Sacred & Secular: How Should Christians Interact With the World?

vocationLetter IIn his classic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton asks whether one can “hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?”In this quote Chesterton – likely much to his chagrin – expresses something more in line with the reformer Martin Luther, setting Christ and culture in a paradoxical tension.

As sociologist James Davison Hunter has noted in the past, there is a tension between the church and the world that should not be minimized; there must be both affirmation and antithesis. According to Hunter, Christians can engage in world-building, but this is not kingdom-building (and it will not evolve into the kingdom this side of heaven). This affirmation is balanced with a constructive subversion of the negative aspects of the world. Hunter’s vision boils down to a doctrine of vocation – of being faithfully present in the world.

There is a danger when taking this approach of dichotomizing life into the sacred and the secular and thereby forcing the Christian faith wholly into the private realm. A proper doctrine of vocation should not result in a separation of the sacred from the secular, but of that which glorifies God from that which doesn’t.

Continue reading

What Evangelicals Can Learn From Rob Bell (and why they hate him)

holmesbellLetter MMy new favorite podcast – along with Mere Fidelity and The Partially Examined Life – is Pete HolmesYou Made It Weird. It’s an absolutely fabulous podcast, where comedian Pete Holmes just sits down and talks with a guest for two or three hours (usually on the topics of comedy, relationships, and God).

A few years ago he had an episode with Rob Bell, and it got me to thinking about what makes Mr. Bell so likable and helpful to so many. There is a message that Bell is sending that many identify with, and it’s a message that the evangelical community – so often the target of his critique – can and should learn from.

Mr. Bell is offering a valid critique of evangelicalism that evangelicals shouldn’t ignore. He is identifying some real problems in some traditional forms of Christianity. There is no shame or compromise in admitting that, because agreeing that the problems are real doesn’t mean evangelicals also have to agree with all of Bell’s solution to those problems.

By and large, evangelicals can learn from Bell’s exploration of the problems, but it’s his solutions to them that make them hate him (and in turn, make them ignore an otherwise valid critique).

Continue reading

Book Review: The Imitation of Christ – By Thomas à Kempis

Kempis imitation of christ.png

Letter TThe Imitation of Christ falls into the category of what one might call ‘classic Christian devotional’. It fits into the time period of the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and is one of the best selling devotional texts of all time, and while the pious aspect of the text is at the top of it’s class, the underlying theology is abit of a mess.

Perhaps the strongest point of Kempis‘ text is its strong sense of humility and the drive for the Christian to be more Christ-like. Kempis has many bits of advice and words of wisdom for molding one’s life to more closely reflect Christ’s, the problem with this is that it seems to come at the expense of the gospel. On the one hand this shouldn’t be particularly surprising; the book was written during a period of transition between the Catholic church of the middle ages and the beginnings of the Reformation, and therefore it still has much of the skewed gospel which was prevalent in the church as a whole, though it seems almost a rebellion against the church-as-salvation mindset of the Catholic church, instead focusing on the actions of the individual and thereby resulting in a legalism similar to the later legalism of the early 20th Century.

This shift of focus can perhaps best be seen in the contrast between Kempis and somebody like Gregory the Great in his ‘Book of Pastoral Rule’. While Gregory assigns God’s favor based upon the pastor’s ability to cleanse sins (and thus focusing wrongly on the church), here we see God’s favor being based upon the actions of the individual (and thus focusing wrongly on the  individual) – thus Kempis may be found noting that it is “a virtuous life [that] makes him pleasing to God.”

This underlying theme of legalism makes the text out to be a sort of paradoxical humility. Kempis preaches that humility makes one satisfying to God, yet the most prideful of all doctrines – the doctrine that we can earn God’s favor – underlies the entire endeavor.

That said, the book is worthwhile as a historical study of the progression of thought within the church, as a study of the transition between the Medieval church and the Reformation church in particular. In terms of private devotion, the text has some insightful points, though given that it is placed within an overall legalistic context the endeavor seems doomed to fail from the start.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.”

-“If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious organizations.”

-“We ought not to be swayed by the authority of the writer, whether he be a great literary light or an insignificant person, but by the love of simple truth.”

Specific Criticisms

Other criticisms of the text might include the message of extreme withdrawal from the world found within.  Rather than the Christian being one who goes out into the world with intent and confidence that it can be changed we find the primary goal to be having nothing at all to do with the world, and indeed as little to do with anything as possible. Kempis sets up a false dichotomy where one either has no focus on the world or is entirely focused on it, and again when he distinguishes between the humble rustic who serves God versus the intellectual who neglects his soul (p2), yet one may be a rustic who neglects his soul, or an intellectual who humbly serves God, or neither.

A corollary to this  point can be found in Kempis seeming despising of the self. If Kempis had any strong notion or presentation of the Gospel this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Indeed, as sinful men we should hate our sinful selves – but Christ has made us new!… thus our view of our self cannot be fully negative. Without the Gospel message that Christ has made us new, and that the thing which we are hating is our sinful selves apart from Christ and not ourselves as such, the listener is left in a pit of despair leaning only upon their own powers, a wretched place to be indeed.

A final criticism is Kempis’ anti-intellectual tendency, the notion that we need not be too concerned with the things of doctrine, since ignorance of these things will not be held against us on the day of judgment (p3). Yet how would it play out if none of the Christians took the time to work though these seemingly obscure notions, if the early church fathers had not cared to uphold the Trinity or the Incarnation or any other doctrine which might boggle the mind – we would have no orthodoxy, monism would have overtaken the church. And what might be the result if the average Christian is taught not to care for these things. We must have those willing to contend for the faith and to dig into these matters, rather than find themselves absorbed in their own self-styled humility.

Book Review: The Pursuit of God – By A.W. Tozer

Tozer The Pursuit of God.pngLetter IIn his book The Knowledge of the Holy A.W. Tozer outlines what it is we mean when we speak of God, in The Pursuit of God he outlines what our response should be once we have found him. The Christian endeavor doesn’t end with salvation, with discovering God (or as it were, with God discovering us); even after God is acknowledged we are still to strive after him, indeed, because of this acknowledgment we strive after him. As Tozer says: “To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love…”

And yet the problem for many Christians according to Tozer is that they may have come to a ‘right’ understanding of God and yet aren’t experiencing Him in their lives, “To most people God is an inference, not a reality. He is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but He remains personally unknown to the individual.” Furthermore “Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ (a term, incidentally, which is never found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls.”

This the problem which Tozer confronts, this loss of pursuit which hits Christians who settle for a simply intellectual knowledge of God or who believe that the work of Christ ceases to affect their lives after salvation. If they do continue their work they do so by turning to programs, methods, organizations, and activities, believing that the pursuit has ended; yet God is speaking and the Christian must strive for experience with him. We must continue to pursue him and experience him, despite obstacles which stand in our way such as the fear of being found out as inadequate, complacency, or perhaps worst of all, the dividing of the Christian life into various spheres and being content to confine our religious life, our pursuit after God, into simply one of these spheres.

As Tozer notes: “One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and secular… Its deadliest effect is the complete cleavage it introduces between religion and life… Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” The outplay of this is often spoken of as the doctrine of vocation.

This the goal after which Tozer is striving, that we make God the Lord of our entire lives. Not just the lord of a certain moment to which we attribute our salvation. Not just to that hour or two a week we spend in church. Not just to a sphere of religion, apart from our work and our family and our hobbies. Rather for Tozer the pursuit of God is to indwell our entire life and we are to continue to strive to not only know of God but to experience him as well.

Overall this is a solid devotional book by Tozer. At just over 100 pages it is a fairly short (and easy) read which will no doubt serve the reader well in their desire to pursue God.

Memorable Quotes:

-“[Abraham] has everything, but he possessed nothing.”

-“Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”

-“Obedience to the word of Christ will bring inward revelation of the Godhead.”

-“Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do.”

-“The whole course of life is upset by failure to put God where he belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.”

-“In the Scriptures there is practically no effort made to define faith… It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is.”

Specific Criticisms

Despite the overall good review of this book there are a few criticisms which I have of it. One of the most prominent comes from this statement: “God made us for Himself: that is the only explanation that satisfies the heart of the a thinking man, whatever his wild reason may say. Should faulty education and perverse reasoning lead a man to conclude otherwise, there is little that any Christian can do for him. For such a man I have no message.

While it may be perfectly true that there is nothing any Christian can do for them (and even that is a stretch), to say that you have no message for such a man while proclaiming the Christian message is patently absurd. The statement is to say “If you are already seeking God then I have a message for you, otherwise sorry bub, you’re on your own.” The Gospel message is expressly for the person which Tozer notes here, to dismiss them on such brittle ground as “faulty education” is to do a disservice to the message being given. One might argue that this Gospel message isn’t the express concern of this book, but I disagree, for any book concerned with Christianity the Gospel is the only concern it may have – it is simply expressed in different forms and at different stages.

A more minor issue comes in the statement that “Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction.” While this may be true Tozer fails to elaborate exactly by what means this experience comes about, how it is removed (that is, by the work of Christ).

A final issue which I take with Tozer in this text is his statement that “Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.” This comes following Tozer’s introduction of prevenient grace (that said, this issue is one general theological theory, Tozer is more Arminian that I). I believe it is a vast disservice to call the enlightening work of God in man “imperfect.” A more correct term may be ‘immature’, in the sense the sanctification has only just begun and will grow to maturity throughout the Christian’s life. I will grant that it may be perfectly possible that Tozer has the same idea in mind with the term ‘imperfect’, that it will be ‘perfected’ over time through sanctification, however this isn’t the impression which is given.

Book Review: Concerning Christian Liberty – By Martin Luther

Luther  Christian Liberty.png

Letter WWritten by the iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty is a treatise on the nature of the Christian’s life; or as Luther puts it, “a summary of the Christian life put together in small compass.”

The treatise itself is an attachment to a letter written by Luther to Pope Leo X in which he attempts to point out various corruptions within Rome. The treatise, apart from serving the purpose of summarizing the Christian life, is also meant as a gift to the Pope “By this you may perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your impious flatterers.” It is meant as an example of the work to which Luther would pursue if not under attack by others within the church.

The goal of the treatise is to address the question of Christian liberty. During the time which Luther wrote the church was filled with those teaching a works righteousness, that one must observe the precepts of the church in order to gain salvation and thereby placing the believer in a sort of bondage. Luther makes it his task to refute this idea and to proclaim the wonders of salvation by faith alone and putting works into the proper place in the Christian life.

The treatise is divided into three parts. The first is regarding “the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian.” The second “[Giving] an answer to all those who, taking offence at the word of faith and at what I have asserted, say, “If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded? Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?” The third answering the objection of from those who “when they hear of this liberty of faith, straightway turn it into an occasion of licence.”

Throughout this effort Martin Luther masterfully lays out the right relationship of the Law to the work of Christ, and in turn the right relationship of works to faith. “[The precepts] show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength…Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, ‘If you wish to fulfill the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.'”

Yet this freedom is not a freedom from works nor a license to sin, for “It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works.”

There is nothing more which can be said, to restate the words of Luther are the best service which can be done. The treatise may serve not only as a deep devotional message, but a deep theological one as well; it is the message presented here which reformed the Christian faith and is indeed the heart of that faith.

Memorable Quotes:

“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

-“Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils.”

-“It is certainly true that, in the sight of men, a man becomes good or evil by his works; but here “becoming” means that it is thus shown and recognised who is good or evil, as Christ says, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. vii. 20).”

-“It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and well-being, he may be enabled to labour, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid of those who are in want, that thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one for another, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.”

“Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

Specific Criticisms

I have no criticisms of this text to offer, instead I’ll simply point out something which I find noteworthy, which is the passage stating: “Returning to the subject which we had begun, I think it is made clear by these considerations that it is not sufficient, nor a Christian course, to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner, as facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life, as do those who are now held the best preachers, and much less so to keep silence altogether on these things and to teach in their stead the laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers. There are now not a few persons who preach and read about Christ with the object of moving the human affections to sympathise with Christ, to indignation against the Jews, and other childish and womanish absurdities of that kind… But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians.”

Here Luther addresses the dominant messages of his day as regards Christianity, including: work-righteousness, using Christ as merely an example for good living, or as merely an individual to sympathize with. It is these same fallacies which ever crop up, these same heresies against which Machen and Chesterton fought under the guise of Liberalism and Modernism, which we fight today under some manifestations of Postmodernism and the Emergent Church.

Even further there is the statement that the truth is being neither preached nor sought after in his day such that individuals are ignorant to what Christianity even is; indeed, this is the same problem which the church has always faced, which the church fathers faced, which Spurgeon lamented, which Machen up through those today continue to fight against.

We like to make it a point of pointing towards the past and asking for a revival in spirit as what was seen in those days, and yet in the days of Luther, in the days of Spurgeon, in the days of Machen, all were facing these same issues.

Scripture in Context: Second Temple Judaism

Second Temple Judaism.pngLetter TThe ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus did not happen in a vacuum, but rather they were set in various historical and political contexts.

The primary time period which helped develop the context in which John the Baptist and Jesus lived was the period between the 5th Century BC – this period saw many developments that would influence their lives and the world in which they lived.

Return from Exile

One of the great events which helped develop this context was the return from exile of the Jewish people in the 5th Century BC, an exile that they had been put into by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. With Babylon’s defeat to Persia, they were allowed to return, which meant that John the Baptist and Jesus were ministering to a Jewish population in the Jewish homeland.

The Jews having been allowed to return to their homeland introduces a variety of factors that would have influenced and provided context for these ministries. For one, when the Jews had been taken by Babylon, the Babylonians had destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. With the return from exile the Jews are able to begin rebuilding their temple, around which the pre-exile Jewish religion was based.

The rebuilding of this temple meant that the Jewish religion once again had a center, a center which gave Jesus could then use as a place of teaching; this rebuilding also brought back the symbolic sacrifice which foreshadowed Christ.

Hellenization

Apart from the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, other great influences on the context include the Hellenization of the Mediterranean world, which was followed by the Roman period.

Both of these helped to move the worldview of the time from a more communal view to a more individualistic view (something also accomplished by the lack of temple sacrifice during the exile period, when the Jewish people gathered in synagogues rather than the temple and had to turn to study and prayer as a way of exercising their piety).

This ‘modernization’ of the world introduced the Jewish world to new peoples and ideas and to languages which were widespread (something that would in turn allow for the message of accepting Gentiles to be more practical). As interpreted by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Everlasting Man, this meeting of ideas between the Jewish people and the Greek/Roman people saw the bringing together of the pinnacle of human religion – Judaism – and the pinnacle of human philosophy – the Greeks – in order to set the perfect stage for the pinnacle of history: Christ, who would complete and surpass both.

Maccabean Revolts

Finally, the Jewish revolts – such as that under the Mattathias during the 160s BC (which wold come to be called the Maccabean revolt) – strengthened the Jewish expectation of a political messiah, an expectation which Jesus would be able to then subvert.

John the Baptist and Jesus entered a world which was filled with turmoil on the one hand, but which finally had regained some of the structure of the older Judaism, and which had begun to be exposed to the greatest human philosophies of the time – all of which worked together to create the context into which the messiah would enter.

As has been noted, the political turmoil – and especially the Maccabean revolts and the ideas of the Zealots (a Jewish group which wished to rebel against the Roman empire) – caused many within the Jewish community to believe that the Messiah was to be a political leader; indeed, the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ signifies the ‘anointed one’, which can refer to the Jewish offices of a prophet, priest, and king.

Along with this kingly aspect, one may also look to the title ‘Son of God’ and compare it to the way in which the heir to the Roman ruler was referred to in the same way, also giving some political undertones.

Yet Jesus was meant to be much more than a political figure, and ultimately his mission was not a political one.

Jesus did not promote any rebellion against the government of his day, indeed, quite the opposite (Matthew 22:20-22 – “render unto Caesar what is Caesars”).

Rather, Jesus’ message was spiritual and incarnational, that of God entering the world to save his people – not from the evils of mundane rulers, but from the evils of the spiritual rulers (Satan) and from the evils within their own hearts.

Book Review: All of Grace – By C.H. Spurgeon

 

Spurgeon All of Grace.pngletter-aAll of Grace was the first book of Spurgeon‘s which I ever. I read it once a few years ago and found it to be wonderful, I’ve recently read it again and found it to be just as wonderful, touching and relevant as the first time I read it.

The design of the text is one aimed at introducing an unbeliever to the gospel, as Spurgeon says in the first chapter “Reader, do you mean business in reading these pages? If so, we are agreed at the outset; but nothing short of your finding Christ and Heaven is the business aimed at here.” It is a text directed at the new or potential Christian, and yet it’s content may no doubt be enjoyed and and benefited from by the most advanced of Christians, and the reason for this is quite simply that what is presented is the gospel truth and the Christian spirit may never tire of the truths of salvation and sanctification.

The message being presented here is simply the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone. It is the message that “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” It is the message that our hope lies in Christ alone and his work upon the cross, that all our failings and our weaknesses and our lack of will for saving ourselves only further demonstrate the truth of salvation by grace, that salvation is of the Lord, and not of man. It is at once a message to not make a Christ out of our faith or our repentance, as if those things in themselves were to save us, but to rather trust in Christ alone, to trust that it is his work that saves.

The text is at once simple and profoundly deep, presenting the intricacies of theology in the plain manner of the gospel. It has all the insights of a theologian and all the comforts of a pastor, as it is primarily a pastoral (and evangelical) work. This can be seen in the ‘objections’ which Spurgeon brings up to his message, the same objections which the unbeliever or the struggling believer is bound to face:

“Many are groaning, ‘I can do nothing.’ They are not making this into an excuse, but they feel it as a daily burden. They would if they could. They can each one honestly say, ‘To will is present with me, but how to perform that which I would I find not’; “I could believe that Jesus would forgive sin,” says one, “but then my trouble is that I sin again, and that I feel such awful tendencies to evil within me. As surely as a stone, if it be flung up into the air, soon comes down again to the ground, so do I, though I am sent up to heaven by earnest preaching, return again to my insensible state. Alas ! I am easily fascinated with the basilisk eyes of sin, and am thus held as under a spell, so that I cannot escape from my own folly.” I have heard another say, “I am tormented with horrible thoughts. Wherever I go, blasphemies steal in upon me. Frequently at my work a dreadful suggestion forces itself upon me, and even on my bed I am startled from my sleep by whispers of the evil one. I cannot get away from this h orrible temptation.” ; I hear another bewailing himself thus: “Oh, sir, my weakness lies in this, that I do not seem to keep long in one mind! I hear the word on a Sunday, and I am impressed; but in the week I meet with an evil companion, and my good feelings are all gone. My fellow workmen do not believe in anything, and they say such terrible things, and I do not know how to answer them, and so I find myself knocked over.

With the gospel of grace firmly presented it is each of these questions which Spurgeon turns his attention towards, answering the objections of those feel the message is too much or that they haven’t the strength or ability to obey it. These chapters I think have some of the best kernels of wisdom available regarding the Christian walk.

Simply put, this is a text for everybody. It is a text presenting the gospel to the unbeliever. It is a text for building the faith of the new believer. It is a text for redirecting the gaze of maturing Christian to the work of Christ. It is a text offering the realizations of grace and the cross which the struggling Christian needs to overcome sin. Finally, one might even say that in its simplicity it is one of the best introductions to Reformed theology that one might hope to obtain.

“Recollect the question which flashed into the mind of young Bunyan when at his sports on the green on Sunday: ‘Wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell, or wilt thou quit thy sins and go to heaven?’ That brought him to a dead stand. That is a question which every man will have to answer: for there is no going on in sin and going to heaven. That cannot be. You must quit sin or quit hope. Do you reply, ‘Yes, I am willing enough. To will is present with me, but how to perform that which I would I find not. Sin masters me, and I have no strength.’ Come, then, if you have no strength, this text is still true, ‘When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.’ Can you still believe that? However other things may seem to contradict it, will you believe it? God has said it, and it is a fact; therefore, hold on to it like grim death, for your only hope lies there.”

Memorable Quotes:

-“If you will have Jesus, He has you already. If you believe on Him, I tell you you cannot go to hell; for that were to make the sacrifice of Christ of none effect… The Lord would not receive this offering on our behalf, and then condemn us to die. The Lord cannot read our pardon written in the blood of His own Son, and then smite us. That were impossible.”

-“I cannot make this change,” says one. Who said you could? The Scripture which we have quoted speaks not of what man will do, but of what God will do. It is God’s promise, and it is for Him to fulfill His own engagements. Trust in Him to fulfill His Word to you, and it will be done.”

-“Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation… Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.”

-“If Christ has died for me, ungodly as I am, without strength as I am, then I cannot live in sin any longer, but must arouse myself to love and serve Him who hath redeemed me. I cannot trifle with the evil which slew my best Friend. I must be holy for His sake. How can I live in sin when He has died to save me from it?”

Specific Criticisms

I have no criticisms of this text, it is quite simply one of the – if not the – best presentations of the gospel that I’ve read outside the gospels themselves.

Knowing Who Christ Is, What He Has Promised, And Expecting This Of Him – The Person & Work of Christ

cross.pngLetter IIn his classic book All of Grace, C.H. Spurgeon makes the statement in regards to Christianity that “Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.” If this is accepted as an accurate description of what the Christian faith entails, then the we must analyze what these things are which are to be believed.

If faith is believing that Christ is what he is said to be, it must be determined what Christ is said to be. If faith is believing that Christ will do what He has promised to do, it must be determined what Christ has promised.

Only after this is done may we as Christians move on to the sphere of trusting in or expecting this of Christ; so, it must be determined who Christ was and what he did, does, or will do.

Before any of this may be done it is first necessary to construct some basic context from which we as Christians may view the person and work of Christ. Historic Christianity in such texts as the Athanasian Creed has asserted that Christ is both God and man.

In order to set the context it is necessary to analyze both God and man individually, before proceeding to the Christ who embodies both – or as John Calvin states in the first line of his tremendous Institutes of the Christian Religion, our wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

Laying the Groundwork: God and Man

In speaking of God and of mankind, one thing which may be immediately noticed is that there is a gulf between God and man, a gulf which is twofold.

On the one hand, there is a gulf of class between God and man – we are not of the same type. God “is a Spirit,” is “eternal, immortal, invisible,” is sovereign and therefore “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” and that He has “made the world and all things therein” and is in need of nothing. Man, however, is created, and this is the most fundamental distinction that can be made, that between the Creator and the creature.

There is this gulf of class; yet God, as invisible creator, reveals himself.

After creating man in the garden he does not disappear from the scene, leaving man to wonder how he happened to come about, but rather communes with and speaks to him.

From this simple survey that has been made of Scripture regarding God and creation, two intertwined ideas emerge: one, that God is gracious, for not only does he create man who he does not need, but he communes with that man. In this communing with man he reveals himself to man, thus, he is revelatory in his grace; he does not disappear but rather communicates with his creation.

As is noted by Berkhof “Revelation is an act of grace…” He is revelatory in his grace, and he reveals his grace; thus, a chief theme to be had is the revealing of God’s grace to man, for God’s own glory in his eternal purpose.

God reveals his grace first, merely by creating and communing with man, and second, by covenanting with that man so that they might – as The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it – have “fruition of him as their blessedness and reward” achieved by “voluntary condescension on God’s part…”

The language of the divines further reinforces the gracious aspect of God’s covenant: God condescended to covenant with man.

This covenant serves as introduction to the second gulf which exists between God and man, the gulf of fellowship. God made this initial covenant – the covenant of works – with Adam, and in this covenant he fell from his good moral standing with God: man was “driven out of the garden,” “cursed,” subject to death having “transgressed the law,” have been made subject to Satan “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” and not only this, but all of creation fell with us.

Man stands out of fellowship with God, subject to death, and under the condemnation of the lawn the light of this context the Christian may then discuss the person and work of Christ, understanding the nature of God, the state of man, and the need for reconciliation; and not only in need of reconciliation, but unable to achieve this on his own, for “nothing good dwells in me” and “the carnal min dis enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

The Person of Christ

As noted by Spurgeon above, a vital aspect of the Christian faith is who Christ is; and as is noted in the Westminster Confession of Faith, everything that is necessary for God’s glory or for man’s salvation, faith, and life, “is either expressly set down in Scripture,” or may be derived from them.

In looking at the doctrines of the person of Christ it is necessary to first look to Scripture, and in doing so two main things can be observed regarding Christ, the first that he is Son of God, and as such, is God, one of the three members of the Trinity; the second that he is the son of man – and as such, is a man. Thus, he is both human and divine.

The most clear indication of this truth may be found in The Great Commission as presented by Matthew, where Jesus is seen as calling the disciples to go and baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” implying that he is on equal par with the Father and the Spirit.

While this is more of an implication that Christ is God, a more direct statement can be found in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, where John begins with the statement “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and then continues “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” shortly thereafter clarifying that this Word is Christ Jesus (ie, the one who John bore witness about, and by noting that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”).

Thus, John addressed well the first aspect of Christ’s natures, that he is God.

Perhaps the text which best deals with the humanity of Christ is Hebrews, where the author states that “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…” A full and straightforward statement of the duality that manifests itself in Christ can be found in Philippians, where Paul states in regard to Jesus that “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

While this verse from Philippians alone might lead to the notion that Christ merely took on the appearance of a man, when one takes it in conjunction with the rest of Scripture – in this case the verse from Hebrews 2, or perhaps the birth narrative as given in Luke – it is clear that the second person of the Trinity indeed became fully man, in the flesh. Just from the brief survey of texts given above, it can be observed that Christ was both God and man.

Saint-Athanasius-of-Alexandria-icon-Sozopol-Bulgaria-17century.jpgThe historic church addressed this issue directly in the wake of the Arian heresy – which denied the deity of Christ – and the gnostic heresy – which split the fleshly aspect of Jesus from the divine aspect of Christ. Thus the Athanasian Creed may be seen stating that Christ is “God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.” The Westminster Confession of Faith similarly addresses the issue with its statement that: The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof… So that two whole, perfect, distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person.

Despite that such strong statements have been made by the historic church, the controversy has not completely abated with the years, and during the enlightenment and the following ‘modern’ age the question was once again raised – this time in the name of ‘reason’ and rationalism – whether Jesus was actually God or merely a man, with Protestant Liberalism taking the position that Jesus was merely a man. 

If our own human reason is our ultimate authority, then it may be reasonable to reject the more supernatural aspects of Christ. Yet, if we have a proper understanding of authority and upon what our reason rests, we will know – with Pascal – that “It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.” Or with Van Til that “God makes the facts what they are to be”11 for contrary to the view that reason is autonomous, man’s mind “is surrounded by nothing but revelation.” 

In this can be seen the central theme once again of the revealing of God’s grace to man, specifically, the inherently revelational aspect of everything that we think and do.

Our mind’s are surrounded by nothing but revelation, and that revelation is revealing the grace of God, which can be seen most clearly in the work of Christ.

The Work of Christ

From the very creation of man, God condescended in his grace to reveal himself to man, and to covenant with man.

Man, having broken that covenant, broke the original fellowship with God.

The two natures of Christ as laid out above sets the stage for the work of Christ and perhaps this is best seen by analyzing why Christ was who he was; that is, why in the work of Christ he could not have been merely God, or merely man, or something else such as an angel. It has been seen that Christ is both God and man, and in looking at the work of Christ it will be seen that this is for a certain purpose.

As has been laid out, man was put at enmity with God through the original fall, and indeed all of creation was subjected to this fall. God, in the eternal purpose of his revelatory grace, sent his Son to bridge the gulf of fellowship created by man. The work of Christ in doing this is many faceted.

Alistair McGrath enunciates at least three ways in which Christ works: that he reveals God, that he is the bearer of salvation, and that he defines the shape of the redeemed life. Fairbairn discusses the death of Christ as the definition of love, and as the death of death. Or as Berkhof in section on the person and work of Christ stresses the threefold office of Christ, that in his work as mediator he acts a prophet, priest, and king, which is a reflection on the way The Westminster Confession of Faith discusses the issue, noting that Christ as the only Son of God was ordained by God: …to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified,and glorified.

It can be noted especially here in the Confession that Christ came to act as a mediator between God and man, for as has been said, the exists a gulf between the two. Thus, Christ came to be a mediator regarding that gulf; as it says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

So, this mediation is the primary focus of the work of Christ. The ‘why’ of this work can be seen – firstly – in the eternal degree of God “foreordained before the foundation of the world”; God ordained from eternity that he should bring a people to himself “having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace…”

Secondly, the ‘why’ of this work can be seen in the gracious and merciful aspect of God, which since creation has brought about fellowship with his creation, and thus in this grace he ordained to bridge that gulf.

Thirdly, the ‘why’ of this work can be seen in the justice of God, for as has been noted, man transgressed against the law of God, and in doing so brought death upon himself – hence Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death, and man has sinned. Man warranted death; as God is a just God, this sin needed dealt with, and as God is a holy God, he could not allow this sin into presence.

Thus, God ordained Christ as mediator, to serve as a substitute for the satisfaction of penalty due for man’s sins; and not merely as a substitute to remove a penalty, but to rescue man from the sin, from the devil, to bring man back into full fellowship with God.

The Person of Christ in Relation to the Work of Christ

In doing this it was necessary that Christ be both God and man.

In regards to Christ as God, it is necessary that he be God because it is the grace of God which is being revealed, and this implies a condescension on God’s part. Man cannot bring himself up to the level of God, therefore God must come down to the level of man; thus, Christ must have been God such that God would be the one descending. This was also necessary because it is as God that Christ was able to take on the infinite value of sacrifice that needed to be rendered and thereby bear God’s full wrath.

It was necessary that Christ be God, merely because God ordained that Christ should be God – and this, in truth, is the ultimate justification for why anything should be the way it is.

If we had no further explanation as to why Christ came or to why anything regarding the relationship between God and man is the way that it is, we need look no further than that God has ordained it, and on this ground alone it is good and proper.

As C width=hapter 8 of The Westminster Confession begins “It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator…” In regards to Christ as man, it is necessary that he be man – apart from the mere good pleasure of God – because it is man that is being redeemed.

It is man who has sinned, and it is man who is in need of punishment. Furthermore, it is man, who through his rebellion, has contaminated himself with a sinful nature.

In order to deal with sin he had to take on the nature of those who were in sin, as Berkhof states “Since man sinned, it was necessary that the penalty should be borne by man.”

Finally, Christ needed to be man in order to fulfill the role of federal headship; Christ needed to fill the same role for the human race that Adam did originally.

This can be seen in such verses as 1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”, as well as verse 44 that “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Naturally, in order to serve as head of mankind, it was necessary for Christ to be man.

The Ends and Effects of Christ’s Work

It has been seen thus far that God in the eternal plan of his revelatory grace, deemed it proper to create man and to fellowship with him, to covenant with him, and when man broke that covenant, to reconcile man once again back into fellowship.

Given that man had sinned against God and that man could not bridge this gap on his own, it was necessary for God to condescend once again – this time in the form of Christ – in order to bring redemption and atonement to those which He had called to be His people. The ends and effects of this redemption are multi-faceted, as has already been noted once.

While there are many ways of approaching this, one of the most precise is that offered by John Owen in his masterpiece The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The chief effects of the death of Christ – as laid out by Owen – include the entirety of man’s being brought back into the fellowship of God.

It includes first, reconciliation to God, by removing the enmity between us; second, justification, by taking the guilt of our sins, pardoning them, and freeing us from the power of them; third, sanctification, by removing from us the pollution of our sins and renewing in us the image of God; fourth, adoption, with all the privileges thereof; and lastly, these effects bring us into final glory with God in heaven.

Thus: “The death and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ hath wrought, and doth effectually procure, for all those that are concerned in it, eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter.”

Christ does not merely stop at the cross, once the legal penalty has been paid for our sins and he has taken our place, but rather continues through and through all aspects of the Christian life.

It is the death of Christ that provides the initial reconciliation and pardons our sin, and it is also that which frees us from our sin.

Yet merely pardoning us from our sin and freeing us from it would still leave us contaminated with the sinful nature we were wrought in, and such sin a holy God could still not allow into his presence, thus Christ also removes that contamination and sets our image anew.

The how of coming into God’s presence is similarly answered here, for it is through adoption, and this by joining with Christ as his body, who we have already established as the the federal head of mankind.

Christ does not merely pay the penalty for our sins, but Christ joins with us and gives us his righteousness, a righteousness not our own and therefore not of any of our own merit.

As John Bunyan puts it, with Christ as our head and we as his body we may look on Christ as the public person of which the elect are a part “that we fulfilled the law by him, died by him, rose from the dead by him, got the victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell by him; when he died, we died, and so of his resurrection.”

Bunyan here provides a more nuanced perspective than Owen, noting the exact way in which we are reckoned as one with Christ by God, by being reckoned as the body of Christ, whose righteousness we are given, and in whom we fulfill all aspects of the law which we cannot fulfill of ourselves. Bunyan here also echoes back to the more classic view of the early church fathers victory over Satan, which in turn can find a base in Hebrews, which states that “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”

As is noted by Donald Fairbairn, this power of Satan was rooted in the fact that “we had alienated ourselves from God through our sinfulness.”

The death of Christ removed Satan’s power by removing that alienation. 

Christ both sacrificed himself for our sins and in the pardon and redemption that was wrought, brought victory over sin, and Satan, who try to hold us captive to that death.

In this we can bring the entirety of the death of Christ’s effects into a succinct whole; that of God incarnating himself as the federal head of man in Christ, and through the death of this Christ that God’s people might be united with him as his body, his righteousness as theirs and him bearing the punishment for their sins, the effect of which is the freedom from sin and removal of the gulf between God and man, which thereby provides victory over Satan, and sets man on the path of moral righteousness by removing the contamination of his sin.

In all of this can be seen the revelatory grace of God’s eternal purpose. The revelation and the grace are intimately intertwined, for it is the grace which is revealed and it is gracious that God is revealed.

It is revealed in that God became incarnate, and it is at the same time gracious in that in doing so God condescended once again to covenant with man. Through the death of Christ God reveals his grace by showing us that he will condescend to save those who are unworthy, and ungodly, and actually does so.

It is gracious, furthermore, in that God had not need of revealing himself or providing this grace, but rather it was merely of his own good pleasure and for his own glory, according to his own eternal will. This is not merely a historic fact which finds its home in the 1st Century AD, but it is a truth which has a continued effect all the way into the present and is still impacting God’s chosen people today.

Christ in the Contemporary and Personal Context

The person and work of Christ is still one which is able to cause debate in today’s world.

Protestant Liberalism is still alive in various forms, reducing Christ to a good role model or – in its more postmodern aspects – to nice narrative to inspire our lives, an existential starting point in how we define ourselves.

A proper view of the person and work of Christ removes the pluralism and relativism of postmodernism by stressing that God has definitely revealed himself, and that God’s revelation is truth, and if Christ is who he said he was and did what he said he did, then only Christianity can be true. Not only this, but the person and work of Christ also has a real effect on the practical world of ministry, church life, and personal devotion to Christ.

The person of Christ gives us a real grounding in history. As was said by J. Gresham Machen, all of the ideas of Christianity could be found another religion, but there would in no Christianity in that religion “For Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event.”

It is this event, the death resurrection and ascension of Christ, upon which Christianity hinges.

It has a practical effect, for it decides for us what sort of gospel it is that we will preach.

We do not preach a gospel that is merely a call to act like Christ or only to social action, therefore we don’t call people to rest on their own actions. We do not preach a gospel that merely puts Satan on equal par with God, and has God paying a ransom to Satan, and therefore we can trust that God alone is in control.

We instead preach a gospel that depends on the grace of God as revealed in the Scripture, that the Son of God who is God came as a man to take our sins upon himself and thereby save us both from the penalty of those sins and the sins themselves, while giving us his righteousness.

It produces a profound humbling of the people of God, and in light of their changed life drives them to good works. It changes the church life because we are concerned not merely about the body and about its health or wealth, but about the soul and its everlasting abode.

These truths change our personal devotion because it allows us to know that our sins have been taken and that we have been made anew. It condemns our old self and gives us a great hope and a great life of our new selves; we do not have to worry about our selves failing, for our as Bunyan notes our righteousness is in heaven, such that it is not ourselves that effect or affect it. The comfort of this is such that “Now did my chains fall off my legs; indeed I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away.”

Because Christ was God, we are assured that his actions had their intended effect; because Christ was man, we are assured that we are intended recipients of that effect.

As Spurgeon has already been quoted as saying, in knowing who Christ is, and what Christ has promised, when may then expect this of Him.

Two or Three Uses? – The Law in Luther & Calvin

Luther and Calvin.png

Letter WWithin the realm of Christian theology there are many fiercely debated topics. One such topic is the question of the how the Law is to be understood in the Christian faith, especially in the light of the gospel and in the life of the Christian.

Taking on this task, Reformation thinkers Martin Luther and John Calvin both put forth ideas of how the Law is to be understood within Christianity.

When given a cursory reading, it will be noticed that Luther put forth two different uses of the Law, whereas Calvin put forth three, a distinction which has caused a fair amount of dispute between Lutheran and Reformed theologians to this day.

In order to gain a better understanding of this doctrine is helpful to compare and contrast these two great thinkers’ views on the topic, paying careful attention to how and why they draw the distinctions that they do. For John Calvin, it will be necessary to analyze his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he lays out what he sees to be the three uses of the Law. For Martin Luther, it will be necessary to first look at his Commentary on Galatians, where he lays out what he sees to be the two primary uses of the Law; with this done, it will also be necessary to look at various other of Luther’s writings to discern whether or not he indeed limits the use of the Law to those two areas.

Because Calvin is more systematic in his approach to the topic of the uses of the Law, it will be helpful to discuss him first, and thereby gain a solid understanding of the field to be analyzed; with this done we can consider how Luther compares in his writings, both explicitly and implicitly.

John Calvin’s Three Uses of the Law

What the Law Refers To

In discussing Calvin’s uses of the Law, it is first necessary to discern what it is that Calvin refers to when he refers to the Law.

For this one may turn to the seventh chapter of the second book of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, where Calvin begins his in-depth discussion of the Law. Here Calvin states explicitly that ‘the Law’ he understands to refer to “not only the Ten Commandments, which contain a complete rule of life, but the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses.”

This definition of the Law is given in the context of pointing out that the Law is not something that exists merely as a negative, detracting from the hope of Israel for Christ. Rather, Calvin argues that this was given through Moses for the sake of ‘renewing’ the Abrahamic promises, to be seen as “types and shadows of corresponding truth.” Thus Calvin begins his discussion of the Law by pointing out that the Law is not a bad thing. Indeed, Calvin goes so far as to say in reference to the religious aspect of the Law that “the fullness of grace, of which the Jews had a foretaste in under the Law, is exhibited in Christ,” in reference to the priestly offices that they would come to inhabit.

After this ceremonial and religious aspect of the Law, Calvin goes on to discuss the more explicitly moral aspect of the Law, which serves to point out the fact that eternal life awaits perfect obedience of the Law. By this the Law serves to show that the people fall under the curse, the result of which is “despondency, confusion, and despair.” Regardless, Calvin notes, the fact that perfect obedience to the Law is nowhere to be found does not mean that the Law has therefore been given in vain, for through justification by faith the people learn to embrace the goodness offered in the gospels.

The ‘office’ of this moral law, Calvin continues, itself consists of three parts, which is where one enters fully into Calvin’s understanding of the three uses of the Law.

Three Uses of the Law: Serving as a Mirror

In beginning his discussion on the three parts of the moral law, Calvin first points to the use of the law as it exhibits “the righteousness of God – in other words, the righteousness which alone is acceptable to God.”

Pointing out what righteousness is acceptable to God in turn convicts and condemns the people of their pride and serves as “a kind of mirror” in which “we discover any stains upon our face” such that the people will observe their own impotence, iniquity, and the curse and consequence of those. This aspect of the Law is that aspect experienced by those who are “sinners not yet regenerated.”

In continuing his defense of the Law, Calvin points out that the fact that the Law serves to only condemn does not detract from the excellence of the law, since the reason the Law is insufficient for salvation is because of our lack of obedience, and thereby not any fault in the Law itself. The Law if further not marred because God has declared that his end goal is not to “allow all to perish” but to that he might take mercy upon them by turning them to the mercy offered in Christ.

Thus, the first use of the law is that it serves as a mirror, showing mankind their iniquity and convicting them of their subsequent condemnation, and through this driving them to take refuge in the mercy of God in Christ.

Three Uses of the Law: Serving as a Curb

The second use of the Law, Calvin argues, is that through the fear of punishment that it might “curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” These individuals have their behavior curbed, Calvin argues, not because their hearts are changed or they are “inwardly moved and affected”, nor do they change their behavior in order to better please God. Rather, they are restrained through the force of “terror and shame”, terror of the punishment which will come to them if they act against the Law, and the shame which will be attached to their actions. 

This outward restraint does not lead to an inward change of heart; just the opposite, due to having to restrain themselves Calvin argues that they become even more hostile to God – the Lawgiver – more inflamed, such that they “rage and boil”, ready to break out whenever the fear of the law is gone.

In spite of the fact that this aspect of the Law doesn’t avail in changing the hearts of those who are under it, Calvin argues that it too is still a good thing. This goodness comes not from the impact of the Law upon those whom it inflames, but on the overall good of society. This is so because through restraining these individuals society’s peace is “secured by a provision but for which all things would be thrown into tumult and confusion.”

Furthermore, even though the unregenerate might not be driven to holiness by this aspect of the Law, Calvin argues that it does train those who will eventually be converted in how to “bear the yoke of righteousness.”

That is, it gives them a sort of head start in what it is like to live as a Christian. Lastly, this use of the law for these individuals keeps them from “giving full scope to their passions, and thereby utterly losing all desire after righteousness.” Calvin here argues that the law keeps the yet-to-be-regenerated individual from giving in fully to their passions and thereby retaining in them at least some desire for righteousness. This is such that should God not immediately bring an individual to salvation, he may prepare them for salvation by cultivating that rightful fear which a child ought to have of their Father.

Thus, in its second use, the law serves both the good of society in restraining individuals from wicked behavior as well as cultivating in some of those individuals the discipline and fear that they should rightfully have when they eventually become children of God.

Three Uses of the Law: As a Rule of Life

In his commentary Calvin notes that there is a tendency for theologians to relegate the entire use of the law to the increase of transgressions as presented in Galatians 3:19. He goes on to note that Paul speaks of the law as profitable for doctrine and notes that “the definition here given of the use of the law is not complete, and those who refuse to make any other acknowledgment in favor of the law do wrong.”

Following his discussion of the uses of the law as a tool for turning people toward reliance on God and as a tool for curbing behavior which would be harmful to society, Calvin turns toward what he refers to as the ‘principal use’ of the Law, and what is known in theology at large as simply ‘the third use of the Law’.

This use of the Law differs from the previous two uses in that while the first two uses of the Law apply – in Calvin’s system – primarily to the unregenerate, this third use is the Law as it is applied to the regenerate, to believers who are already following God.

In speaking of this use of the Law, Calvin begins by pointing out that believers already have the Law written on their hearts along with a desire to obey God. In light of this state of believers Calvin says that there are still two different ways that the Law can be useful for them. The first of these ways is that the Law is still the “best instruction for enabling them daily to learn… what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow.”

That is to say, study of the Law increases the wisdom of the believer in regards to what the will of God for them is. The second of these ways is that through meditating on the Law, Calvin asserts that the believer will be further motivated toward obedience and further drawn away from the temptation of sin; this can perhaps be best summed up in Calvin’s statement that “If it cannot be denied that [the Law] contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it.”

In this the Law no longer serves to condemn the believer – even though they still cannot live up to it – but it points believers toward the goal to which we strive and exhorts them in this task, exhorts them in the task of working towards perfection as a rule of life.

From what has been observed it can be seen that Calvin allotted three uses to the Law. Firstly, it serves as a mirror to show us our unrighteousness and drive us toward dependence on God. Secondly, it serves as a curb to keep those who wish to do evil in check through fear of the punishments associated with the Law. Thirdly, it serves as a rule of life for believers to follow, instructing them in the will of God which they seek to follow.

One of the areas of note here is that in Calvin’s approach to understanding the different ways in which the Law operates, he places a great emphasis on the the Law as it applies to the unregenerate versus the Law as it applies to the regenerate. Thus, the first use applies to the nonbeliever, to drive them toward God. Similarly the second use applies to the nonbeliever, to curb their wicked desires. The third, contrary to these, applies to the believer, giving them a guide to Christian living.

Martin Luther’s Two Uses of the Law

While Calvin is very systematic in his approach to the Law, Luther is somewhat more sporadic and – indeed – pastoral and periodic, addressing his concerns more in response to a given issue rather than developing out each of his ideas in strict logical fashion.

For this reason it is necessary to look at a variety of Luther’s works, centering around his Commentary on Galatians, in which he presents his case for the two different uses of the Law.

Law and Gospel; Active and Passive Righteousness; Sinner and Saint

In looking at Martin Luther’s use of the Law, it is helpful to see how it is that he relates the one notion of the Law to the other of the Gospel, what he calls the active righteousness of the one to the passive righteousness of the other.

Luther begins his Commentary on Galatians with a discussion of the various types of righteousness. After a brief mention of the civil righteousness of abiding by the laws of the state and the ceremonial righteousness of the manners taught by parents, Luther enters into a discussion of the righteousness of the Law – as exemplified in the Ten Commandments – and the righteousness of faith.

These latter two types of righteousness differ from one another in that the righteousness of the Law is what Luther refers to as an active righteousness, a righteousness which actively seeks to fulfill God’s Law. Luther notes this active righteousness as being in vain, through which “sin is made exceedingly sinful.”

In realizing the vainness of this active righteousness, the person then turns to embrace the passive righteousness of Christ. Thus, the unbeliever is to oppressed with the Law until they are “thirsting for comfort”, at which time the Law is removed and the Gospel is placed before them. In turn, Luther argues, both Law and Gospel are necessary, but “both must be kept within their bounds” where the righteousness of the Law applies to the ‘old man’ and the righteousness of faith to the ‘new man’.

This notion is imperative to properly understanding Luther’s understanding of the Law, for the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ does not merely refer to the unregenerate and the regenerate.

Rather, the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ exist both within the believer, hence Luther states that “a Christian man is both righteous and sinner, holy and profane, an enemy of God and yet a child of God.” In the same way he asserts: “both these continue whilst we here live. The flesh is accused… bruised by the active righteousness of the law; but the spirit reigneth, rejoiced and is saved by this passive and Christian righteousness.”

Further on in his commentary he builds upon this notion, asserting that though he commits sins, these do not plague his conscience since he knows he is in Christ; instead he directs the chastisement of his sins towards his body, making the point that the Law cannot touch the conscience, though it may be directed towards the flesh.

It is only with this dual nature of man in mind that one may move on to understand the way that Luther appropriates the Law.

Two Uses of the Law: The Civil Use

When it comes time for Luther to discuss the nature of the Law in a more systematic manner, he states that there is a double use of the law. This first use, he argues, is the civil use. The civil use, simply put, is that the law is given in order to restrain sin. This restraint of sin does not lead to righteousness; rather, the very fact that there are sin to be restrained is signal that the individual is unrighteous, for it is only person who is prone to sin who needs to be threatened against sinning. Thus, this first use of the Law is “to bridle the wicked.” For this purpose there have been created governments and civil ordinances, ready to bind the person who acts against the law. While this use of the law does not produce salvation, it does provide for the public peace and “the preservation of all things.”

Two Uses of the Law: The Spiritual Use

Following his discussion of the civil use of the law in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther then turns to discuss what he calls the ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ use of the Law.

This use of the Law, as Luther argues, is that it is used in order to reveal to man his sin and his contempt of God, and in turn reveal the judgment and wrath which the man deserves from God. This use, Luther argues, is “the proper and the principal use of the law.”

The purpose of the law is thereby to terrify, to “rend in pieces that beast which is called the opinion of righteousness.” That is, the purpose of the law is to defeat the pride of the individual, to reveal sin, and to make the individual feel the burden of the law so that they might despair.

This use of the law Luther connects with God’s work at Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, which “brought that holy people into such a knowledge of their own misery, that they were thrown down even to death…” On top of this use of acting as a mirror, one finds in Luther’s other writings that he is willing to connect the law driving the individual “to despair of himself” with the result that it causes them “to seek the help which he does not find in himself elsewhere.”

Other Uses of the Law in Luther

It is noteworthy that in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther only points to two uses of the Law. Yet, if one looks to his other writings, a larger picture begins to appear. Thus, in  Against the Heavenly Prophetsone may find Luther writing of the five different articles of the Christian faith. The first is the law of God, the second the gospel. The third article is what Luther calls ‘judgment’, which is “the work of putting to death the old man”, and it is followed by the fourth article of “love toward the neighbor”, and a fifth article to “ proclaim the law and its works” to the “crude masses” such that they will “know what works of the law they are to do and what works ought to be left undone”; yet these works are not put before the Christian “as if one through them were upright or a sinner.”

Luther does not answer directly here the question of how one is to put to death the old man, or where one might look to discern what it is to love one’s neighbor, yet in his Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors he gets closer to doing so, stating that the “third element” of Christian life is “the doing of good works”; works which include “to be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder… [etc].” Here Luther lays out at least four of the ten commandments as the ‘doing of good works’ which is an element of Christian life.

One may also turn to the most practical area of Luther’s writings, his catechisms.

Here Luther’s addresses the Ten Commandments in the life of the Christian, instructing his readers that they should not act contrary to the Commandments, that God promises blessings to those who keep the Commandments, and that Christians should “gladly do according to His commandments.”

In his Larger Catechism he then states that the one who knows perfectly the Ten Commandments will be able to “counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.” He later follows this statement up with the assertion that the Ten Commandments are “the true channel through which all good works must flow,” that doing these works will result in God’s blessing, and that “everyone is to make them his daily habit in all circumstances.”

Yet in contrast to this there is also the idea present in Luther’s Concerning the Letter and the Spirit that since the Christian “lives in the Spirit as the law demands; indeed, he no longer needs any law to teach him, for he knows it now by heart… there no teaching or law is needed; everything happens as it should happen.”

In figuring out how these apparent works of the law can be present in the Christian life of good works, it is necessary to see a further distinction Luther makes in his writings. In his Lectures on Romans, Luther makes the point that ‘the works of the Law’ are those that take place at the urging of the law, while the works of faith are those done “solely for the love of God.”

Thus, it could be argued that for Luther the same act could be either a work of the law or a work of faith, depending on the motivation for the act; “thus we gain a genuine desire for the law, and then everything is done with willing hearts, and not in fear.”

In light of this it is not incongruent for Luther to utter statements such as the one that the Christian should call upon God “according to the second commandment.”

Similarly, when Luther adamantly asserts that there is not teaching of the law and no need for the law, it seems that this should be read firstly to mean that there is no teaching of the law-as-condemning-force.

Luther’s practical use of the Law seems to demonstrate that when Luther talks of the Christian not needing the Law to teach him due to him knowing it by heart, he seems to be speaking more idealistically, of the ideal Christian.

In all of these other writings of Luther it may be observed then: (1)  adhering to the law works nothing for justification; (2) yet there are good works to be done by the Christian, and that these ‘good works’ include acts synonymous with certain commandments of the Law, for indeed, the heart has been changed to naturally act out the Law; (3) that the Christian should abide by the Ten Commandments, which will result in his being blessed by God; (4) that it is the motivation behind these acts that distinguish them from being ‘works of the law’, such that when done for the glory of God it is no longer law but faith.

In summing up his view on the two different uses of the law Luther states that “the law is good and profitable, but in his own proper use; which is, first to bridle civil transgressions, and then to reveal and to increase spiritual transgressions.”

The Law, for Luther, is primarily a light, but one that shows only sin and death. The Gospel, on the other hand, is a light which shows the mercy of God in Christ.

There are various noteworthy aspects to understanding Luther’s understanding of the Law. One of these aspects is the way in which Luther’s second use of the law is already contained in his first use of the law. As he said, the first use is to bridle the wicked, and the very fact that they need a bridle demonstrates that they are wicked, at least in a general way. The second use, then, narrows down this general demonstration of wickedness to terrify and convict the individual. This restriction and conviction is the extent of the Law for Luther.

Rather than go any further than this, where the Law ends for Luther, the Gospel may begin. The Law makes the individual despair so that the Gospel may come and give hope, the active righteousness of trying to live up to the law is replaced with the passive righteousness of Christ.

Most noteworthy in Luther’s understanding of the Law is that his primary focus is upon the old man verses the new man.

This is important because both the old man and the new man exist in the person of the believer. Thus, when the old man causes the individual to sin, the Law points to that sin in the life of the believer, but it doesn’t convict, for then the righteousness of Christ – the Gospel – is there to cover the sin. Yet in this it can be noted that the Law does still exist in the life of the believer for Luther, as he says: “among Christians we must use the law spiritually, as is said above, to reveal sin.”

In the writings of Luther as a whole it was observed that Luther does – in practice – use the law for more than merely keeping the wicked in check and revealing sin. He also seemed to promote good works as a Christian – works of faith – which were synonymous in content with the works of the Law, with the difference that they were done not out of the fear of the condemnation of the Law, but out of love for God and the desire to be blessed. In desiring to do these good works Luther advises the believer to meditate on the Ten Commandments, the same Ten Commandments he also equated with the righteousness of the Law.

Thus it might be observed that while in some instances Luther seems to clearly reject out of hand the use of the law in the life of the Christian, it seems that this may be in large a semantic error of Luther simply refusing to refer to this use of the law as a guide as a use of the ‘law’, for he desired to equate this with faith rather than Law.

In contrast to this it might be contended that “love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved” and that because the new man does not need the Law as an instruction, for the Law is written on his heart and he will act this out naturally and spontaneously; yet, Luther’s practical use of the Law seems to assume that the Christian can get instruction in good works from the law, and it is simply that fact that when discussing this facet Luther refrains from referring to it as the law.

Comparing & Contrasting Luther and Calvin

In comparing and contrasting Luther and Calvin there are many things which can be discussed. Perhaps the best place to start with this is to figure out where the two thinkers agree.

The first use of the Law that Luther put forward was what he called the civic use, which was noted as serving the purpose of bridling sin for the good of the society through the fear of the law. In the same way Calvin’s second use of the Law was that it served the purpose of curbing sin for the good of society through the fear of the law. In this use of the law Luther and Calvin seem to be in full agreement; there is only the relatively minor difference in how Luther points out that this use indicates the wickedness of man, whereas Calvin points out that this use serves the dual purpose of further inflaming the wickedness of man and training those who do not yet believe.

The second use of the Law put forth by Luther was what he called the spiritual use. In this way the law was used to terrify and convict people of their sin, to reveal their sin to them as in a mirror. Furthermore, whereas in his Commentary on Galatians he left the second use at that, in his Freedom of the Christian Luther alluded to the fact that this despair drives the individual somewhere besides themselves. In like manner, Calvin’s first use of the law was that of a mirror. This mirror shows people their unrighteousness and convicts them of their impending condemnation, and through this drives them to take refuge in the mercy of God in Christ.

While this second set of uses for the law by Luther and Calvin, both serving as mirrors, seem to be identical, there is an important distinction to note. This distinction is that – for Calvin – this mirror’s purpose rests in convicting the unbeliever, the unregenerate. Calvin’s mirror seems to only be for the unregenerate man prior to his conversion. In contrast to this, Luther’s mirror is ever present.

This is because rather than focusing on the regenerate/unregenerate distinction, Luther focuses on the old/new man distinction, and this is a distinction which stays with the believer even after regeneration.

Therefore, while Calvin’s mirror is used by the individual prior to conversion, Luther’s mirror is used by the individual both before and after conversion, a fact which will be important when analyzing the different ways the two thinkers apply the law in the believer’s life.

With this in mind, one may then turn to the third use of the Law as presented by Calvin.

It was noted that for Calvin, this use was the one in which the law served to instruct and guide the believer after conversion, increases the believer’s wisdom in regards to the will of God. With regeneration, the individual is able to make the move from using the Law as a mirror to using it as a guide.

Luther would have been unable to follow Calvin here for a variety of reasons.

Firstly – as has been noted – Luther’s focus was not on the regenerate/unregenerate distinction. Because for Luther the old man is always there with the new man – and because the mirror applies to the old man – the individual is never fully able to put the mirror down.

Thus, for Luther, when the Law comes up it necessarily comes up as that mirror.

Because the old man is always present in the life of the individual, the Law must always serve the purpose of driving that old man to despair, that he might find relief in the Gospel.

This sharp Law/Gospel distinction is important for understanding Luther in that whereas Calvin was comfortable placing a close connection between the Law revealing sin and in turn driving the individual toward Christ (and thereby having the Gospel implicit in the Law), Luther drew a much sharper distinction between Law and Gospel; thus for Luther the most the Law could do in revealing sin was drive the individual away from themselves, he doesn’t take the next step with Calvin in asserting that it drives them to Christ.

Rather that asserting that the Law drives the unbeliever to Christ, Luther prefers to speak of the move in terms of the Law driving them solely to despair and then the Gospel coming in as a balm and a comfort.

Thus, not only does Luther have an old/new man focus over against Calvin’s regenerate/unregenerate distinction, but Luther also has a much sharper separation of the law from the gospel than Calvin.

Yet, Luther also has a stronger connection between them in another sense, for in Luther both the law and the gospel are ever present and presented together.

The old man is always present, and therefore the law must always be there to terrify, and at the same time the gospel always be there to comfort. When talking of the Christian as a whole, Luther still has a place for the law, which is, for condemning the works of the old man in the body of the believer. He does not expel the law from the life of the believer, but he takes care when referring to ‘the law’ to refer to it in exclusive reference to the old man.

While asserting that Luther cannot follow Calvin into Calvin’s formulation of the third use of the Law due to the differing angles at which each thinker is approaching the Christian system, Luther does have his own variety of this.

Whereas Calvin’s third use is the Law applied to the regenerate man, Luther’s ‘third use’ might be said to be the Law applied the ‘new man’ (though as noted above Luther would not use that language).

While this sort of use was not discussed systematically by Luther, it is implied in various of his writings. In this it was observed Luther suggesting that knowledge of the Ten Commandments made one able to make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters, that good works flowed from them, good works which would cause God to bless the individual.

Yet, while a position such as Calvin’s this might seem to roughly fit the criteria of his third use of the law, the distinction for Luther was that – at least semantically – these are not uses of the law. A use of the law for Luther would have been something that was necessarily done under compulsion, and therefore incompatible with good works or the faith of the Christian. Rather, these same works are works of faith – not works of law – even when they are centered around the same principles as the ‘law’.

 

In light of this analysis, it might be stated that while Calvin and Luther do have some genuine differences in their approaches to way the Law is to be used, much of this difference can be attributed to viewing the same truths from different angles and with different foci; this is to be expected, for these men existed within space and time and were reacting against their own given environments.

Though a detail of biographies was outside the scope of this study, it might be noted – for instance – that Luther was much more closely tied to his reaction against the abuses of Rome, and this reaction shaped how he focuses his theology.

On top of this difference of foci, Luther and Calvin are also separated by what it is often the hardest bridge to cross in theology, the bridge of semantics.

To a large extent the approaches taken by Luther and Calvin to the Law have the same result and are getting at the same points, but using different categories and different terminology which makes the similarities difficult to see.

Thus, Calvin uses the Law as a guide for believers, whereas Luther also in practice uses that same Law as a guide, but is careful not to refer to it in that manner due to way that he has defined ‘Law’ in his understanding; it is simply incongruent for Luther to imagine applying the term ‘Law’ to something utilized by the new man, for the Law to him can only apply to the old man.

Yet, there are still differences here, and these differences do affect the way Christians go about their lives. The way in which Luther keeps the mirror of the Law at hand, and in turn the comfort of the Gospel, has the practical result of constantly driving the individual back to the Cross for their comfort.

This can be a helpful attitude to take when dealing with sin; and yet it can also be helpful to have a guide to aid one in avoiding sin and for instructing one in how to live a life pleasing to God. Calvin’s focus is more helpful in addressing this aspect of the Law.

Thus, it can be asserted that neither John Calvin nor Martin Luther is necessarily ‘correct’ in this matter.

When they discuss the uses of the Law they are seemingly discussing the same matter, but they are discussing it in very different manners for different reasons, with different foci and different terminology. Neither has the perfect system, and neither has a defunct system; rather, each has a system which is helpful and unhelpful in turn, true and false in differing ways.

In looking back over these various uses, it can be found that they all have some legitimacy. The civic use of the law found in both Luther and Calvin is viable in either context. Calvin’s first use of the law is helpful for bringing the unbeliever to faith, and yet as it is used in Luther, it also serves a use in the life of the believer, continuing to drive them to Christ and the rest that He provides, as well as subdue the flesh; Calvin can be corrected by Luther here, in that the mirror may still have a use after conversion. Finally, with Christ as the goal, Luther may be corrected by Calvin in noting that it can be helpful for the Christian to gain wisdom of God’s will through the study of the law.

The Missional Church of the Missional God – Coming Into a Fuller Understanding of Christian Missions

Missions.pngletter-fFor many Christians in the church today the term “missions” brings to mind fuzzy images of Caucasian Christians entering into jungles to give the Gospel to the unreached tribal peoples who live therein.

Mission isn’t something that the majority of Christians see themselves as being involved in apart from the occasional donation they might give to their church’s mission fund; instead, they see mission as the vocation of the few specially called individuals who dedicated their lives to taking the Gospel to unreached peoples. This is an unfortunate view to have of missions and a view that the church needs to work to correct.

If the church is to correct this it must first properly define mission and convey an understanding of its relation to the Gospel, afterwhich it can analyze how mission has been approached throughout history whether for good or bad, learning from those lessons and bringing into the church a more holistic missional theology such that all those who locate themselves within the body of Christ will understand their role in the mission of God.

A Biblical, Gospel-Centered Foundation of Mission

Along with the misconception that mission is a “West to the rest” endeavor for the specially called, there is the further misconception that mission – and indeed evangelism as a whole – is something that was started in the New Testament, when in fact “the source of world missionary activity is rooted in God’s call to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.”

If the church is to gain a Biblically based and Gospel-centered theology and vision of mission, it must first understand what exactly mission is and where it began; this requires the Christian look to the Old Testament.

The concept of mission in the Old Testament goes as far back as Genesis. In Genesis God connects his blessing of Abram and of making Abram into a great nation with the good of the entire world. Abram is blessed by God “so that you will be a blessing” and “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This theme is made clear again in Exodus 7:5 where it is stated that one goal of God’s actions in the exodus narrative was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” A key point of the Exodus then is that “in his mighty acts of salvation for his own people God makes himself known to the other nations.”

God’s actions towards His people are never for His people alone but also for the rest of the world, for “when God graciously saves his people, it is not only for their own sake; it is also for the sake of others.”

This key theme of the Old Testament – that God’s acts of salvation are God’s means of making himself known to the nations – is central for understanding mission because it both provides the Biblical foundation for mission as well as its Gospel center.

Firstly, this theme highlights the fact that mission is primarily God’s doing, that mission is primarily derived from God. As inspired by Karl Barth and articulated by David Bosch, this theme finds its outworking in the idea of the missio Dei, of God the Father sending the Son and the Holy Spirit, and all three sending the church; God is thus recognized as a missionary God, where the church is an instrument for that mission.

Indeed, the church is essentially missional and “mission is essentially ecclesial.” The result of this is a focus on the ecclesial nature of missions and the missional nature of the church, the two go hand in hand, with God’s hand being the one wielding them. They go hand in hand because the church is the visible incarnation of the kingdom of God on earth; He makes himself known not just for its own sake, but to expand His kingdom.

The church in this context is not merely a church building or the group of people that meet in that building, but is the entire body of Christ, the kingdom of God, all professing Christians.

Mission should therefore be seen primarily as the mission of the Triune God working through the instrument of his people – the church – to the end of blessing the nations and making Himself known to them via His acts of salvation to His people for the purpose of expanding his kingdom.

The greatest of these missional acts of salvation came in the form of Christ’s death on the cross, and it is through this that the missio Dei builds upon its Old Testament foundations to incorporate the message of the Gospel.

The Gospel is central to mission and mission is central to the Gospel, with the Gospel being the supreme message and means of God making Himself known to and blessing the world. God works through his people the church to achieve His missional ends and does so in two methods, via centripetal and centrifugal mission; that is, by the church drawing others into the fellowship through the witness of their lives and by actively expanding the church, both which serve to make the church into a “light for the nations,” or as Timothy Tennent puts it: “Missionaries are both bearers of a message and embodiments of that message.” The first of these is the practice of what Francis Schaeffer calls “an observable love” before “a watching world.”

By living a life of love toward God and neighbor, the church draws outsiders towards it. But the church is not merely meant to attract others to it, it is also meant to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In breaking down this command it can be seen that it involves an outward thrust of ‘going’, that this going involves making disciples – a task that necessarily entails the spread of the Gospel message – and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is an act that necessarily involves the expansion of the church.

The way this works itself out practically for missions today must be analyzed, but it is helpful to first look at the ways which mission has been approached throughout Christian history and glean what lessons can be learned from those examples.

Mission Throughout History

Christian mission has been approached in a variety of ways by a variety of groups over the history of the faith and these approaches have had positive and negative qualities. In the earliest church mission based on the attractiveness of the local congregation and the individual Christian community. These were a group of people who differed from their culture in attractive ways such that “the exemplary moral lives of ordinary Christians stood out against the rampant immorality of Rome.”

After a few hundred years Christianity found itself accepted by the Roman empire, eventually even becoming the official religion of the empire, thereby ushering the long era known as Christendom.

As the church gained the power which came with being the official religion of the empire its focus shifted from one of missions to one of maintaining power; as the official cultural religion the need of standing out against the culture and of spreading the Gospel was seemingly lost.

In spite of this loss, Christendom did help to shape the cultural life of Europe for the better and when the monastic movements came about they worked to spread the Gospel message to the ‘barbarian’ people and also brought back some of the godly living which had attracted earlier cultures to the faith; their missional function was therefore not entirely intentional, but the way they lived their life made them attractive to those around them.

Around this same time but further to the East the Eastern Orthodox church took a different approach to missions, an approach which focused almost exclusively on the literal expansion of the church.

Because of this strong church-centeredness the Orthodox church came to equate the expansion of the church with the expansion of the kingdom, thus their missions were almost solely ecclesial; missions could not occur outside the established institutional church.

As Europe began to expand around the world Christendom entered into an age of colonialism. During this period “missions flowed along colonial lines.”

The primary focus was the Christianizing of native peoples (even if by force), and following the Reformation this Christianizing took on a highly individualistic aspect of focusing on the individual faith of each believer over and above institution of the church, specifically on the salvation of souls. On the whole, this created the sort of cross-cultural missions which focused on taking Christianity from the West to the rest of the world.

After hundreds of years of being tied to the ruling groups of Europe, Christianity became almost synonymous with European culture and with European political power. The result of this was a missionary endeavor which sought to transplant European culture onto other parts of the world, to “remake the world in their own image.”

As this era continued the Christian attitude toward missions took a number of different turns as more denominations and theological approaches came onto the scene. Missionary agencies came into being that would attempt to spread the Gospel around the world by preaching the word as well as by working to provide poverty relief and aid with other physical needs. This focus on physical needs grew in certain parts of the church and came to be known as the Social Gospel.

Mission Today

There are many lessons that can be learned from the history of Christian mission – some good and some bad – which can be used to craft a better approach towards mission today. These lessons should not be taken on their own, but should be woven into the Biblically grounded and Gospel-centered understanding of the missio Dei of the Triune God.

The missio Dei involves the Triune God using His people – the church – as His instrument for bringing the world into a knowledge of Himself. This is accomplished both through the centripetal and centrifugal action of God through His church, and it is through this lens that mission today must be undertaken.

First, the Triune God accomplishes His mission through the centripetal action of His church as its members live lives that are attractive to those outside.

This was a strong-point of mission in the early church and of mission in the monastic tradition; indeed, this is the mark of the Christian. This centripetal action is not merely passive, of refraining from doing certain things, but it is also active, of living out the love of God and of neighbor. It is this active aspect of mission that gave strength to the Social Gospel movement; part of the attractiveness of the Christian life is that the  work Christians do for societal transformation by helping those who are in need.

This centripetal work therefore consists of living lives in obedience to the will of God, to include both refraining from sin as well as actively working to help the poor and needy.

Second, the Triune God accomplishes His mission through the centrifugal action of His church as its members actively go out and spread the Gospel of the kingdom – and thereby the church – around the world.

Merely avoiding sin and helping the needy is not sufficient for missions, the Gospel and the church should also be present, for it is Gospel that ultimately empowers the Christian to live the life described above and it is within the context of the kingdom – the church – that they are to live it, drawing others into that community.

Christians are called to spread the Gospel of the kingdom, a key part of which is the salvation of souls as highlighted by the Reformation theologians.

This salvation is not an individualistic salvation, but it is salvation into a community, into the kingdom of God, into the church (the body of Christ). With this in mind the Christian cannot focus on getting non-believers to accept Christ without also bringing them into the baptism of the institutional church family, for it is in this family that they are discipled and in which they grow in the faith. The importance of this is twofold.

First, mission is not merely the calling of a handful of exceptional people within the body of Christ, but it is instead the calling of every believer as members of the church. All Christians are called to live missional lives, to live centripetal lives that are are in keeping with God’s commands and which in turn will prove attractive to the outsider.

Second, mission should not be divorced from the church as an institution. It is this ecclesial church-planting focus that the Orthodox so rightly emphasized, for missions and the church are vitally linked. This is not to say that a group such as a missionary agency cannot spread the gospel, but it is not as effective as it could be if it were wedded with the church.

This salvation is furthermore a salvation from one kingdom and into another, which further highlights the reality of the spiritual. While part of missions is working to help the needy materially, this material aspect must be balanced with the spiritual aspect of the kingdom, of the salvation of souls along with the defeat of the kingdom of Satan. One failing of many of the mission endeavors throughout Christian history has been a downplaying of this spiritual reality. Even when they did manage to focus on the salvation of the soul they would often neglect the spiritual warfare.

It is of note here that little has been said of contextualization or of cross-cultural, international mission. The global church has arisen and missions can no longer be seen as a question of how those in post-Christendom Western society can reach the rest of the world. 

The message of Christ is spread throughout the world and in turn mission and evangelism are becoming more synonymous.

Mission is a matter of leading lives representative of the Gospel, of spreading the church of the Triune God, and of teaching the Gospel which empowers those lives, which results in the spread of that church, and which results in the salvation of souls in the eschaton. Each group must decide how to incarnate the Gospel into the culture into which they are speaking regardless of whether they are ministering in China, Egypt, Russia, Mexico, Germany, or the United States.

Each mission field has its own cultural barriers and its own contexts that must be taken into account, and Christians cannot suppose that it is merely a matter of accommodating Western Christianity into some other context; to do so is to engage in ethnocentrism. Rather, each group must analyze their context and discern how best to engage the culture in which they minister. When this results in a Western Christian ministering to another culture, special care must be taken while teaching the doctrines of the Gospel and spreading the institutional aspect of the church that the Christian does not attempt to take the stance of superiority, but that they work as servants to the people they minister to, helping them to apply the truths of the Scripture to their native culture.

Whether interculturally or cross-culturally mission is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. As Stan Guthrie comments “There is no one way to ‘do’ missions in the local church, though there are many wrong ways.” It is up to each individual and each missional church body to discern how to apply the gospel to their own culture or to the culture of another, and when applying it to the culture of another they must always seek to do so in servant-hood to those they are ministering.

 

“Before a watching world an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians’ differences and other men’s differences. The world may not understand what the Christian’s are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences from the world’s differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.”–Francis SchaefferThe Mark of the Christian