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Relativism and the Riches of The Christian Worldview

In the following quote, Edmund Clowney (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) encourages us to press into the riches of the biblical witness in the face of our cultural challenges:

“The Christian answer to relativism is theological: the reality of the Creator God. He is both Creator and Interpreter. Made in his image, we have a relationship to the created universe that is not illusory. He is free to reveal himself in time and space, and in the languages of the cultures that develop in human history. Christian theology takes seriously the cultural contexts in which his revelation is given, and the Christian mission takes seriously the cultural contexts it addresses. Hermeneutical studies have reminded us that our own culture has an impact on both tasks. But so does God’s word have an impact on all languages and cultures. Confronted with God’s revelation, our own understanding changes, and we alter our assumptions. Not a circle, but a spiral of clearer conception and communication of the message results. God has made his truth communicable; he calls us to ‘think his thoughts after him.”

-Edmund Clowney, The Church, 177

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Tasks of the Missional Church

In his chapter on the task of the church John Frame defines a missional church as one  “where missions and evangelism are not just activities of the church, or departments of the church, but everything is focused on the advance of the gospel.” In light of this definition he clarifies some specific tasks that mark a missional church:

 [W]hat goes on in the missional church? Basically three things (there’s that number again!), Worship, Nurture, and Witness. Each of these finds its justification in the Great Commission.

Worship is acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord. This is the goal of mission. Why do we want to save people? Ultimately the answer is, so that they will glorify God, so they will worship him. Jesus says that throughout history, God has been seeking worshipers (John 4:23). That’s what missions is, God seeking worshipers.

The Bible speaks of worship in broad and narrow senses. The narrow sense is public, corporate worship, what the Jews did in the temple, and what Christians do in their weekly gathering to celebrate the Resurrection. The broad sense is the sense of Rom. 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Notice here the language of sacrifice, holiness, worship. But the worship here is not the weekly worship of the Lord’s Day. Rather it is a worship we perform all the time, as we seek to live godly lives. When we glorify God, it is a living sacrifice; it is true worship.

In regard to worship in the narrow sense, Old Testament worship was primarily a worship of sacrifice. The sacrifices of animals, grain, oil, and wine pictured Christ’s sacrifice, taught the people the ways of God, and brought God and the believer together for fellowship. New Testament worship, I think, is rather different, since our sacrifice for sin is complete in Christ. New Testament worship moves from the seventh day to the first day and, appropriately, is essentially a celebration of the Resurrection.

Three principles are especially important in the biblical teaching about worship: First, worship must be biblical. Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for following their own traditions rather than the word of God (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:8-9). Worship is for God’s pleasure, not our own, and so everything we do in worship must have a biblical basis. In Reformed theology, that idea is sometimes called the “regulative principle.”

Second, worship should be God-centered and therefore Christ-centered. Look at the Psalms, how they constantly dwell on God’s nature and actions. In the New Testament celebration of the Resurrection, of course the theme is “”Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). That does not mean, of course, that we should never think about ourselves in worship. In Ps. 18, the first personal pronouns “I,” “me,” “my” are found around 70 times. But Ps. 18 is a profoundly God-centered Psalm. The Psalmist is aware of his own needs, but he knows God is his only hope. He is aware of himself as someone who trusts only in God’s mercy.

So, third, worship is edifying (Heb. 10:24-25). This is not opposed to God-centeredness, for God wants people, like the writer of Ps. 18, to grow through worship and thus to be blessed. 1 Cor. 14 is the only extended treatment in the Bible of post-resurrection Christian worship, and the whole emphasis of the chapter is on edification. Paul tells the Corinthians that they should not speak in tongues in worship without interpretation, because speaking in unintelligible language does not edify. It doesn’t help anybody. For that reason, the Protestant Reformers declared that worship should no longer be in Latin, but in the vernacular languages of the people: German, French, English, and so on. I believe that we need today to take some pains to make our worship clear, understandable to people in our communities. Our language and music should communicate to the mind and the heart. In my judgment, this principle encourages contemporary worship expressions, both contemporary language and contemporary music.

The second specific task of the missional church is Nurture, or Edification. See how easily this task follows from the first! Nurture is preaching, teaching, counseling, pastoral care, ministries of mercy. Because sin continues in the lives of the regenerate, the church needs to bring us again and again to repentance. It needs to turn us away from pride and self-satisfaction, so we will be humbled, so that we will turn again and again to the all-sufficiency of Christ.

This is not only the work of the clergy. It is the work of all of us. Paul asks those who are “spiritual” (that is, all of us, regenerated by the Spirit) to restore people who have fallen into sin (Gal. 6:1). We should do it in a spirit of gentleness and guard ourselves, lest we also be tempted. When you correct a brother or sister, don’t do it from a high horse. Correct as one sinner talking to another, in the love of Christ.

So the New Testament abounds in one-anothering texts (John 13:34-35, Rom. 12:10, 13:8, 15:4, 16:16, 1 Cor. 12:25, Gal. 5:13, Eph. 4:2, 32, 5:21, Col. 3:13, 16, 1 Thess. 3:12, 4:9, 18, 5:11, Heb. 3:13, 10:24-25, James 5:16, 1 Pet. 1:22, 3:8, 1 John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11). We are to love one another, forgive one another, pray for one another, edify one another, and so on. That’s the work of everyone in the church.

How is nurture a missional activity? For one thing, unbelievers should notice how much we love one another. This is a wonderful testimony to the watching world. Second, when an unbeliever becomes a Christian, he will need immediately a lot of help from his new brothers and sisters to get started in the Christian life. As in the Great Commission, after baptism comes teaching.

Finally, the third task of the church is evangelism itself: witness to the world. Because of the Great Commission, the unbeliever must be in view in everything the church does. That’s true even in worship. Worship, in the narrow sense, is mainly for believers. But in 1 Cor. 14:20-26, Paul talks about an unbeliever who visits the worship service. He tells them that their service should be clear enough, edifying enough, so that “he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (verses 24-25).

As we’ve seen, Paul’s goal is to “save some,” and all the New Testament statements of the goal of the Christian life focus on redemption, on bringing unbelievers into the kingdom.

So all the work of the church is missional. Worship, nurture, and witness. In terms of our threefold scheme of organization, I would say that worship is normative, nurture existential, and witness situational. But always remember that each perspective includes the other two.

-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

The Church and the Kingdom

What is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God? This is a thorny theological issue, and biblical interpreters have wrestled with it for generations. Here’s John Frame’s response in his introduction to systematic Theology:

In Chapter 11, in connection with the kingly office of Christ, I emphasized that the Gospel, the good news, is originally the message about the coming of the kingdom of God. Recall from that discussion that Isa. 52:7, 61:1-2, Matt. 3:2 and 4:17 all present the gospel as the news that a king is coming. The gospel, then, is the coming of the Kingdom; that is, the coming of the King to make things right. Incidentally, there is no dichotomy here between gospel and law. The coming of the King means that he will enforce his law in the world, that he will bring righteousness. That is the gospel, the good news. It is important for us to distinguish between salvation by grace and salvation by works. But I don’t think Scripture justifies a sharp distinction between law and gospel.

Now, what is the kingdom? Geerhardus Vos defined it this way: “To him (Jesus) the kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings men to the willing recognition of the same.” [Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 50.] Kingdom of God is not merely a synonym for God’s sovereignty. Rather it is a specific historical program. God is always sovereign, always king in a general way. But since the fall, he must, as king, put down opposition and bring human beings to acknowledge his kingship. The Kingdom of God in the New Testament is that historical program, the series of events by which God drives his Kingship home to sinful human beings. And, of course, he does this by sending his Son as a sacrifice for sin and raising him up in victory over Satan and all the forces of evil. But even after the Resurrection of Christ the Kingdom will make further advances, as the people of God spread all over the earth to subdue men’s hearts to the rule of the King.

Where does the church fit into this kingdom program? The church consists of those who have been conquered by God’s saving power, who are now enlisted in the warfare of God’s Kingdom against the Kingdom of Satan. Those who do not voluntarily give allegiance to God’s Kingdom will be conquered by God’s judgment and, eventually, destroyed by his power.

The church, then, is, to maintain the military metaphor, the headquarters of the Kingdom of God, the base from which God’s dominion extends and expands.

-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

The Church as Both Sign and Promise

“The Christian community is both a sign and a promise of God’s coming liberation. We are the presence of God’s liberating kingdom in a broken world. We are the place where liberation can be found, offering a home for exiled people. We are to welcome the broken people to a community of broken people. We are the community among whom liberation is a present reality – the jubilee people who live with new economic and social relationships. We are the light of the world, a city on a hill. The challenge for us is to articulate Jesus’ message of a liberation in a way that connects with people’s experience and offers a place of liberation in the Christian community.”

-Tim Chester, Good News to the Poor, 97.