A common objection against the practice of separation from brothers in Christ is that separation implies the brother is in sin and no true Christian can remain in sin. If the fundamentalist (here defined as an orthodox Christian who practices the doctrines of separation from both false teachers and persistently disobedient brothers both within and beyond the local church) grants this objection, he is forced either to concede that his evangelical brothers’ failure to practice separation is not sinful or he is forced to conclude that evangelicals are, in fact, not truly brothers at all.
While this objection must be (and can be) met on exegetical and theological grounds, parallel situations in church history often helpfully shed light on present debates.
An example of this may be found in the discussions about unification between the northern and southern Presbyterian churches after the Civil War. In these discussions B. B. Warfield recognized both that different sins required differing levels of responses and that in certain situations a sin may require ecclesiastical separation without casting doubt on the professed salvation of those separated from.
Note this letter from Warfield to a fellow Presbyterian pastor in 1887:
I must confess to you that I am one of those whom you perhaps consider grossly inconsistent, who heartily accord with both the deliverances of 1818 & 1845. I do think slavery a gigantic evil & entirely inconsistent with the spirit of the Gospel & a sin in the slave holders: & I do not think it a disciplinable offense or a fit test of communion. It is possible ‘to sin against Christ’ & yet not be subject to exclusion from his table (1 Cor. viii. 12, compared with the context & the parallel in Romans xiv, e.g. Ro xiv 3). . . .
. . . That the Southern Church has not repented of its sin in regard to slavery would be no bar to my union with it: I could unite with it in a free conscience tomorrow. But that it is not awake to its duty to the Freedman & that organic union with it would injure if not destroy our work among them makes me deprecate & pray against reunion in any near future.
Cited in Bradley J. Gundlach, “Warfield, Biblical Authority, and Jim Crow,” in B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, ed. Gary L. W. Johnson (P&R, 2007), 163.
In other words, Warfield insisted on remaining ecclesiastically separate from R. L. Dabney, but he was not casting doubt on the intransigent Dabney’s regeneration.
“The first thought of the godly man in every circumstance is God’s relation to him and it, and his and its relation to God. That is God-consciousness and that is what the fear of God entails.”
John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 238
Exodus 20:20 intrigues the attentive reader with an interesting juxtaposition of ideas. The delivery of the Decalogue with its accompanying theophanic thundering, lighting, trumpeting, and smoking supplies the context for the verse. The people were afraid, and they moved from the foot of the mountain (19:17) to a place “far off” (20:18) (Currid, 2:53). They pled with Moses to serve as their mediator because they feared God would strike them dead.
Exodus 20:20 is Moses’ response to these fears. He first of all rebukes the people for their fear: “Do not fear.” He explains to them the cause of God’s coming (marked by the כִּי). God came to test them, not to kill them. Furthermore, God intended this test to produce fear(!) in the people.
At Sinai God came to test his people in a way that should remove one kind of fear and should instill another kind of fear.
This raises the question of how God’s coming at Sinai was a test for the people. Similar occurrences of the word “test” [נִסָה] (Gen 22:1; Ex 15:25; Ex 16:4; Deut 8:2; Deut 8:16; Deut 13:3; Judg 2:22; Jdg 3:1; Jdg 3:4; Ps 26:2) indicate that God tests his people to reveal if they will obey him (in Deut. 13:3 the test reveals whether or not they love him). But the purpose [וּבַעֲבוּר] of this test, at least as stated in this verse, is not to reveal something but to produce something: people that fear God in such a way that they do not sin.
Helfmeyer, following Noth, says “The people assembled at Sinai passed the test: they ‘have shown the right ‘fear’ of God and have not attempted to go too near the theophany” (TDOT, 9:451; cf Stuart, NAC, 469). This, however, misses Moses initial statement, “Do not fear.”
The children of Israel seemed to have failed this test. The test revealed in their hearts a fear that drove them from God. It should have produced a fear that drove them closer to God. The fear God intended to produce by the test at Sinai included the idea of dread (with Stuart, NAC, 469; against Currid, 54, who downgrades the term to mere “reverence”) because the fear of God includes fear of judgment (cf. Ex. 20:5; Deut 17:13; 21:21; Matt. 10:28; Heb. 4:1; 10:27, 31; cf. John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 233f.). But right fear of God–the kind of fear not forbidden–is more extensive than mere dread. As John Murray says, “The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honour, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise” (Principles of Conduct, 236; cf. Deut 6:2 with 6:5; Deut 10:12; Josh 24:14; 1 Sam 12:24; Psalm 112:1; Pro 8:13).
The fear that the test at Sinai should have produced is modeled by Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his book. There he combined “Woe to me, for I am destroyed” (6:5) with “Behold me; send me” (6:8). Implicit in God’s command for Israel not to fear so as to draw back but to fear so as not to sin is the promise of mercy enacted in Isaiah 6:6-7. For those with ears to ear, Exodus 20:20 was a promise to Israel that God would provide atonement for their sin.
In God’s grace several of the sermons I listened to yesterday connected with one another in providential ways. As I was getting ready yesterday morning, I began listening to Tim Keller’s sermon on Isiah’s vision of God in Isaiah 6. I finished the message at lunch and the very next message on my iPod was a sermon by Steve Hafler that that began with readings from the Scripture passages in which Ezekiel and Daniel had visions of God. The closeness in content between Keller’s sermon and the way Pastor Hafler’s sermon began was striking.
In addition to this, Pastor Hafler developed the concept of the fear of God, which is a key thought in Exodus 20:20–a verse that I’ve been studying in my devotional time.
During the morning service at church I was able to teach a neighborhood teen class. We began our class time by working on memorizing Revelation 5:9-10, and I taught on Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. In our evening service Pastor Vincent preached from Matthew 12:6, 41, 42. He concluded the message by noting Priest, Prophet, King theme in these verses and by reading Revelation 5:9-10.
I take these “coincidencecs” as good gifts from my heavenly Father to guide my thoughts about Him on His day.
In the latest 9Marks newsletter Schreiner reviews several recent Wright books. Both reviews contain appreciation for aspects of Wright’s work (see also this post by Mark Ward), but Schreiner also includes several critiques of Wright.
His critiques of Wright’s collection of sermons, Christians at the Cross, really apply to Wright’s work as a whole and are worth noting here.
First, one of the central themes in Jesus’ preaching was the call to repentance and faith. Wright rightly offers comfort to the church, but Jesus also emphasized the sins of those in Israel (yes, even when speaking to those who were already religious). Hence, he called on Israel to repent, to take up their cross and follow him, to turn away from all other gods, and to believe in the gospel. That theme is quite muted in Wright’s sermons.
The second weakness is related to the first. Wright pays much more attention to our responsibility to further God’s work in this world than he does to the need to put one’s faith in Jesus. He agrees that the latter is necessary, but he stresses the former. Of course the Christian life is about more than “getting saved.” We have work to do in this world after we believe. Nevertheless, it would seem that Easter week sermons would be a prime occasion to call upon one’s hearers to believe in the gospel; and yet a strong call to faith is lacking from this book. Wright seems to assume that all his hearers are already Christians. Wright should emphasize conversion more and call his readers (and hearers) to repentance and faith, especially since the church in England is shrinking and evangelism is such a crying need in Britain.
Third, Wright clearly believes that Jesus bore our sins as our substitute. Still, he scarcely emphasizes the awful judgment and wrath that we deserve as sinners—a wrath that is turned away by the cross of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:25-26; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9). Wright focuses on the love of God, but he does not say much about his holiness. Yet it is when we see God’s dazzling holiness that his love shines all the brighter.
This month’s RBL contains a review of a published dissertation supervised by D. A. Carson. The review is an interesting specimen of the reaction of a critical scholar to evangelical scholarship as the following quotes demonstrate:
Hoskins rejects conceptions of typology that do not presuppose the historicity of the events in the history of Israel seen as fulfilled in Jesus. Instead, he favors a “canonical” approach, rigidly historicist and literalist in its interpretations. Readers outside the narrow confines of conservative evangelicalism, even those willing “to believe that sometimes the anticipatory import of Old Testament events, persons, and institutions is clarified by later revelation” (26), will find this rigidity stultifying, culturally anachronistic, and methodologically obtuse.
Subsequent sections are similarly problematic, covering successive stages in the cultic history of Israel as though this were a monolithic process to be reconstructed by reading the Deuteronomistic History at face value. That Chronicles represents a different perspective is acknowledged, but justice is done neither to the complexity of the historical evidence and the tensions within the collated traditions nor to the interpretation of these traditions within Judaism of the first century C.E.
Hoskins’s exegesis is careful and his references to previous scholarship copious, even if there is a conspicuous preference for evangelical authors.
This is a complex book. Its central chapters are fundamentally sound and make a substantial contribution to scholarship. This is accomplished despite the weaknesses in the background study to which attention has been drawn. More problematic, however, are the essentially theological premises on which this work is based and which strongly shape its conclusions. The assumption of a single, linear sequence of historical events, accompanied by prophecies that, together with the events and the central characters therein, find their definitive if not their sole fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, is fundamentally problematic. In that it implicitly impugns the legitimacy of alternative traditions and interpretations, and in particular the continuing existence of Judaism and practice of non-Christian Jewish worship, this work espouses a particularism that critical scholarship will never accept. Scripture is read in accordance with preconceived theological agenda, which undermines not merely academic rigor but also, ironically, evangelical principles regarding the authority of the Bible.
It is worth noting how worldview disagreements are masked in the language of scholarly critique. The reviewer could simply note that he does not believe in the historicity or unity the Old Testament. Instead he uses terms like “methodologically obtuse” or “preconceived theological agenda” (as if this review has none!). The last paragraph cited, however, reveals that the main objections are primarily theological.
This reviewer really wants a denial of the Christian faith. He admits that critical scholarship “will never accept” Jesus’ words:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.
John 5:39 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 ( ESV)
In other words, critical scholarship will not accept Jesus.
This calls to mind the words of Eta Linnemann:
“Mein NEIN zur historish-kritischen Theologie entspringt dem JA zu meinem wunderbaren Herrn und Heiland Jesus Christus und zu der herrlichen Erlösung, die Er Golgatha auch für mich vollbracht hat.”
My “No!” to historical-critical theology stems from my “Yes!” to my wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to the glorious redemption he accomplished for me on Golgotha.
Thomas Watson has some sobering thoughts on hell.
“The torments of hell abide for ever. ‘The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.’ Rev. xiv 11. Time cannot finish it, tears cannot quench it. Mark ix 44. The wicked are salamanders, who live in the fire of hell, and are not consumed. After they have lain millions of years in hell, their punishment is as far from ending, as it was at the beginning. If all the earth and sea were sand, and every thousandth year a bird should come, and take away one grain, it would be a long time before that vast heap would be removed; yet, if after all that time the damned might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but this word EVER breaks the heart.”
Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 42.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt,
for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the LORD?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.
Herman Ridderbos made an interesting and little noticed connection between man as created in the image of God and “glory” in his Pauline theology (p. 71)
He notes these passages:
ESV 1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
ESV 2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
ESV Romans 8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
ESV 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
ESV Romans 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
ESV Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Any reflections in the comments on the significance of this connection are welcome.