A Little Time With The 1689: Day 317

Day 317

Of the Church.

Chapter 26, Paragraph 2.

“All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the Gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ, according unto it; not destroying their own profession by any Errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible Saints;…”

Scripture Lookup

1 Corinthians 1:2

Acts 11:26

Reflection

When you hear the word “saint”, what image first comes to your mind? For me, it is of a woman with a halo, hands clasped as if in prayer while her eyes look up to heaven. Growing up Roman Catholic, saints were spiritual superheroes. The stories of their lives were more fantastic than a comic book, and they were of another world, above mere mortals. The Bible, however, defines saints differently.

Saints are simply Christians. Every one of the elect who have been redeemed by Christ and quickened by His Spirit is a saint. We are not perfect, and we still have the remaining corruption of sin within us. However, we have a faith that will not give way to heresy. When the Holy Spirit works faith in us, we hate sin and repent when we are conscious of sinning. While we cannot see the inner workings of the heart, and cannot watch the Holy Spirit indwell a person, we may accept as saints those who profess faith and demonstrate godliness.

These visible saints, the Christians we see before us in the here and now, are not the stuff of fairy tales, but of something much grander: God’s glorious work in their lives. Laying claim to the Gospel, they shall overcome their struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, through God’s grace alone. If you are in Christ, you are a saint.

Questions to Consider

  • Would you call yourself a saint?

 

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VI – 1 Corinthians 1-10

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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When discussing Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, we must recognize that Paul did not merely write to address one single issue, but several. Corinth had asked several very valid questions of Paul. There were also some concerns about which Paul wanted them to know there was no question, because the answer was so clear. There were also reports that were brought to Paul about matters on which the Corinthian church was settled, but they had settled on the wrong side. In the following article, we will address several of these concerns, because many of them are still concerns for us today. Given the theme of our series, we will primarily be dealing with those concerns that touch the issue of public theology and, sadly, we will not have time to address all of the issues as thoroughly as we might desire.

To the Saints

First, let us recognize the endearment that Paul assigns to this church. He calls them saints: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling,” (1Cor. 1:2a; NASB). Yes, this church had some major failings. However, he recognizes that they are beloved of God and, even as an apostle, he does not have the right to rail against Christ’s bride. He will go on to rebuke her, but he desires that she see that his rebukes come from a heart of love, not self-righteousness.

Furthermore, he does not write to Corinthian unbelievers out of a desire to offer a defense of the faith and attempt to validate those unbelievers’ objections to the Corinthian church’s errors. When Paul sees that the actions of the church are enabling the world in their blasphemy of God, he addresses the church. Never does he side with the world in condemning the bride of Christ.

Acquiring Knowledge

Before addressing the Corinthians’ error of being “puffed up” in knowledge, notice his prayer on their behalf:

“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to yu by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge,” (vv. 4-5; NKJV).

Paul does not desire that the Christians in Corinth be ignorant of the truths of the faith. Rather, he thanks God regularly for the fact that they have been enriched in their knowledge of Him. Oftentimes, Christians will read 1 Corinthians, and they think there is something virtuous about remaining blissfully ignorant about the truths of God.

What these Christians do not realize is that it is the not the acquiring of knowledge Paul argues is improper for Christians. The error is found in the fact that the Corinthians were misapplying their knowledge. They were acquiring knowledge for the sake of winning arguments, or perhaps for the sake of looking good in front of their friends (1Cor. 8:1), but they were not acquiring it for the sake of growing in their worship of God.

As we acquire greater and greater amounts of knowledge, we should do so for the sake of growing closer to the God of all truth. We will address the Christian’s relationship to knowledge in more detail when we get to our study of the book of Colossians, but Christians should want to grow in knowledge. The more we know about our faith, the more we know about the God we claim to love. The more we know about our faith, the more we know about the neighbors we claim to love.

Love and Marriage

In fact, love is perhaps the defining issue in the first six chapters of book of 1 Corinthians. Paul spends an entire chapter focused on the superiority of love over any other gift we receive from God (chapter 13). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the Corinthians’ selfish motives for acquiring knowledge and presuming themselves to be worldly wise (chapters 1-2). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the factionalism that was prevalent in the church at Corinth (3-4). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the license the Corinthian church gave to unrepentant so-called brothers in their midst (5). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the practice of taking fellow church members into secular law court (6).

For our discussion of public theology, it is important at this juncture to stop here and take note of two things. First, Paul tells us not to judge outsiders. In this context, he does not mean that we do not hold political leaders—especially political leaders claiming to be Christian—to a high standard. What he means is, in regard to church life, we are not to allow open, unrepentant sinners to go around claiming to be so-called brothers (1Cor. 5:9-13). Thus, when a man claims to be a Presbyterian and brags about sleeping with married women, or a woman claims to be a Methodist and openly supports women’s supposed right to murder their children, church leaders have no right to publicly affirm their Christian profession. In doing so, these church leaders make themselves accomplices in the sins of these candidates and the resulting blasphemy of an ever watching world.

Second, it is important for the church to police itself in matters of sin and offense. We do not take our in-house disputes before unbelieving magistrates. If a matter occurs in the local church, the local church is to handle it locally. If the local church, for whatever reason, is unable to judge the matter properly, that is why we have associations. Under special circumstances, a local church may call upon local church elders within its association to serve as officiators over local church tribunals. In these instances, though, Baptist polity requires that we recognize that these associating elders are serving as consultants to the church, not as an authority over the church.

In chapter seven, Paul addresses questions raised in the church of Corinth in regard to married people, single people, widows, and widowers. The gist of this chapter, as it relates to our study, is that Christian singles ought to marry other Christian singles, married people—saved or not—ought to remain married except in the case of abandonment, if you are single and able to remain single without burning (there is an interesting debate on this word, but we will not cover that here), stay single and devote your time to God in ways that married people are not able and, if a married person’s spouse dies, he / she is free to remarry. Seeing as marriage is a picture of Christ and the church to a lost and dying world, it truly is deserving of a full chapter. One of the most important things to which Christians must commit in order to properly engage the culture for Christ is a biblical affirmation and a biblical practice of marriage.

Christian Liberty

In chapters 8-10, Paul uses their question about meat sacrificed to idols to address a whole host of issues regarding Christian liberty. When discussing Christian liberty, the same questions always seem to arise: “What can we do?” “What can’t we do?” “Where are the boundaries?” Paul answers some similar questions in chapters 8-10: “Can we eat meat sacrificed to idols if we don’t recognize those idols as real?” “Can we eat it in a pagan temple?” “Can church leaders marry?” “Should church leaders be make their living from the church?” Paul affirms that Christians are free in all of these, except assembling with pagans to partake of their idolatrous meals. He says Christians are free, but that our freedom comes with the responsibility to love our weaker brothers.

Now, we must note here that Paul does not mean that we ought to refrain from the practice of our liberty in Christ so as not to offend mature brothers. There are seminary professors, pastors, and even seminary presidents who will tell us that we ought not to enjoy our liberty in Christ so that we might appease their ill-informed consciences. These men are supposed to be church leaders, and yet they would have us treat them like weaker brothers so that they might control our actions. Brothers, if the Lord has freed your conscience in a matter, walk in that freedom. Only, do not use your liberty in such a way as to offend or entice new converts to disobey their consciences.

In chapter 10, Paul warns against using our liberty for the sake of license and indulgence rather than a means to glorify God, and he uses Israel as an example. Christians do have liberty but, if we abuse that liberty, we can shipwreck our faith. Israel had liberty to eat, drink, and play. They had plenty of reason to do so, having been freed from their bondage in Egypt. However, they sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play without any thought to the glory of the God who had just delivered them out of Egypt. Their liberty had become license and, before long, they found themselves worshipping at the feet of a golden calf. Christians must likewise be careful in the use of our liberty, lest we run the same course as the generation that died in the desert.

Veneration of the Saints?

Nearly 500 years ago on October 31, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg. In so doing, he stamped out Halloween and paved the way for Reformation Day! Well, hardly, but in evangelical and reformed circles that sometimes seems to be how the story goes. No longer do Christians have to miss out on the fun aspects of All Hallows Eve. Now you and your little ones can dress up like your favorite Reformation character, party like it’s 1517 and eat sanctified sugary sweets. Hurrah!

Now I am not saying that a celebration of the Reformation is wrong. Costumes are fun, parties are enjoyable times of fellowship, and candy is a delicious treat. The decision to refrain from or partake in the festivities of Halloween is also one that should be made thoughtfully (some thoughts are here.) Yet in our celebrations, let’s not forget why October 31 was such a crucial day for Luther to post his theses. For what comes after Halloween should concerned us greatly.

Abuse of indulgences were what prompted Luther to pen his theses. What is an indulgence?

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.  An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

The idea that those who have not done enough in this life to merit heaven, but haven’t been too bad to be tormented in hell, may have their waiting period in purgatory shortened or absolved by the aid of the living here on earth, is the reasoning behind indulgences. What is purgatory, you say?

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (Catholic Catechism, #1030)

Luther was upset with the abuses he saw in the selling of indulgences, especially in plenary indulgences.

Contrast these ideas of indulgences and purgatory with the Second London Baptist Confession:

Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf; yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners. (11.3)

Those in Roman Catholicism who have lived “exemplary fidelity to the Lord” receive the title of saint. As such, no one currently living would be called a saint, but a pilgrim. Castle Church (also known as All Saints Church) in Wittenberg was the church to which Luther nailed his theses. It contained a large number of relics that would be exhibited on November 1, or All Saints’ Day. These relics were bits of bone and rope purported to be connected to the life of Christ, the apostles, or the saints. Through viewing these relics indulgences would be granted to the viewer. Many would come out to see these relics, and Luther’s theses would surely be spotted.

Again, compare this idea of special “saints” with the Baptist Confession:

All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.(26.2)

If viewing relics were not enough to grant entrance into heaven for deceased loved ones, then the Sunday after gives another chance. That is All Souls’ Day, where prayers are especially offered for those who have died but are not quite in heaven yet. While Luther did not seem to have an issue with praying for the dead, it is important to note that the dead have no need to be prayed for, as they are glorified or in torment.

These practices of the Catholic Church in Luther’s day seem to be a vestige of the past. We delight in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as well we should. Yet let us remember that those practices of the Roman Catholic Church are still in effect today. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are back-to-back this year. Many believe in this system of works righteousness. As history has shown, though, the Lord has brought his elect out from Rome before, and will do it again. May we be faithful witnesses of His truth.

As we remember Reformation Day, we remember the heroes of the Reformation. We may admire the brave men, women, and children who professed faith in ages past. Learning about those who endured persecution yet remained stalwart in their belief is an encouragement when battling our own trials. Hebrews 11 gives us examples of the many great deeds of those faithful who have gone before us. Yet it does so to point us to something greater: Jesus.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Luther95theses

Your Thoughts on Halloween

On yesterday, I was asked a question that I knew would eventually come up: What do you guys do for Halloween?

Now, I always have a slight smile when I hear this question for two reasons. First, the question amuses me because I’ve only been asked this question around White Christians. This actually wasn’t really a discussion in the Black church. So the fact that this has only been a discussion in predominantly White churches is always amusing to me. Secondly, I’m never sure of the kind of reaction that I’ll receive from the person who is asking me. Some people will thoughtfully consider what I say. Others will be a little dismissive of what I say and talk about how harmless it is. So I always find a mixed bag of responses when it comes to celebrating or acknowledging Halloween.

Last year, my husband and I were exhorted not to be one of those “weird Christians” who ignored the holiday and disengaged ourselves from the rest of the world, but rather we should use the holiday to get to know our neighbors, invite them to church, and possibly present them the gospel. We had never considered ourselves to be “weird” for not participating in the holiday, but we also didn’t think that it was the best venue for presenting the gospel to someone.

In the Reformed crowd, I have heard of people hosting a Reformation party instead of a Halloween in honor of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses against the practice of indulgences in the Catholic Church. People are asked to dress up as famous reformers (or just wear regular costumes), and they have a party under this reformed banner. In addition, it was at our church home in Louisiana that I first learned about All Hallows Eve (or All Saints Eve and Day) being recognized among Reformed Christians. To my recollection, we didn’t do anything on November 1st, but the day was mentioned.

So, I have heard of many perspectives by now for participation and for transforming the holiday into something that is more God-honoring through the recognition of Church history, but I’m hoping to hear some more thoughtful reasons for participating or against participating in Halloween.

So I wanted to pose a few questions for all of you: What is your stance on Halloween? How did you arrive at that position? Or do you celebrate Reformation history this time of year?