Understanding and Interpreting the Commandments

Marrow of Modern Divinity Although the Ten Commandments in their biblical form (in Ex. 20 and Deut. 5) are quite short, their meaning is deep and broad.  Using other Scriptures, we can properly talk about how to interpret the Ten Commandments.  For one example, the Westminster Larger Catechism in Q/A 99 talks about biblical rules for the right understanding of the Ten Commandments.  For another example, Edward Fisher echoed those rules in his Marrow of Modern Divinity.  These rules for interpreting and applying the Ten Commandments are helpful; I’ll give an edited/summarized version of Fisher’s rules below.  (Note: though Fisher didn’t give a list of proof texts, he was clearly alluding to Scripture in his discussion, so I’ve added some texts for further thought.)

1) Every commandment has both a negative and affirmative part contained in it.  That is, where an evil is forbidden, the contrary good is commanded, and where any good is commanded, the contrary evil is forbidden (Deut. 6:13, Mt. 4:9-10, Mt. 15:4-6, Eph. 4:28, etc.).

2) Under one good action commanded, or one evil action forbidden, all of the same kind or nature are comprehended; yea, all occasions and means leading thereunto.  [For example, ‘do not commit adultery’ includes the forbidding of lustful looks that lead to adultery; consider the David and Bathsheba story.]

3) The law of God is spiritual, reaching to the very heart or soul, and all the powers thereof, for it charges the understanding to know the will of God; it charges the memory to retain, and the will to choose the better and to leave the worse; it charges the affections to love the things that are to be loved and to hate the things that are to be hated.  It bids the powers of the soul to obedience, as well as the words, thoughts, and gestures [which arise from the heart – Mt. 22:37-39].

4) The law of God must not just be the rule of our obedience, but also the reason of it.  We must not simply obey the law, but obey it because the Lord requires it; we must do what it says out of love for God; the love of God must be the fountain, the impulsive, and the efficient cause of all our obedient to the law (see 1 John).

5) Just as our obedience to the law must arise out of love for God, so it must also be directed to a right end – that is, that God alone may be glorified by us.  Otherwise obedience is not the worship of God, but hypocrisy.  In seeking to please God in our obedience, we glorify him, and these two things always go together (1 Cor. 10:13).

6) The Lord does not only take notice of what we do in obedience to his law, but also the manner in which we do it.  Therefore we must seek to obey the law after a right manner – that is, humbly, reverently, willingly, and zealously (cf. Mic. 6:8).

Or, put in a different yet parallel way, the Heidelberg Catechism goes like this:

What do we do that is good?  Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on human tradition (Q/A 91).

For the above quotes by Fisher, see p.275-276 of The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

shane lems

Latin Lesson: Historic Protestantism on Christ’s Kingdom

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology As a few of our readers may know, in some small pockets of Reformed Christianity there is strong opposition to making distinctions in the way Christ reigns over the world.  Some say we must not distinguish between Christ’s general rule over all and his saving rule over his church.  (FYI, if you’ve not heard of this issue, it’s probably not something you need to dig into.)  I have to admit that I’m not sure why there is such strong opposition to this distinction, since Protestant and Reformed theologians have made distinctions – based on Scripture – in this area for quite some time.  If one doesn’t agree with this teaching, that’s OK; but if one calls this teaching un-Reformed or heretical, that’s simply not acceptable.  In case you’re wondering, here’s how Richard Muller describes the historic Protestant view of Christ’s kingdom (I’ve edited it for length):

Regnum Christi: the rule or kingdom of Christ.  The Protestant scholastics recognize several distinctions that can be made with regard to the exercise of Christ’s rule.  The Lutherans tend to argue a threefold-kingdom: 1) the regnum potentai, or kingdom of power, according to which Christ, as divine Word and Second Person of the Trinity, rules the entire creation providential and is Lord of all without distinction; 2) the regnum gratiae, or kingdom of grace, in which Christ governs, blesses, and defends his church on earth; and 3) the regnum gloriae, or the kingdom of glory, in which Christ governs the church triumphant, when he will subdue his enemies and bring the whole church into her triumphal reign.  These divisions do not indicate several reigns but merely distinctions in the manner and exercise of Christ’s rule.

The Reformed scholastics express essentially the same distinctions in a twofold division of the kingdom into 1) the regnum essentiale (the essential rule, or universal/natural rule) and 2) the regnum personale (the personal rule or economic, soteriological rule).  The former set of terms (essential rule) corresponds to the Lutheran definition of the kingdom of power, and the latter set of terms (personal rule) corresponds to the Lutheran definitions of the kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory.  The kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory belong to Christ as the Mediator of salvation, and are thus both personal and economic.

Muller goes on to note that though Lutheran and Reformed theology differ on some aspects of Christology (related to the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper), the Reformed and Lutherans agree on the eternal duration of the reign of Christ and the “cessation of certain modes of administration.”

The Protestant theologians that made these distinctions in the past also gave us some excellent resources on justification by faith alone and on Christian ethics – living the Christian life in light of God’s law.  Based on these things, again, I’m not sure why some are so opposed to this teaching.  It honors Christ as sovereign king over all and goes hand in hand with how live for him in this world.

As Herman Bavinck said, “To distinguish is to learn.”

For the entire article, see pages 259-261 of Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Justification and Double Imputation

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 are two places in Scripture that teach the twin truths of justification and double imputation: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” “…He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB).  After discussing these passages in some detail, John Fesko writes this in summary:

“In these two passages we see the inextricable link between justification and double imputation.  God does not simply write off sin when he forgives the believer. Rather, God imputes the sin and guilt of the believer to Christ, who has borne the penalty for that sin and guilt upon the cross.  At the same time God imputes the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ to the believer.  Sever either the remission of sins or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the sinner stands inextricably in a quandary, as the sinner requires not only the forgiveness of sins but also the righteousness and obedience of Christ. If the believer receives only the remission of sins, then justification would not be possible, as God would have to postpone his judgment to await the outcome, to wait and see whether the void of sin would be filled by obedience.”

This, however is not the nature of our justification because when God eliminates our sin he fills the void with the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and right then and there the believer, like Abraham, is counted righteous, and indefectibly so because God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer.  This means that the historic Reformed expressions of justification by faith alone are correct.”

John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2008), p 204-205.

shane lems
hammond, wi

“I AM”

I appreciate the following words from Ravi Zacharias (emphasis his):

“At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent.  As the exposition is studied, something very significant emerges.  There comes a bifurcation, or a distinction, between the person and the teaching.  Mohammed, to the Koran.  Buddha, to the Noble Path.  Krishna, to his philosophizing.  Zoroaster, to his ethics.”

“Whatever we make of their claims, one reality is inescapable.  They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way.  In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living.  It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn.  It is Zoroaster to whom you listen.  It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you.  It is not Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you.”

“By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound his message.  He was identical with his message.  ‘In Him,’ say the Scriptures, ‘dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’  He did not just proclaim the truth.  He said, ‘I am the truth.’  He did not just show a way.  He said, ‘I am the way.’  He did not just open up vistas.  He said, ‘I am the door.”  ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’  ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’  ‘I am the I AM.’

“In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread.  He is the bread.  This is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living.  Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.”

Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), 89-90.

shane lems

A Christian View of Knowledge (K. Samples)

One of my favorite books on apologetics and worldview is A World of Difference by Kenneth Samples.  I’ve mentioned it here on the blog from time to time; while I was recently flipping through it again, I re-read a helpful discussion of the Christian, biblical view of knowledge (Christian epistemology).  I’ll summarize it here:

1) Extreme skepticism is self-defeating.  Like the universal denial of truth, extreme skepticism with regard to knowledge is self-defeating and therefore false.  The skeptic’s reasoning (‘one cannot know’) backfires for surely he at least claims to know that he doesn’t know – an assertion which is self-referentially incoherent or absurd.

2) Knowledge is possible with God as its source and foundation.  The Bible indicates that human beings can attain genuine knowledge of God, the self, and the world (Ps. 19:1-4, Acts 17:27-28, Rom. 1:18-21).  The Creator sustains the universe and the mind and sensory organs of man in such a way that they correspond with each other and him.  Because man is created in God’s image, human beings can trust in the reliability of the basic process of knowing.

3) Knowledge is directly connected to God’s revelatory acts.  God’s general and special revelation make knowledge available.  In other words, people can come to ‘know’ through exercising their God-given rational capacities, through empirical observation.

4) Knowledge is properly justified true belief.  1) Knowledge involves belief.  It is a necessary part of knowing, for no one can know something unless he believes it. 2) A person can only know things that are true.  An individual can think she knows something to be true but, in fact, be wrong.  3) A person can believe something to be true, that is in fact true, but it wouldn’t constitute knowledge if it lacks proper justification.  Knowledge involves some form of confirmation or evidence.

5) Human knowledge is limited and affected by sin.  1) Human beings, though quite well-endowed intellectually by way of bearing God’s image, are nevertheless finite creatures by nature.  As a result, unlike God, they have limitations with regard to knowledge and rational comprehension in the essence of their being.  2) Human reason has been negatively affected by sin.  To some degree sin impairs human intelligence and rationality.  (However, sin does not effect the laws of logic or of correct reasoning.)

6) The Christian faith involves knowledge and is compatible with reason.  1) The Christian faith affirms that there is an objective source and foundation for knowledge, reason, and rationality; that basis is found in a personal and rational God.  2) Christian truth-claims – though they often transcend finite human comprehension – do not violate the basic laws or principles of reason.  3) The Bible encourages the attainment of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.  4) The truths of the Christian faith correspond to and are supported by things such as evidence, facts, and reason.  Biblical faith can be defined as confident trust in a reliable source (God or Christ).  Reason and faith function in a complementary fashion.

For the full discussion, including some more Scripture references, see pages 78-83 of A World of Difference.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Hollywood, Narcissism, and Sex

Christians [should] disagree with the sexual ethic that Hollywood teaches, whether implicitly or explicitly.  This un-Christian, unnatural, privatized, and anti-social view of sex is, as Jennifer Morse argues well, narcissistic  (all about self).  In reality, sex is a public thing – meaning it affects more than just a single, solitary person.  It affects society.  Here’s how Morse describes it:

“For the entertainment industry, all sex is a private good.  Anything I choose to do or not do is acceptable.  My sex life is all about me and my desires and has nothing to do with community of any kind.”

“But Hollywood presents us with two, seemingly contradictory positions.  On the one hand, many stars seem to delight in taunting the public: ‘My sex life is private business; how dare you utter a word of criticism.’  On the other hand, this same group of people readily make their sexual activity public.  In addition to the fictionalized sex produced for movies and television, many entertainment figures share the details of their love lives to the public – every marriage and divorce, every affair and rumor.  As the stars age, and their biological clocks start ticking, we are treated to every facet of their pursuit of a baby, whether conceived naturally or artificially.  Yet when some members of the public object either to the content of the films or the tasteless self-display of the stars’ private lives, the entertainment world pretends to be shocked.”

“This apparent contradiction can be resolved with one word: narcissism.  Privacy in the sense that ‘this is my private business’ is really an implicit claim that I am entitled to do whatever I want without having to answer to anyone.  People express this position by saying, ‘Your rules don’t apply to me.  I am entitled to adapt the rules to my personal needs and desires.’  A cynical observer might offer a less charitable interpretation: these people are really saying ‘I am entitled to make up the rules as I go along.’

‘At the same time, the lack of discretion that seems to be the opposite of privacy allows a person to expose himself (literally and figuratively) to an anonymous public: ‘Look at me! Pay attention to me!’  Pathological narcissism, the worship or idealization of self, is the thread common to both of Hollywood’s interpretations of privacy (pp 120-121). ”

Morse goes on to basically say it is no wonder why many of these same celebrities have miserable lives.  Since they have “displayed their sexuality as a commodity, they have diminished and dehumanized themselves” and true intimacy and relationship are thus impossible.   Hollywood’s sexual contradiction – that sex is private but then displaying sex openly – results in wrecked lives.  And so it goes in society.  Sex is not just a private thing!

To read more of Morse’s excellent observations and critiques of America’s messed up sexual ethic, see Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World (Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2005).

shane lems

6 Anti-Church Evangelical Trends

Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life  (This is a re-post from February, 2011.)

As I mentioned a few weeks back, this is a great book: Set Apart by R. Kent Hughes (and it’s less than $10!).  I liked his section where he gave six anti-church trends among American evangelicals (found in chapter 10).  Here they are.

1) Hitchhiker Christians:  These people say, “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills – and I’ll come along for the ride.  But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out.  My thumb is always out for a better ride.”

2) Consumer Christians:  These are “ecclesiastical shoppers [that] attend one church for the preaching, send their children to a second church for its youth program, and go to a third church’s small group.  Their motto is to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?'”  The consumer mentality “encouraged those who have been influenced by it to think naturally in terms of receiving rather than contributing.”

3) Spectator Christians: “Spectator Christianity feeds on the delusion that virtue can come through viewing, much like the football fan who imagines that he ingests strength and daring while watching his favorite pro team.  Spectator sports and spectator Christianity produce the same things – fans who cheer the players on while they themselves are in desperate need of engagement and meaning.”

4) Drive-through Christians: “[These kind of people] get their ‘church fix’ out of the way by attending a weeknight church service or the early service on Sunday morning so that the family can save the bulk of Sunday for the all-important soccer game or recreational trip.  Of course there is an unhappy price extracted over time in the habits and the arteries of a flabby soul – a family that is unfit for the battles of life and has no conception of being Christian soldiers in the great spiritual battle.”

5) Relationless Christians: Despite the Bible’s emphasis on Christians gathering together in love, today some people say “the best church is the one that knows you least and demands the least….  Of course, the apotheosis is the electronic church where Christ’s body can be surveyed by the candid camera and the Word can be heard without responsibility or accountability.”

6) Churchless Worshipers: “The current myth is that a life of worship is possible, even better, apart from the church.  As one person blithely expressed it, ‘For “church” I go to the mall to my favorite coffee place and spend my morning with the Lord.  That is how I worship.’  This is an updated suburban and yuppie version of how to spend Sunday, changed from its rustic forebearer [namely, Emily Dickinson, who said 100 years ago] ‘Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it staying at Home‘”

I do believe these are accurate (Hughes does describe them with a little more detail – I’ve summarized them).  I have talked to people in my area with similar views of the church.  Hughes does go on to give a nice biblical antidote to these six trends – maybe I’ll list them some other time.  For now, contemplate these six and try to engage them from a biblical perspective so the next time you meet Christians like this you have something loving, biblical, and intelligent to say.

shane lems