Unity in Christ

This post was originally published over at http://www.CitizenPriest.com under the heading Unity in Christ (Weekly Refreshment).



14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity,” (Colossians 1:3-4; NASB).

Having been raised in Texas, and that largely in the country, by the time I reached middle school age I had imbibed an us vs. them mentality in regard to ethnicity. I had never really stopped to think about it, because it was not something I was forced to think about often, but I had come to think of race relations in an irreverent fashion. To me it was a game, a “my team vs. your team” kind of a thing. Then, something amazing happened.

In my seventh grade year, my mom and I joined a new church in a larger town, though we still lived in the country. At this church, I became friends with a young man of a minority ethnicity. We spent a lot of time together and had many common interests. We both loved music and would spend hours singing along with our favorite bands’ new albums. When we did church functions together, we were inseparable.

One day, as we were at one such function, he and I had gotten off alone and, as we were engaged in our usual immature banter, I made an off-color joke about choosing a group at random to be racist against. To me, this was a provocative joke. To my friend, it was no laughing matter. He quickly sat me down and, through tears, spent over an hour explaining to me the effects that racism had already had on his young life.

This discussion was eye-opening to me. I had never realized just how terrible a thing racism could be, and I vowed from then forward never to tolerate ethnic pride, partiality, or malice in myself or anyone else. I have not done so perfectly, but I have now gotten to the point where speaking about ethnic differences with any kind of irreverence turns my stomach.

In our world today, whether in rural America or urban Korea, a borough of New York City or a small village in South Africa—no matter where you go—you will find people who still imbibe the “us vs. them” mentality. This sinful mindset knows no language, gender, or ethnic boundaries, and it can still bubble up in each one of us. It can be seen in the way that we interact with one another or choose not to interact with one another. I can be seen in the way that we speak to one another or speak about one another in the absence of certain groups or people. It happens within Christianity, in spite of Christianity, and even in the name of Christianity (see the modern Social Justice movement to see how this type of ethnic partiality is being promoted as Christian).

Christ did not come to save people and leave them in their sin, but to save people from their sin. He did not come to save people and leave them in their “us vs. them” bubbles. He came to abolish the dividing wall of ethnic strife and make His church into one new man (Ephesians 2:15). Anyone who would resurrect dividing walls among God’s people and sow division in the name of Christianity, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4; NASB).

As you gather with your church for your midweek service, delight in the fact that your union and communion with one another is in Christ who makes you one new man. Shun partiality, and joyfully celebrate your common love for God and love for the saints. Do everything in your power to delight in the unity that you share with people of every tongue, tribe, and nation by virtue of their having been made in God’s image and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Consider the unity you have in Christ, and be refreshed!

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VIII – 1 Corinthians 12-14

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


We often place a divide between ecclesiology and public theology but, depending on where we draw that line, we can often be in error. What we do within the church walls can potentially reap major consequences outside the church walls. If the world looks upon the church and sees that she is behaving in an unloving, disunified, or disordered manner, it very well could be that we are setting up unnecessary, though unintended, divisions between us and the culture. If we are more concerned with putting on a show for the world than speaking forth the word of conviction to the world, the world may join in, but they will have no incentive to submit to Christ’s discipleship. Rather, we will inevitably be expected to bow to their customs, preferences, and cultural mandates. Christ’s disciples will be guilted, coerced, or seduced into becoming disciples of the culture.

Preliminary Considerations

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a discussion that follows through to 1 Corinthians 14. Many, both cessationists and continuationists, erroneously believe that chapters 12-14 center on the topic of tongues. Not only do people in both of these camps believe that tongues is the central theme here, but they falsely interpret tongues as an ecstatic utterance of an unlearned language.

While continuationists more commonly believe that this is not a known language but an angelic one, many cessationists argue that the tongue is a known, though foreign, unlearned, and thus ecstatic tongue. That said, there are also several people in both camps that could not be defined precisely by the descriptions detailed above. I would argue that the Reformers, Puritans, and Particular Baptists are certainly cessationists, though they would not fit the cessationist mold described above.

Before we get into a more detailed discussion of the character of tongues and the cessation or continuation of them, it is important to note what chapters 12-14 really are about. As I have stated, tongues is not the central concern of Paul in these chapters. His central concern, as is the case in much of the rest of 1 Corinthians, is their love and unity.

Chapter 12

Paul begins his current discussion of love and unity by making a general argument, in chapter 12, for the proper use of the gifts. Paul does not offer a spiritual gifts quiz and say, “Everyone needs to take this quiz and then you will know precisely what your gifts are and the committee to which you are to report.” Just as in Colossians Paul points his readers heavenward for their remedy for sin (Col. 3:1-2) rather than toward the traditions of man and worldly philosophies (Col. 2:8), here he points them to love and unity for their spiritual growth rather than some gifts test. To put it another way, the gifts are a circumstance of the argument, a necessary point of contact, but they are not the main argument. The main argument is love and unity.

Paul does not say, “Figure out your spiritual gift and then you will know how to love the body and be strengthened in the bonds of unity.” Rather, the assumption is that they are already working toward love and unity and, consequently, their spiritual gifts have been unearthed, but some on account of their spiritual gifts were thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. Thus, if Christians want to discern their spiritual gifts, they don’t need to take a test; they need to work toward strengthening the body in love and unity. As they serve the church in this manner, they will naturally walk in the spiritual giftings God has given them, whether or not they ever nail down precisely what those spiritual gifts are.

Chapter 13

It becomes all the more clear that Paul’s primary concern is the love and unity of the church when we get to chapter 13. 1 Corinthians 13 has often been enshrined “the Love Chapter,” and people often say it from the back of their throat, like someone mimicking a Barry White voice-over. Sadly, many do not even realize the context in which this love is meant to be displayed, because they have only heard these words read in romantic contexts such as weddings. If, however, people understood that the love described here is the love that is meant to exist between Spirit-indwelt Christians as they serve and are served within the local church, they may come to view the church quite differently.

There are three all-surpassing gifts God has universally given to each one of His people: faith, hope, and love. Regardless of our individual giftings, we are all called to excel in these. However, faith is only of temporal necessity, because we have not yet seen Him face to face. Hope is likewise temporary, because we will one day receive the fulness of the object of our hope. Love, however, is different. For the Christian who has truly experienced it, the love of the saints will endure forever (1Cor. 13:8-13).

1 Corinthians 14

Now we return to the gift of tongues. Earlier, I mentioned that I do not believe that the Reformers, the Puritans, and the Particular Baptists held to a particular view of cessationism, the view that says that tongue-speakers in Corinth were ecstatically speaking unlearned languages, whether known or unknown. It is my conviction that these forerunners of the current Reformed Baptist movement would not have even considered the idea that these languages spoken in the Corinthian church were either unknown or unlearned.

Reformed and Puritanical commentary. In his commentary on 14:2, Calvin wrote: “The term denotes a foreign language. The reason why he does not speak to men is — because no one heareth, that is, as an articulate voice. For all hear a sound, but they do not understand what is said.” Calvin was clearly convinced that, in the port city of Corinth, many nationalities and, therefore, languages were represented. Thus, in the multi-ethnic church at Corinth, many languages would have been spoken, especially as traveling apostles, preachers, evangelists, and other Christians of different nationalities passed through their doors. Matthew Henry further clarified, in his commentary on vs. 11:

“In this case, speaker and hearers are barbarians to each other (v. 11), they talk and hear only sounds without sense; for this is to be a barbarian. For thus says the polite Ovid, when banished into Pontus, Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli, I am a barbarian here, none understand me. To speak in the church in an unknown tongue is to talk gibberish; it is to play the barbarian; it is to confound the audience, instead of instructing them; and for this reason is utterly vain and unprofitable.”

Particular Baptists. John Gill insisted that the tongue spoken by the “gifted” in 1 Corinthians 14 was the Hebrew tongue. He believed the language was insisted upon by some Hebrew-speaking members for the Corinthian church’s liturgy. This would have been very much like how Rome used Latin in the Medieval church, subsequently keeping many unlearned in darkness for centuries. Gill’s argument is a very interesting one, but it is also a highly unsubstantiated one.

In support of the view that these languages were learned by the speaker, the paragraph on translation of the Bible into the vulgar languages of the people (1.8), The Baptist Confession tellingly offers the following citations as support: 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28. It was my study of the confession that first alerted me to the possibility that there were other views of the nature of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. After looking into the matter further, I am convinced that historical events such as the Azuza Street Revival of the early 20th century and the camp meetings of the early 19th century have distorted the way that both cessationist and continuationist theologians understand the nature of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. To view these languages as unlearned by the speakers would likely have been considered a bizarre interpretation to the Reformers and their early theological heirs. For a more thorough argument for the “known, learned language” argument, see this article from Robert Zerhusen over at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Applications. There are two major applications for our study of Public Theology that stem from this perspective on tongues. First, as is observed in The Baptist Confession, to say that these tongues were learned, known languages is to move them from the category of a miraculous, revelatory gift unique to the first century and into such categories as Bible translation, textual criticism, sermon translation, etc. That is to say that, while all revelatory gifts have certainly ceased, tongues being neither miraculous nor revelatory continues as a gift to this day.

Under this understanding of the nature of tongues, anytime a Christian learns one or more secondary languages for service in the mission field, a Bible translation society, or service in the local church, he or she is operating in the gift of tongues. When a Honduran pastor stands and translates for a visiting American pastor preaching before his church, he is operating in the gift of tongues. When a textual critique helps a Bible translation board determine the best manuscripts from which to choose, he is operating in the gift of tongues. When a linguist takes The Second London Baptist Confession and translates it for the first time into Romanian, he is operating in the gift of tongues. So, it is consistent, in one breath, to say that you believe the gift of tongues continues today while, in the very next breath, championing the cessationist view of the revelatory gifts of the first century.

This view is often contested under the assumption that spiritual gifts are only bestowed post-conversion. However, let us recall the fact that Paul was trained as a rabbi (Acts 22:3). Timothy had learned the Word from childhood (2Tim. 3:15). Apollos, though needing further instruction in theology and perhaps other practical matters of the faith, was a gifted orator (Acts 18:24-26), and all this before they were saved. God does not appear to work on a linear timeline with the gifts. The gifts cannot be neatly placed at any given point within the Ordo Saludis. God can use a person’s past education as a linguist, a carpenter, or an accountant to uniquely equip him or her for service in the local church.

Second, we see in 1 Corinthians 14 the necessity of doing all things in the local church in an orderly manner. When the world walks into the church and sees diversity, this is a good thing. When the world sees that all ethnicities and languages are welcome within the walls of the church, they know there is something right and proper about our proceedings. However, when the gifts we should be using to serve one another are used for self-aggrandisement, we do one another, the world, and the gospel a grave disservice.

Within the regulative principle of worship, music can be chosen that aids people in feeling at home in the church. Ethnic minorities within the body should certainly be asked to provide input into such matters. However, when such an effort moves the church away from biblical worship, and the culture begins to demand elements of worship not commanded in the Scripture, the church must be ready to lovingly put her foot down.

Accommodations are necessary and right. However, those accommodations must be in line with the Bible and must accord with proper church order. Thus, Paul does not forbid the speaking of other languages in the church, and he expressly forbids others from forbidding the speaking of foreign languages. What he does require is order, because we do not serve a God of confusion, but of order.

Why I Lovingly Push Reformed Theology

Periodically, an article is published to which I am compelled to respond. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to respond with nastiness or even direct disagreement. A response is not a reaction. The following article is an attempt at a friendly response to an article published today over at RAANetwork. The goal here is not to discredit the article or punch holes in its reasoning. My goal isn’t even to correct anything I believe to be improperly stated. Rather, my goal here will be to offer an alternative viewpoint, or perhaps to approach the subject from a bit of a different angle.

Defining Our Terms

Many well-intentioned articles have been written to persuade Reformed Christians to go easy—fly under the radar—in the discussion over Calvinism and non- (or anti-) Calvinism. Let us take a moment before diving into this discussion ourselves to discuss some important definitions. It’s important that we all understand from the outset that, when we say someone is Reformed or Calvinistic, we don’t all mean the same thing. Some equate Reformed Theology with Calvinism. Others recognize that Calvinism has come to be defined in Evangelicalism as a much different thing from Reformed Theology. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the two terms to describe two different, but related, concepts.

First, when I say Calvinism, I will mean the minimalistic adherence to the five points of Calvinism as outlined in the Canons of Dort. Second, when I say Reformed, I will mean a much more comprehensive approach to the Christian life that certainly affirms the five points of Calvinism, but also holds to historic Reformed expressions and formulations of both belief and practice as outlined in the historic Reformed confessions of faith. By this definition, many among the Dutch Reformed, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and even Baptists fit comfortably under the heading Reformed.

(Note: I believe the article mentioned above does a decent job of using the historical definitions of these terms.)

It Is Biblical

One area where you might say I agree that we should not be in the business of pushing Reformed Theology is in regard to pushing “mere Calvinism.” If all that a man ever seems to talk about is the five points of Calvinism to the expense of the other godly wisdom we’ve inherited from the early Reformers, Puritans, and Particular Baptists, that man will inevitably exhibit a certain imbalance in his life and doctrine. Reformed Theology is holistic, touching every part of the Christian life.

Q.6: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures?

A. The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man (Collins, The Baptist Catechism of 1693).

Reformed Theology is holistic because it is biblical, and the Bible is holistic. This is where Calvinistic Christians have often gone wrong in recent decades. We have often focused on the academic aspect of the Christian belief system without demonstrating the connectedness of Christian thought with Christian practice. We have failed to maintain an element of the Christian life that was essential for the Reformers, Puritans, and Particular Baptists: that knowledge not coupled with understanding and wisdom (right knowledge that does not lead to right action) is not biblical knowledge.

The problem with Reformed Theology is a PR problem more than anything else. The problem isn’t that Reformed Theology isn’t biblical. The problem is that the acquiescence and application of Reformed Theology on the part of many Reformed Christians has not been biblical. Many of us have accepted Reformed Theology because it is true; it lines up with Scripture (knowledge). That’s a good thing. However, how many Reformed Christians apply themselves to imbibing these teachings as they are found in Scripture (understanding) and actually walking them out in their everyday lives (wisdom)?

It’s not enough merely to affirm Reformed Theology as true and biblical. When our Christian and non-Christian friends hear us discussing Reformed Theology, if they only hear platitudes and well-structured arguments, but they see lives unaffected by these truths, they rightly recognize that something is “off.” What’s “off” is the fact that we have biblical knowledge, but we have not coupled that knowledge with biblical wisdom and understanding (Eph. 1:17-18).

One Church United in Truth

When properly acquired and applied, Reformed Theology is more powerful than any other Scriptural, theological formulation in uniting Christians with one another. For many of our readers, this assertion doubtless seems odd. After all, we’ve been told, it’s doctrine that divides, and especially that dreaded Reformed doctrine (queue suspenseful music).


On the contrary, the Bible teaches that proper doctrine unites the church. When Christ ascended, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, He bestowed gifts upon the church. He not only led captivity captive (freeing us from our slavery to sin, the traditions of men, the world, the flesh, and the devil), but He also gave godly men to the church to unite us in proper Christian doctrine. The result of this unity would be that we would no longer be as babes in the faith carried about by every current of doctrine, but we would be built up like a man of full stature able to stand with feet firmly planted on the riverbed of the world, immovable and complete with the strength that every part supplies, and with Christ as our Head (Eph. 4:7-16).

Now for a sober thought. To undervalue unity in truth (and that’s what Reformed Theology is: truth) is to weaken and divide the church where God has ordained that ought to find our true unity. Is the church divided? We sure are. Is it proper that we should point to true doctrine as the source of that disunity? May it never be! Rather we should pray, as Paul and Timothy did for the church at Colossae, that God’s children would grow in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Colossians 1:9).

Real Sources of Disunity

What then is the source of our disunity? There are several sources to which we can and should point. First among them are divisive brothers. The Bible is riddled with warnings against divisive brothers. They are called an abomination to God in Proverbs (6:16-19). Paul wrote to Titus: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Tit. 3:10-11; NASB). The problem with these men is not the doctrine being taught from the pulpit, but a divisive spirit that has gone unchecked within them.

Another source of disunity in the church is an unteachable spirit. This isn’t solely the fault of individual congregants. All too often, churches leave their doctrinal positions undefined. As people join their ranks, they come in with the assumption that the church is fluid where they are fixed. They are allowed from the onset to believe that they, as an untrained, non-ordained member of the church will be able to sway the church this way or that on their pet doctrine. Rather than being shaped by the word preached, they desire to shape the word preached through their human influence. They prefer to accumulate for themselves teachers that tell them what they want to hear, turning their ears away from the truth (2Tim. 4:3-4).

Once a man allows this presumption to fester in his heart, a hostile environment is inevitable. The moment the pastor authoritatively opposes his pet doctrine, a wound is opened within his soul and the infection of bitterness begins to set in. In this way, the unteachable spirit is not unlike the discontented spirit. Both can lead to disunity if unchecked, and both will use Reformed Theology as an occasion to sow division within the body. We would be wise to keep in mind, however, that Reformed Theology is not the cause but the occasion of this division.

A third source of disunity is immaturity in the faith. Reformed Christians have affectionately coined the term cage-stage Calvinist to describe these immature believers, but it’s important to recognize that this phenomenon is not unique to Reformed Theology. Truth in the hands of an immature man is always a dangerous weapon. Wise parents don’t hand scalpels to their toddlers and leave them unsupervised. However, in the hands of a skilled surgeon, a scalpel is a necessary tool. The same is true for sound biblical knowledge, such as Reformed Theology.

Lusts (or passions) can also be a real source of disunity within the body. James points out that the cause of all quarrels is unchecked passion (Jas. 4:1-3). We want, but we do not have, so we steal, murder, slander, and destroy. We bite and devour one another, when we should be building one another up in the faith.

These are all sources of disunity. They all point to man’s universal, sinful condition. Note, however, that nowhere in Scripture does the Bible point to truth properly acquired and applied as a source of unity. In fact, it is the exact opposite.

Reformed Theology Is High Theology

So is it wrong or unwise to contend for Reformed Theology with our brothers and sisters in the faith? It depends. It depends on your heart and on the heart of your listener. If your heart, or the heart of your listener, is to win an argument rather than to demonstrate and share the rich spiritual benefit that is to be found in an affirmation of biblical truth, then your heart is not in the right place to be discussing Reformed Theology. There is a time and a place for swordplay: among parties who agree. The problem often comes when we take that playfulness and try to employ it with people who diametrically oppose our understanding of Scripture. We must approach these conversations with much more prayerfulness and seriousness, because much more is at stake.

What is it that’s at stake? What is it that Reformed Theology can grant our non-Reformed brothers and sisters that they don’t already have? In a word: consistency. We don’t deny that Arminians, and all other forms of non-Calvinists, can and do have a high view of God. The fact is, however, that Reformed Theology offers the highest view of God there is.

Our non-Calvinistic brothers and sisters will not care to hear from us that we believe their high view of God to be inconsistent with their approach to biblical interpretation. However, that is precisely what we believe as Reformed Christians. Yet it should be noted that they have the same critique of our theology. Why not just be honest about it? Much as it would be unloving for me to have a prolonged relationship with a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon without ever sharing the gospel with them, it is (to a drastically less significant degree) likewise unloving for us as Reformed Christians to think we have the richest, most deeply rewarding view of God and then to withhold it from our brothers and sisters in the faith. Why would we deny them this rich heritage that we have found so rewarding to our faith and practice?

Might it be because we have not truly found it rewarding? Might it be that we have not thought out how truly holistic Reformed Theology is and applied its teaching to every aspect of our life and our doctrine? See, our zeal for truth tells those who disagree with us how truly committed we are to that truth. If we have no zeal for truth we are telling others, whether we intend to or not, that we find it neither true nor beneficial. This has not been our experience, though. We affirm Reformed Theology not simply because we have been logically convinced; we affirm it also because we have been experientially convinced. That is, unless we haven’t. Our actions will tell.

The Necessary Contrast between Christianity and Rome

Not only do our non-Reformed brothers and sisters miss out on the benefit of a high theology, but often they also fail to see the very necessary contrast between Christianity and Rome. There are many pastors and theologians in the church today who, as a result of their abandonment of Reformation theology, have completely abandoned the Reformation! Everywhere you look, there are pastors, seminary professors, theologians, and biblical scholars who claim to represent a Protestant tradition or denomination while simultaneously holding out a hand of fellowship to Rome. These men and women speak of three orthodox groups under the umbrella of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.

As Reformed Christians, we recognize only one of three groups just listed as truly Christian according to the Bible. I have had professors that would view this statement as divisive. Well, with all due respect to my professors, the Council of Trent was just as much to blame for this division as any Reformer, Puritan, Baptist, or Reformed confession or catechism. When the papacy holds a council that takes an essential doctrine such as Justification by Faith Alone and calls any who teach it accursed, this act alone is enough to place Rome squarely outside the pale of biblical orthodoxy.

Yet we have “Protestant” Christians claiming that those who have called us anathema (and have not retracted it) are under our same umbrella. We shouldn’t merely push Reformed Theology because of its high view of God. Reformed Theology is also a necessary guard from adopting heterodox views of our relationship to Rome and the Eastern Orthodox church.


Again, why do I push Reformed Theology? I push Reformed Theology because it’s biblical. I push Reformed Theology because biblical truth, when rightly acquired and applied, unites. I push Reformed Theology because it offers the most consistent interpretation of the Bible with a truly high view of God. I push Reformed Theology because it keeps us from erroneous, though perhaps well-intentioned, attempts at unity with groups with whom the Bible requires we disagree. For all of these reasons, it would be both unloving and a disregard for the unity of the church for Reformed Christians not to push Reformed Theology.

Edit – After getting some feedback from the author of the article that inspired this one, I wanted to offer the following statement as a kind of second conclusion:

It seems to me that the heart of the article’s author is in the right place, wanting to bridge gaps between disparate Christians and break down barriers. I would prefer that Reformed Christians with such a heart boldly use the terminology we believe to be the most biblical, but do so in such a way that we utterly destroy the stereotypes people have erected of us in their minds. That is to say that we should employ Reformed terminology (early in our conversations) in such a way that our non-Reformed friends are completely disarmed by the love and tenderness behind it.

The Nicene Creed

I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

And I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for one resurrection from the dead, and the Life of the world to come. AMEN.

– taken from Orders and Prayers for Church Worship, published by The Baptist Union in England, 1962, pg. 29.