformed Confessions (Part III)
- Sphere Sovereignty in Kuyper
- Redemption and Creation in Kuyper
- John the Baptist
- The Prophet Amos
- The Incarnate Lord (Part I)
As we consider the life and teaching of our incarnate Lord, let us keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that Christ’s primary mission was not that of social change. Rather, His primary goal was that of redeeming His bride (the church). However, given the fact that His relationship with His bride is a covenant relationship, this work of redemption came with some very real implications for Covenant Theology.
Whether referring to the saints of the Old or of the New Testament, 17th century Particular Baptists designated them the Church. The radical divide presented in Dispensationalism between ethnic, national Israel and the Church would not only have been absolutely foreign to our Particular Baptist forefathers. It would have been downright abhorrent. Insofar as the saints of the Old Testament period believed on Yahweh alone for their righteous standing before God, they were truly circumcised of the heart.
Continuity through General Equity
There was no sense, in the Old Testament, in which man was saved by the Law or in which he could merit his own salvation. There were consequences built into the civil law that provided for the regulation of proper conduct within God’s covenant community then just as there are consequences built into the New Testament policy of church discipline for the regulation of proper conduct within God’s covenant community today. Whether it was a matter of corporal punishment in the nation of Israel or excommunication from the ranks of the New Covenant church, the requirement of three or more witnesses is the same.
As such, our incarnate Lord made clear that the Civil Law of national Israel was given as a shadow of the greater reality of church discipline in Christ. In this sense, Christ did not abolish the Civil and Ceremonial Law so much as make application from them to local congregations. In so doing, Christ did not use the greater reality of national Jewish law to point to shadows in the New Covenant church. Rather, the Civil and Ceremonial Laws were given as shadows in order that they might highlight the greater reality of church discipline in Christ. This is the Reformation principle known as “general equity.” The letter of the Old Covenant law is no longer binding on the Christian church, but the eternal, moral principles behind them are.
“To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use,” (The Baptist Confession, 19.4).
Why, though, does church discipline exist? Church discipline exists in order that Christ may present His bride to His Father as pure, spotless, and without blemish. This is not to say that we will be sinlessly perfect in this life. We will not obtain perfection until glory. However, it does mean that we will be distinguished from the world.
God’s Set Apart People
One of the reasons Israel was given the Civil and Ceremonial Laws was to distinguish her from the surrounding nations. They were told that they were to be different from the nations around them who sacrificed their children to their false gods (Lev. 20:2-5). In giving them this instruction, Moses did not assume that Israel would automatically be enticed to go and sacrifice their babies to Molech. Rather, it would be over time, as they allowed for more and more syncretism over the years, they would eventually find little difference between them and their pagan neighbors, even sacrificing their babies on the altar (1Kgs. 11:7; 2Kgs. 23:10; Jer. 32:35).
In the same way, one of the reasons church discipline has been given to the church is to distinguish her from the world. “Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you,’” (2Cor. 6:17; NKJV). Our Lord told His disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Him (John 15:18). An essential mark of Christ’s disciples is that they will be set apart (sanctified) from the world. Christ’s true disciples will be distinguished by a Bible-centered worldview (John 17:17).
As such, the social ills that plague our society (e.g. racism, chauvinism, divorce, etc.) ought all to be issues addressed in church discipline. We are not here calling for the knee-jerk excommunication of such as commit these sins. Rather, we are calling for the biblical practice of church discipline to be applied in these cases.
Biblical Church Discipline
The biblical practice of church discipline is four-fold. It starts with what has come to be known as formative church discipline. That is the discipline of the Spirit applied to the hearts and minds of church members as they sit under the regular preaching of God’s word. Of course, if the Spirit is to discipline His people through the preached word on these matters, pastors have a duty to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This means that, where opportunity arises in the text to address racism, chauvinism, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc., pastors must seize these opportunities and emphasize the biblical standard in their preaching of the word.
Where sins of this nature persist within the body in spite of the preached word, they must be addressed in a much more personal space. The Bible regularly exhorts the body toward personal admonition (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; 2Thess. 3:15; Tit. 2:4; 3:10). According to our Lord, there are three phases to personal admonition: (1) go to your brother in private and, if he listens to you, you have won your brother; (2) if he does not listen to you, take another brother with you so that, by the word of two or more witnesses, every matter may be established; and (3) if he still does not listen to you, take the matter before the church (see Mt. 18:15-20).
We must remember, anytime we discuss church discipline, that it was given for the purity of the church. Again, the church is to be pure; the church is to be set apart from the world. As such, as we have already stated, the world will hate us.
God’s Hated People
Of course, God’s people have always been hated by the world. We have always been hated, because we have always been set apart by His word (John 17:14, 17). We have also been hated because of the work of the devil. Our Lord told the Jewish leaders of His day that they were of their father: the devil (John 8:44). It was because the Jewish leaders were sons of Satan, the brood of vipers (Mt. 3:7), that they murdered the prophets (Mt. 23:29-36). In the same way, our Lord told His disciples that they would be dragged before rulers by the Jewish leaders of their day (Mt. 5:11-12; 23:34).
Does this mean that we are to shun the Jews and the world at large? Should we retreat into monasteries never to be heard from again? No. Rather, our Lord gave us a commission to be His witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8b; NASB). Through the book of Acts and the epistles we will see, both in practice and in teaching, that the apostles had a heart for both the Jews and the Gentiles. They both taught and practiced taking the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Rom. 1:16b; NASB). It was through the incremental expansion of God’s covenant people into every tribe, tongue, and nation, as seen in Acts, that God broke down the dividing wall of hostility that once existed between God’s Israelite covenant people and the nations around them (Eph. 2:11-22). In the same way, the world will hate us as long as their hearts remain unchanged by the gospel.
We will conclude in our next post by examining the discontinuities between the two epochs divided by our Lord’s incarnation.