Creation A Sacrament? (Horton)

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God's Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life

The apostle Peter said that Christians have been born again by the word of God, which is the preaching of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23, 25). The Holy Spirit gives life to dead hearts through the preaching of good news: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Spirit uses the words, sounds, speaking, and hearing the gospel to bring life. Preaching is a means of grace. Michael Horton comments well on this:

“This defense of the Spirit’s operations through creaturely means should not lead us to a general theory of the sacramentality of creation. In an effort to affirm the goodness of creation, it is often argued that everything is a medium of God’s saving revelation. The difficulty with this view lies not in its appropriate affirmation of created matter as capable of being taken up by God as a means of grace. After all, affirming this point is a major burden of this chapter [chapter 10] and, indeed, much of what I have said thus far.”

“Rather, the problem lies in failing to distinguish common grace and saving grace, general and special revelation. The world displays God’s invisible attributes and his law, but only the gospel reveals his way of salvation. The world is not intrinsically holy and revelatory of saving grace. Rather, God freely and deliberately sets apart certain elements of his creation in the act of binding us to himself. It is his use – that is, his word and promise – that makes them holy, and the Spirit’s agency that makes them effectual.”

“While creation announces God’s manifold wisdom and power, the gospel is a surprising announcement that God made after humans rebelled against God and his natural order. This gospel must be brought by a herald. God himself must tell us where to find him: in the manger, at the cross, and at church.”

“On the one hand, therefore, we should avoid assimilating the Spirit to the means of grace as if they were the efficient cause of saving blessings. On the other hand, we should not separate what God has joined together….”

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), p. 253-254.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Not an Invented Sort of Religion (Horton)

Michael Horton

In the opening section of Michael Horton’s two volume work on justification he gives a helpful explanation of this doctrine in contrast to the newer perspectives on Paul:

So I remain unmoved by dismissals of the Reformation’s formulation of justification and it’s broader quest as little more than the product of an early modern obsession with the self. “Tortured subjectivity” is what you get when “God is dead,” while you nevertheless feel a sense of guilt and despair that vaguely comes from somewhere other than your inner self or the people around you. Say whatever you like about the Protestant Reformers, but they were not obsessed with introspection. On the contrary, they were gripped by the experience of meeting a stranger, an other, to whom they were accountable. Luther didn’t fear an inner judgment but a real one on the great stage of history, with banners flying and a fight to the death. Whoever this God was, he was not manipulable by the subjective wants or wish-projections of mortals. One would never invent this sort of religion as therapy for self-improvement, self-empowerment, and tranquility of mind. And regardless, Luther would not have recognized such a religion, much less sympathize with it. If there are lingering doubts about that, I hope that this will leay them to rest.

Michael Horton, Justification (vol. 1) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), p. 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54105

The Spirit, the Church, and Mission (Horton)

 I always appreciate Michael Horton’s balanced approach to biblical doctrine and theology.  Here’s one example of how Horton strikes a biblical balance concerning the topics of church, mission, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Note how he explains that we cannot separate the institutional church from work of the Holy Spirit in missions:

For many Christians today, even those in more liturgical traditions, the notion that the Spirit is at work visibly wherever the Word is faithfully preached and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution is no longer intuitive.  For many, it seems, the only way of redeeming the term ‘church’ is to identify it exclusively with the invisible church, that is, the spiritual fellowship of all God’s elect in all times and places rather than the visible and concrete institution that in its various manifestations it somehow thought to be endowed with real authority from Christ and genuine power from the Spirit.  The Spirit is associated with mission, often in some tension (if not outright contrast) with the church’s ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline.

But this is a glaring misapprehension of the economic operations of the Trinity in general and the incarnation in particular.  The Father sent the Son, and the Spirit clothed the Son in our nature; the Father and the Son sent the Spirit into our hearts, regenerating and uniting us to Christ the living vine.  The Spirit’s work is consistently associated with that which is public and tangible in history, as we have seen. Furthermore, the Spirit equips the church to be an official and creaturely embassy of Christ’s reign and sends us out on his mission to bring the liberating word of the King to the ends of the earth.  The sending of the church therefore belongs to the same economy as a Father sending of the Son as well as the sending of the Spirit by the Father and the Son.

Consequently, to divide Spirit-filled mission from the institutional church is to misunderstand at a fundamental level who the Spirit is, how he works ordinarily, and what we are called to do and be in the world today.  I fear that we are creeping toward a Gnosticism that views the visible church as the prison house of the invisible church.

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 300-301.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Spirit-Baptism, Second Blessing??

 Some people talk about a “second blessing” or a “baptism of the Spirit” that not all Christians receive.  This view is based on several places in Acts where some people were baptized and then later received the Holy Spirit.  For example, in Acts 19 a group of people from Ephesus were baptized into John’s baptism but had never heard about the Holy Spirit.  So they were baptized in the name of Jesus,  the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  I appreciate how John Stott comments on this story in Acts 19:

…They experienced a mini-Pentecost. Better, Pentecost caught up on them. Better still, they were caught up into it, as its promised blessings became theirs.  The norm of Christian experience, then, is a cluster of four things: repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Though the perceived order may vary a little, the four belong together and are universal in Christian initiation. The laying-on of apostolic hands, however, together with tongue-speaking and prophesying, were special to Ephesus, as to Samaria, in order to demonstrate visibly and publicly that particular groups were incorporated into Christ by the Spirit; the New Testament does not universalize them. There are no Samaritans or disciples of John the Baptist left in the world today.

These instances in Acts take place during a very unique and unrepeatable period of redemptive history.  Michael Horton agrees with Stott:

In this foundation-laying era of the extraordinary ministry of the apostles (in Acts), we would expect extraordinary foundation-laying episodes that are not normative for our era of the ordinary ministry.

The book of Acts is less a blueprint than it is the announcement of the acts of Christ by his Spirit through the apostles, of whom there are no living successors.  There is no reason to assume that all of the marvelous signs of the Spirit’s outpouring in the apostolic era are normative today.  This is true especially when the norm for all Christians is spelled out so clearly in the Epistles, which teach that baptism into Christ is the Spirit’s baptism and that all those who are in Christ share in his anointing.

The above quotes are found here:

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 304–305.

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 192-195.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Why Do Reformed Churches Baptize Infants? (Horton)

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by [Horton, Michael] There are several different biblical reasons why Reformed churches baptize both infants and adults.  Louis Berkhof, Francis Turretin, Charles Hodge, John Calvin, and others have pointed out the various biblical reasons why Reformed churches baptize infants as well as adults.  There’s obviously more to the discussion, but I appreciate how Michael Horton put it:

From a covenantal perspective, it is impossible to separate the claim that the children of believers are holy (1 Cor 7:14) from the sign and seal of the covenant.  According to the traditional Anabaptist/Baptist view, the children are not regarded as holy until they personally repent and believe.  However, the New Testament preserves the clean/unclean distinction, only now it pertains not to Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, but to believing and unbelieving families, with baptism as the covenant’s ratification.  In fact, Paul especially labors the point that all, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, are Abraham’s children and heirs of the Abrahamic covenant through faith alone, just like Abraham (Rom 4:3 with Gen. 15:6, Gal. 3-4).  The church, in its unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ, is understood as the fulfillment of Israel’s existence (Mt 21:43; Rom 9:25-26, 2 Cor 6:16, Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 2:9, Gal 6:16; Rev. 5:9).  Everything turns on whether we assume continuity or discontinuity as most fundamental to interpreting the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Given the way that the New Testament itself interprets the Old, we should privilege continuity.

If this is the case, then the burden of proof shifts from the paedobaptists (i.e., infant baptizers) to Baptists.  Given the Jewish background of the first Christians, it would not be the command to administer the sign and seal of the covenant to their children that would have been surprising, but the command to cease administering it to them.  However, we are not left to an argument from silence.  This promise for believers and their children is exhibited in the conversion and baptism of Lydia.  After she believed the gospel, ‘she was baptized, and her household as well’ (Acts 16:15).  Later in the same chapter, we read of the conversion of the Philippian jailer.  He too is told, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family’ (vv 31, 33).  Paul recalls having baptized the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16).  If children are included in the covenant of grace under its Old Testament administration, surely they are not excluded in the new covenant administration, which the writer to the Hebrews calls ‘better’ than the old (Heb. 7:22).

Again, there’s more to the discussion, but I appreciate Horton’s words on the continuity between the Old and New Covenants.  It’s also helpful to realize that infants had been included in the covenant for around twenty centuries before the apostles’ lived.  If infants are no longer part of the covenant community in the New Testament era, one would expect a very clear command to now exclude children of believers.  Instead, in the New Testament we’re told that children of believers are “holy” (set apart) and that the promise belongs to them as well as their parents (1 Cor 7:14; Acts 2:39).  Paul tells children to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1).  Jesus himself welcomed little children, blessed them, prayed over them, and said, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Lk. 18:16 NASB).  Therefore, “why should the church refuse to welcome into her arms those whom Christ received into his?” (Francis Turretin).

The above quotes are found in Michael Horton, Christian Theology, p. 795-6.  Emphasis his.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Modalism and Modern Worship (Horton)

 One of the many blessings of a liturgy shaped by biblical truths and phrases is that it gets in you.  If a liturgy is full of biblical truth, it teaches the truth.  Both kids and adults learn good theology from a good liturgy.  On the other hand, if a liturgy doesn’t closely follow Scripture or biblical truths, the opposite happens: people absorb not-so-good theology or even unbiblical theology that is very man-centered.  And, of course, every church has a liturgy!  The only question is: how biblical is it?  Michael Horton explains one aspect of liturgy in the following section of his 2017 publication, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.

It is in the public service – the weekly gathering of the communion of saints – where this [Trinitarian] faith is won or lost.  Whatever is received, done, or said there shapes our personal relationship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.  In the fourth century Basil of Caesarea revised the liturgy then in widespread use to more intentionally inculcate a full Trinitarianism, calling pastors ‘to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.’  One example was Basil’s introduction of what we know as the Gloria Patri: ‘Glory be to the Father, and do the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,’ which stirred no small controversy among those who denied the appropriateness of worshiping the Spirit.  It is not only a creedal rule that the Holy Spirit is to be ‘worshiped and glorified’ together with the Father and the Son; these liturgies lead us to invoke the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

However, in many churches today prayers and songs have been stripped of Trinitarian references that had in earlier generations been woven into the warp and woof of worship.  Not surprisingly, the result is often extemporaneous prayers that reflect our default setting of modalism.  Even in doctrinally orthodox circles, one hears prayers that are confusing, as if the persons of the Trinity were interchangeable – perhaps even the same person.  At least it seems that the person being addressed shifts back and forth without any specification.  Sometimes the Father is thanked for coming into the world to save us, for dying for our sins, for indwelling us, or as the one who will return again.  Very frequently, prayers conclude with ‘in your name, amen.’  In whose name?  Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father in the name of Christ: it is not the Father or the Spirit but the Son who is our mediator.

Some contemporary praise choruses reflect and reinforce this confusion of the persons, with praises directed to the Father for specific acts of the Son or to the Son for specific acts that the Scripture attributes to the Spirit, and so forth.  For example. in the popular chorus, ‘You Alone,’ believers are led to pray as if they were Arians: ‘You alone are Father / and You alone are good / You alone are Savior / and You alone are God.’

[However], worship songs are intended not merely to facilitate personal expression of one’s feelings, but to sing the truth deeply into our hearts: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Paul exhorts, ‘teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16)….

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 23-24.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Our Souls Need to Feed on Christ (Horton)

The Lord’s Supper is a great blessing for Christians.  In it, the Lord condescends to feed us with the body and blood of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit by the faith he’s graciously given us.  Paul called it a “participation” or “sharing” in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).  The Westminster Larger Catechism says that in the Lord’s Supper we “feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after [in] a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner, yet truly and really….” (Q/A 170).  I like how Michael Horton comments on this:

“According to Rome, baptism washed away original sin in the infant and, to use an illustration, filled the bathtub of grace.  But every time the believer committed a venial (‘little’) sin, grace would leak; a mortal (‘big’) sin could empty the tub altogether!  That’s where the sacraments like communion came in; they could fill the tub up again.  This, of course, is not the view the Protestant Reformers held, and it is, I believe, far from the biblical view.”

“The impartation of grace we find in Holy Communion is not a grace that saves but a grace that restores the believer’s confidence in the Word’s pronouncement, ‘Not guilty.’  Communion is a refueling station not because we continually need to recover lost merits, but because we need our faith in Christ to be strengthened regularly by God’s promise.  We are weak; our hearts are easily cooled, and our souls need to feed on Christ just as truly as our bodies need to feed on bread.”

“Holy Communion strengthens us not only because it symbolizes or represents something great, but because it really is something great.  It is the actual nourishment of Christ himself who offers his body and blood for spiritual food.  To those wearied by a tough week at home or the office or to those whose consciences never let them forget a sin they commit during the week, the Supper is there to communicate Christ and his forgiveness.  There is no conscience that cannot be instructed and overcome by this powerful sacrament.  Rather than using it as a means of filling up a leaky bathtub, we must view it as God’s chosen reminder that we are always and everywhere forgiven people.”

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, p. 201.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI