Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Keeping Distinctions: Israel and the Church

At no point does the word "Israel" in the New Testament ever refer to anything other than ethnic Israel. To say otherwise is to superimpose personal theological presuppositions over the text of Scripture. Go ahead, check it out - Matthew 2:6, 2:20, 2:21, 8:10, 9:33, 10:6, 10:23, 15:24, 15:31, 27:9, 27:42; Mark 12:29, 15:32,; Luke 1:16, 1:54, 1:68, 1:80, 2:25, 2:32, 2:34, 4:25, 4:27, 7:9, 22:30, 24:21; John 1:31, 1:49, 3:10, 12:13; Acts 1:6, 2:22, 2:36, 3:12, 4:10, 4:27, 5:21, 5:31, 5:35, 7:23, 7:37, 7:42, 9:15, 10:36, 13:16, 13:17, 13:23, 13:24, 21:28, 28:20; Romans 9:4, 9:6, 9:27, 9:31, 10:19, 10:21, 11:1, 11:2, 11:7, 11:25, 11:26; First Corinthians 10:18; Second Corinthians 3:7, 3:13, 11:22; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12; Philippians 3:5; Hebrews 8:8, 8:10, 11:22, Revelation 7:4, 21:12. There it is - the complete list.

Nonetheless, some want to continue to insist that the Church has replaced Israel in the program of God, making the Church into "the new Israel". This is entirely unwarranted, is dangerously biased against Israel, and harms a spiritual leader's ability to do ministry because of the cloudiness that results in interpretation of the above passages and the Old Testament promises to Israel. Proponents of this "replacement theology" can only agree that one of the above verses makes their point - Galatians 6:16. Without any exegetical warrant at all, they conclude that "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 must not be believing ethnic Israel (whether in the present or the future), but rather the Church. Apparently to to them adding the phrase "of God" makes the statement mystical enough that it must not mean Israel anymore. From there an entire "replacement theology" has been developed in a way that just assumes itself to be true, but never substantiates itself by biblical exegesis (see for example the irresponsible works like O. Palmer Robertson's "The Israel of God" or Philip Mauro's "The Hope of Israel"). The idea of the replacement of Israel is then constantly superimposed by them over all other pertinent Bible passages, rather than letting these texts speak for themselves. In contrast to the replacement theologians, Alva J. Mclain in his classic "The Greatness of the Kingdom" was clear in stressing from Romans 9-11 that if God does not fulfill His promises to Israel, you cannot be sure that God will fulfill His promises to you either. That is, if the Church has "replaced" Israel, what assurance is there that God will not "replace" the Church?

If we let Israel be Israel in all its usages in Scripture we will be free to let the promises, threats, warnings, etc. of God to Israel be for Israel, and we will be free to let the promises, threats, warnings, etc. of God to the Church be for the Church. It is quite clear in Ephesians 2:11 through 3:12 that the "commonwealth of Israel" (2:12) is not the same thing as the "new man" (2:15), or "God's household" (2:19), or "the mystery" (3:4-7), or "the body" (3:6). Thus a distinction between Israel and the Church is proven by this passage. Just visit Israel and you will not need any more proof than that to see that Israel is not the Church. This superimposing of a mystical "Israel" over other passages cannot be a valid hermeneutical method. Letting each text speak for itself, letting Israel be Israel and the Church be the Church is a valid hermeneutical method. This has massive implications for our ecclesiology as well as our eschatology. In other words, if we want to get ministry right we had best get this distinction right.

For excellent further study see Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum's "Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (pp. 680-699) and Stanley Toussaint and Charles Dyer's "Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost" (pp. 181-195). I also just waded through an outstanding new book, "Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged" by Barry E. Horner (B&H Academic, 2007). Well worth the effort. While I concur with most of Graeme Goldsworthy's "Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics", and certainly appreciate his main sentiment, I found his critique of "evangelical Zionism" (which I consider to be an ungracious slur) to be inconsistent, out of place, and actually "eclipsing the Gospel" in the Old Testament and in eschatology ( pp.169-171).

Monday, November 19, 2007


Thursday is a nationally declared day of thanks in the USA. But does declaring a day produce a grateful heart? The Word of God does more than set aside a day - it commands a continual practice of gratitude to God . . .

"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thess. 5:18)

"Continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving." ( Col.4:2)

"Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:57)

"And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, "Were not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?" (Luke 17:15-17)

"Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands ... enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise; be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good." (Psalm 100:1,4-5)

And here is one for after you eat on Thursday - ""When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which He hath given thee." (Deut. 8:10)

OK, I took that last one out of context, but I trust you will have an enjoyable day to the praise of your Saviour Jesus Christ!!

Ministry's Highest Good: Doxology or Soteriology? (Part II)

So what are some implications of the distinction of "doxology over soteriology"? I'll make some observations - you may have others.

(1) If salvation is the highest good, there is no explanation as to why God's judgment of lost people in eternal Hell is glorifying to God, yet Romans 9:22-23 indicates that is the case. But if God's glory is the highest good then the lostness of some glorifies God by highlighting His salvation of others.

(2) Making evangelism the highest good in ministry tends to cause us to measure success in ministry by immediate and apparent results (bodies, buildings, and bucks) rather than in bringing glory to God.

(3) Measuring success in ministry by immediate and apparent results tends towards a weakness in yielding to the temptation to resort to gimmicks, questionable methods, or even dishonesty (preachers would never pad their numbers would they?) in an attempt to make oneself or one's church look more successful.

(4) If evangelism is the highest good in ministry, we should be at it all the time! No time for lunch, exercise, marriage, family, vacation, enjoyment of life, etc. These become relative wastes of time if evangelism is the highest good. Maybe this helps explain why so many evangelists have failed morally in relation to their marriages. It is not that they were spending too much time on evangelism, it is that they failed to see their marriages as a means of glorifying God and as being part of their ministry. This is a fragmented view of life and ministry which fails to see all of life as cohesive under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It fails to see every calling/vocation from God as holy. And it fails to consider that God "richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (First Timothy 6:17).

(5) To whatever extent number four above is true, there is a massive, corresponding sense of guilt or even condemnation because the doing or the results of evangelism are not good enough. I have struggled with this in a deeply personal, sometimes morbid, way. I have gone out late at night to find unsuspecting lost people to talk to about Christ because I had not met my quota for the day or had not seen enough results lately. Whatever "converts" I saw that way, in the words of DL Moody, they were my "converts" not the Lord's. I had to have a godly friend tell me years ago, "Keith, some people are going to go to Hell whether you want them to or not." I have watched those with the catch-phrase "Win the Lost at any Cost" find that the cost was their sanity, or health, or marriage. This is not a valid cost. When we are depressed because attendance was down, or the results are too slow, or people are not responding, this is an indicator that we are not ministering for the Glory of God, but for our own success. And often the discouragement leads one to quit the ministry.

(6) When evangelism is viewed as the highest good, the Gospel being preached tends to become man-centered as opposed to God-centered. The message collapses into whatever tends to "work" or get the most results as opposed to what is biblically accurate and exalts God.

(7) When evangelism is viewed as the highest good it actually becomes less effective and less sustainable than when worship is seen as the highest good. Worship is the fuel of evangelism and mission. John Piper has made this point quite well in his book "Let The Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions". Worship is also the best context for evangelism - see First Corinthians 14:24-25. How many weeks have you sustained your typical church outreach visitation program? Two? Three? For evangelism to be sustained it must be fueled by worship. So evangelism will be more effective when it is viewed under the Glory of God. The Great Commission begins with worship (Matthew 28:17) and culminates in worshipers (John 4:23). The glorified experience of worship in Revelation 5:9 includes the results of global evangelism, consisting of people form every extended family grouping, every language, and every ethnicity worshiping before God's throne.

Yes, I share the vision to motivate the Church to be far more evangelistic - to be aggressively evangelistic - in these days. But the way to do this is to hold high the vision of Christ and His Glory displayed through the Church. "Now to Him Who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond what we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the Glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ministry's Highest Good: Doxology or Soteriology?

I want to be clear from the start - I am evangelistic!! I am a soulwinner, and I do not apologize for using the term (by the way, neither did Spurgeon - as I look at my well worn copy of his book "The Soul Winner" in the 1963 Eerdmans edition). I believe that "evangelist" is a necessary gifted equipper of the church (Ephesians 4:11-12), and while I personally am not "wired" as that gift, I have hired one who is as an Evangelist on our church staff. Evangelism is an extremely high good and high motivation. The personal salvation of people is infinitely and eternally valuable. I pray that our Lord will continually keep me broken in heart with a burden and compassion for people who are lost and hellbound without Jesus Christ, like Paul in Romans 9:1-3.

But my question here is not whether salvation/evangelism is important or highly good - it clearly is!! Rather, my question is whether salvation is our highest good, or is there something higher? Is human salvation the unifying glue that provides the theme for the whole Bible, or is there something higher? Is soteriology the portion of theology the forms the rest into a cohesive view, or is it not large enough, big enough to accomplish that? And if not soteriology, then what?

And so I am submitting that doxology is higher than soteriology- that is that it is the Glory of God that is big enough, grand enough, beautiful enough, powerful enough to provide the cohesive theme of all Scripture and be our highest good in life and ministry. I take this from Romans 11:36, as representative of hundreds of Bible verses that could be marshalled to make the point. "All things" in this verse makes it a full and comprehensive statement. "All things" are "from Him (God)" - He is originator, cause, motivator, giver of all things!! "All things" are "through Him" - He is the method, superintendent, means, providential guide of all things!! "All things" are "to Him" - He is the goal, the evaluator, the climax of all things!! Therefore, "to Him be the glory forever, Amen"!! Throughout chapters 9-11 of Romans, it is both the salvation of people and the damnation of people that bring glory to God. Salvation is without question an extremely high means of bringing glory to God. Notice the trinitarian ascription "to the praise of His glory/of His grace" in Ephesians 1:6,12,14. The work of the Father in salvation ( Eph.1:3-6), the work of the Son in salvation (1:4-12), the work of the Spirit in salvation (1:13-14), are all to the praise of His glory!! (Hey, guys, that will preach!). Reflecting again recently on the Church in Heaven in Revelation 4-5 I was struck with Rev.5:13; "every created thing" (people, animals, rocks, trees, fish, demons) which is "in heaven" (redeemed people, angels), "on earth" (everything remaining while the Church is in heaven), "under the earth" (graves, hell), "on the sea" (ships, whales, birds), and just in case we missed anything anywhere "and all things in them" - all things say, "To Him Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing, and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever!!"

Now, what difference does keeping this distinction make? I will suggest some in the continuation of this article (part 2).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Keeping Distinctions

To be biblical in our church leadership, distinctions must be made. Distinctions are necessary for both sound biblical interpretation and endurance in life and ministry. I doubt if any seasoned spiritual leader would deny this, although there will be disagreements as to which distinctions are important and right, as well as on which side of a distinction a leader may stand. There are very significant, practical ramifications which flow from the distinctions we make.

These distinctions must not be pre-conceived opinions, theories, or systems imposed upon the biblical text. Rather, they are distinctions which must flow from the biblical text itself. As these concepts flow from the text, they must also, however, begin to inform one another. Another way to say this is that "biblical theology" must always precede "systematic theology", but let us not forget nor omit systematic theology (and both should precede practice/culture). Or, even another way to say this could be that while we must engage in both "exegesis of Scripture" and "exegesis of culture", the two are not equal. Both are necessary, but Scripture Itself is authoritative over culture (in terms of the authority and infallibility of the Word of God, and the desire to experience "biblical culture" as opposed to an "enculturated Bible"). Maybe the simplest way to say it is, "Doctrine really does matter, and we really ought to and need to care about it."

The forming and keeping of distinctions does not imply complete disjunction/separation between the parts of the distinction. There will be both continuity and discontinuity between them. There is, though, an implication of primacy or priority of one part over the other related to the field of thought or the timing application of the distinction.

Here are some examples of distinctions I will be considering in upcoming articles:

*doxological or soteriological highest good (worship and evangelism)
*Israel and the Church
*doctrine and relationships
*preaching the Gospel and methodologies
*grace and discipline.
*expository preaching and application.

More may be added depending on response and interaction. I trust this will be a sharpening and strengthening exercise for God's servants.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Welcome to "The Equipper" Blog

Hello everyone! Welcome to "The Equipper" blog.

My purpose in doing this is to bring edification and help to leaders and workers in many varieties of church ministry. I am not going to limit myself very much, at least at the start. I will be dealing with Biblical exposition, theological issues, leadership questions, cultural/news perspectives, preaching, book reviews, counseling topics, etc. Sometimes I will just be trying to answer questions I receive. Again, I want to edify and help, not solve all of the world's problems. Perhaps this will become a bit of a forum from time to time, but that is not necessarily a goal.

Why is there a need for another blog/journal doing these things? Maybe there isn't - time will tell. But what may be different from some others is that I will be reflecting a "remnantal" kind of ministry/worldview. I guess we'll find out how different that is.

By "remnantal" I mean that there is a shrinking number of the biblically faithful at the end of the end of this Church age. There have been "difficult times" throughout the entire age (Second Timothy 3:1), but the "time" (singular, Second Timothy 4:3) that is predicted "when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires ..." seems to be in full bloom. The order of the day seems to be "find out what people want to hear and give it to them" rather than faithful exposition of the Word of God. God's faithful remnant will be persecuted (Second Timothy 3:12) and mocked (Second Peter 3:3ff.), even by those who profess to be "the church". But the remnant must remain true to the preaching of the Word of God (Second Timothy 3:14-4:5) and focused on the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (Second Timothy 4:6-8).

It is my goal, then, to be of help and encouragement to this remnant - that they might remain steadfast and solid in this increasingly difficult time for doing ministry. May God be pleased to raise up these end-time warriors for His glory.