|A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF EPHESIANS:
God’s New Covenant Community, the Church
|Texts||The Flow of the Book|
|1–3||Our New Position Together In Christ (what?)|
|1:3–23||I. Each believer is a partaker of Christ’s benefits|
|1:3–14||A. Praise for God’s blessings in Christ|
|1:15–23||B. Prayer for increased knowledge and experience of these blessings.|
|2:1–3:21||II. Each believer is a part of Christ’s body|
|2:1–10||A. The making of the Christian|
|2:11–3:21||B. The making of the church|
|2:11–22||1. The surprising unfolding of God’s purposes|
|3:1–13||2. Paul’s unique role in unfolding God’s purposes|
|3:14–21||3. Prayer that God’s purposes will be realised|
|4–6||Our New Practice Together In Christ (so what?)|
|4:1–16||I. Practice unity in Christ together as his church|
|4:17–6:9||II. Practice conformity to Christ together as his church|
|4:17–5:2||A. Transformation in Christ|
|4:17–24||1. New life in Christ|
|4:25–5:2||2. New lifestyle in Christ|
|B. Separation in Christ
1. Light vs. Darkness
2. Wisdom vs. Folly
|5:18–6:9||C. Submission in Christ|
|6:10–20||III. Practice enmity for Christ together as his church|
J. G. Vos writes:
“And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers” (2 Chron. 34:32b).
Josiah was king of Judah 639-608 B.C., on the verge of the Babylonian Captivity. During his reign there occurred the last religious revival before the captivity. At the age of 16, having been king eight years, Josiah undertook the religious reformation of his kingdom. When the king and his people set their heart on consistently living according to God’s will, God met them with help and blessing and prospered their efforts. There was a spirit of zeal, unanimity, and spontaneous eagerness in their service of God. This was nothing mechanical or artificially worked up. It was real. It came from their hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.
False religion cleared away
Read 2 Chronicles 34:3-7. The idolatrous religion was ancient, customary, and deeply imbedded in the life of the people. Only a king and people united in honestly turning to God could eliminate it. It is very difficult to change that which has the sanction of antiquity, custom, long usage, and popularity. Here in Josiah’s reform we see the victory of principle over popularity—something very much needed today. When we get a revival like that, there will be sweeping changes in religious life, customs, and worship. The unscriptural worship of centuries will be swept away with a return to the reign of Scriptural principles.
God’s house was repaired
Read 2 Chronicles 34:8-13. For long years this had been neglected, but a people with a mind to return to God soon put the temple in repair again. The workmen wrought faithfully. It was not necessary to audit their accounts, for they worked conscientiously. A similar revival in our own day would not only take care of the physical repair of church buildings, but would provide for the proper support, in proportion to our real ability, of the whole program of the church and kingdom of God.
God’s work requires not merely money, but money willingly given by a people who have set their heart on the true progress and welfare of God’s church and kingdom.
Attention given to the Word of God
Read 2 Chronicles 34:14-28. For years the Word of God had been lost and neglected. The roll of the Book found was perhaps one lost or hidden during Manasseh’s reign, or one place in a cornerstone when the temple was built by Solomon. At any rate, when found it produced a tremendous effect. Those people really took Scripture seriously. To them the Word of God was not a mere ornament or formality. It made a profound impression on king and people. This would be true in a similar revival today. It may be questioned whether the present revival movement in America is producing a real return to Scripture. The attitude toward Scripture seems still to be a formal and conventional one in may cases.
In Josiah’s day, covenant vows were solemnly taken by king and people. Read 2 Chronicles 34:29-33. Divinely appointed worship, long neglected in whole or in part, was once more observed in an adequate and Scriptural manner. Read 2 Chronicles 35:1, 2, 17-19. In this revival, conscientious devotion to God overcame (1) popular false worship and practices; (2) gross ignorance of God’s will; (3) long continued neglect of divinely appointed worship.
The revival North America needs is along the same lines. How can we help? Not by doing something dramatic or spectacular, but by what Josiah is recorded as doing in 2 Chronicles 34:2-3. If we will be faithful and consistent in keeping our covenant vows to God, he will work in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
Jeffery Ventrella writes:
I remember my first visit to a Reformed church all too well. There I was, very wet behind the ears. Searching the Scriptures had convinced me that the “doctrines of grace” truly summarised the gospel, and I desired with all my heart to worship the sovereign God.
So I searched for a church that confessed these great Reformational truths. I found one. Upon my arrival at the small church, I was “greeted” by a nerdy guy carrying a stack of books. What he lacked in social skills he made up for in aggressiveness. He approached me quickly and started the interrogation: “Are you new here?” Obviously I was. “Do you study theology?” When I said yes, his breathing became labored and he started to sweat. Then came the coup de grace: “Are you infra- or supra-lapsarian?” I replied, “Neither; I’m vegetarian!”—but my humor was lost on this poor fellow.
Just What Is Hyphenation?
This story illustrates a sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing phenomenon in today’s conservative church circles: the resurgence of the hyphenated church. A hyphenated church is one which, whether officially or unofficially, judges the orthodoxy or at least the “real maturity” of people on the basis of their adherence to a preference that has been elevated to the status of an essential precept. It becomes a litmus test within the congregation.
I speak of a hyphenated church because the “insiders” in it think of their preference as if it were actually appended to their name: “Trinity Church-KJV Only,” “Grace Reformed Church-A Politically Active Church,” “New Life Community Church-A Homeschooling Fellowship,” etc.
Ecclesiastes informs us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Therefore, we should expect to see such sectarianism periodically. Scripture tells us that there were factions in Corinth that were evidently hyphenated (1 Cor. 3:4), and there were the Judaizers in Galatia. They had added an extrabiblical standard for evaluating spirituality.
Hyphenation has resurfaced again, even as we are seeing a resurgence in churches teaching the doctrines of grace. This is not surprising, for as the church grows, the devil groans.
As numerous children of God have experienced the Spirit’s revitalisation of their faith, the hyphens have arisen to muddy the waters. Again, hyphens are preferences that have been anointed as precepts, deviation from which leads to disfavour or even discipline. This hyphenation has become a new legalism. Here are some modern-day examples:
This hyphen has lately been gaining ardent supporters. The debate over Bible translations is certainly not new. Although some people have characterised the Greek text used by the KJV as the “ecclesiastical text,” the church has in its history recognised a number of textual families.
Since the KJV was not published until 1611, its use could not have been essential to a Christian confession before that time—and thus cannot be essential for us today, either. Furthermore, there are actually two “authorised versions” of the English Bible: the 1611 edition and a later Cambridge edition.
Classical Christian Education
In recent decades, God has granted his church a new interest in rearing covenant children. Many Christian parents have recognised that covenant faithfulness necessitates removing their children from the godless secular schools. Home education and private Christian schools have become common.
Some folks have determined that a particular method of nonstatist education is preferable to others: “classical” education based upon the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic).
But here come the hyphenaters, demanding that their classical approach be used, usually including the teaching of Latin. There may be nothing wrong with this preference, until it is made an ingredient of orthodoxy. Put differently, would you consider yourself a Christian if your children did not attend a classical school? Some advocates of this hyphen would be hard-pressed to answer yes.
Ironically, it was just this scholastic approach—which imported the philosophical paganism of Greece and Rome—that ultimately produced the humanism of the Enlightenment. Who is to say that the reinstitution of this same approach will not lead to the same mistakes? We should not endeavour to re-create the schools of the 1450s any more than those of the 1950s.
The “home-everything” hyphenaters usually insist that a family committed to real godliness should have lots of children. Certainly our culture is wrong to reject Scripture’s teaching that children are the Lord’s blessing. Nevertheless, Christians should not simply advocate whatever the world rejects.
What if the Reformers had simply rejected whatever Rome did, and then did the opposite? They would then have rejected infant baptism, the Trinity, the Nicene Creed, etc. That would have been disastrous, but often Reformed churches today use that very reasoning on the subject of worship: “Since the charismatics use overhead projectors, we must reject them.”
Similarly, one cannot determine ethical duties merely by reversing pagan practices: “Pagans drink alcohol; therefore, Christians should not drink alcohol.” What then becomes of the Lord’s Table? The issue of birth control is far more complex than simply concluding that the admonition to “be fruitful and multiply” requires prolific procreation. It is true that many Christians have swallowed the world’s nonsense when it comes to so-called “family planning.” The danger of this hyphen, however, is that it establishes judgmentalism within the church, which can only increase when this preference is made a precept.
Many Christians have neglected their covenantal responsibility not to be part of the world. But God has been merciful and gracious in reorienting many believers and transforming their minds. One area in which the world and Satan have certainly undermined godliness is that of dating. Enter the hyphenaters.
“Dating” now becomes an evil which is to be replaced with “biblical courtship.” What this exactly connotes is not clear, since even the proponents of courtship do not agree on its details. Do these rules apply to all youth or just young ladies? Just when is the jurisdiction of the young woman’s father terminated? What role do the church’s elders play in this process? Cf. the Westminster Confession of Faith, 24.5-6.
What is clear is that a broken courtship is not considered to be a divorce, which might transgress God’s law and thereby preclude a subsequent marriage. Thus, courtship is not really being treated as a betrothal would be (as in Matt. 1:18-20).
Please do not misunderstand. I fully intend to instruct my four boys regarding biblical headship, the honoring of one’s (or someone else’s) future spouse, the unholiness of emotional involvement without marital commitment, the unwise (and perhaps sinful) practice of serial relationships, and so forth. But this instruction does not need to be called “courtship” to be biblical.
In fact, whether one calls a godly approach to impending matrimony “courtship” or “dating” is somewhat arbitrary. A better understanding of the seventh commandment’s prohibitions and requirements would do much to purify guy-girl relationships without hyphenating the church. A man is not prevented from lusting after a woman merely because he “courts,” rather than “dates,” her. Moreover, one man’s (presumably sinful) dating habits could well be another man’s (presumably pure) courtship habits. Courtship is really intended to be nothing more than godly dating.
Another hot area for the hyphenaters centers on the Lord’s Table. The notion here is that the covenantal head of the household functions as a priest of sorts. He (1) determines who in his covenantal unit may partake, and (2) distributes the bread and wine to those persons. Often, this practice includes serving very young children.
At the outset, it should be noted that this preference prefers error. Paedocommunion is unconfessional. See, for example, Larger Catechism 168-175. Now it is certainly possible that the Westminster Divines were mistaken in their understanding of the Lord’s Supper. But, until the church reassesses this doctrine and the Spirit grants a more biblical consensus, this preference ought not to be practiced and certainly should not be elevated to being a precept. Rigorous debate, yes; practice before consensus, no.
Furthermore, both aspects of this practice undermine the authority of the elders. While the family and its head may certainly recommend a member to the elders for examination and possible admission to the Lord’s Table, the keys of the kingdom belong to the church and its leaders (Matt. 16:19). The family, though covenantal, is subordinate to Christ’s lordship (Matt. 10: 34-37). Christ’s lordship in the church is expressed by the rule of the elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
Moreover, the Bible teaches that there is only one mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). Because the elders rule in Christ’s name, they represent him in their serving of the communion elements. There is no room for the priestly mediation of the head of the household. Only the ordained servant should distribute and administer the elements of bread and wine. Cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, 29.3-4; Larger Catechism, 169.
Thus, paedocommunion is a preference that is actually a perversion of the Westminster standards. Again, the Confession could be mistaken, but until the church is granted a different consensus on this issue, we should adhere to our present confessional standards and reject this divisive preference.
Other potential hyphens have also entered today’s Reformed churches, such as Y2K preparation and preterism. Whenever we are tempted to make a preference into a precept, we would do well to consider Ephesians 4:1-3: “Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (NKJV).
Reprinted from New Horizons, May 1999.
|Paul MacDonald writes:
Roger Nicole writes:
You may be surprised to find that the word “conversion” does not appear in the Westminster Confession or Catechisms. But the verb “convert” does appear in the chapter on free will (9.4) in the phrase; “When God converts a sinner …” The words “convert” and “conversion” are equally rare in the Bible. In the King James Version “conversion” is found only in Acts 15:3. The verb “convert” appears 14 times, and the noun “convert” is used three times. In other versions the figures are lower yet.
Even though this word is rare in the Scriptures, the concept of conversion is present in a variety of Hebrew and Greek words. This is apparent in the beginning of the article “Conversion” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE). Conversion is an act of God that causes a repenting sinner, brought to life in regeneration, to turn away from sin and toward God and living faith in Jesus Christ.
Saving faith and repentance are really two names for one radical turn by which one’s original course is reversed away from sin and toward God.
The Confession treats each of these two components in separate chapters; saving faith in chapter 14, repentance in chapter 15. They are introduced together in both the Shorter and Larger Catechisms. The Shorter Catechism has one question each for faith and repentance (questions 86 and 87), and the Larger Catechism devotes two questions to justifying faith (72 and 73) and one to repentance (76).
The Catechisms and Confession order these subjects in widely different ways. The Confession deals with faith and repentance after effectual calling, justification, adoption and sanctification, and before good works, perseverance and assurance. Glorification appears in the last two chapters. In this way the order of the golden chain of salvation (Rom. 8:29–30) is followed, with the addition of two links, adoption and sanctification, that certainly belong to the phases of the plan of salvation. Glorification comes at the end, a natural place, since it is part of the consummation. It is noteworthy that G. I. Williamson, in The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes has actually reordered the Confession’s chapters to keep faith and repentance near effectual calling, since they are the immediate and necessary fruits of regeneration.
Here is the order in the Larger Catechism: justification, justifying faith, adoption and sanctification; then comes repentance unto life, followed by questions on the difference between justification and sanctification, the reason for the imperfection of sanctification in the believers, perseverance, assurance, and nine questions on glorification and eternal destiny. The duty of repentance and faith is treated in question 153, after the lengthy exposition of the law of God.
In the Shorter Catechism the order is different still. The questions concerning effectual calling, justification, adoption, and sanctification are followed by three questions dealing with the benefits of salvation in this life, at death, and at the resurrection. Then come 46 questions related to the law of God (questions 39–84) followed by three questions dealing with faith and repentance (85–87). After that a study of the means of grace – the Word, the sacraments, and prayer, concludes the catechism.
These different orders show that there are different ways of explaining the order of the application of redemption. In his Institutes, Calvin dealt with faith and repentance immediately after saying that it is the Holy Spirit who applies to individuals the benefits of the mediating work of Christ. Francis Turretin has no separate place for repentance or conversion, but he deals with faith before his treatment of justification. More recent theologians treat conversion and repentance immediately after regeneration. Turretin finishes up with a chapter on faith, then justification, sanctification, and perseverance.
Let’s take a look at the contents of the chapters on saving faith and repentance in the Westminster Confession.
I. Saving Faith
The Origin of Faith 14.1
It is clear that faith does not arise by the initiative of sinful human beings. This glorious flower does not grow on the dunghill of human depravity and rebellion. The Confession states this truth in five ways: (a) Faith is called a grace; (b) the elect are the ones who exercise saving faith; (c) they are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls; (d) it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart; and (e) three passages of Scripture are listed: 1 Corinthians 12:5, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 12:2.
It’s also clear that this blessing that originates in God’s plan is connected with the ministry of the Word and the administration of the means of grace. God is the formal cause and these are often instrumental causes.
In light of this, it is important to recognise that the new Christian is not passive in the act of faith but actively exercises the new powers established by accepting the truth. Faith involves the whole person – body and soul; mind, heart, and will. It is not God who believes through us, but in faith we respond; the first act of a freed slave. (Jn. 8:32–36)
That a believer is personally active in faith is clear from the fact that the verb “believe” occurs in the imperative (e.g. Mk. 5:36; Jn. 10:38; 14:2; Acts 16:31). God commands us to do something that requires our participation, at least to some extent. God never says “Be born” or “Be born again,” for these acts are clearly outside our reach. But “repent,” “believe,” and “obey” include our activity even though we are helpless to do this if God does not enable us by his spirit.
The object of faith 14.2a
“By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein,” We can summarise this in three propositions: The whole Bible is true, the whole Bible is the Word of God, and the Christian is bound to accept the whole Bible as such. To fail to do that is a signal of failure of faith.
Since the Bible contains different types of messages, the Confession articulates the right attitude toward three important forms of revelation: commands we must obey, threats that make us fear and tremble, and joyful promises.
Christ as the object of faith 14.2b
Saving faith is indispensably connected with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Three words show how faith and redemption are linked: (a) accepting, that is, recognising that what the Scripture says about the Savior is true; (b) receiving, that is, having the saving blessing that Christ secured; (c) resting upon Christ alone, that is, rejecting any hope or expectation of salvation or any other ground than the work of Christ.
Note that our faith is not the basis of justification, otherwise faith would function as a work. The ground of justification is Christ’s work and that alone. Faith functions as an electric switch that adds nothing to the current but directs it where it is needed.
The benefits embraced by faith 14.2c
The Confession lists three benefits: (a) Justification, that is, the forgiveness of all our sins and the investiture of the merits of Jesus Christ; (b) sanctification, that is, the progressive elimination of all sinful drives and tendencies of our inner being, and renewal of our nature into conformity to the demands of a holy God; and (c) eternal life, that is, the blessing of fellowship with God our Creator in the present life (Jn. 5:24) and for all ages to come (Jn. 14:3; Rom. 8: 38–39; 1 Jn. 3:2). These are all benefits included in the covenant of grace.
The degrees of faith 14.3
Like so many human activities, faith shows some variation – when one compares one Christian to another, and also in the same person at different moments of life. In this sense faith may be assailed and weakened or again refreshed and strengthened.
One characteristic of a strong faith is the assurance of salvation through Christ, “the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb. 12:2) Assurance is undermined by disobedience; it is strengthened by the use of the means of grace that reinforce our sense of fellowship with Christ, and consequently of our union with Him.
The joy of salvation is a blessing that God bestows on His obedient children. When wilful and conscious sin intervenes the sense of fellowship is damaged, even as a cloud may for a time hide the face of the sun. (Ps. 51:12)
II. Repentance unto life
The relevance of repentance 15.1
The Westminster Confession calls repentance an “evangelical grace”, meaning that it is only through the grace of God that any sinner is awakened to repentance. This is stated in Acts 11:18. “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Every minister must preach the necessity of repentance as well as of faith. (Acts 20:21). As with faith, repentance, too, is not purely passive but must act in response to God’s command.
The origin of repentance 15.1b
There are three awarenesses that are at the root of true repentance: (a) a sense and sight of the dangers incurred because of sin; (b) a perception of the heinousness of sin as contrary to God’s nature and law; and (c) a realisation that God is merciful to those who are truly penitent.
The nature of repentance 15.2b
Repentance is a sincere revulsion against the filthiness and odiousness of sin, and a turn toward God and his merciful pardon. It is a deep desire and commitment to abandon the paths of sin and to live unto God in a new obedience to His commandments. This definition appears in almost identical terms in the two catechisms.
The necessity of repentance 15.3
Repentance is not necessary as the ground for forgiveness, since the work of Jesus Christ is sufficient for pardon and acceptance, but it is so indispensable that no one may entertain the hope of salvation without it.
The variety in gravity of sin 15.4
All sins are not equally grievous. There is none so small that it does not deserve damnation and none so horrendous that it exceeds God’s power to forgive those who repent. The sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:32; Heb. 6:46; 1 Jn. 5:16) is not one that exceeds God’s power to forgive, but one that manifests such hardening of the heart in response to full enlightenment that no repentance may be expected from those who have hardened themselves to such a degree.
Repentance and Confession 15.5, 15.6
We should not be satisfied to make a general confession to God. However, it is important to review in prayer any acts of disobedience that we have committed. This will help us to remain penitent and to flee the paths of sin. In addition to our private confession to God we should be willing and prepared to acknowledge our faults to those we have offended and to make a public confession when our sins have been of public nature. Christians must forgive those who repent and confess their sins should be forgiven by Christians even as they are forgiven by God.
Chapters fourteen and fifteen of the Confession glorify God, who is the author of every good and perfect gift. (Jas. 1:17) These are intensely practical chapters that should strongly influence our daily walk. Our profession of faith and conduct will glorify God if we live by the principles contained in them. (Mt. 5:16)