This first page was adopted at the 257th Synod of the RCUS meeting in Eureka, South Dakota, May 19-22, 2003

This copy is made available by Rev. C. W. Powell

 

 

Note:  The full report, without this page, was submitted to the 2002 Synod, where no action was taken, but the report was resubmitted to the committee.  In 2003, the report was resubmitted without change, except for the following resolutions which were adopted by Synod.

Resolutions:

Resolution 1.: Our Covenant God gives the responsibility for the education of our covenant children to their parents. Although the tasks related to education may be delegated, parents may not abdicate their responsibility by delegating it to either the state, the church, or to any private educational institution. Grounds: Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Proverbs 22:6; Psalm 78:5-8; Ephesians 6:4.

Resolution 2: The education of our covenant children receive ought to have as its purpose their being equipped to fulfil the cultural mandate in the church militant; i.e. personal fellowship and communion with God, evangelistic and apologetic endeavors, and being salt and light in the world. In order to achieve these and other purposes to the glory of God, the knowledge to be gained must be in the context of God as the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Judge, through Jesus Christ the Mediator, and the advancement of His Kingdom until the church is triumphant. Grounds: Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1.:7; Prov. 15:33; John 17:1-3; 2 Peter 1:3-11; Eph. 3:14-19; 1John 1:1-5; Romans 1.1:36

Resolution 3: Pastors, elders, and deacons are called to assist parents in the carrying out of their educational responsibilities by encouraging and supporting educational endeavors that are grounded upon the philosophy teaching, and presuppositions of the Reformed faith as expressed by the Reformed Confessions. As much as is feasible given the available means, including assistance from the church, covenant parents ought to seek to provide some form of such covenantal education. Grounds I Timothy 3:1.5; Prov. 1:20-33; Prov. 2:1-9; Eph. 4:1.1-14 and Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 103

Resolution 4: That this report, along with the supplementary material, be made available to the churches of the RCUS.

 

C. W. Powell, H. Opp, G. Homer, D. Kauk
Covenant Education

Special Committee

Christian Education and Nurture

 

Reformed Church in the United States

May, 2002

 

Contents

 

Prologue, Page 2

 

Part One: Creation and Communication, Page 2

Communication and Fellowship in the Godhead

Fellowship and Communication in Creation

Implications for man

Creation of Man

 

Part Two: A Fellowship of Death Page 11

A Murderer from the Beginning

Sin and Death

Fellowship of Death

Man’s Terrible Dilemma

Basic Christian Truths

 

Part Three:  The Promise, Page 16

Introduction: A Word-Order

The Woman’s Seed

The Covenant Community

Man’s Misery

Redemption Through Christ

Christ Our Substitute

Man’s Problem

The Mystery of Love and Grace

Fellowship Comes First

The Way Back

 

Part Four: The Communication of Faith, Page 25

The Walk of a Christian

The Unity of God

The Church Is One

The Love of the Church

Effectual Power in the Church

The Church Not Alienated from God

The New Conversation of the Church

Practical Considerations

Speaking the Truth in Love

 

Part Five: Spiritual Sacrifices, Page 33

Summary to This Point

God’s House Is a House of Prayer

Communication Is a Two Way Street

Why Listening Well Is Important for the Church

 

Part Six: The Scriptures, Page 39

Communication with God Is Indirect

Ordinary Gifts

God’s Word in Matthew 13

The Bread of God in John 6

 

Part Seven: The Christian Home, Page 42

Communion and Conversation in Marriage

Inclusion of Children in Covenant Communication

Parental Imperatives

 

Part Eight:  Institutions of Education, Page 45

 

Minority Report, Page 47

 

Bottom of Page

 

Prologue:

 

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

Part One:  Foundation: Creation and Communication

 

A fundamental contrast between the true and living God and all idols is given in Habakkuk 2:18-20:

 

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?   Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.   But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.

 

The temples of idolatry are silent, except for the worshippers.  The deaf and dumb idols cannot speak because there is no life and breath in them.  The only communication is between the worshippers, who are trying to get the wood and stone to speak; failing that, the devotees speak for them.

 

Idols are helpless and pitiful things.  They are formed by the labors of man out of the material that they find.  Their helplessness is described by the Psalmist: 115:4-8

 

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.  They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:   They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:   They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.   They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.

 

Worst of all, idols are silent things.  In the houses of the idol worshippers, the silence is broken only by the voices of men, who pretend to speak for God.  Because their gods are silent, the voices of the worshippers are voices of lies and deceit and the idol temples become centers of lies, deceit, and human tragedy.

 

Contrast this with the temple of the Lord:  "Let all the earth keep silence before Him."  God speaks from His temple, and men can understand Him, because the Living God is the only true and speaking God.  Communication is central to the Godhead and, therefore, central to the universe.  We do not live in a silent and meaningless universe, because the God who made them is not silent.

 

There are immense implications for this fundamental idea for Christian education and nurture.  But first, let us look at the theological underpinnings.

 

Christians confess that God is Three in One.  As the Belgic Confession puts it:

 

According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each His personality, distinguished by Their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.

 

Hence, then, it is evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed the flesh, nor has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.

 

To put it another way, each Person is self-conscious and knows who He is, and Who He is not.  The Son knows that He is not the Father and the Holy Spirit knows that it is the Son who dies on the cross, for instance.   But there is more, much more.

 

I.                   There is fellowship and communication in the Godhead.

 

Jesus said in John 5:20 That the Father loves the Son and shows the Son all things.  In other words there is a free flow of information and love between the Father and Son.  I Cor. 2:9,10 also includes the Holy Spirit in this free flow of information, for the Holy Spirit knows the deep things of God.  It is impossible for us to know the nature of this flow of information.  It is enough for us to know that it exists.

 

Only rational beings can communicate.  There must be thought before there can be communication, because if thought is absent there is no true communication.  Words without thought are vain things, meaningless vibrations in the air, like the mutterings of the insane.  Communication can take place by gestures, pictures, or other ways, but men have developed very sophisticated ways of communication, which we might expect from a creature made in God's image.

 

If man is to be like God, a very high order of knowledge is required. 

 

Jeremiah 9:23,24: Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

 

The highest wisdom, which must be the foundation of fellowship, is expressed in the words “lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness,” which reflect the very nature of God Himself.  That God is love has been the witness of the Christian faith from Creation, and Abraham, Isaac, and the other patriarchs spoke of the lovingkindness of God.  God has good will toward men and desires their good and their salvation.  But God also understands judgment, which is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, between right and wrong.  God exercises judgment in the earth because He cannot deny Himself.  God cannot approve of that which is contrary to His loving nature, and He cannot deceive or lie.  The word "judgment" means to render a verdict, to make a decision.  God's very nature demands judgment, because He cannot lie, or do or approve anything that is contrary to the truth which is His very essence.

 

Besides lovingkindness and judgment, man is called to understand that God exercises righteousness.  God knows the difference between right and wrong, because wrong is that which is contrary to His essence and He cannot deny Himself.    Not only is God loving and true, but He is good.  He does that which is right, according to the truth and holiness that makes is His very essence.  This is why sin is defined as that which comes short of the glory of God (Romans 2:23).

 

This is contrasted with the idols in the idol temple, who cannot think, who are not self-conscious, and have no communication to men.  What comes from the idol temples are lies, the fabrications of men, speaking for the gods, or the fabrications of lying devils, who pretend to be gods.  The images are therefore lying images, imparting false and deceptive ideas to men.  They are lies in their very essence, for God cannot be imaged.

 

The true glory of man, then, lies in understanding, the receiving of true ideas about God.  These true ideas are clearly expressed:  lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness.  But there is even more than this:  these things are exercised in the earth.    God is not remote, an unconscious abstraction.  Instead, He is active in the earth and His purpose is to establish lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  These self-conscious purposes of God are communicated to men, and men are responsible to receive them and to understand them.

 

This self-consciousness of God in lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness is a Trinitarian consciousness.  In loving Himself, God is not engaging in autoeroticism, because God is One in Three.  The Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son; the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Father does not talk to Himself, but communicates all things to the Son.  Father and Son communicate all things to the Holy Spirit, Who knows the deep things of God.  The Holy Trinity is an infinite and intimate fellowship in the Divine essence, a fellowship of knowledge, righteousness, judgment, and love.

 

The intimate nature of this fellowship is expressed in Proverbs 8: 22-36:

 

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. 23  I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning,  or ever the earth was.  24  When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. 25  Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:  26  While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.  27  When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:  28  When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: 29  When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: 30  Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; 31  Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.  32  Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. 33  Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.  34  Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.  35  For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the LORD. 36  But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.

 

The Persons of the Holy Trinity were present, and rejoiced in Creation.  The Father sent forth His Powerful Word, and the Spirit brooded upon the waters and brought order from chaos, according to Genesis 1.  They together agreed to the Creation of man, and they saw that everything was good, and rejoiced together.

 

II.                This Fellowship was manifested in Creation.   

 

This fundamental nature of God is expressed in the creation of the world.   This is revealed everywhere in Scripture.  Because man is in the image of God, he is called to glory in the things that God glories and delights in. (Jeremiah 9:24But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these I delight, says the Lord.”)   The glory of God is revealed not only in His wisdom and power, but in the righteousness, judgment, and goodness that characterizes His operations in the world.  He loves His creation and broods over it in righteousness, judgment, and goodness.  This is His glory.  We also are to glory in these things. “God loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD."  (Psalm 33:5).  Thus, even the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19).

In the passage quoted before from Proverbs 8, Wisdom (the Word of God, for the Logos is not external to God, but of His very essence) calls men to watch and hear and understand, for what is contrary to Wisdom is contrary to the life and happiness of man.

 

I.                   Implications for Man

 

This doctrine has profound implications for the nature of man and man’s purpose in creation.  These implications are for every individual man as well as for mankind in general.  If the Holy Trinity rejoiced in perfect fellowship and communion before the world was made, then the purpose for creation could not have been because God was lonely or needed companionship.  I John 1:

 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;  (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

 

John says that the Apostles were preaching the Gospel because they desired fellowship with those who heard, a fellowship that was with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  Creation was an expansion, not of the being of God, which cannot be, but of His fellowship.  God is light and the nature of light is to shine forth, as Calvin says.   This came to pass, not because God needed fellowship, but simply because of His mercy and grace.  His lovingkindness caused Him to create the heavens and the earth, in order to have rational and loving beings who could share in the fellowship of the Triune God, to the extent that a created being could have such fellowship.

 

This fundamental principle permeates all of creation and is written in the very nature of man, who was created in the image of God.  As the image of God, man must first of all love His Creator with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength for this is the center of the fellowship.

 

This fellowship with the Apostles and with the Triune God is the result of a message that is preached.  John goes on to say: (John 4:4-10): 

 

And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.   If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.    If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

 

Because God is light, those who have fellowship with Him manifest this fellowship by their walk, for it is impossible to walk in fellowship with God and to be in darkness.  If the truth is in us, sin is exposed in us and forgiven.  Denial that we have sin is a certain evidence that there is no light in us and we are self-deceived.  Even worse, we make Him out to be a liar.

 

The very creation of man himself was the result of a conference in the Holy Trinity.  It is impossible to know the exact process whereby the Persons communicate, but Genesis 1:26-27 puts it:

 

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

 

The unique character of man is emphasized by the recording of this council in the Godhead, as well the description of man’s creation in which God formed man in His image, of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him the breath of life.  The figure of a potter, carefully forming the clay into a work of art is the language of Genesis 2:7.   After man had fallen, the Persons of the Trinity again take counsel:

 

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:   Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.  Genesis 3:22,23

 

Without the Trinity there is no speaking God.  There would be no one for God to speak to until He made something other than Himself.  Proverbs 8 tells us that God's word and wisdom are from the beginning.  Thought and communication are not new arts that He acquired when He created rational beings, but God did widen the circle of His communication in order to include men in this fellowship.  He walked and talked with man; Adam knew the voice of God.    God had fellowship with the man that He had made, a fellowship that involved words and communication, a fellowship of love, righteousness, and eternal Wisdom in the Holy Trinity.

 

This makes the gift of communication and speech a reflection of the eternal order, not something that only pertains to creation.  The ability to speak and communicate lies in the very nature of reality.  Creation itself is not deaf, blind, and dumb; but articulate.  Wisdom cries out to man from the very stuff of which all things are made; speech and wisdom are not accidental to creation, but in the very design and substance of the universe.  There are a thousand passages that show this.  For instance, Ps. 19:1-3

 

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.  There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

 

We might also instance Psalm 33:

 

Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.   For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.  He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.  By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

 

Because God’s works are done in truth, they communicate what they are designed to communicate and there is no lie in the communication:  the earth is therefore full of the goodness of the Lord, which is a cause for the saints to sing the new songs of Zion and offer praise to God.  These are neither personifications nor hyperbole nor the imaginations of a poet, but the expression of truth: the whole creation is designed to communicate the truth of God.  Each fact cannot be understood in isolation, no more than a word can be understood apart from the sentence and context in which appears.  But within the context of sentences and paragraphs each word does communicate.  Neither does a single fact communicate in and of itself, but in the context of the whole creation every fact speaks its own truth concerning its Creator.  Creation is not dumb.

 

But there is more.  Consider a good man talking to his wife.  He communicates consciously and rationally, with emotion and love.   But his fishing shoes in the bedroom closet also communicate real truth.  The man has left the marks of his habits and his personality upon his shoes, but the shoes are not conscious of it.  Something that is unconscious can communicate, but only to a conscious, rational being.  One rock cannot speak to another rock, but a rock can communicate guilt or innocence to a jury in a criminal case.   So a man’s fishing shoes may communicate powerful emotion and meaning to those who love him.

 

In like manner, everything in the universe communicates the glory, wisdom, and power of God, but the physical universe does not do so consciously.  This is where man comes in.  The great purpose of God in creating the world was for the purpose of having rational, conscious beings read of His glory and power in the creation and giving Him praise, glory, and love.  Without the consciousness of man, the universe would be incomplete, for the glory of God must become conscious in the souls of men.  What the angels provided in Heaven, man was to provide upon the earth.  So we read in Psalm 8:

 

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.   When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:  All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;  The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.  O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! 

 

God was mindful of man, and “visits” him, as a great lord would visit his subjects, learning about their needs and desires.  God delighted in man and gave him dominion over all things.  Man’s holy response was to praise the Lord and to delight in the things that God made.  Adam threw this great privilege away, but Jesus Christ, the last Adam, seized it again for man, as the writer of Hebrews tells us in interpreting this Psalm.

 

IV.      Man was created, therefore, with the capacity to know and to share, as a creature, in this communication and fellowship.

 

God would come to walk with Adam in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8,9).   Man could have fellowship with God because God delighted in man.  Though no creature could know the essence of God, yet man could participate in the communicable attributes of God, the attributes of wisdom and righteousness, with dominion over the creatures.  On the basis of these communicable attributes man could know something of God and could participate in friendship with God to the limits of his finite capacity.  Man was not created to be a slave, but a friend.

 

These concepts are beautifully expressed in Psalm 139.  The Psalmist rejoices that he has access to the thoughts of God, and they are precious to him:

 

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.  (Ps. 139:17)

 

How could the writer know the thoughts of God, which in another place are said to be “higher” than ours?  The answer is in the first part of Psalm 139:1-4

 

O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.  Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.  For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

 

Although it is impossible for man to penetrate the thoughts of God, yet God penetrates man’s thoughts completely, for there is not a word in our language (or languages!) that God does not know.  This means that He, the Creator, knows everything about us and the universe, about everything that He made.  He understands all the actions, the things, the relationships, the qualifications, and the purposes for all things, including the angels and demonic beings.  Such a God is perfectly capable of communicating to men the things that we have the capacity to know.  Man cannot receive God’s thoughts exhaustively, but what man is capable of receiving man can know truly.   Man could know God’s thoughts truly and could delight in them and count them precious.

 

God did not create man because He desired a servant, because He had a bunch of commandments that needed to be kept.  He created man as an expression of His lovingkindness, His judgment, and His righteousness.  Man therefore was created capable of loving God in return, of discerning between truth and error, capable of obeying God and worshipping Him.  Man could be God’s friend, to the extent that a creature could be a friend to God.  Thus Abraham, who exemplifies those made righteous by faith, is called the friend of God.  (James 2:23)  How was Abraham a friend?   He was a friend because he could talk to God, and God talked to him.  Thus we read in Genesis 18:17, 18:

 

And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

 

And in Genesis 18:27:

 

And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:

 

This two-way communication is the essence of friendship, as Jesus in John 15:13-15

 

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  14  Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.  15  Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

 

What great grace and love there is here!  Although the Master-Servant relationship between God and His creatures can never be eliminated, yet God graciously admits us into friendship with Him through Jesus Christ.  And because we are His friends, He tells us all things that we are capable of knowing.  These great and wonderful things are told to us in Scripture, for so the Apostle Paul claims in I Corinthians 2:0-13

 

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

 

The Holy Spirit has taken the things of God and revealed them to the apostles (the “we” of the passage, as the context shows—See Calvin), and they spoke in words that the Holy Ghost taught them, for God does have words that are understandable to us, as we saw before.  There is no connection with God more intimate than our connection with Him through the Scriptures for they are the very breath of God to us.

 

Jesus said of the men of his day, “Ye are blind leaders of the blind.”  The blind have no understanding either of God or of His words.  Man was not created to be blind, but to understand that God exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.

 

But there is more here, for Christ calls us His friends if we do the things that He has said.  It is important to understand that true fellowship and friendship involves more than just empty chatter.  There must be action in terms of the communication.  Just as God exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, so man is called to live in fellowship and speak and act in terms of the communion.  Because of this, there is a path of holiness and righteousness described in the Scriptures, a way of faithfulness and truth.

 

God did not create man because he needed a servant.  God did not create man in order to have a slave.  God created man for fellowship.  He was enlarging the circle of his communication: to the rational beings that he had made in his own image.

 

This view militates against all evolutionary theories for the origin of man.  If man was created for the purpose of fellowship with God, then man was created upright, good, rational, with language, and a created but everlasting soul.  Man does not possess immorality in the Greek pagan sense, as if he were a piece of God.  But he does have immortality in the sense that both the righteous and the wicked will continue to exist throughout all eternity.  All evolutionary theories degrade man to the level of the beasts, or at best elevate a beast to the image of God by infusing something else into him. 

 

We maintain that the image of God was not something added to man to elevate him above the beasts, but was essential to the very soul and life of man from the beginning.  The image of God permeates the very essence of man and makes man what he is.  Man is not defined by his flesh, but by the inward spiritual traits which distinguish him from the animals.  These attributes cannot be erased, no matter how insane, depraved, or cursed he becomes. 

 

Even after his fall, man was to be treated with dignity and respect, his life preserved and respected.  (Genesis 9:1-6)  Modern theories have treated man like garbage to be thrown away in great numbers as we try to build a new world order which ignores the curse and the Promise.  These efforts and the theories and compromises that support them belong to the evil fellowship of death and ruin.  For there is such a fellowship and we are called to reject and reprove it.

 

Thus, the Holy Spirit calls Christians to turn away from idols and their fellowship, away from the communication of lies that corrupt our actions.  In I Corinthians 6:14-16 we find:

 

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

 

There are two fellowships described in this passage.  One is a fellowship of light and includes the Holy Trinity through faith in Christ.  The other is a fellowship of darkness, and includes the devil and his works of rebellion and unbelief.  The Christian is called to reject the second and abide in the first.  In the next section we will attempt to see how the fellowship of darkness was introduced to the world.

 

Part Two: A Fellowship of Death

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A Murderer and a Liar from the Beginning

                       

Jesus said that the devil was  "a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it."  (John 8:44)   Satan did not abide in the truth, in the communion and light and truth that is of the very essence of the Holy Trinity.  Therefore he could not abide in heaven and was cast down, becoming a prince of darkness.  He is the father of lies, the source of all rebellion against God.

 

Satan, though a great a powerful being, does not possess the incommunicable attributes of God.  He is not self-existent (he has no life in himself), immutable, infinite, or simple.  As a creature, he yet abides under the government of God and, though Satan's kingdom is formidable from our perspective, yet it is an instrument used by God to accomplish His perfect and incomprehensible will.  Evil, therefore, is not within the essence of creation, for God made everything good.  It is the holy fellowship of life and light that defines the nature of the universe, and evil is unnatural, a terrible abnormality that God has permitted for reasons that cannot be entirely clear to us, but involve His glory and purposes of grace. 

 

It is of the nature of God to reveal Himself (to communicate His lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness), for He is Light, and it is the nature of Light to shine forth.  It may very well be that God has permitted evil in the world that He might be perfectly revealed as longsuffering, kind, patient, and forbearing.  His patience and forbearing hold His judgment in suspension until the time that He has appointed to judge the world, which will come with terror and an overwhelming fire against those who refuse the light and persist in the darkness of the lies and deceit of false gods.  This is expressed in Nahum 1:2,3:

 

God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.   The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

 

Although God is a God of judgment, He has other things to do than to bring the wicked into judgment immediately.  He is patient, because He calls men to repentance, to show them mercy and grace.  He therefore holds back judgment until the appointed time in which He will judge the world, as He says in Isaiah 30:18:

 

And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.

 

Even though Israel's sins cried out to God for judgment, which was like a wall ready to fall upon them, and the time would surely come that they would be broken like a potter's vessel (Is. 30:13,13), yet God has power over Himself and will not allow His judgment to overwhelm the ungodly until all the wheat is gathered in and His purposes of grace and mercy are fulfilled.  Because God has patience, we are also to have patience.  We are perfect like the Father is perfect when we are able to show mercy and patience like He does.  (Matthew 5:48)

 

I.                   Sin Enters the World, and Death by Sin.

 

In the Garden of Eden, the head of the human race, Adam, refused to live within the circle of fellowship and communication for which God had created him.  He listened to the voice of the serpent, tried to find another word, another communication.  It was death to him then, and it is death to us now.  See Proverbs 8:35, 36:

 

"Whoso findeth me [wisdom]findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord.  But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death." 

 

There is life only in fellowship and communion with God.  Jesus Christ is the Divine Logos (John 1) and has life in himself (John 5:26) just as the Father does.  His words parallel Proverbs 8:35,36: 

 

"My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand..."  (John 10:27,28)

 

On the other hand, the enemies of Christ live in a fellowship of darkness and sin and can not receive the words of Christ:

 

Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.  Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.  And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.  (John 8:43-45)

 

But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.  (John 10:26)

 

II.                A New Kind of Fellowship: One of Death.

 

When we understand these things, a new understanding comes to us of the Temptation of Adam and Eve.  Satan introduced a new fellowship and communion into the world.  Fittingly, it centered on the core of God's reason for creating Adam and Eve.

 

To reveal to Adam and Eve the full reason for their creation and to test them that they might know themselves, God created the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The reason for the tree was to teach mankind that our very life depends upon hearing the voice of our God and obeying Him.  Unless we live in this fellowship of life and truth we perish, just as Satan perished when he abode not in the truth.

 

The test involved knowledge and truth, the very core of the fellowship and communion in the Holy Trinity.  How could man know the truth of the Tree in the midst of the Garden?  If he could know the way of that Tree, he would know the way of every part of God's creation.  This was the exact point where the temptation came.

 

Man did not become a moral being after he ate of the Tree, as if it took the eating of the Tree to make Adam aware of the difference between good and evil.  As the image of God, he certainly knew the difference between right and wrong.   Eve also knew that God had forbidden the tree and knew that it was wrong to eat of it.

 

The Temptation was about the way that man discerns right and wrong and how moral truth is determined.  Here was the heart of the temptation.  The only way that Adam and Eve could know the truth concerning the Tree was to take God's word for it.  They must believe what God had said and live in terms of that belief.  They could not know the meaning of the Tree by experience--if they experienced eating the fruit, they would die and it would be too late.  The Tree was not forbidden to the animals or birds which must have shown Adam and Eve that the Tree was good for food.  It was not food for them, however, and no experience could teach them this.

 

Neither could they know the meaning of the Tree by examining their own hearts and thoughts, as though the meaning of the Tree was what they thought it was.  The meaning of the Tree was objective to their own consciousness.  They must take God's word for it.  This was exactly the place the Temptation came to them.  Satan's temptation was to move them from the fellowship and communion of the Logos, the Word of God, the fellowship of the Holy Trinity, into a fellowship of sin and death.  When they ate, they died.

 

In fellowship with God is life; outside of fellowship with God is death.  The Word of God is the vine (John 15); if we abide in Him as a branch, His life flows to us; if we do not abide in fellowship with God through his word, then we wither, and are burned as dead branches.  Jesus said, [John 14:23}  “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

 

It is important that this “abiding” is covenantal in its nature, not mystical or physical.  The distinction between man and God is never destroyed.  Though covenantal, it is real, and the life of Christ flows to us by His Spirit.  This work of the Spirit is mysterious and real, but not self-validating.  The Scriptures validate the work of the Spirit, as Jesus said in John 3:21:  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God,”

 

III.             Man's Terrible Dilemma.

 

Because of his disobedience, man was driven from Paradise, under sentence of death, under the wrath and curse of God.  Man found himself in a terrible dilemma.  Without fellowship with God he could not be holy, but without holiness he could not have fellowship with God.  He now lies under a curse, a curse that must not be interpreted in physical terms alone.  It is true that because man's work is cursed the earth would now bring forth thorns and thistles.  But something far worse happened to mankind.  It is described in Romans 1:28:

 

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

 

"Convenient" means that which does not fit the nature of man.  Man's original sin was a sin of epistemology, of refusing to abide in the knowledge of God obtained by living in the fellowship and communion of the Holy Trinity.   As a result, the curse came not only upon the ground, but also upon the heart and soul of man.  Not only would the ground bring forth thorns and thistles, but the soul of man would likewise.  These ugly weeds are described in Romans 1:29-32:

 

Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,   Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:   Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have  pleasure in them that do them.

 

Man is not a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is under the curse of God.  He must have fellowship with God to do righteousness, and he cannot do righteousness because he is living in independence and misery.  Paul put it this way in Ephesians 4:18.

 

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

 

Those lost in sins are alienated from the life of God because their understanding is darkened.  It is a judicial blinding, an awful judgment that infects the mind, the heart, the soul.  It is a curse from God because of Adam's sin.  It was because of this one man's sin that judgment came upon all the seed of Adam, and we see the results everywhere around us.  Natural man would rather deny the existence of God than to confess this truth that has such awful implications for himself and his dreams.

 

IV.               Basic Christian Truths

 

There are at least five basic things that lie at the heart of Biblical faith.  People can accept them or reject them, but in any event they must live with the consequences of their thought.  Ideas do have consequences, and the ideas we accept, consciously or unconsciously, affect the way we think and the way we act.

 

First.  There is a God.  Many profess not to believe in God, and there are many others who live in practical denial, for God does not figure into their thoughts and actions.  Many have false ideas of God.  Others deny that there can be false ideas of God, for God is simply an idea that each individual forms for himself.  In any case, there is only one God who speaks truth to the world in all His ways, and that is the God of the Bible.  We have a certain freedom to reject this idea, but we cannot be free from the consequences of that rejection.

 

Second.  He created all things.  Once again, there is nothing to force people to accept this idea.  People may believe in the eternity of matter, or that everything of time and space, including time and space themselves, came from a Big Bang.  There are those who see everything in natural processes covering many billions of years, and God serves only as a limiting concept to make their thinking respectable to themselves.  But the very definition of God found in the Bible is the One who in infinite power and wisdom made all things by His Powerful Word.  This is basic to Christianity.

 

Third, God is greater than all that He made.  This follows from the first two.  If the Cosmos is created, then the Creator must be as described in Scripture (Psalm 93):

 

The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.   Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting.

 

Fourth, God is good, and will surely reward the good and punish the wicked.  This must be if the Lord executes loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  God cannot deny Himself and there is no darkness in His being (John 1:5).  There is consistency and order in all that He does, and He does not send contradictory messages.

 

If the first three principles are valid, then the fourth must be, or there is no use in even thinking about theology.  If God is not good and does not work good in the earth, then we might as well eat, drink, and be merry and forget about the whole business of religion.  If God is malevolent, then what power can we possess or acquire that can stand against Him?  People may deny the goodness of God if they choose, but they must live with the consequences of their thought.

 

Fifth.  If God is good, then He must have told us clearly what we are to believe and what we are to do.  Those who deny the authority and infallibility of the Bible are hard-pressed to defend the goodness of God.

 

School teachers learn very early that assignments must be perfectly clear if the teacher is to be fair with the student.  A poorly written, poorly communicated assignment confuses the best students and gives an excuse to the lazy.

 

God did not leave Adam and Eve and their descendants in limbo.  He did not immediately execute the physical aspect of the judgment, for Adam and Eve lived on for many years and produced many children.  God endured the evil of men for the elect’s sake, for He determined to save a great multitude out of every family on the earth.  Spiritual death and alienation from God did occur, however, and the first-born son of Adam and Eve was a murderer and an alien from God, possessing the character of the devil.

 

The sin of Adam and Eve did not catch God by surprise.  He knew what kind of creature He had created in Adam.  Adam and Eve did not come flawed from the hand of their Creator, for they were exactly the kind of creatures that God intended to be lords over His creation.  But they were capable of change.  Instead of their sin throwing God into confusion and despair, their sin opened the way for God to begin to reveal the most marvelous and powerful expression of His nature--that which no man could have conceived, for the details of God's marvelous grace were beyond the imaginations even of the greatest angels of heaven.  In the plan of redemption and grace the manifold wisdom of God is revealed.

 

If they were to be creatures who could fully participate to the level of their being in the fellowship with God through the eternal Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ, then they must be capable of freely loving God.  But this would mean that must be capable of freely turning away from God.  Their sin would set the stage for the flowering of the great mystery of love and grace which even the angels could not comprehend.

 

This grace would be the fountain of God's great revelation of Himself in the words of promise and prophecy, culminating in the Incarnation of His Eternal Word, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

 

 

Part Three:  The Promise

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Introduction: A Word Order

 

Since the fall, sinful man has lived according to another word, another fellowship of communication, one of lies and self-deceit.  Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 13:25:

 

This is thy lot, the portion of thy measures from me, saith the LORD; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood.

 

Like Israel, mankind would live according to another word-order, one defined and attached to the gods of their own imagination.  They would follow their own dreams and their own desires, alienated from God and from the Living Word.  Because man's sin was a sin of epistemology growing from a desire to gain independent knowledge and an independent principle of action, God's way of salvation would confront man at the very focal point of his sin.  Several things were involved.

 

I.                   The Promise of the Woman’s Seed. 

As we said before, the sin of Adam did not catch God off-guard, but instead it opened the way for God to begin His most profound and staggering revelation of His sacrificial and redeeming love for sinful men, lost and condemned in Adam.  There is nothing that is not in the mysterious will and power of God, including Adam’s sin.  In harmony with God’s essential character of communication and love, the first revelation of this grace and mercy came in the promise of Genesis 3:15:

 

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

 

In accordance with God’s dealing with man throughout history, this promise was signed and sealed to man in terms of a sacrament, the oldest sacrament in history, found in all cultures of the world, a blood sacrifice.  We are assured that this was instituted in the Garden of Eden because of several things.

 

First.  Abel is said to offer his sacrifice in faith.  If in faith, then it was by hearing the word of God, for faith comes only by hearing the word. (Romans 10 and Hebrews 11), for men cannot call on what they have not heard and believed.  In fact, Abel offered the first of the flock, with the fat thereof, indicating that he knew what sort of sacrifice would be pleasing to God. (Genesis 4)

 

Second.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.  True faith is not an empty faith, one resting on good wishes and vague ideas about God.  It rests upon promise, the promise of redemption.  There is only one promise where Abel’s faith could rest, and that is the one of Genesis 3:15. 

 

Third.  It is certain that Enoch knew of the future coming of the Lord, for he prophesied as much (Jude).

 

Fourth.  The promise of the coming seed of the woman is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, a miracle of the Holy Ghost, apart from the seed of man and the strength of man.  It was this promise that sustained the elect before the coming of Christ and by which they gained the inheritance of life and righteousness.  (Gal. 3:21, 22)

 

II.                The Covenant Community.

From the very beginning, then, there were four aspect of God’s dealing with mankind, in preparation for the coming of His Son into the world.  A fellowship was created, a fellowship of faith and communion through which the Word and Promise of God would be transmitted and preserved until the coming of Jesus Christ.

 

First.  There was the Promise.  All subsequent promises would find their root in Genesis 3:15.  Enoch knew of the promise of  the Lord coming with his saints, and he walked with God.   As a sign of His purposes of grace to the world,  God moved Noah with fear to prepare an ark for the saving of his house.  Noah was also assured that there would be no more floods to destroy the whole earth, and this promise was sealed by a sign.  Even though man’s sin would become very great in the world, yet God’s purposes of redemption in Christ would hold back the waves of his wrath.  Later the Promise of Genesis 3:15 is made more explicit by the calling of Abraham, by whom God would bless the whole earth for the Seed of the woman would come through Abraham.  Abraham would become heir of the world through faith; his inheritance of life and righteous could only come by promise, for no law could have been given which could have given this inheritance. [Gal. 3:21]  It was too late for this because of Adam’s sin.  Besides sacrifice, Abraham is given the sign of circumcision, to indicate that the promised One would not come through natural processes, but would come through Promise (Galatians 4:28).  All who have the faith of Abraham are children of the Promise, just as Isaac was.

 

Second.  There was always a physical sign, which was also a seal of the promise.  The people of the Promise would bear the sign of the promise.  Abel was distinguished by his faith through which he brought the sacrifice. Abraham and his family were distinguished by circumcision as well as by the sacrifices that he offered to God on the altars that he built wherever he journeyed.  After the giving of the law of Moses, the promise was included in the fabric of the law of Moses, especially in the ceremonial law, especially the Passover, the Sabbaths, the sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, the cleansings, and structure of the temple and its furnishings.  We call these types, or signs that reveal Christ and the Gospel.  The two most important under the Law of Moses were the Passover, which incorporated the bloody sacrifices as well as the communal meal; and circumcision, which indicated that the promise would be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham, who would come not of natural generation but by the power of God in terms of the Promise.

 

Third.  There was a covenant community.  The core of the community was the promise and the sacraments that signed and sealed the promise.  Inclusion in this community was by the faithful observance of the sacraments which sealed the promise, and it included members and their children.  Many did not really understand or believe the promise, but that did not make the promise void, for it was God who guaranteed the fulfillment of Christ's coming. 

 

This community, therefore, was built upon a word order, a communion created by the communication of God's will, which was sealed by ceremonies and ritual observances.  The promise of Christ lay at the root of this communion, and God promised that He would "set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.  And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people."  God dwelling with Israel prefigured the promise of Jesus that His Father would make His abode with individual believers, as we saw above. (Leviticus 26:11,12)   God had walked with Adam in fellowship and communion before Adam's disobedience, but God through His promise restored a limited communion.   In a figure, God would dwell with them behind the veil of the Temple.

 

Fourth.  The spiritual blessings of the promise would be secured only through faith.   Material benefits, including nationhood and riches, came when the covenant community was faithful, and unbelievers could partake of them, but forgiveness of sins and eternal life came only by faith, like the faith Abraham had and lived.  Abraham’s true inheritance was life and righteousness, and this came only by Promise.  [See Galatians 3]  This faith is described in such Old Testament passages as Psalm 1 and Psalm 32 and Psalm 37 and many others.  The promise of Christ permeated the message and rites of the Old Testament, including the law and the prophets, and those who believed what they said of Christ were justified just as Abraham was.  Jesus said that the brothers of the rich man could escape hell if they would hear the words of Moses and the prophets.

 

III.             Man's Misery

 

Because God is good and cannot deny Himself, God must bring terrible judgments and death when man refused His fellowship.  Man was cast out of paradise, and a great sword was placed to keep man from access to the Tree of Life.  Because of Adam’s sin all his posterity is exiled from the life of God.  There is also despair and bitterness, for nothing man can do can cause God to be merciful to him, no way that man can access the grace and mercy of God, because the wall of God’s justice stands poised to fall upon him.  There is no life anymore for Adam and his seed : just judgment, death, sorrow, misery, and ruin for man because of sin.  "Cursed be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

 

Because of Adam's sin, the curse fell upon all the descendents of Adam.  Man's misery is great on the earth.  He is subject to death and lives his life under the horror of it.  To drown the horror at his core he fills his life with meaningless pleasures, with drunkenness and drug abuse.  He kills, oppresses, and abuses his fellows.  He manufactures lies and deceit, trying to drown the horror that lies in his bosom.  His is a fellowship of death and misery, described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:11-18

 

3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

3:13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

3:14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

3:15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

3:16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

3:17 And the way of peace have they not known:

3:18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

 

Man lives this horror of evil communication in a world of lies and deceit, alienated from  fellowship with the God who created him.  His alienation from God is the source and cause of all his misery, and this alienation came by the sin of one man, Adam, the father of us all.

 

IV.              Redemption through Jesus Christ

 

A.     Enlarging the Fellowship and Communion.  From the misery and ruin of man, the stage was set for the revelation of the great mystery of God's love and grace.  What had been foreshadowed from the Garden of Eden in types and figures, from the skin of the slain animal that covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve, through the blood of the sacrifices on countless altars, in the Passover and the other feasts of the Jews, God began to make explicit the mystery that was hidden in the counsels of the Holy Trinity, in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before the world was made.

 

It was a simple mystery, but staggering in its implications of the nature of God.  Simply stated, from before the world was created, in the Counsels of Eternity, the Holy Trinity had entered into a covenant of mercy and grace that would result in the putting away of sins and the restoration of fallen man into the fellowship and communion of God that had been lost by Adam's sin.

 

Until God's final purposes were accomplished, man would be restored to a limited communion, with Christ hidden under rites and ceremonies.   A much fuller communion would be granted to the church after the Son of God Himself came to walk upon the earth, obeying all the commandments of God and putting away our sins by the offering of Himself to God.  The fullness of our communion and fellowship with God would be perfected in Heaven when we behold his face in righteousness and know even as we are known (I Corinthians 13:12).  In that Paradise of Heaven, the fullness of joy that was only promised in a figure in Eden will be experienced by all the people of God.  Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face.  Jesus spoke of this plainly in John 14:1-3:  “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for  you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”  This great promise is also summarized in H.C. questions 57 and 58 and the Belgic Confession, Article 37.

 

The Promise which defined Israel became the possession of the church after the crucifixion of Christ.  When the Holy Spirit had been given, Peter, preaching to Israel on the Day of Pentecost announced to those who were smitten in their hearts what they must do:

 

Acts 2:38--41 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.   Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

 

The coming of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit was the beginning of a fulfillment that was prefigured in Israel.  The promise to Israel of the coming Savior was still good and could be claimed by all who believed, but now the custodianship of that promise was passing from them and would be given to a "nation bringing forth the fruit thereof."  (Matthew 21:43)  The fellowship would be greatly enlarged as the apostles and humble Christians everywhere took the Gospel to the whole world.

 

B.     The putting away of sin.  The great barrier to man's fellowship with God was Adam's sin.  Because of Adam's sin, death came upon all men (Romans 5).  Life comes only by union with God through Christ [John 15:1-6].  By his disobedience Adam placed himself and all his descendents under the curse of God.  Man's fundamental problem is with God, for his natural state is one of alienation from God.  [Ephesians 4:17, 18]  He lies under the curse of God, and there is nothing he can do for himself.

 

This dilemma and its solution are expressed by the prophet Isaiah 59:14-21

 

And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. 59:15 Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.  59:16 And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.  59:17 For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.  59:18 According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.

 

59:19 So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.

 

59:20 And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.  59:21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD,  from henceforth and for ever.

 

God knew the helplessness of man's condition.  Man was without strength, for there was no mediator who could bring man back into the communion and fellowship of life.  Therefore, God states that He will do it Himself.  He will equip Himself with the necessary means and do battle with man's enemy.  Under the figure of armed conflict, the Lord is seen going to war with the sin that holds men in bondage, triumphing over it, and bringing His people back into communion with Himself, putting His words in their mouths and His Spirit upon them.

 

The “Redeemer” of verse 20 is Jesus Christ Himself, and the result of His work would be a covenant community, a godly seed, who would have his words in their mouths forever.

 

This committing of Himself to put away sin was not an afterthought of God.  Just as the creation of man was determined in the counsel of the Triune God, so the redemption of man was so determined.  This counsel is described in Psalm 40:5-10:

 

Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.  40:6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.  40:7 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.  40:9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.  40:10 I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.

 

This Psalm is quoted and applied to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in Hebrews 10.

 

C.     Christ as Our Substitute

 

Here lies revealed the great mystery of grace and redemption, a redemption that could not have been imagined by man's wildest imagination.   If Jesus Christ is to put away sin, He must deal with it at its root, in man's alienation from God and the resulting wickedness rooted in man's heart.    This is exactly what Jesus Christ did.

 

Here is the mystery of God's grace and mercy.  The Divine Dilemma was this: that He might retain every bit of his holiness and purity and yet restore man to fellowship with him.  [Romans 3:26]  This was done through the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, who obeyed all the commandments of God perfectly and endured the punishment that His people deserved.

 

Because sin is forgiven, God now can approach the sinner:  See Ephesians 2:8-10:

 

For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them.

 

V.                 But here is the problem. 

 

Man has a bad heart.  It is a heart of stone; a heart that refuses counsel and correction.  The Gospel is foolishness to him.  He hates the light because his deeds are evil.  He loves his own ways.  His condition is described in Romans 1:20-32.  Mankind is in miserable condition, because of the righteous judgment of God.  He is hopeless without fellowship with God, and God will not commune with man because of man's sins; yet without the communication of God, man is utterly without hope.  It is a downward spiral to ruin, misery, death, and hell.  How is he to be delivered?  

 

            For man to be saved he must be restored to fellowship with God, but the very holiness of God refused such a fellowship.  What was man to do?  If he even tried to enter the presence of God, there is that flaming sword to destroy and consume, for man's sin is abominable in the eyes of God, whose eyes are too holy even to look upon sin.  What is man to do?  The awful answer of Scripture is clear: There is absolutely nothing he can do.  His condition is hopeless.

 

            They cannot believe because of the hardness of their hearts!  See John 12:37-40:  "Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them."  Man cannot restore this fellowship under his own initiative, because he lies under the curse.

 

VI.              Here is the mystery of God's grace and mercy. 

 

The Wisdom of God is never more revealed than in the Gospel of Christ.  God cannot deny Himself and must retain every bit of His holiness and purity.  Yet His own love in the mystery of his very Being compelled Him to restore man to fellowship with Him.  Therefore, God Himself in Jesus Christ took the penalty of sin upon Himself.

 

            On the cross the words burst from the lips of the Son of God:  "My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?"  Jesus took our place.  For the first time throughout the endless ages of eternity, the Eternal Son of God, the Word, The Wisdom of God, who was always present in the counsels of the Almighty, who always knew the mind of the Father, who lived in the closest communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, felt the alienation of the sinner from God.  It was here that Christ descended into hell, for He felt the very pangs of hell itself, as the sweetness of fellowship with God was cut off, and he knew only the bitterness of guilt and misery, death and destruction.  The waves of God's judgment rolled over his soul; The awful storm of the wrath of God engulfed him, but did not overwhelm Him as we read in Psalm 22, a prophetic passage of the death of Christ.

 

            Why did Jesus do this?  Let the Apostle Peter tell us:  "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.  For ye were a sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."

 

This simple truth is the center of the Gospel, and has been confessed by the church in all ages:  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exchanged places with the sinner.  The awful weight of the wrath of God that the sinner deserves fell upon Jesus Christ, so that the blessing that Jesus deserved could be given by grace to the sinner.   II Corinthians 5:21  "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

 

            Because sin is forgiven, God now can approach the sinner:  Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them."

 

VII.           Fellowship Comes First. 

 

Man must live in God’s holy communion; a holy conversation must be resumed in order for man to be holy.  We do not gain fellowship with God by the holiness of our life; instead, we gain holiness of life by our fellowship with God, a fellowship to which we are restored through our Mediator, Jesus Christ.   Moses did not go up to the mount because his face shone; his face shone because he was on the mountain with God.  His shining face illustrates the glories of the law; how much more are the glories of the Gospel:  II Cor. 3.

 

A.  I John 1:1-10:  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;  (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)  That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.   This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.   If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:   But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.   If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

 

B.       Comments on I John 1.

1.      The Word which is from the beginning was manifested in the flesh, and the apostles looked upon and handled the Word of life:  Jesus was a real, physical human being who could be sensed with the senses as well as seen with the inward senses of the soul.  John was no Gnostic.

2.    The purpose for Christ's coming was to manifest the eternal life that is in Him.

3.    Communication has now been opened to men, through the witness of the apostles, who entered into the communion with God through Jesus Christ.

4.    The apostle's word is the means of our entering into fellowship with the apostles, whose fellowship is with God.  The word of the apostles, if received, will make our joy full.

5.    There is no darkness in God.  The light that the apostles witnessed is the true light of God, and it is a lie to say we have light if we walk in darkness.

6.    The result of walking in the light is forgiveness of sins, and awareness of sin.  To deny having sin is evidence that we are not in the light.

7.    All good things come to those who receive and walk in the light of Christ, which is the witness of the Apostles.  This leads to confession and cleansing from sin, the results of restoration to fellowship with God.

 

VIII.        The Way Back for Man:  The Way He Went Out  

 

Man turned from fellowship and communion with God, listened to the voice of the devil and entered a fellowship of death.  Now he is called to abandon the conversation of the wicked and turn again unto the voice of God, calling to Him in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Man may return to Paradise, he can go home again.  The removal of that fearful angel from the Paradise of God is symbolized in the rending of the veil of the temple at the death of Christ.  Isaiah foresaw the invitation of the Gospel in chapter 55:

 

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.    Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.   Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David…. Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

 

Man can do this because God is reconciled to man in Jesus Christ.  Paul put it this way in II Corinthians 5:18-20: 

 

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.   Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. 

 

Even whole churches can have this fellowship, and individuals within churches that have fallen from the love of Christ.   Revelation 3:14-22 describes a rich, influential, respected church, which had a lot of self-esteem, but had left Christ out of the conversation.  Christ was left out of the church, but He still knocks on the door of that church, inviting anyone who will hear his voice to open the door.  He will have fellowship and communion with him.  This is a sad verse, yet one with the greatest hope.

 

·         This church said: I am rich and do not need anything, not knowing that they were poor, and naked, and blind and miserable.  What is the symbol of their poverty and misery?

 

·         It was not that they did not have self-esteem.  Instead, they thought they had it all they needed and were in fine condition.  

 

·         What was the symbol of their poverty?  It was the closed door, with Jesus on the outside.  They had no fellowship with Jesus Christ.   He was outside the church, knocking on the door to get in!  What a sad church!

 

            Not only is this a sad passage, describing the utter poverty and misery of a proud, self-secure church, but it is also a wonderful promise.  Christ is ready to enter into a conversation of life and joy to all who will call upon Him and welcome Him.

 

Part Four:  The Communication of Faith

 

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The above doctrine has immense implications for the Christian man.  In this part we will be considering some of those implication in terms of Ephesians 4, that great chapter on the gifts that God has given to the church.  In the following paragraphs we will attempt to give a brief outline of this chapter in terms of what has been written before.

 

I.                   The walk of the Christian is to be according to the communication they have received from God.

 

Verses 1-2:  I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,  With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love….

 

This walk is to be one of humbleness and gentleness, with longsuffering and the forbearance of love.  Where do contentions come from?  They come only from pride.  Only by pride comes contentions [Proverbs 13:10].   From pride comes quarrels, insults, desiring to lord it over others, disdainful language, rudeness, reproaches.  We love ourselves and insist on our own way.  We refuse to listen to others. These things destroy fellowship and destroy conversation and communication.  If we do not listen to others, then they will not listen to us, and the communication of the saints becomes fragmented and corrupted.

 

Forbearing in love:  "Love suffers long and is kind." (Serviceable)  Love is gracious, not argumentative.  Fellowship is in both directions, both in listening and in speaking.  James puts it:  "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath."  [James 1:19, 20]  When Christians become instructive and judgmental of one another, the fellowship of the church is destroyed and Satan wins a temporary victory.

 

II.                The Unity of God requires the church to be one, as God is One.

 

Verses 3-6  Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.   There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,   One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

 

There is fellowship among the Persons, in the Unity of the Godhead.  God graciously has extended this fellowship to those who are reconciled to Him in the sacrifice of His Son.  Christians are in the same communion with every other Christian and God Himself.    There is peace in the Godhead, and there is to be peace among the people of God, for we are one body, with one Lord, one faith (gospel), one cleansing from sin [Ephesians 4:1ff].  We have hope of the same eternal life in terms of the calling of God.

 

When Jesus went into the temple and found them buying and selling and changing money, He drove them out.  “It is written” He said, “My Father's house shall be called a house of prayer.”  God did not approve their worship.  In true worship we engage God in a fellowship of communion in which He speaks to us by His word, Spirit, and sacrament, and we speak to him in confession, praise, thanksgiving and petition.  Prayer is an integral part of worship, and worship cannot take place without it.  Because true worship is from the heart, everything done in Biblical worship must illustrate that God is a Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, not with men’s hands [John 4:24].

 

If God created man for communion and fellowship, graciously extending to man the conversation of the Holy Trinity, then it would be a very great sin for men not to talk to God.  In fact, our first act of faith is to "call upon the Lord," and to "confess him before men," according to Romans 10.  The displeasure of God for our silence is clearly set forth in Psalm 50.

 

In this Psalm, God has a complaint to make with His people, those who had made a covenant with Him by sacrifice. (Psalm 50:5)  His complaint was that they thought that their duty was fulfilled in doing religious things, offering sacrifices, etc.  God declares that He is not worshipped in empty rites; He will not drink the blood of animals, and He doesn't need their gold and silver.  It is a great mistake to think that God will be pleased with servile works, as though He wants puppets to perform His will.  Man is more than that.

 

Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:

And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

 

God wants us to believe Him, listen to Him, talk to Him and walk with Him.  Israel was good at doing religious things.  They bustled about performing this ceremony and that. Even their prayers on the street corners were for the purpose of being seen by men, not to converse with God.  Jesus made the same criticism:  "You tithe mint, anise, and cumin."  They did petty religious ceremonies like the heathen did, but they did not enter into the conversation of the Lord.  They did not listen to His word or respond in prayer and meditation from the inner man.  Paul makes this point to the pagans in Athens,  "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device."  God is at least as intelligent as we are.  We are not pleased if our loved ones do not talk to us, do not communicate, do not listen to us.

 

The true worship of God is in "spiritual sacrifices," the sacrifices of the spirit, the offering up of thanksgiving and praise.  The prophets under the old law were aware of this:

 

O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.   Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. –Hos.4:2

 

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.    This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.  –Psalm 69:30, 31.

 

God made man so he could receive real communication from God, to walk with God, to know the mind of God, and so this mind of God could be communicated in a fellowship of love, peace, and joy.  Because man is in the image of God, his words reflect his inner nature, and his speech reveals what is in his heart.  Therefore, he will be judged by every idle word that he speaks, and his reception before God depends upon the words that he speaks.  This shows how great man needs a Savior, for his natural state after the Fall is that of a man whose “mouth is an open sepulcher, whose tongues uses deceit, with the poison of asps under his lips, his mouth full of cursing and bitterness.” [Romans 3]  Man cannot escape this responsibility, not even by denying that words matter.

 

Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:  But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.  --Luke 12: 8,9

 

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.   O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.   A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.    But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.  For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.  --Matthew 12:33-37:

 

Hence, false prophets are to be judged by what they say, and are not to be judged according to their good intentions, their pleasant personalities, or their natural gifts:

 

II John 9, 10:   Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.    If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:

 

I John 4:1-3:   Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.    Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:  3  And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

 

As impossible as it seems to us in this day of modern America and modern communications, we are still called to "speak the same thing,"

 

I Corinthians 1:11-13:  Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.   For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.   Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

 

In order to do this, it was necessary to distinguish between the gospel of Christ, which is the communion to which we are called, and the party spirit that attached to the servants of the Gospel, like Paul, Apollos, or Cephas.  Even Christ Himself was the name given to one of the factions, as if He taught something different from the prophets and the apostles.   Jesus must not be set against Peter, Paul, or other faithful servants who labor faithfully in the Word of God.  Instead, we are to seek to understand the unity of the Scriptures, no small task.

 

III.             Because the church is one, Christ has given communication gifts to her.

 

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.   Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.    (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?   He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)   And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. --Ephesians 4:7-13: 

 

In this context it is interesting to note that the gifts that the Exalted Christ has given the church are gifts of communication.  All of the gifts mentioned here are gifts of speaking and teaching.  The saints are perfected when the teaching is free, free from coercion, from false doctrine, from arrogance, from deceit, from hidden agendas.  This will bring the church to the "unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God." 

 

Understood in this way, it is inevitable that the saints in both the Old and the New Testaments were given a sacred book, the Bible.  If God has communicated to us and this communication is of the highest priority to Him, then it is certain that the instruments that He used to convey this information would write it down for future generations.  It is certain that Israel had and preserved such a book, the 39 books of the Old Testament, which Jesus said, "could not be broken."  If the Apostles were to be witnesses to the nations, then they would be called to write and preserve the Gospel that was given to them.  That they did this has been confessed by the church in all generations.

 

God did not choose to give this revelation to everyone, that we might be humbled under His hand, but He gave His word to chosen men, as  Peter said in Acts 10:41-43

 

Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.   To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

 

IV.              This communication is to be in love, without hidden agendas, without deceit.

 

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:   --Ephesians 4:14,15

 

Paul said that he had not come in human wisdom, with hidden agendas and manipulative words:

 

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.   For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.   And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.  --I Corinthians 2:1-5

 

"Demonstration of the Spirit and of power" means that there was an inward witness of the truth of the Gospel.  Because of this witness, men were convinced of the truth of the Gospel, for their faith did not stand in human reasoning and wisdom, but in the power of God.  It is God who calls us into fellowship with Him, and our role is to be witnesses.  The persuasiveness is from God; the witness is ours.  Instead of being vainly confident of his power to "close the deal," Paul was in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling, as if he knew that the stupendous task before him was not possible in the flesh.

 

Instead, Paul’s mission to the world was spiritually very much like the physical one that Ezekiel was sent to perform.  Ezekiel was sent to preach life into a valley full of dry bones.  How can dead men live?  How can simple prophesying cause bones to come together, to be joined with sinews, to have flesh and skin come upon them, and to have life breathed into them?  Only the power of God can do this, the kind of power that is revealed in the Gospel of Christ.  This is the reason that Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for "it is the power of God to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."

 

V.                 The same power that brings men to Christ in the Gospel, continues to work in them effectually in the church.

 

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.   --Ephesians 4:16

 

The church is a living temple, made up of living stones.  It is a holy communion, which we confess in the Apostles Creed.  Each member supplies the other members, and the church grows itself as communication continues freely in love.  In fact, we must read Matthew 18 in terms of this communication.  What disqualifies a man from continuing in the fellowship is the "failure to hear" his fellow Christian or the church.  When the church excommunicates, it is recognizing that the individual involved is already out of the conversation of life and is following the way of deadly ideas and the works that accompany death.  There is to be great forbearance and longsuffering within the fellowship; only reluctantly do we recognize the barrenness and disobedience of being outside the communion.

 

VI.              The Church, therefore, is not like the world, which lives alienated from God.

 

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:  Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.  But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:   --Ephesians 4:17-21

 

The unbeliever is characterized by his lack of understanding and by his alienation from God through the blindness of his heart.  This is the reason that he lives in sexual immorality or greediness for the things of the world.  He cannot be involved in the heavenly fellowship, because of the vanity of his mind.

 

Christians have begun to learn of Christ, to be taught by Him, through the means that He has ordained.  The Christian knows that the truth is in Jesus Christ, and that he is called to a different sort of a walk, a conversation that is life-giving and healthy, not corrupt and full of death.

 

VII.           The Christian has a new conversation.

 

That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.  Ephesians 4:22-24

 

The Authorized Version uses a wonderful old Elizabethan word, which has no real equivalent in the modern day.  "Conversation" meant a way of life derived from a word order, and captures the meaning of the Greek.  A Roman citizen was proud of his citizenship, because it indicated certain things about him, about his life-style, his discipline, his philosophy and religion.

 

The Christian is called to put off the former conversation, the word-order and its accompanying life-style.  The old way of acting was corrupt because of man's wicked desires; it was rooted in Paradise Lost: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.  These things characterize the world fallen in Adam (I John 2:16).

 

Instead, the Christian is to put on a new “conversation,” to believe the Gospel and to act accordingly.  This new man is Jesus Christ, the Last Adam.  The Christian can do this because he has been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ and is "a new creature, old things have passed away and all things have become new."

 

Paul said this same thing in Philippians 1:27

 

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

 

Divisions and strife indicate that the church is not living in the conversation of Christ; it is a beautiful thing when the church "stands fast in one spirit, with one mind…."

 

James warns us of a false and devilish conversation.  It happens when people all want to be "schoolma'rms" and bite and devour one another.  (James 3:1)  The tongue is a wonderful thing when it is used with grace, making the mouth a well of life:

 

The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.  Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.  --Proverbs 10:11,12

 

It is quite another thing when the tongue is set on fire of hell:

 

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.   --James 3:14-16

 

We are to put away the words and works of death, and speak those things which are edifying and healthy:

 

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.   --Matthew 5:37 

 

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:  For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.  But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.  --Colossians 3:5-7  [Colossians 3 is in many ways parallel to Ephesians 4] 

 

VIII.        Practical Considerations (Ephesians 4:25-32).

 

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.   Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:  Neither give place to the devil.   Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.   Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

 

If we are to be a part of the heavenly conversation, we must first quit our lying.  We must not lie about God (false doctrine); we must not lie about ourselves (hypocrisy and guile); we must not lie about each other (slander and falsehood).

 

Members of each other.  This is true because we are members of the same body.  Christ has no disassociated body parts.  To use a physical analogy, the animal body cannot function unless the nervous system is whole and uncorrupted.  Drugs and alcohol, and certain diseases, disrupt the nervous system and the body becomes uncontrollable.

 

In order for the body to work properly, it must be connected to the head and all of the parts must be connected to each other.  Words of love and truth cement our connection to each other; lies disrupt the connection.   The words of the Gospel in Scripture connect us to Jesus Christ and the words of the Scriptures teach us to love one another, forbear one another, and forgive one another in Jesus Christ.

 

Grieve Not the Holy Spirit.    Because we have been baptized into Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who works faith and love in the children of God, and seals us unto the day of redemption.  Evil communications grieve Him:

 

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.   Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.  --Ephesians 4:30-32 

 

Instead of grieving the Holy Spirit, we are called to confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and to believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead.  We are called to confess Him before men, to confess our sins, and no longer deceive ourselves by walking in the lies of self-righteousness and self-justification.  We are to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and so be restored to fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. 

 

Without the Triune God, how lonely is the life of man!  The modern man has no speaking God, no fellowship and communion with God.  The only voice that modern man hears is the Babel of his own wilderness.

 

God has provided all things for His church.  It is through His promises that we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust [II Pet. 1:4].  It is also through the promises that we have fellowship with Him and with one another [I John 1].  This fellowship begins in the church, for without the church there is no fellowship with God and no living fellowship with one another.  Without the church we are lost in a communion of death, dancing the dance of death, speaking the words of death, working the works of death.  The stench of death is about all we do. 

 

Only in Christ, in the living body of Christ, do we find life, and peace, and service.  The church is a living temple made of living stones.  His communion is the communion of life because He endured death for us and rose up from the dead to bring us life forevermore.   Shall we be wiser than God?  God has ordained the means for us to have fellowship with Him:  we do not seek some other way, for our Shepherd comes by the door of the sheep and those who climb up some other way are thieves and robbers.  "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord" [Isaiah 55:7]  As long as a person clings in pride to his own opinions and his own stubborn ways, there is no hope for fellowship with God, who resists the proud, but give grace to the humble.  The proud talk only to themselves, for God does not hear them.

 

I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.  Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.   Isaiah 66:4,5

 

The Lord hears those who take His word seriously and tremble.

 

IX.              Speaking the Truth in Love (Ephesians 4:5) 

Paul expands on this idea from Ephesians 5:19 to the end of the epistle.  Verses 19,20 give the outline.

 

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;   Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;   Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

 

We are to speak to one another, and to speak to God in thanksgiving and praise, echoing Psalm 50, cited above.  The Christian life is a joyful conversation with God and with each other.  Involved in this conversation is the necessity of joyful submission one to another in the fear of God, who has called us out of darkness into the glorious light of His Son. (I Peter 2:9)  In terms of this submission, the apostle speaks of the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, owners and labor.  He ends by speaking of our conflict with the evil conversation of the world, which can only be overcome by the armor of the Spirit:

 

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;   And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  16  Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.   And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:  Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.  --Ephesians 6:13-18

 

The armor of God is not for protection against bombs and guns and clubs.  God has fashioned those carnal weapons and they cannot do more than His word and wisdom permits.  As we read in Isaiah 54:

 

Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.   No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.

 

Jesus put it this way, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4)  It is not that man should not live by bread alone, but that man does not live by bread alone.  Apart from the decree and wisdom of God man cannot so much as move.  We have no independent existence, for in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:29).  We cannot even raise our fist in defiance of Him without using the strength, the mind, the self-consciousness that He gives us.  In our sin we turn His gifts against Him, and it is only His patience and long-suffering that holds back the punishment that we deserve.

 

Part Five:  Spiritual Sacrifices

 

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Introduction

Summary Thus Far

 

There is counsel in the Holy Trinity.   There is one God, but there is diversity in the Holy Trinity and in this diversity, there is fellowship.  Speech and fellowship is therefore basic to the very order of the universe, and man was created in order to have fellowship with God.  Man was not just created in order to DO things for God, but to be a companion and a friend for God, to the extent that a created being can have such fellowship.  Because fellowship is so basic to the very nature of God; man, being in the image of God, shares in this basic nature.  Man also desires fellowship and communion.

 

Man was created to receive the Word of God, and to fellowship in terms of that word.  This is the seriousness of his sin in the Garden of Eden.  In his sin man did not eat something that God had discerned was bad for him, but in partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man broke the circle of God's fellowship, and began to live in terms of a different order of fellowship; one based upon his own reason and discernment, not one based upon God's communication to him.  But all such fellowships are fellowships of death, and sin and ruin entered into the world.  Jesus said, “I am the vine, if you abide in me, you have life; but if you abide not in me, you are cast forth as a branch and are withered.”  In Jesus Christ is life and health; outside of his fellowship, there is nothing but death and ruin.

 

So man was driven from the Garden of Eden.  He lost that original Paradise, which was a type and figure of the true Paradise, Heaven itself, where communion and fellowship with God will be perfect and complete.

 

To get back into God's fellowship, man must come back in the way he went out.  He rejected the word of God; he comes back in by receiving God's word.  But here's the catch.  Man is a rebel.  Because God is good and cannot deny Himself, He must judge those who rebel against Him.  How was man to be restored to fellowship, when the very nature of God abhorred and hated man for his rebellion?  This is the beauty of the grace of God.  He sent His very Word into the world, to suffer the consequences of man's rebellion.  On the Cross, the Lord Jesus, in a way that goes far beyond any of our abilities to comprehend, was alienated from the fellowship and life of God, for the first time in all the vastness of eternity:  In His flesh He felt the horrors of separation from God, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"  He experienced the alienation deserving of the wrath of God in the place of sinner, so that the door of salvation might be opened for us.  His death is the way of life for us; His alienation brings us back into fellowship with God.  We can go home.  The Father has prepared the way for the return of His prodigal sons.  The way is open to us and it is the way faith, restoration to communication and fellowship with God.

 

We are called to confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and to believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead.  We are called to confess Him before men; we are called to confess our sins and no longer deceive ourselves by walking in the lies of self-righteousness and self-justification.  We are to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and so be restored to fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

Without the Triune God, the life of man is lonely, living in isolation and alienation because he has no speaking God, no God with whom he can fellowship.  He only hears the voice of his own rebellion.

 

Very early, it was said of man that it is not good for him to be alone, because God knew the nature of the man that He had created.  Adam named the animals and discerned that there was no creature that was fit for fellowship and communion with man.  None of them could speak; none of them was created for fellowship.  So Eve was created for Adam, made bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Made from his rib, so that there would not be two human natures, but one: male and female.  Eve was made from Adam, not from some other flesh.  She was just like him, only female, not male.  Only the Bible account of special creation does justice to the uniqueness and nobility and honor of man as he was created.

 

Jesus came to restore us to fellowship with God.  The nature and the working out of that fellowship is described in Ephesians 4.  We say that we are called to walk according to the communication of the Lord that brought us to Christ.  This walk is to be one of gentleness and humility.  We are to put away self-love and pride, and forbear one another: to listen and to speak, for communication is two-way.  We are to work toward unity, to try to harmonize our views with others; for there is one body and one spirit; one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one hope of our calling.  We saw that Christ, when He ascended up on high gave gifted men to the church to bring them to the unity of the faith.  We are to not be children anymore, carried away by every wind of doctrine, but are to grow up to that unity, where each of us does our part, through the effectual working the same Spirit that brought us to Christ.  We are to speak to one another:  not our feelings; not our opinions; not our doubts and fears; but our faith.

 

This brings us to worship.

 

I.                   God's House Is a House of Prayer.   As we saw earlier in Psalm 50, the Lord had this complaint of Israel, that they offered Him sacrifices and ceremonies, but they did not give thanks, keep their promises, or call upon Him in the day of trouble.  He goes on to say to the wicked:

 

But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?   Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.    When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.   Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.    Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son.  These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.    Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.   Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.   --Psalm 50:16-23  

 

The wicked imagined that God was like them.  Sometimes they even spoke of covenant and God's will.  They used His gifts of language and reason for evil and deceit.  They slandered one another.  They thought that God would be silent about true righteousness just as they were.  But the One who made the ear will certainly hear, and the one who made thy eye will certainly see. 

 

 He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?  he that formed the eye, shall he not see?  He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct?  he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?  The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.  --Psalm 94:9-11

 

As stated before, the AV uses that wonderful old Elizabethan noun in the last verse of Psalm 50:  Those who order their conversation aright will be shown the salvation of the Lord.  They are "in the loop" of the Trinitarian communion, God is their God, Christ is their Savior, the saints are their brothers and sisters.  They do not worship a silent God, and they are not silent.  In word and deed they communicate the grace of God to each other and to the world.

 

II.                Communication is Two-Ways, and so it is in Worship.  In Proverbs 1, God had this quarrel with Israel:

 

Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;  But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:  I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;   When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.   Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:   For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:….  --Proverbs 1:24-29  

 

A.     The first rule of communication is to listen well.  

 

This is especially true of man in his conversation with God.  God does not institute prayers so we can access Him as a sort of cosmic vending machine, to satisfy our lusts and worldly desires.  Instead, prayers are our response to His word and His promises.  Simply stated, God is saying that if we do not listen to Him, then He will not listen to us.   The wicked in Psalm 50:16,17, "cast God's word behind them."

 

This condition, however, does not come with haste upon the sinner, for God is longsuffering.  He has given us an example of how to deal with sinners.  Sometimes people say that God will not hear the prayers of sinners.  The evidence contradicts this, for He heard the prayers of Cain, of Ahab, and even gave the devil a hearing in the time of Job.  It is true that He has not promised to hear them, but sometimes for His own pleasure He does hear them.  God is longsuffering and gracious and this teaches us to be the same way.  We are not to speak only to those who love and speak to us, but we are to salute [greet] all:    "And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?"    (Matthew 5:47)  It is a great sin for us to refuse to talk to others, especially the saints.

 

We are to cultivate the habit of listening to all men, for we have been called to disciple all men with the view of bringing them into the fellowship of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19,20).

 

B.     Especially, the House of God is to be a House of Listening.   

Idolaters do not know what they worship (John 4:22).  Prayers must be offered to the true God, and must come in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Because of this there must be cleansing of the heart and mind before true prayers can be offered:

 

He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.  --Proverbs 28: 9 

 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.    Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.   Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. John 15:1-3 

 

One of the things that the people of God need to be in fervent, earnest, believing prayer about is the restoration of great preaching in our churches.  We do not need more P.R. men; or more party-good-time men.  We do not need more men with political connections.  We do not need more fund-raisers.    We need the restoration of faithful preaching.  What is faithful preaching?  It is absolutely essential to the great education ministry of the church, for Christian education and nurture begins in the pulpit.

 

III.             Why is listening so terribly important for the church?

 

A.      We must listen if we are to avoid idolatry. We do not worship an unknown God.  Idolaters worship what they do not know.  They worship gods that cannot speak, for only our Triune God knew fellowship and speech even before the world were made.  God was not lonely before He made the world.

B.       We must listen if we are to know ourselves.  The word of God penetrates to the innermost parts of the heart, to discover the hidden springs and the inward conditions.  Without listening, we will be deceived by our own hearts and be led away into all kinds of error and sin.  It is through preaching that God has chosen to edify and build His people in the church.

C.      We must listen in order to know the meaning of the world in which we live.  How else would we know that "all things work together for good" if we do not listen to the Word of God.  God has chosen through the ministry of the word to take us into His conversation and communion, so that we might make sense of our lives.  Shall we be wiser than God, and despise His work.

D.      We must listen, for this is the way that God has chosen for us to escape temptation.

 

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. 12  Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  13  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.  14  Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.-- I Corinthians 10:11-14.

 

God has provided a way for us to escape just as He did for Israel.  The way is always Christ.  In Israel the provision He had made was through Moses, the covenants, the promises that were under the law that pointed to Christ. The provision He has made for us is the church and her ministry.  We see much more clearly, and under the administration of the Spirit we do not need the strictures that were given by Moses, and a slave to lead us to Christ, for we see Him clearly.  Those who despised Moses fell and perished, their carcasses falling in the wilderness; even less can we escape if we neglect the means that God has provided for us, despising His word, and refusing His grace.

 

E.       And So We are Called to Pray without Ceasing.  As the Heidelberg Catechism put it, prayer is the chief part of thankfulness (Question 116).  All things come to us from God, and we are to offer unto God thanksgiving and praise.  These are spiritual sacrifices according to I Peter 2:4, 5

 

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,  Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

 

In this beautiful figure the church is a temple, but we do not offer up the blood of bulls and goat; nor do we offer again and again the blood of Christ.   We acknowledge that Christ was slain for us, and we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  We offer the calves of our lips.   These offerings are to be made not only in church, but also in every place, without ceasing.

 

But how do we pray?  The conditions of public prayers are set forth in I Corinthinas 14:14-20.

 

For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.   What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.   Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?  For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.  I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:  Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.  Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

 

In the church we are not engaging in a private conversation with God, hence our prayers are to be edifying and intelligible to others.

A.      We use language. Public prayers are to be intelligible.   Paul says that you can do what you want in private; but in public use words that people can understand.   Be mature about it.

B.       In the prayer others are to join with you in their hearts, and join in the giving of thanks.  Not in a babble of undifferentiated speech, but in an edifying manner, decently and in order.  (Vs.  26 and vs. 40)

C.      Life is to be breathed into the forms.   It is to be orderly, but it is to be alive.  To be alive in worship is not the same as to make a lot of noise.  Worship can be dead if it is not from the heart no matter how noise is made.  Heart worship is not the same as the emotion or the mind.  The heart is the spiritual core of man and is the fountain which directs the emotions, the mind, and the will.  Heart worship is sincere, honest, and obedient and can take many different forms, but one thing is certain: it is a worship that both listens to God and responds in prayer to Him.

 

Changing the forms of worship will not necessarily bring spiritual life.  A vigorous beating around with an axe-handle will not take the place of having an axe-head.

 

D.      Great hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs must be part of our conversation with God.   These are prayers set to music, prayers of great joy and gladness.   They are spiritual sacrifices offered to God.  We are not to offer the halt, the lame, or the blind.  Nor are we to offer the unclean offerings of the world. But our offerings do come from the flock, out of the natural order of things, so our music will reflect our culture and experience.  The styles, however, are to be sanctified. Just as the sacrificial lamb was to be watched for a week to make sure there were no blemishes, so we ought not to run after every fad in music.  They are to be proved to see that there is no fault in them.

1.      They are to be our prayers, so the creative activity of the church is to be found in great hymnwriting, from the hearts of God’s people.  This refutes the idea that only Psalms are to be sung in church.  The whole range of Christian thanksgiving is fit to be a subject for our hymns.

2.      Our conversation includes the reading of Scripture, which can be done responsively to involve the congregation.  Worshippers should pay careful attention and even children should be involved in this part of the conversation.

3.       In our prayers we confess our faith, which confession permeates all that we do.  The word of God is on the tongues of the saints and defines them. It is pleasant to God when He hears His people confessing and acknowledging the truth.  Even little children can do this:  Ps. 149.  They can learn to lisp the hymns and say the creed, joining in the prayers.

4.      Truth and sincerity must rule all of our prayers, because God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Our words must come from the heart.  We are members one of another, and must not permit lies to destroy the fabric upon which our very life depends.  The word of God must circulate without contamination.  All truth is God's truth, and we live by it.  Truth sets free, it cleanses, and it gives life.   Lies and misrepresentation bring death and ruin; they did in Eden and they do today.

5.      Personal communication with God, however, does not depend upon many words.  "Let your words be few in the presence of God, for we are not heard for our much speaking."  Some people want to talk all the time, because they are full of themselves.   

 

Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.  Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.   For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.   When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.   Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.   Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error:   --Ecclesiastes 5:1-6

 

Part Six:  The Scriptures

 

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From eternity there has been fellowship of the most sweet and blessed kind among the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.   From the unsearchable riches of His grace and goodness, our Triune God chose to create the world and to include Adam and all his seed within the circle of his fellowship.  Not to deify man, for that could not be, but to include man, as much as a man was able as a noble and blessed creature, within the circle of God's fellowship.

 

This fellowship was destroyed by man's sin; for this fellowship was in terms of words, thoughts, concepts; and man rejected God's words, and followed the words of the devil.

 

In order to restore man to fellowship with Himself, God ordained and sent Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the world to satisfy the justice of God, to overthrow the lies of the devil, and to bring man once more into the purity and fellowship of the truth of the Word of God.

 

I.                   Because of Sin, God's communion and conversation with man cannot be direct.  We see as through a glass, darkly.   II Corinthians 3 speaks of two administrations: one of the law, the other of the Spirit.  But both are of the Scriptures, ministered by men.  The first was given by Moses and ministered by those ordained of God, the Levites and descendants of Aaron.  The second was given by Jesus Christ and administered by those ordained and sent forth by Him, not according to the flesh (physical descent), but by the gifts of the Spirit.  II Corinthians 2:17

 

For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

 

The faithful minister of the New Testament does not corrupt the word of God, but sincerely preaches the truth before God. He does not have his own message, but is a messenger of the Lord.  Thus, after the angel delivered the apostles from prison, they were told to "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life."  (Acts 5:20)  Their message is designated, “Word of Life,” a living conversation, not the dead words of dead gods.

 

Preaching is not to be ministry of private interpretation or of hobby-horses.  The minister must not intrude other ideas and philosophies, but must mine the Scriptures for his message and application.  He is bound to the Scriptures.

 

II.                Pastors/teachers are the ordinary gifts of Christ to the church according to Ephesians 4.  They are not to be theological nit-pickers, swallowing camels while avoiding gnats, but are called to perfect the saints, to bring all to the unity of the faith.  The church has dealt with the camels in the creeds and catechisms; we will probably produce the gnats from our own imaginations.  God's people must not shut themselves off from the conversation of Christ, for this is the way that He has determined to teach his church. 

 

A minister should be passionate for the infallibility of Scripture and the integrity of the creeds.  He must have compassion for sinners; patience with the weak; justice for the poor and needy; faithfulness in worship.  He must be catholic in his affections, a lover and supporter of other faithful ministers, both small and great.  He should have no respect of persons, but have compassion for men of all races and conditions.  He should be a lover of life and a lover of truth.  He should be a lifetime scholar, able to express himself in oral and written communication.  He must be passionately in love with Jesus Christ, and firmly convinced that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cure the worst of sinners.  He will seek to spread the gospel as widely as possible.    He must distrust his own reason, his feelings, his choices.   In short, he must love the gospel of Christ as the only remedy for man's sinful condition.  He must be an honest man, not hiding his faults nor pretending virtues. He must be humble, preferring others as better than himself.  He must not be contentious and quarrelsome, but must make much of the grace of God both in doctrine and in life.  He must do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith.  His knowledge must never be used to do evil, but always to do good.  He must not be double-minded, but single-minded in service to Jesus Christ, content to fill the place that God has given him.  He must love men, but not be a men-pleaser.

 

This means that the people of God must prepare themselves by personal, fervent prayer to prepare themselves for worship and for hearing the word of God. 

 

A.      The minister must have no doubt that the book that he holds in his hand is the very word of God.  He needs to be immersed in the Word of God.  He needs to value the word as more than his necessary meat.  "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and they were the joy and rejoicing of my heart."

B.       The minister must be fervently in love with Jesus Christ.  In his heart must be the fire of love that has been lit by the Holy Ghost.  He must love Jesus Christ, love His word, love His people; and love the His Gospel.

C.      The minister must have a lively imagination and energy to apply the word faithfully to the modern age, a man with a fire burning in his soul; this is to say a man who is filled with the Spirit of God.

D.      He should be able to tell the difference between a gnat and a camel.  Jesus talked about those who strained at gnats and swallowed camels to the ruin of God’s people.

E.       What is the minister to do but to preach the word?  Study, preach, apply, reprove, rebuke, etc.   Jesus said:  He that heareth my words and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.  (John 5:24)  What difference can a faithful ministry make? 

 

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.   But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.   --Jeremiah 23:21,22

 

III.             The Importance of the Word of God in Matthew 13.  In the parable of the sower who went forth to sow several important ideas can be emphasized:

 

A.     There are many affected by the preaching of the Word, who do not come to faith and to fellowship with God.  This is the fruit of the Word: faith and communion with God and all the good works that flow from this fellowship and union with Christ.

B.     The things which keep the word from bearing its fruit are the things which destroy the soul:  Satan catches the word from the heart so that there is no desire, no ardent love, no joy, no passionate desperation of faith which cries out to Christ,  "I must have you or I die!!"

C.     The hard heart is a stony heart, a field with shallow soil over hard stone.   A hard heart is bad soil for the sowing of the word of God.  It is a heart filled with hatred, bitterness, and anger.  Tribulation and trials destroy the word, and there is no fellowship and conversation with God.  Trials and tribulations cause bitterness and anger to spring up in the hard heart, not the sweet passions of faith and love.

D.     Thorns come because of the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the love of the world.  We settle down here in the world and do not long for that blessed communion with our Savior in Heaven.  These have their portion in the world and do not have their affections set on things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

E.      The good soil are hearts that hear the word (preaching) and UNDERSTAND IT.  They do not just mouth formulas.  A good question for church members is this:  "What is the level of your understanding of the Scriptures?"  Even better:  "What is the level of your reception of the Scriptures?  How much do you really hear?”   What do you understand of the One who exercises loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth?  Do you even know what that means?

 

IV.              The Bread of God in John 6

A.     Jesus had fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  The multitudes followed him across the sea, and desired to force him to become their king.  He refused and entered into a dialogue with them over the bread of God.

B.     He said that Moses had not given the true bread from heaven, because the fathers were all dead.  Instead, the true bread was He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  Jesus claimed to be that true bread, and that His flesh was true bread, His blood was true drink.  They did not understand and were highly offended.  As a result, many no longer followed Him.

C.     When His disciples asked Him about it, a very interesting response came from Christ  [John 6:61-64]

1.      “Is this offensive to you?  What will you think when I return to heaven”  [My flesh will not be on the earth.  If you don’t understand now, how will you understand then?]

2.      “The flesh doesn’t profit anything”   [The value of the flesh of Christ will not be in the disciples masticating it.  That would be cannibalism.  The value of the flesh of Christ for believers lies in its being offered as a sacrifice to God on the cross.]

3.      “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”  [The truth concerning the sacrifice of Christ is food for our soul, if we believe and trust in Christ.  There were those among His disciples who did not believe, but they would believe later.  This passage destroys the myth of transubstantiation and consubstantiation; if the eating of Christ’s flesh on this earth would have been nothing; how can the eating of ceremonial bread profit?  Christ Himself is the bread of God; not the manna; not the host; not the wafer; not the wine.  He is the Bread that came down from heaven which nourishes the souls of those who believe.  The Gospel tells me the truth about the sacrifice of Christ and that truth in the words is life for my soul.  These are the words by which we and our houses are saved.  The sacrament exists for the purpose of reminding the church of the words of the Promise.]

D.     Peter at least understood.  When Jesus said to his disciples, “Will ye also go away,” it was Peter who responded, “To whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.”   The words matter after all.  It is by the words that God communicates the grace of Jesus Christ to impart the life of Christ to the soul of the believer.  (Acts 11:14)

 

 

Part Seven:  The Christian Home

 

Very early, it was said of man that it is not good for him to be alone.  Adam named the animals, and discerned that there was no creature that was fit for fellowship and communion with man.  None of them could speak; none of them was created for fellowship.  So Eve was created for Adam, made bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. Made from his rib; so that there would not be two human natures, but one: male and female; for Eve was made from Adam, not from some other flesh.  She was just like him, only female, not male.  She was not created to be a servant for Adam, but a companion.  One just like him, only female.

 

What has been written applies to marriage and to every human relationship.   Man was created first of all to fellowship with God and then to fellowship with others.  When fellowship with God is destroyed, then fellowship between men is destroyed.  Marriage was instituted to be instructive—to reveal the relationship between Christ and His church.  Because God’s works are always covenantal, marriage is based upon a vow, which both husband and wife must take in the fear of God.

 

Communion and Conversation in Marriage.  There is a communion and conversation in marriage that is to be part of the Christian conversation.  Men are to love and care for their wives.  Wives are to be in submission and be helpers to their husbands.  The wife is a helper in a way that no other human can be.  It was not good for man to be alone, and the woman was created to be a companion for her husband and a helper to him in his calling.  If her speech is destructive, it breaks the fellowship of the home.  If his speech is cruel and oppressive, he devalues his wife and himself [I Cor. 11:7].  Bringing other men or women into the fellowship destroys the intimacy and love of the home, just as false teachers and prophets destroy the fellowship of the church.

 

Inclusion of Children in Covenant Communication.  Children are also to be included in the communication of the godly conversation, brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  In other words, they are born into the covenant community, and if they believe, they inherit eternal life.   What was said to Israel certainly applies to Christians today:  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.   And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”  [Deut. 6:6-9]

 

There are many ways that the conversation of the ungodly intrudes itself into the Christian home and church.  It comes through the mass media, the internet, television, MTV, boom boxes, magazines, books, papers, and the influence of neighbors, relatives, other children in the church, and the depravity of their own hearts. Parents would be very naïve to believe that their children will be insulated from such things.  Our families are inundated by the flood of alien speech and conversation.  But we have the promise of God that He “knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”   [Psalms 1:6]  Without going out of the world, there are things that we can do to minimize its effect upon us and upon our children.

 

Because our fellowship with God and with one another depends upon the understanding and the use of rational discourse, the things which cause an impairment of the mental processes must be put away also.  Mind-changing substances which bring a suspension or an impairment of verbal communication and understanding are to be rejected.  Such substances bring about a disconnection with God’s revelation in creation and distort the meaning of words and the ability to understand communication.  Because Satan trades in lies and deceit [John 8:44], it is in his interest to promote their abuse.

 

Equally destructive to the rational processes are the effects of false doctrine and arrogant pride.  These destroy the ability of the mind to discern the truth and to see the difference between right and wrong.  A humble walk with God in the covenant conversation is essential for a godly, peaceful home.

 

Parental Imperatives

 

There are many things that parents must do to include their children in the conversation of godliness.  Among them are the following:

 

1.      Fathers and mothers must give diligence to assure themselves that they personally are walking in the conversation of godliness:  That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.  Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.”  [Ephesians 4:22-24]

2.      Because evil communications corrupt good behavior, a great danger to the Christian father are the twin evils of pornography and feminism.  Both are subversive to a godly conversation.  Disruptions in the order and chastity of the home are destructive of prayers, according to I Peter 3:1-7, which are another way of saying that true worship is disrupted.    Husbands and wives are to encourage one another and support one another in their growth in the knowledge and obedience of the Gospel.

3.      Fathers and mothers must teach their children the truths of the Scriptures.  This will include regular Bible reading in the home, the availability of good and wholesome books and other resources, hymnology, poetry, and good literature.  Special care must be given to catechetical instruction.   Regular Bible reading brings children into contact with the stuff life is made of, including both the good and the evil, and such reading provides an opportunity for discussion and application.   The example of a godly life is important, of course, but the words of the gospel transforms lives, for it is by the hearing of faith that the Spirit is given to God’s people

4.      Good and wholesome schools must be chosen for children to attend.  Especially to be commended are good home-school instruction, good Christian schools, and other godly resources.  There are many resources available that can meet the needs of the Christian family.  Great care must be taken if the public schools are utilized, for more and more the public schools are agents for the American state religion, with its humanistic curriculum, unbelieving teachers, and relativism in religion and morals.  Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.”  [Proverbs 19:27]   If public school seems to be the best choice, depending on particular circumstances, fathers and mothers must be especially involved every day in the education, talking to their children, knowing who their friends are, and monitoring their whereabouts.  Certain aspects of education may be delegated, but responsibility cannot be delegated. 

5.      Children should not be left alone with computers, with television, or even the telephone.  Supervision is the key word, and it is the duty of parents to supervise their children.  Computers should be in public view, not hidden in the child’s bedroom.  If television is viewed, it should be a family viewing, with family discussion.   Pornography, idolatry, and profanity belong to the conversation of the devil and must be rejected by godly people.  It might be instructive to notice how often “Oh, my god” is used on any TV program in prime time.  [This is covenantal language, by the way:  But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?  Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.”  –Ps 50: 16, 17].

6.      It is not possible, or biblical, to remove our families from concourse with the church or society.  The Great Commission of the church to the whole world stands in contrast with the cultural and religious isolation of the theocracy of the Old Testament.  God is certainly able to preserve believers and their children even in the seat of Satan himself [witness Daniel and his friends in Babylon, Joseph in Egypt, and Samuel under the instruction of Eli, whose own sons were terribly corrupt], but the means of preservation is normally good instruction from godly parents and pastors.  We must neither tempt God by putting ourselves in the path of danger nor walk in fear of contamination.

7.      Children must be included in the worship of the Lord on the Sabbath Day.  The worship of the Lord involves both listening to His word and offering prayers to Him.  The house of God is to be a house of prayer as well as the pillar and ground of the truth.  Psalm 148 calls even upon small children or infants to be included in this praise and thanksgiving.   If children are made to be obedient at home, they will obey in church and sit quietly and partake of the worship, unless there are physical ailments.

8.      The plan of God for His people is that they be included in the covenant community of saints.  To be baptized is to be baptized into this fellowship.  The family does not exist in isolation from the church; neither does the church exist in isolation from the state and community.  We are to be salt and light, and the leaven of the Gospel is to season the whole lump.  If home or Christian school is the choice for the family, then other activities should be planned so that the family is not isolated from the larger world, both Christian and non-Christian.  A good education, including a good Christian education, requires understanding and contact with other points of view, so that our Christian witness may be effective.  Our children will certainly come into contact with these points of view at some time, and it is far better that this contact take place when they are under the influence and instruction of their family and church community.

9.      Wrong behavior is to be corrected with chastisement and instruction.  Because sin involves both the head and the body, the mind must be instructed and the body chastised.   Love requires it and no child was ever damaged by the loving and firm application of the rod to the proper place of a child’s anatomy.   As the Scripture puts it, “Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.   Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.  Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.  [Prov. 23:12-14]   The promise of this Scripture is that chastisement is a means that the Holy Spirit uses, along with the Scripture, to bring the elect to salvation and mercy.  There is no higher love that a man or woman can have for a child than to chasten him at the proper time in the proper way.   “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”   [Proverbs 13:24]

 

Chastisement is to be mild, loving, and filled with pity, for this is the pattern set forth in Scripture.  Our Father in heaven is longsuffering and patient with his children and chastens us, not for his pleasure, but for our good.  A kind and patient father who pities his children is the figure which describes our Heavenly Father.  This is a pity that is not rooted in sentiment, but in an understanding of our fallen nature which is made of dust and under the curse of Adam’s sin.

 

It should be noted that parents should use a great deal of wisdom in chastisement in the modern world.  It should probably never be done in public, for bystanders may make complaints to public authorities and humanistic social workers.  If mild and loving correction is made in private it will not be necessary to chastise in public.  One of the additional benefits of physical chastisement is the teaching of hardness in mind and body.  Physical contentment and pleasure are not the highest good.  It is better to suffer in the body than to suffer in hell.

 

It is probably not a good idea for schoolteachers, Sunday School teachers, or others to chastise the children of others.  If it needs to be done, a call to the parents will usually suffice.  It is right and proper for every member of the church to take responsibility to help parents in the nurture and discipline of the children of the congregation, for we are members one of another.  “It takes a village,” is a worthy sentiment and has Christian roots, even though, when separated from Christ, it can be most destructive of liberty.

 

Part Eight:  Institutions of Christian Education

 

It is a settled principle that God is One in Three.   The One and the Many is so deeply rooted in the very nature of the American nation that two centuries of theological liberalism have been able to make only modest inroads into the structure of American life.  The denial of the true deity of Jesus Christ and the great creeds of the church has skewered American institutions and brought about a growth of centralization of power in an attempt for institutions and government, and even the church, to “speak with one voice.”  The result has been inefficiency and loss of personal liberty.  But the concept of individual liberty and responsibility, though eroded, has always been a major theme in the theology and the life of the church.

 

The Lord Jesus Christ, contrary to Rome, did not appoint a single head over His church.  Instead, He sent forth the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide His church.  This is in agreement with the concept of an “Economic Trinity.”  Although one in honor, power, knowledge, glory, and eternity, each Person of the Holy Trinity does His Own work.  The Father predestines from eternity and providentially arranges all things; the Son becomes man and dies for His people, establishes His church, and, with the Father, sends forth the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit regenerates, working faith and repentance and gives gifts of grace and ministry to the Church, according to His Own will.

 

This division of work is reflected in the church.  We have differing gifts according to the grace of God.  The church is a “corporation” [from the Latin for “body”] which uses to great advantage the gifts which God gives.  Because the church is a body that continues on the earth even after the death of its members, it provides an opportunity for the maximum use of personal gifts, the accumulation of resources, and intergenerational communication.  The church is a “communion,” that not only speaks to the present generation, but draws upon the labors of the past and speaks to the generations that follow.  By institutionalizing His church, the Lord emphasized that our responsibility is not only to our present generation, but to the generation that follows.

 

By institutionalizing our efforts we maximize their effects and use our gifts to their greatest advantage.  It is by such institutions that our light is set upon a hill and gives light to the whole world.  The same could be said of education.  No amount of individual effort can replace the witness of the institution of the church, which is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”  In giving this designation to the church, the Apostle Paul was not speaking of the “invisible” church or the “triumphant” church.  Instead, he is speaking to the church militant, teaching Timothy how to behave.

 

It is the duty of the fathers of the church to speak not only to their generation, but also to the generation that follows.  It is certainly the duty for biological fathers are to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  It is the right and privilege to make educational decisions according to their own circumstances and resources.  It is also the duty of the Christian community to accumulate resources and build those institutions in order to speak to succeeding generations.

 

In order to speak effectively to future generation, to amass educational resources, and to use a proper division of labor, it is very important that Christians build educational institutions.  It is not possible to predict the exact nature of the future as far as technology is concerned, except to say that the changes will be profound.    This will maximize the labors of gifted teachers and provide future generations with pastors and teachers.

 

Recommendation:  That this report be printed and made available without charge to the member churches of the RCUS, and that the ministers and elders of the church promote its study in the churches and in the homes of the church.

 

Rev. C. W. Powell, Chairman

Rev. Harvey Opp

Rev. George Horner [In dissent, with minority report]

Elder Dave Kauk  [not voting]

 


Minority Report

 

A study presented in fulfillment of the mandate given to the

Special Committee of Synod on Covenant Education

By Rev. George Horner

 

The Reformed Church in the United States has bound itself, as its Constitution testifies, to the authority of God’s inscripturated Word.  Article 176 of the RCUS constitution states:

 

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are called canonical, being recognized as genuine and inspired, are received as the true and proper Word of God, infallible and inerrant, and the ultimate rule and measure of the whole Christian faith and doctrine.

 

The authority of the Holy Scriptures, the self-revelation of God, over the whole of the Christian faith is rooted in this attestation:  

 

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory

             forever” (Rom 11: 36) 

 

It is only by true faith in Jesus Christ that God brings forth from man, created in His image but depraved in sin, the God-glorifying acknowledgment of God’s attestation of His ultimacy in all things. It is the Christian faith which acknowledges that it is the second person of the trinitarian godhead, Christ incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended, in whom all the fullness dwells ( Col 1: 19)   The Scripture’s testimony that it is in Jesus Christ that all the fullness dwells serves as a ruling perspective for the whole Christian life.  The ground for all the fullness dwelling in Christ, God teaches us, is that:

 

He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all

            creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are  

            on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or

            principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  

           And He is before all things and in Him all things consist.  And He is the head

           of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

           that in all things He may have the preeminence. ( Col 1: 15-18)

 

Jesus Christ’s preeminence, set forth as all-comprehensive, includes therefore also education, since education is rightly understood as inclusive of all the instruction and discipline intended to enlighten the understanding of all things.

Education is therefore the pursuit of knowledge, of any aspect of the “all things”, with the goal of its proper use, which is wisdom.  Jesus Christ’s preeminence is made manifest in education when the wisdom sought after, attained, and displayed is self-consciously for Christ’s sake.  One who practices such wisdom, the only rightly so called, serves to declare Christ’s preeminence in all things in and to a world which displays the antithesis to Jesus Christ.

 

When the knowledge unto wisdom has its beginning in the fear of the Lord ( Prov 1:7), then that stands antithetically over against the knowledge unto wisdom, so called, that has its beginning in the autonomy of man from His Creator.  The antithesis as it is manifested also in education, is at root the antithesis between, on the one hand,  presupposing the kind of God revealed in Scripture and, on the other hand,  suppressing, in unrighteousness, God’s revelation of Himself.

 

The presupposition of the God revealed by His Word as the One true God manifests itself in education in that all knowledge is taught within the perspective that God, for the sake of Jesus Christ,  is the Creator of all things that are, seen and unseen, and therefore the interpreter of every one of the facts which are the building blocks of knowledge.  Since Jesus Christ was resurrected, exalted, so that He might have the preeminence as was pleasing to the Father, and since through Jesus Christ and for Him all things were created, the Holy Scriptures further teach that :

 

In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge ( Col: 2: 3)

 

Therefore, unless this God, who has the preeminence in all things in the person of Jesus Christ,  is self-consciously acknowledged and presupposed in every aspect of all of  education,  the wisdom that we may expect to be gained  will in reality be foolishness, the antithesis of the wisdom which has its beginning in the fear of the Lord.

 

That foolishness, which is conformity to this world (Rom 12:2), is demonstrated, when in all aspects of life, including education, man does what is right in his own eyes.

The antithesis, also as it is evident in education, is the manifestation of the enmity that God established between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman ( Gen 3:15).

Having the sinful nature which is his as a descendant of Adam who willfully disobeyed His Creator, man hates God and neighbor ( HC A# 5).  Man, in Adam, breaks the covenant His Creator God established with him.  Man’s covenant-breaking is characterized by wanting to make himself the determiner of all things (good and evil).

Covenant-breaking man suppresses the Creator/creature distinction and seeks to live not as God’s vicegerent, but as God, as Covenant ruler.  Man, living in post –Edenic history, in his enmity against all that is of the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, rebels against truth.  He demonstrates his rebellion against Him who is the Truth by being a disciple of foolishness.  Man at enmity with the Jesus Christ who has the preeminence in all things learns facts while denying the God who alone makes those facts possible and interprets them. The fools says: “There is no God”, and education which is not founded on the self-conscious acknowledgement of the reality of Christ’s preeminence in all things is education in which God has been made irrelevant.  That is foolishness, which  may scripturally also be defined as: 

 

philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, and not 

            according to Christ. (Col 2: 5)

 

Foolishness stands in antithesis to wisdom which acknowledges and understands:

 

that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are

            seen were not made of things which are visible. (Heb 11: 3)

 

Education which is not self-consciously in submission to the authority of God’s Word, which does not inculcate knowledge from the perspective that God is not only The Creator, but as well The Ruler, The Redeemer and The Judge through Jesus Christ, all for the sake of His preeminence, is antithetical to the truth and thereby stands not for, nor is neutral, but stands against Jesus Christ.

 

Furthermore, the preeminence of Jesus Christ provides for education its only proper framework.  The exalted Jesus Christ has the preeminence by way of His being the head of the body, the church.  His preeminence is therefore redemptive.  God is redeeming the whole creation, and most particularly His elect image bearers, from the curse of sin for the sake of His glory (Rom 8: 19-25).  Education proper, such as stands antithetically over against education which is of enslavement to sin, serves, self-consciously so,  the redemption of the creation.  The proper, biblical, framework for education is therefore the restoration of all things in Christ. Thus, it is as every fact is learned within the framework of redemption that the student so educated is equipped to use all of the creation for the sake of the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.  Only thus is man equipped to serve as God’s vicegerent once again.  The student so educated will have the comprehensive  biblical perspective where God, for the sake of Christ’s preeminence in all things,  is relevant to every aspect of life.  Education which presupposes the God who has revealed Himself in the Holy Scriptures will serve to have every aspect of life be in anticipation of His glorious return. the fullness of the manifestation of Christ’s preeminence.

 

Now it is only as we submit, by faith,  to the authority of God’s Word that we realize that the  antithesis, also in education, will be made manifest by God calling to Himself and establishing a people to whom He gives the redemptive promises in Jesus Christ and the self-conscious awareness of the antithesis.

 

The antithesis, also in education, has been made manifest in history through the covenant people of God.  To Israel, the people God called to Himself that they might be set apart to His worship and service, the Lord revealed Himself, by way of His great deeds of covenantal faithfulness, as the God who rules over His Creation for the sake of redemption.  His people’s deliverance, by His almighty power, from the slavery of Egypt, their victory, in the strength of God,  over those nations at enmity with them,  their delivery into the promised land across the stopped up Jordan, all testified, by type, to the redemptive preeminence of Christ.

 

God’s covenant people were set forth in the world as the antithesis to the seed of the serpent. They were marked, by the sign of the covenant, as belonging not to themselves, but to God. God made manifest the antithesis He established through the setting apart of His covenant people.  To them He committed His oracles (Rom 3:2) and to them He spoke by His ordained prophets.  To them He provided for the atonement for their sins through sacrifices in the temple by His ordained priests.   Over them He ruled through His ordained kings for the sake of their possessing the promised land.  Through the office of prophet, priest and king, each serving the redemptive purposes for which God called out to Himself His covenant people,  God prefigured Jesus Christ who would, by His humiliation and then exaltation have the preeminence in all things.  The covenant people served, therefore, in shadowy form, the manifestation of the preeminence of Jesus Christ to the world out of which they had been separated.

 

But the covenant people were to display the antithesis self-consciously.  They were to acknowledge only the One God, and have no other gods before Him.  ( Ex 20: 3). Therefore, the education of God’s covenant people was to have its focus on the Lord God through His Word.  The education of God’s covenant people, since God made them His for the sake of manifesting the antithesis between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between righteousness and lawlessness, death and life, for, ultimately,  the sake of Christ’s redemptive preeminence in all things, their education too was to be antithetical to that of the world from which God had separated them. The antithesis as God’s people were to manifest it also in education, is grounded in God’s command set forth in Deuteronomy 6: 4-9:

 

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord

            your God with all your heart, with all our soul, and with all your might.  And

            these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.;  you shall

            teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in

            your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when your

            rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as

            frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your

            house and on your gates. 

 

We note, first of all, in this text, the preeminence of the Lord God.  He is not only the Lord of lords, the King of kings, but the God who is One in antithesis to the polytheism of the world’s (then and now) culture.  This only One true God, who had revealed Himself to them as their covenant God, ruler over His creation for the purpose of redemption from sin unto His glory, this is the God whom His people were to love with all of their being and all their strength.  That is a call to acknowledge the Lord’s preeminence in all things and thus to live their lives in the service of its manifestation.  That call, in this passage, serves as the foundation for the kind of education the covenant children were to receive.

 

Covenant education was to pervade the entire day.  No part of the day was to be divorced from the acknowledgment of the Lord God, from loving Him with mind, heart, soul and strength.   God, through His Word,  was to be relevant, primarily so,  to all things.  The life that the children were to witness all day long was to be a testimony to them of what it means to belong, in body and soul, to the Lord God.  Thus, children were to have demonstrated to them, and that responsibility rests with the parents, the preeminence of the Lord in all things.

 

And we note, further, that the words that God commanded to be put in the hearts of His people and then diligently taught the children, were words that instructed God’s people comprehensively on the “how” of life in the promised land.  The words commanded in verse 6 encompass all the words following of the Book of Deuteronomy through chapter 28. These words were to knowledge unto wisdom via covenant education.

 

The knowledge God’s people were to put into their hearts and teach their covenant children were a reminding revelation of the kind of God who was their Lord God.  These words reviewed His covenant, its blessings and curses,  and testified of his faithfulness to His covenant.  These words testified to His sovereignty,  His gracious redemption of His chosen people, His Almighty rule on their behalf,  His providential and redemptive provision for them in satisfying hunger and thirst. These words set before His people the way of blessedness through obedience of His law, and directed them in the worship that would manifest His preeminence.  These words which His covenant people were to put in their hearts and diligently teach to their children instructed them in matters of justice, tithing, warfare, marriage and other aspects of their lives as His separated people.  These words were knowledge  unto wisdom rightly so called.  These words, since they were God’s Words and interpreted all of life in the framework of redemption and the Lord’s preeminence, taught reality.  Reality, that is, all of life acknowledged as redemptive for the sake of the Lord’s preeminence in all things,  is to be the foundation for and characteristic of the education of covenant children.  Covenant education is a working out of the self-conscious awareness that

 

          The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge ( Prov. 1:7) and

          The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom  ( Prov 15: 33a)

 

Covenant children, since they belong to God,  are not to be educated according to the vain philosophies of the world which stands in rebellious antithesis to Jesus Christ.  God’s covenant children are to be educated in a way that testifies to their belonging not to the world, but to the covenant God who, in Jesus Christ,  has the preeminence in all things.

Those ways are antithetical.  There is no middle ground.

 

Since in education, as well, the antithesis between wisdom and foolishness, between acknowledging the One Lord God and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness is to be made manifest, on which side of the antithesis ought our covenant children be educated?

 

By His authoritative Word, our rule for the whole of the Christian faith and doctrine, God makes clear  that all of the training up of covenant children, which is inclusive of education, is to be in the nurture and discipline of the Lord who was exalted as the head of the body, the church, that He might have the preeminence in all things.

 

The ways of the heathen, those who suppress the knowledge of God in unrighteousness, those who deny the redemptive relevance of God to all knowledge, those ways and the teaching of those ways has not been appointed by God for His people.  Rather, and that “rather” is an antithetical rather, God’s covenant people, as pertaining to all of life and all knowledge unto its proper application, are to fear the Lord God and learn facts as God has interpreted them that they might have the wisdom which manifests to the world the preeminence of Jesus Christ in all things.

 

 

Thus, in summary,  the antithesis between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, between slavery to sin unto death, and slavery to obedience unto life ( Rom 6: 16) has, in history,  been made manifest, as promised already in the Garden of Eden. As is evident from the testimony of God’s Word, God did call a people unto Himself, His congregation already so called under the Mosaic administration of the Covenant of Grace, and He set before them the way of life, including also education, which is in accordance with being the community set forth as the antithesis to the world enslaved to sin.  That covenant way of life was to be to be characterized by thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  All knowledge was therefore to be received and taught within the framework of God’s redemptive activity, and all knowledge was to serve the manifestation in all things of the preeminence of the exalted Jesus Christ. (remember Rom 11: 36, Col 1:16).  Knowledge is to be taught to and gained by a covenant child with the desire and intent of

 

bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5)

 

The visible church of Jesus Christ is the antitype of Israel.  The congregations of the professing Christian church which bear the marks of the true church ( Belgic Confession Article # 29) have it as their self-confessed confessional duty to submit to the authority of God’s inscripturated Word, which testifies that the church manifests the antithesis (for example, see 2 Cor 6: 14 – 7:1) declared and established by the covenant God for the sake of the preeminence of Christ, the Savior and Lord.

 

Therefore, in order for the education of our covenant children to be in submission to God’s inscripturated Word, for it to be, in other words, biblical, Reformed, and antithetical, places upon covenant parents the responsibility to seek out education which self-consciously desires, in all its endeavors, to manifest the preeminence of the exalted Jesus Christ.

 

May the Lord God so renew the minds of His covenant people that the antithesis, also in education, becomes a self-conscious awareness that directs every decision, including also as they relate to covenant education.  May Jesus Christ manifest His preeminence, by grace through a life of faith, also in the education of our covenant children.

 

May the ministers and elders, as they shepherd God’s people, be the instruments of our God to instill in His church, by the preaching and teaching of God’s word, and as well by personal example, the desire and willingness to have the education of our covenant children be distinctively in submission to the Lordship of the exalted Jesus Christ.

 

May the ministers and elders of our churches be willing and equipped to direct the available resources God had granted to His congregations toward the implementation of covenant education for our children.

 

May the education of our covenant children be a testimony, by grace through a life of faith, that in all things Jesus Christ has the preeminence.

 

 

Recommendations:

 

1.     That this study be circulated among the churches and its contents pastorally disseminated to the members by the pastors and elders.

 

2.     That the ministers and elders of the congregations be prepared to encourage and to assist members to implement covenant education for their children.

 

3.     That this study be adopted by Synod as its position on Covenant Education.

 

 

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