Clarification on James White

Clarification for this article is found in this podcast episode from The Particular Baptist Podcast. Ensure to listen to this episode in its entirety after reading this article: Three Centers of Consciousness? James White and the Doctrine of God

A recent post from our Twitter and Facebook pages sparked controversy, as these types of things tend to do. I had posted the announcement of James White becoming a faculty member at Grace Baptist Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. The headline caught people’s attention, “Those with a bad doctrine of God tend to hang together.” This prompted blowback but also questions about what the issue was with White’s doctrine of God. James White has quite the dedicated following which is, I think, what provoked the responses we received. There was even a comment that said of James White, and I quote, “His theology is above reproach.” This type of response I think characterizes the pedestal that he has been placed on over the years (for better or for worse). This is not meant to be an exhaustive review of his theology proper (aka the doctrine of God), but one aspect of it that is indeed troubling. It is also not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of theology proper in general, but I hope that it will whet the appetite of those who are learning that they may study this issue more. I want to emphasize that this article is directed to those who are learning and may not be aware of the issues as it relates to the doctrine of God. This is not an article directed at White. As such, the tone of the article will be different than if I was addressing him directly or writing a dedicated critique of his theology proper. I have learned much from White and I think there is much that can be used of him, but the doctrine of God is foundational and if there is a doubling down in bad theology proper in light of being corrected more than once, I believe there is cause for sharp rebuke. Finally, for those who wish to study more on the doctrine of God (and I urge you to), I will list resources for further study at the end of the article.

Let us go back 10 years to 2011 (wow, that was 10 years ago?) where James White participated in a debate with Roger Perkins on the doctrine of the Trinity. Perkins argued against the Trinity while White attempted to argue in the affirmative. The title was called “The Trinity Debate” and it can be found below. During a Q&A session (starting at the 2-hour mark) James White is asked by Perkins, “…does each divine individual in the Trinity possess their own separate mind or center of consciousness apart from the other two divine Persons?” James White then responds, “That’s how they recognize each other and interact with each other…” Perkins did push him later to see if James believed in a “three-minded God,” which he denied because human language is used to describe what is being discussed. At the very least, James affirms that God has “three centers of consciousness”.

This thinking seems fine as far as it goes. Jesus interacts with the Father. He was with the Father (John 1:1). James even discusses in his opening statement Jesus talking with the Father in John 17 so it would appear that Jesus is a separate consciousness from the Father and, by implication, the Holy Spirit if He is able to interact, love, talk, etc. with the other two Persons. However, words do have implications and if implications are left unchecked, it can lead to problematic interpretations, and this is no less true of the Scriptures. I want to look at three things:

  1. What are the implications for saying God has “three centers of consciousness”?
  2. Is this a biblical assertion?
  3. Do we see this as being historically orthodox?

Implications for a multi-conscience God

Saying God is multi-consciousness implies at the very least:

  1. God has multiple minds (contrary to what White asserted)
  2. God has multiple wills

If each one of these Persons can interact in a personal way with one another (according to White’s view) then there must be a consciousness that personal interaction is based on. This however, contrary to White’s assertion, does lead to a three-minded God. How does it make sense that these Persons can all have their own consciousness and interact, love, recognize each other, etc. but not have three minds? Doesn’t recognition require an act of the mind since it has to do with knowledge? White also asserted that there are three centers of consciousness since they “interact” with each other. But interaction, on the account of separate centers of consciousness, would require three wills in order for said Persons to be able to act on their own consciousness! If the Father can interact independently of the other two Persons, He has His own consciousness, then this must needs imply the Father has His own will distinct from the other two Persons. He is His own agent within the Godhead. This breaks the unity of the Godhead. Even having more than one consciousness itself makes God partite by virtue of an absolute property of God being multiplied. Instead of three relations subsisting as one being only distinguished by their operations (relations do not divide as per the nature of a relation) we now have a God who has three separate wills, centers of consciousness, and agency. God is no longer simple, but partite. We now have a God made of parts that is built upon things that are not in themselves God. Danger has come. Now this does not mean that the implications of White’s system are held expressly by him. He may deny that God has three wills just like he denies that God is three-minded, but without consistent qualifications you are left with the necessary implications of the system and therein lies the danger.

Is “three centers of consciousness” a biblical assertion?

Above all else when we talk about who God is, it must be maintained without compromise that God is one. We see this laid out expressly in the Pentateuch.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV)

This addresses at least two things about God’s nature: there is only one God numerically and that God is in complete unity. There are no parts of God, or it could not be properly said that God is “one” especially when the foundation of this “oneness” is the Tetragramaton or “I AM” which is found in Exodus 3:14. This declaration is none other than God existing in complete distinction from His creation in this existence that is of Himself. His nature is that which is self-existent without the need for anything or anyone outside of His essence. He just is.

No man is humanity as such, but God is divinity as such. Many theologians even conclude that God’s essential identity with His own existence is the ontological foundation of His name “I AM” (Ex. 3:14) …If God should be composed of parts—of components that were prior to Him in being—He would be doubly dependent: first, on the parts, and second, on the composer of the parts. But God is absolute in being, alone the sufficient reason for Himself and all other things, and so cannot in any respect derive His being from another. Because God cannot depend on what is not God in order to be God, theologians traditionally insist that all that is in God is God.

James Dolezal, All That Is in God

John Gill in his Bible commentary has beautiful things to say about Deuteronomy 6:4:

the doctrine of which is, that the Lord, who was the covenant God and Father of his people Israel, is but one Jehovah; he is Jehovah, the Being of beings, a self-existent Being, eternal and immutable; and he is but one in nature and essence; this appears from the perfection of his nature, his eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence, infinity, goodness, self-sufficiency, and perfection; for there can be but one eternal, one omnipotent, one omnipresent, one infinite, one that is originally and of himself good; one self, and all sufficient, and perfect Being; and which also may be concluded from his being the first cause of all things, which can be but one; and from his relations to his creatures, as their King, ruler, governor, and lawgiver.

John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/deuteronomy-6-4.html

If God were composed of different parts making up a whole there would be something that is not God causing God to be. This undermines aseity, His “is-ness” so to speak. He would be dependent upon something greater than Himself since those things that compose Him are prior to Him and make Him to be. This flatly contradicts clear passages of Scripture on God’s independence from anything outside of Himself. For example,

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36 (ESV)

All things cannot be from one who has something/someone greater than Himself. It would only be some things at best since God would be a secondary cause, but He would not be the first cause of all things and even with some things coming from Him they would not ultimately be from Him. God Himself would be dependent. The Scripture asserts that all things come from God which by necessity means God cannot be anything other than the supreme, independent, self-sustaining being that created all things. This leaves out any notion that God could be composed of parts (or that He could change) since parts imply something greater than God, as was already discussed. Paul, earlier in the same chapter, discussed the omniscience of God, that there was no one who counseled Him. He knows all things by virtue of His supreme nature. He is the truly a se one.

Simplicity, therefore, protects us from thinking of God’s wisdom and knowledge as an idealized version of man’s knowledge. God does not know things because He came to know them through discovery and deduction. God knows all things because He knows Himself, and all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him.

Samuel Renihan, Deity & Decree, page 70

Simplicity is what implications of “three minds,” “centers of consciousness,” etc. violates. Some may say, “you are just borrowing from Aristotle or Greek philosophy.” No, this is the necessary implication as found in Scripture. If “A” is true as found in Scripture (that God is a se and the first cause of all things) then “B” must necessarily follow (that He cannot be partite). Ergo, He cannot have multiple wills, minds, or consciousness. This hermeneutic follows the principle as found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. The latter says it better when it notes,

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith Chapter 1, paragraph 6 (emphasis mine)

Notice the language here. Not only is what is explicitly said in Scripture to be received but what is implied necessarily. This is a foundational piece in understanding how to interpret passages about God. If a concept of God’s nature necessarily follows what is expressly said, it is Scripture in as much as the concepts that follow are being taught there. John Owen notes this concept of necessary implications in Scripture in talking about the Trinity,

Wherefore, in the declaration of the doctrine of the Trinity, we may lawfully, nay, we must necessarily, make use of other words, phrases, and expressions, than what are literally and syllabically contained in the Scripture, but teach no other things. Moreover, whatever is so revealed in the Scripture is no less true and divine as to whatever necessarily follows thereon, than it is as unto that which is principally revealed and directly expressed.

John Owen, A Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity and also of The Person and Satisfaction of Christ

In fact, it was heretics who pressed against the idea of good and necessary consequence in the Scripture while the orthodox saw it as critical to the discussion. Turretin notes,

The Arians, Sabellians and other anti-Trinitarians pressed this against the orthodox in their day—that the names ousias, homoousios, hypostaseōs, etc. did not occur in the Scriptures and so ought not to be admitted in the church. Arius asks, “Why is the word, of which neither the prophets nor the apostles make mention, added to the apostolic faith?”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Eclectic Theology

Homoousios, meaning of the same substance, was used by Nicea to show that the Son was really God and equal to Him by being of the same substance as the Father. Yet this word is nowhere to be found in Scripture explicitly. But the Nicean council saw this concept as the natural flow of special revelation and to deviate from this language of God was to follow in Arius’ footsteps. What the WCF and 2LBCF show is that they are following in the steps of the orthodox, Christian church going back long before Aquinas and the Reformed scholastics, identifying with Scripture. This is in perfect unison with sola scriptura, a pillar of the Reformation in Europe.

Three Centers of Consciousness Among the Orthodox?

I want to mention some church fathers that can help shed light on whether this idea of “centers of consciousness” would be held among the orthodox.

We have one God because there is a single Godhead. Though there are three objects of belief, they derive from the single whole and have reference to it. They do not have degrees of being God or degrees of priority over against one another. They are not sundered in will or divided in power. You cannot find there any of the properties inherent in things divisible. To express it succinctly, the Godhead exists undivided in beings divided.

Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ

Here we see clear testament to the unity of the Godhead. There is no division in being whatsoever. While there is distinction (a distinction that does not divide by virtue of the Persons being relations) in God by virtue of the Persons, there is no division in the being of God. There is one will, not three which would be created by three centers of consciousness that interact with one another.

I cannot conceive what manner of mind our opponents have, who pervert the truth, darken the light, divide the indivisible, rend the scatheless, dissolve the perfect unity. It may seem to them a light thing to tear up Perfection, to make laws for Omnipotence, to limit Infinity; as for me, the task of answering them fills me with anxiety; my brain whirls, my intellect is stunned, my very words must be a confession, not that I am weak of utterance, but that I am dumb.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity: Book II

This is a sobering passage. The doctrine of God was not to be trifled with and it was seen as a serious offense when deviation from orthodoxy was introduced into theology proper. But again, here we see a confession of the unity of God. It is a “perfect unity” one that if compromised undermines God himself.

He is a simple, uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to Himself, since He is wholly understanding, and wholly spirit, and wholly thought, and wholly intelligence, and wholly reason, and wholly hearing, and wholly seeing, and wholly light, and the whole source of all that is good—even as the religious and pious are wont to speak concerning God.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II.13.3, in The Apostolic Fathers—Justin Martyr—Irenaeus, vol. 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, trans. Ernest Cushing Richardson and Bernhard Pick (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903). as found in James Dolezal’s book All That is In God on pages 47 and 48 Kindle Edition.

Keep in mind that Irenaeus came long before Nicea, having lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. This points to the fact the absolute unity of God’s being was not something novel, but seen as being consistent with Scripture and taught very early on.

Now, you may say, “These fathers did not say anything expressly about three centers of consciousness. You are stretching their meaning.” I would point you again to the implications of saying God has these qualities. The implications, as has been demonstrated, violate the principles of a unified essence, not broken but simple, especially since White’s view leads inevitably to tritheism (although he would deny tritheism). That means the orthodox fathers would not have held to White’s view. Also, orthodox Christianity did not see the concept of “Persons” in God to be like human persons which would require their own consciousness, rather they saw them as “subsistences”. The Augsburg Confession of Faith in Article I lays this out very well,

Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “Person” they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

Augsburg Confession of Faith, Article I

You can see in the last sentence that “Person” is not according to human understanding, but a subsistence of the divine essence. This preserves God’s unity while noting the indivisible distinctions between them. This is a far cry from three centers of consciousness which sees “Persons” interpreted in light of human persons rather than letting the unity of the divine essence determine what a “Person” properly should be. Implications of words matter.

Resources

There is much more that could be said, and I’ve only done a survey of the topics at hand. I hope this helps to clarify why James White has erred and why I believe his doctrine of God, at least in this area, is heterodox. I would urge those who want to learn more to get your hands on the following resources:

  • Deity & Decree by Samuel Renihan
  • All That is In God by James Dolezal
  • Simply Trinity by Matthew Barrett
  • Trinity & Creation by Richard Barcellos
  • Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition by Craig A. Carter

Other TPB team members and I have done podcast episodes on theology proper, and most can be found here:

Toying With God: Owen Strachan and the Submission of Christ in the Trinity

Note: I want to acknowledge one of our contributors and team members Andrew Warrick for some major changes in this work in reviewing/editing. We try to have each team member review each other’s posts before posting them and sometimes a team member will make changes in the editing process to a work that is up for a particular week. In this case I think it was substantial enough that I want to give Andrew credit.

The Jeffrey Johnson debate surrounding his new book, “The Failure of Natural Theology,” has made waves in the Reformed world with regards to theology proper specifically. But it seems his employee and sidekick Owen Strachan has his own way of stirring the pot. In a book that he and Gavin Peacock authored, “The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them,” there is discussion about authority and submission in the Trinity. Even though this book was published in 2016, his understanding of God ad intra still causes controversy today. Let us begin.

Paul explains this parallel in 1 Cor. 11:3 ‘But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.’ The Son does the Father’s will: ‘I do exactly as the Father commanded me,’ Christ said in John 14:31. He submitted Himself to the Father’s will (John 6:38). This posture of submission to fatherly authority did not begin the day Jesus came to earth. The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been. The Son joyfully carries out the plan of His Father. The persons of the Godhead are not impersonal, with only titles to differentiate them. They are living persons, and their own love has structure and form. The Father as Father has authority; the Son as Son obeys His Father.

The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, Kindle Edition

Now before you run away screaming, let us see why this is such a poor (and I dare say heretical) understanding of the Trinity, especially the relationship between the Father and the Son ad intra. Now, to the untrained eye this understanding of the Persons may fly under the radar. Jesus is the Son and it makes sense that he should submit to the Father ad intra. From a human standpoint submission is exactly what happens. I, as a son of my father, submitted to him. But applying that understanding to the Trinity would assume that the Father and Son as the subsisting essence of God function exactly like we do from a human standpoint. God’s “society” must function univocally, at least to some extent, as our society does. But God cannot be made like corruptible man or we have created an idol (Romans 1:22-23).

What must be kept in mind and what is lost in the authors’ discussion above is that Jesus has (yes, present tense) two natures.

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”
‭‭

Colossians‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is no accounting for the fact that in this mysterious union of divine and human nature there are things that are only to be posited of one nature or the other. Jesus slept, ate, grew, learned, all according to His human nature ONLY. This would also include submission. There is submission to God according to his human nature only thereby allowing us to consistently say the head of Christ is God while preserving the unity of the divine essence of God. It is assumed by the authors that Scripture must be talking about God ad intra in addition to the human nature of Christ. This is a fatal mistake. Never mind both John 14 and 6 are during the Incarnation meaning Jesus would be speaking according to His humanity back to the Father or in relation to Him (only Jesus’ human nature taking on relation, with nothing created in the essence of God). Yes, Jesus did act according to His divine nature while on earth, but if we have a proper understanding of God we can understand why this can’t be the case in every instance.

Two cardinal doctrines must be kept in mind: God is simple and God is immutable. If these are held dearly there will be no room for the error that Peacock and Strachan make. God’s simplicity means He is not composed of parts and is not divisible. And His immutability means God does not change. And not just that he doesn’t change and remains still with potency, but that He cannot change in any way as finite creation would. Divine simplicity ensures this. Movement would mean change and God would take on new states of being. Further discussion of these two doctrines can be found in our podcast episode reviewing Jeff Johnsons book here.

Given the backdrop of these two doctrines, we can now move onto a discussion of why Jesus cannot in any way be subordinate (as Owen and Peacock assert) to the Father according to His Deity. Now, Strachan has said in a recent article that,

One of those areas is the eternal authority of the Father and eternal submission of the Son (called ERAS, eternal roles of authority and submission). There are a bevy of texts that have led many theologians to conclude that Scripture teaches the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son. As I read it, Scripture presents such truth while continually promoting the full ontological equality of the Father and Son; the Father and Son are coeternal and each fully a divine person.

The Danger of Equating Eternal Authority & Submission with Arian Heresy (https://owenstrachan.substack.com/p/the-danger-of-equating-eternal-authority)

This is problematic as we have noted already, but notice there is this distinction made between the Persons and the essence of God, as if each Person is some kind of additional “something” on top of the essence rather than simply being a different subsistence of that essence. In Owen’s model, the Persons submit but somehow there is no submission in the Godhead as it relates to the being of God. Simplicity has already been undermined, as he implies there is a real distinction between the Persons and the essence of God to the point where each Person possesses distinct actual properties (as opposed to the relative properties) that exist outside of God’s being, enabling the Son to have a separate will that can be submitted to the Father. In other words, they have wills outside the essence of Deity. This is not the same thing as subsisting relations in the divine, this is creating a distinction that makes “Persons” and “essence” partite. Understanding the procession of the Persons properly will keep us from errors like this. When we talk about procession of the Son from the Father the question is, a procession from what? There has to be something that Jesus is proceeding from and it has to be the essence of the Father. John 20:21 lays out the procession of Christ from the Father. If the Father is eternal and He is infinite, simple, and immutable, it must be an eternal procession, one that does not divide or start and terminate yet really distinguishes the Father from the Son. But because Jesus proceeds from the essence of the Father, they must be equals since there is but one essence of God that each of the three persons subsist in. Each Person of the Trinity is the essence of God and therefore subsists, and this means there is no real distinction between what the Persons do and what the essence does. They are only distinguished from one another by where their relations “begin.” This preserves the unity of God while providing us with real distinction in the Godhead.

As soon as you insert gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity, gradations that are person-defining and therefore essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity, you forfeit one will in God. You forfeit the Trinity’s one, simple essence. Our God is simply Trinity…no more.

Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit, page 229

God’s nature is compromised if authority, functions, etc. are posited to the Trinity. Seeing Jesus simply as the Father’s essence is to avoid falling into the trap of breaking God up into parts. John Owen noted that the divine essence is simply subsisting specially for a divine person when he said, “Now, a divine person is nothing but the divine essence, upon the account of an especial property, subsisting in an especial manner.” (A Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity and also of The Person and Satisfaction of Christ). Subsistence helps us to avoid falling into the error of division and roles because it’s simply (no pun intended) God existing as three. No division, no subordination, just “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

…subordination would absolutely throw into question the divine equality attributed to the Son. And should EFSers object that they only mean the Son is inferior in authority (person), not essence (divinity), let’s not forget that the Son is a subsistence of the divine essence. Begotten from the Father’s essence from all eternity…the Son can be nothing less than equal with the Father in every way. For the divine essence cannot be severed, wrenched away, or divorced from divine power, authority, and glory, each of which subsists in the three persons equally.

Matthew Barret, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit page 236

I will clarify, Owen would not claim to be an “EFSer” (Eternal Functional Subordination) but a proponent of ERAS (Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission) but based on Barret’s assessment, they have the same problem. Namely, that there is a personal difference in authority, not ontologically so. Being very careful with our words about God and our conception of Him will help us to avoid errors like these. Since Owen has been the center of the subordination controversy lately, I’m picking on him but he is by no means alone although it may present itself differently. Owen is continuing down a dangerous path, one that can only lead to destruction if continued. We need to bring God back to the focal point of our theology. Critical race theory, theonomy, complimentarianism, or abortion should not be our focus. These are important issues and they must be addressed but nothing is more important than who our God is. We must let this stick in our brains and our souls. Idolatry takes many forms, not just in statues made by man. Many idols wear religious garb. They look so appealing and entice with a passion, but the church needs to act like men, and stop sleeping while the enemy takes prisoners and slaughters behind our backs. Only then will we recover a proper doctrine of our incredible God. Men have labored hard by God’s grace to provide us what the Scriptures teach on God — not exhaustively, but in a way we can know Him truly. Let us stand on the shoulders of these vessels of grace.

Jeffrey D. Johnson and Motion in God

There has been much controversy on Jeff Johnson’s new book, “The Failure of Natural Theology.” Like a bombshell dropped on a city, it has blown up and brought to light very important topics, most notably on the doctrine of God. We recently did a podcast episode discussing the book which you can find here. One topic that stands out in Jeff’s book is his predication of motion in God. What does he mean by motion when talking about God? I want to clarify that here.

Motion Affirmed

“The Bible does not teach divine immovability…The biblical doctrine of divine simplicity and immutability does not mean, as Aquinas believed, divine immobility.”

The Failure of Natural Theology, page 137

This is but one example of Jeff affirming motion in God. He tries to defend the thesis that there is really motion in God while also trying to uphold the attribute of immutability. This is problematic because something that moves must by definition go from potentiality to actuality, thereby taking on a state of being it did not have before. This undermines divine immutability and divine simplicity as this would require God to change, moving from potential to actualization, and it would necessarily add something to God that is not God. Now you would have change and parts in God through this new state of actualization. Jeff’s view undermines the biblical and classical doctrine of who God is.

“The Trinity is the only being (because he is both one and many) who can move himself ad intra…But a self-moving God is what we find in the Trinitarian God of the Bible.”

The Failure of Natural Theology, pages 161-162

Motion Explained

While Jeff does not seem to spell out in so many words, “motion in God means this,” it is possible to see his meaning based on the overall discussion of his argument. Jeff thinks that motion in God must necessarily be so because motion in creation cannot be from an unmoved mover (pages 68-69). Jeff denies actus purus (page 66), the concept that God is pure act with no potency and is therefore partless and changeless.

“But if Aristotle’s god cannot move, how will he actively move anything inside or outside himself?”

The Failure of Natural Theology pages 68-69

So God must be able to move if He is to create. He cannot be the efficient cause of the universe (page 68). This is but one aspect upon which Jeff denies actus purus (another example being on page 148 where he talks about problems an unmoved mover would create with communicating to man). Now, when Jeff means God moves, he literally means God moves. Although, he may deny spatial movement he certainly affirms temporal movement. He does try to say that this movement in God is a different kind of movement than what we find in creation (e.g., pages 137-138), but it is still movement at its core. The terms of “self-moving” as coupled with his express denial of actus purus remove any notion that this is not actual movement. And as noted before, he denies actus purus so he is not talking about movement in God in terms of actus purus. On page 162, he attempts to defend his idea of motion by distinguishing between God’s essence as immutable but the persons of the Trinity as not. “The Father, as a distinct person, is intrinsically moved to love and glorify the Son…” (page 162). And on the same page he says there are eternal processions of the Son and Spirit, but he seems to not mean it in the same sense the Nicean fathers would have. He even discusses the meaning of the word “automobile” on page 162. He contrasts between a vehicle which is not truly self-moving because it depends on other things to really move and God who can really move Himself without the need for something outside of Himself. “Strictly speaking, the word automobile applies only to God. Only the triune God is autonomously self-moving” (page 162). This places the concept of motion in God with the automobile, just with one allegedly moving Himself and the other depending upon other factors to move. But motion is still there, albeit he tries to say this motion is eternal. Jeff will try to get around the inevitable denial of immutability by saying that the, “eternal state of movement within the Trinity is not a change in the immutability of God” (page 163). But on the previous page, he made a distinction between the persons and the essence of God by noting, “God is both immutable in his essence without being restricted to a static and motionless state within the relations of the three persons.” (page 162) So are the persons not God then if they are moving but his essence is not? How does this not compromise divine simplicity now that there are real distinctions in God that are not relational only? We are left wanting. But one thing is clear: motion means motion.

Motion as we understand it cannot be predicated of God. To move from one state of being to another, from potency to actuality, is to compromise the doctrine of God. Motion is creature by its very definition as Scripture sees it (Psalm 102:26-27 and James 1:17, both of which were discussed in the linked podcast episode). We must not think that we can make God like us. If He can be like us, then we have a creature and an idol.

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭1:22-23‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Jesus and the Bruised Reed

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break nor quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

Richard Sibbes from his book The Bruised Reed

Our Lord loves us. Do we really believe that? When the Scriptures talk about the love of God for His people, do we embrace that? I think we tend to cliché the love of God so much that we don’t stop to think about what that really means and how it is applicable to our lives. We love talking about the judgement of God over sin and the seriousness of obedience and while those things are necessary discussions, sometimes it is good to remind ourselves as Christians that we are really loved by our Lord.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

It is this great love that God has for His people that disciplines us, molds us, shapes us to be more like Christ. Even though we are broken, He will not forsake us nor leave us. What a glorious truth that is! That our Lord is faithful. He does not leave us when we fail or when we are broken. His faithfulness to us is not based on what we do but according to His precious mercy! He being the immutable God cannot leave His people and will not go back on His covenant. He would have to deny Himself which is impossible. We do not serve a God that changes his mind from day to day. One day we are in the kingdom the next day we are not. This would make God a liar and give us no grounding in His promises. I think as we continue to count it all joy (James 1:2) with trials and discipline that come our way, we will be able to persevere even though we are not able to see what the end really is for our suffering. As Sibbes said, “…Christ will not break the bruised reed…” We may be bruised, pushed around, persecuted, but our Lord’s will ensure the work is completed (Philippians 1:6).

This has been a short entry, but one that I hope is encouraging to your soul. If you are Christ’s, do not grow discouraged when it seems we are bruised. Know that the Lord is molding us more like Himself and that He will never forsake us.

Must We Accommodate the Weaker Brother? A Response to Owen Strachan

Owen Strachan is no stranger to causing controversy. He is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. His view on Christ’s relation to the Father within the Godhead (which places him outside of Nicean and biblical orthodoxy) has ruffled some feathers (as it should), but that is a discussion for another day. I want to focus on Owen’s assertions in a tweet he made on August 18th, 2021 and why he is wrong about how we are to accommodate the weaker brother. He said,

The “weaker brother” principle of Romans 14 does not mean you MUST accommodate the conscience of your weaker brother. It means you are free to do so, may choose to do so from love, but are in no way compelled to do so. Otherwise we would have a functional rule of weakness.

Owen Strachan Tweet from August 18th, 2021 at 11:36 AM

Lack of Exegesis

Yes, I know. He posted this on Twitter and there are only a certain number of characters that can be placed in a single Tweet. Which is precisely why at least some theological assertions should be left to mediums such as blogs, podcasts (such as ours, The Particular Baptist Podcast), or the pulpit as you can expound and exegete in a way that is difficult on Twitter. But Owen merely asserts without any references to context, Greek word usage, or any specific place in Romans 14 that would allow us to extrapolate his interpretation from the text. It is merely asserted. And this is a huge problem given his interpretation is in contradiction to the majority reading of Romans 14. I think that Twitter has led us to making quick, terse theological assertions and discussions preventing us from taking the time and effort to be clear and correct. It is better to leave certain conversations off the Twitter space and take the time to write long on them to ensure we are clearly heard and understood.

Loving our Neighbor

Owen says that we do not have to accommodate the conscience of the weaker brother. Paul didn’t actually mean that in Romans 14. It is merely optional. However, let us look at what Romans 14 says and exegete to find out.

Paul is continuing his discussion of love and holiness that we find in chapter 13:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:8-14 (ESV)

We are to walk as holy ones and walk in love with our neighbors which would (especially) include Christians. There is to be self-sacrifice and a putting of others’ interests ahead of our own. In doing so, we are fulfilling God’s law, ergo loving God. Keep this theme of love in mind as we go into chapter 14. Notice what Paul says in the opening verses:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)

Already we see that there is to be sensitivity to the weaker brother and this follows right after Paul discussed loving our neighbors in chapter 13. We are not to hate the brother who has a different view than we do about scrupulous things. We should be patient with them and see this thing they are NOT doing as something to not divide over. Calvin said,

He passes on now to lay down a precept especially necessary for the instruction of the Church, — that they who have made the most progress in Christian doctrine should accommodate themselves to the more ignorant, and employ their own strength to sustain their weakness; for among the people of God there are some weaker than others, and who, except they are treated with great tenderness and kindness, will be discouraged, and become at length alienated from religion.

Calvin’s Commentary on Romans 14

We should not be discouragers! We should not have a cruel spirit toward our brothers who are weak in the faith, weak in scruples. But we should love them and help them to grow, although not at the expense of their spiritual well-being. Owen has abandoned the principle in Romans 14 of obligatory love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. He makes love optional in our accommodation of the weaker brother while Paul grounds these principles in God’s law which requires love of our neighbor at all times. And how much more for God’s people! (Galatians 6:10)

The first rule of Christian love is that we receive others who are weaker in faith as brothers and sisters. Every Christian is a servant of Christ. Christ is his master and judge. I am not to judge those who are Christ’s.

Sproul, R. C. “Dealing with Those Who Are Weaker | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.Org | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.Org.” Ligonier Ministries, Ligonier Ministries, 28 July 2009, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/dealing-those-who-are-weaker.

We Must Accommodate

Given what we find from Paul below, it is a wonder how Owen could come to such a conclusion in his tweet. What he says is in contradiction to Paul’s clear and unequivocal language.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Romans 14:13-19 (ESV)

Here we have imperatives, not suggestions. Here we have commands to be obeyed, not guidelines that I can follow if I so choose. But this is what Owen wants us to believe. However, the apostle says we are to not cause our brother to stumble. We are not to grieve our brother as we carry out our liberty. He grounds that in the second greatest commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. This means we are absolutely obligated to not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Owen, at the end of his tweet says, “Otherwise we would have a functional rule of weakness.” This could be true if a situation arises where there are weak brothers who are trying to impose their views on other Christians and a church simply accommodates them without confronting them. As Paul said in the opening verses of chapter 14 of Romans, this would be wrong for the weaker brother to do since he is not to judge the one who eats meat (verse 3). So to accommodate him simply because he says we shouldn’t eat meat would be wrong. But if we know that there is a brother or sister who does not like what we do in liberty and we do it in front of them, we are not loving them or considering their weakness and we have sinned. And this has to be based on us knowing who the weaker brother or sister are and that they have this weakness. We cannot live in fear of the weaker brothers as there is any possibility of things that are not commanded or addressed in Scripture that could cause a brother to stumble. In verses 1-4 Paul talks about judging each other based on what we do or do not do in terms of indifferent activities. This would mean that there is knowledge of the weaker brother and his scruple. With this in mind, Paul then moves throughout the rest of the chapter to discuss how the strong are the handle the weak in the assembly. So while a “functional rule of weakness” could be had in unchecked situations, the rule of willing to lay aside what we want to do for our brothers must be in the forefront of our minds as it relates to Christian liberty. Simply writing it off will not do when we have clear instruction from the apostle.

Conclusion

It is frustrating to see this kind of talk about the holy Scriptures in the church. Seeing one who should know better because he is highly educated in the Word and is involved in teaching it to others means he is subject to higher criticism when he speaks. As the Scripture says,

But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Luke 12:48 (ESV)

If you are educated and are a teacher of the Word or are involved in somehow educating others in the Word, especially at the academic level, you are held to a higher standard than those who do not. Much is given to you, ergo much is required. May the Lord help us all to stay true to His Word and to exegete it rightly.

Baptism and Salvation Part 2 (1 Peter 3:21)

Continuing on in our series on baptism and salvation, we look at an even more difficult passage but one that is none the less used in Lutheranism to support the theological stance that baptism saves (at least from Dr. Jordan Cooper). If he has anything going for him in the Scriptures that supports a soteriological effect of baptism, this is (in my opinion) the best he has. It is an explicit declaration that baptism saves. However, if this is his best argument from Scripture and it can be refuted, then there is nothing else for him to turn to that could possibly support his position. But as we look at the passage further, we will see that soteriology is not in Peter’s mind when it comes to being “saved” by baptism. Let us look at the passage.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV) Emphasis Added

Peter is laying out from chapter 2 into chapter 3 what the Christian life is to look like.  Christians are not be a malicious, conniving people (2:1). They are to live in a way that is honorable in front of sinners (2:11-12) and submit to the authorities (2:13-17).  Christians are to be distinct from those around them while still living in the world (John 17:15) obeying God’s commandments and glorifying God in their good works (Matthew 5:16). This theme of Christian living then is continued on into chapter three with family life being discussed and how Christians should handle persecution. The apostle gives a simple Gospel reminder to his readers.  Jesus suffered as Christians might suffer under their pagan rulers.  They are to remember Christ’s work in that they are not alone in their trials.  This then leads us to the discussion on baptism.  There is a clear type vs. antitype distinction being made between what we see in Noah’s case and with baptism. As Steven Cole says,

“Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment.”

Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 18: A Difficult Passage Explained and Applied (1 Peter 3:18–22) | Bible.org.” Bible.org, Bible.org, 2 Aug. 2013, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-difficult-passage-explained-and-applied-1-peter-318-22.

I am honestly not sure if this is the best rendering of the relationship between the type and antitype, but it gives us an idea of what Peter is doing.  Given this relationship and that the word for “baptism” is the Greek word βάπτισμα which means, “a dipping, a baptism” (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament), Peter is talking about water baptism here and not simply the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or something to that effect.  This is the general typology that we see in the Scriptures.  You have a type (the Noaic flood) pointing toward something to come (baptism). 

“The grammar in the opening of verse 21 is difficult. To simplify, we should probably understand it in this way: “which (water) now also saves you, (who) are the antitype (of Noah and his family)—(that is) baptism.” In other words, the experience of Noah and his family in the flood is the type of which Peter’s audience and their baptism is the antitype (antitypon).”

Storms, Sam. “Does Baptism Save? (1 Peter 3).” Crossway, Crossway, USA, 5 Jan. 2019, http://www.crossway.org/articles/does-baptism-save-1-peter-3.

And this typology is part of why the apostle’s meaning is so difficult to shed light on. This leads to the question: is Peter talking about soteriology or some other type of salvation? Cooper would hold that this is talking about soteriology. This would tie in at least in part to Acts 2:38 which was discussed in my last blog post. But the assumption is that this usage of “saved” (Greek σῴζω) must be soteriological. Problem with this argument is that salvation can refer to more than one thing in the Scriptures. It can most certainly refer to soteriology (Romans 10:9-13), but it can also refer to the progression of sanctification throughout the Christian’s life. Let us look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) Emphasis Added

In this famous chapter, Paul is laying out the Gospel with a focus on the resurrection but in the beginning of the chapter he says what the Gospel’s current effect is on the Christian.  It not only saves completely in our legal standing before God (Romans 1:16-17) but it also sanctifies us as we live out our lives.  Sin still clings to the believer but we are being redeemed so to speak as we rest in the Gospel.  And that work will be completed (Philippians 1:6). We also see this language earlier on in the Corinthian letter.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) Emphasis Added

Paul in talking about the Gospel message says it has a sanctifying effect upon the believer. Certainly these passages imply soteriology in that in order to continue on in salvation you must be saved initially (and finally I might add).  All this to show that the concept of salvation in the Scriptures is not monolithic and can take on different meanings depending on the context.  It must not be assumed that when salvation language is used that it must be soteriological.

Now that doubt has been cast upon the interpretation of “saved” in 1 Peter 3:21, how is Peter using that term? He says, “but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter even explicitly condemns any notion that the act of baptism has any saving effect (“not as a removal of dirt from the body”) which is amazing how this is missed by Cooper who emphasizes the actual act of baptism as being needed to be saved (again going back to Acts 2:38).

“Appeal” (ESV) is the translation of eperōtēma, which others render as “pledge.” If the former is accurate, the one being baptized “appeals” to God, on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ (or more literally, “through” or “by means of,” if dia is instrumental; cf. 1:3), to cleanse one’s conscience and forgive one’s sins.21 In good faith or conscience we appeal to God for vindication, that we might be considered part of his victory won by Christ in the resurrection (3:21b). It is only in this light that God uses the water of baptism to save us—as it links us to Christ and his victory and promises.

Storms, Sam. “Does Baptism Save? (1 Peter 3).” Crossway, Crossway, USA, 5 Jan. 2019, http://www.crossway.org/articles/does-baptism-save-1-peter-3.

Baptism is the identification with Christ in His death and a declaration that we are His.  Although I don’t know if I would agree with Storms’ rendering of this passage as it seems he is saying that soteriology (initial salvation) is happening at baptism, but it does help us to see at least that baptism is declaring something.  Not only to the world, but to God Himself.  I think the salvation noted here is us appealing, pledging, answering to God saying we are going to live rightly now that we are saved. We are identifying with Christ and are therefore declaring our submission to Him going forward. 

Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment. But, before you leap to wrong conclusions, Peter clarifies—it is not the act of baptism which saves (“the removal of dirt from the flesh”), but what baptism signifies—the appeal to God for a good conscience. “Appeal” can point either to the moment of salvation, when a person cries out to God for cleansing from sin; or, to the pledge given at the baptismal ceremony, when a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God. Either way, baptism testifies to our faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf (3:18). Since Christ’s suffering did not minimize His witness, but rather enhanced it, Peter is urging his readers to be baptized, even if it means persecution, in order to bear witness of Christ’s saving grace.

Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 18: A Difficult Passage Explained and Applied (1 Peter 3:18–22) | Bible.org.” Bible.org, Bible.org, 2 Aug. 2013, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-difficult-passage-explained-and-applied-1-peter-318-22.

I think Cole’s latter option that, “a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God,” is probably the correct view. This verse is very difficult but we can at least say what it is not. There is no soteriological view of salvation here. It is merely the appeal to God for a good conscience that is saving us. Proper qualification must be given as we look at this passage.

Baptism and Salvation (Acts 2:38)

I have recently been taking a study into Lutheranism especially as it relates to baptism and salvation. Classical Lutheranism (at least) affirms that baptism does have a saving effect upon a person even though faith is still required by an individual. The confession of classical Lutheranism is the Augsburg Confession. The purpose of the Confession was to clearly define Lutheran theology.

The purpose was to defend the Lutherans against misrepresentations and to provide a statement of their theology that would be acceptable to the Roman Catholics…The first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession set forth Lutheran doctrine in order to demonstrate that “they dissent in no article of faith from the Catholic Church.”

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Augsburg Confession”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Augsburg-Confession. Accessed 23 June 2021.

Their Confession was to show distinctives from the Catholic Church while still identifying with it on much. If I want to know what someone believes that has a formal confession of faith, I would consult it. It should give the reader a good idea of what is believed about a particular topic. The Augsburg is formatted similar to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith and Westminster Confession of Faith at least in that it has sections that are broken down by a theological topic, thereby making it easier to find a particular topic to read about. Article 9 is where we find the classical Lutheran view of baptism, at least in part.

Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

Mahler, Corey. “Article IX. Of Baptism.” Book of Concord, BookofConcord.org, 2 Jan. 2020, bookofconcord.org/augsburg-confession/article-ix.

We see very clearly here that classical Lutheranism confesses baptism is needed for salvation. Melanchthon, who really authored the Confession and was a close friend of Luther, believed this doctrine and espoused it as a formal belief of their faith.

The principal author was the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon, who drew on earlier Lutheran statements of faith.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Augsburg Confession”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Augsburg-Confession. Accessed 23 June 2021.

There are various passages that are used to support salvation by baptism and I will look at some of these here. It is not my intention to be exhaustive in presenting EVERY passage that a Lutheran may use to support salvation by baptism in this blog series, but I hope that by refuting these it can be seen that Lutheranism’s teaching about the soteriological effects of baptism are unfounded in Scripture. Dr. Jordan Cooper was a helpful resource in my research on the Lutheran position of salvation by baptism. Another resource that was helpful in this article was GotQuestions.org. Let us begin.

Baptism Forgiving Sins?

The first passage we will look at is from the book of Acts.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (ESV)

Here Peter is addressing those at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had come down causing some to speak in “tongues” or different languages (2:4). This was signifying not only God working among Jews but Gentiles as well (2:8-11). Peter then presents the Gospel to those there and it is evident that God brings His convicting nature to those listening (2:14-37). This is where we find Peter saying to those there what they must do to be saved. Now this is where the passage appears to be confusing. It says that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins”. On the surface this gives the appearance that baptism itself produces forgiveness of sins. However this cannot be the case.

First of all, the passage cannot be isolated from the rest of the book. If we jump forward to Acts chapter 10 we see a very different formula than what appears to be in Acts 2.

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:42-48 (ESV)

Peter is preaching to Cornelius and others who were with him the Gospel. The apostle was doing the unthinkable: associating with dirty, uncircumcised Gentiles and even preaching Christ to them. Yet the message is clear: by believing in Christ forgiveness would come. Peter even ties this back to the Old Testament saying that all the prophets speak of faith in Christ as the means of forgiveness before baptism became an institution under the New Covenant. Unless we believe the Old Testament saints were saved differently than us today, they had to believe in Christ (albeit in promise form and not fully revealed) as they were justified by faith (as we see in places like Genesis 15 with Abraham) and there was no New Covenant ratified yet which the sign of baptism would be tied to. Faith is the means of justification and by effect forgiveness of sins. This would mean that any Old Testament saint that had faith would be lost, as they did not follow the alleged formula of Peter in Acts 2.

Going back to our passage, as Peter was speaking to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit came down on them. Notice this was before they were baptized. This means they had believed and received forgiveness of sins already, apart from baptism. It was not until Peter had seen the clear evidence of the Holy Spirit upon them that the Gentiles were baptized. Paul says in Romans 8:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

The very fact they had the Spirit of God before baptism proves they were already saved since the possession of the Spirit is proof a person is Christ’s. And in Romans 8, Paul contrasts the difference between an unbeliever and a believer: one who has the Spirit and one who does not. This is all in the greater context of God’s righteousness being received by faith in Jesus (Romans 3). Baptism can only be a symbol and a means of communicating the Gospel at that point. Another question to ask as well: is Christ’s work enough for salvation if faith and baptism are required? Let us look at Romans 3.

…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:22-26 (ESV)

Christ’s work on the cross was a “propitiation”. His death satisfied the wrath of the Godhead against sin thereby bringing about forgiveness of every sin. If we receive this work by faith as Paul says then why is baptism needed for the remission of sins? If Christ’s work was enough to make me right before God and the righteousness received by faith (Romans 1:16-17) then my salvation is complete, is it not? This is a crucial point that is missed by our orthodox Lutheran friends. The sufficiency of Christ’s work is called into question (although I do not think they do so intentionally).

This leaves Acts 2:38 only meaning one of two things:

  1. The Gospel is changed in Acts 10 as Peter clearly did not use the same alleged formula from chapter 2 when preaching to Cornelius et al, and it is able to morph to fit different situations.
  2. Peter was actually preaching the same thing in Acts 2 and Acts 10.

Number two must be the only option. Not only does Acts 10 play a role in proving this, but the underlying language (Greek) must be inspected as well. GotQuestions.org was very helpful in this discussion:

We need to start by looking back to the original language and the meaning of the Greek word eis. This is a common Greek word (it is used 1774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways. Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again, we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would not. While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”… Besides the precise meaning of the preposition translated “for” in this passage, there is another grammatical aspect of this verse to carefully consider—the change between the second person and third person between the verbs and pronouns in the passage. For example, in Peter’s commands to repent and be baptized the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second person plural while the verb “be baptized,” is in the third person singular. When we couple this with the fact that the pronoun “your” in the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural, we see an important distinction being made that helps us understand this passage. The result of this change from second person plural to third person singular and back would seem to connect the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to “repent.” Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”

GotQuestions.org. “Does Acts 2:38 Teach That Baptism Is Necessary for Salvation?” GotQuestions.Org, Got Questions Ministries, 26 Apr. 2021, http://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-Acts-2-38.html.

What this means is that the English translation which gives the appearance of baptismal salvation, is not a very good one. English does not always do well in capturing what the underlying language is saying (this could happen in any type of translation from one language to another). This stresses the importance of utilizing the original languages of a text in our toolbox of hermeneutics.

In part 1 of this series we have looked at Acts 2:38 and whether it means baptism saves. It does not. The only thing we do that brings about justification is faith and that faith is a gift from God and cannot properly be said to be from us (Philippians 1:29). Repentance is implied in faith (and Peter calls specifically for the repentance of his listeners in our passage today, but that does not negate faith) but the conduit by which our right standing before God is through faith.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and General Equity

The Westminster Confession of Faith is probably the most prominent of the Reformed confessions. It has stood the test of time providing a biblical framework for theology. I am not sure if its writers knew the impact it would have on the Christian world when it was written. While I substantially hold to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the 2LBCF), there is much that can be gleaned from the Westminster Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the WCF) especially given that my confession is based in part on the WCF. However, these documents are not perfect and were written by mere men requiring us to not hold them to the level of Scripture. I want demonstrate what I see as an inconsistency in the WCF as it relates to the role of the state and what is called “general equity”.

What is “General Equity”

General Equity means that the judicial laws that applied under Old Testament Israel do not apply in the exact same way to states today, but that their moral equivalent applies for today. This concept of “general equity” is laid out in both the WCF and 2LBCF:

To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 19.4

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 19.4

Both the Westminster divines and the Particular Baptists who framed and adopted the 2LBCF held this idea of “general equity” as it relates to God’s law. An example of this is a quotation from William Perkins (thank you to Dr. Tom Hicks for this quotation):

Judicial laws so far as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law

A Discourse on Cases of Conscience in The Whole Works, London, 1631, 1.520

Both were identifying themselves with the Reformed community. However, only one confession was being consistent in its application of general equity: the 2LBCF.

Correct, Yet Inconsistent

Although the WCF does teach the biblical view of general equity, it does not apply that principle consistently. If we go back to the 1646 edition of the WCF, we will see an interesting section as it relates to the magistrate:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven:(e) yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be. preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed.(f) For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 23.3

I will note that this is the original WCF and is quite different in this chapter from the American revision done here. This change may have been adopted at or very close to the same time the American Constitution was ratified, conveniently. I’m glad that our Presbyterian brethren are more Baptist than they would probably admit and certainly like to be.

The 1646 edition, though, painted an interesting picture of what the state was to do with its power. It was not to hold the keys of the kingdom nor was it to administer sacraments, but it could punish you for blasphemy, heresy, and abuses of worship. It was to ensure that proper worship was enacted in a land. There is no concept of religious liberty as found among Particular Baptists.

The inconsistency comes where judicial law is applied in a way that is not congruent with general equity. There is a movement beyond the simple application of a “moral” equivalent whereby the framework (at the very least) of the judicial law (s) is applied to the contemporary state. An example of this is in the use of the proof text the WCF used to support the suppression of blasphemy:

And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:16 (NKJV)

Clearly, at the very least, the divines thought that it was necessary to use capital punishment as it relates to “suppressing” blasphemy in the land. This went hand in hand with ensuring that true teaching is taught in the land and is “proved” through the use of another Old Testament passage:

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall [a]put away the evil from your midst.

Deuteronomy 13:5 (NKJV)

Again, a judicial law that applied to a particular people (and a particular covenant) is applied to the contemporary state. While there may not be a complete application of the law, there is at the very least (through the use of this passage as a proof text) an application of it beyond general equity (putting to death a false teacher). If 19.4 was held to consistently, there would never have been the usage of judicial laws from Israel being applied to the contemporary state. I think this demonstrates the influence of the times in which the Westminster Assembly found themselves in and the integral nature the Assembly had with Parliament (see From Shadow to Substance The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) page 109).

Conclusion

There is much we can be thankful for as it relates to the WCF. The 2LBCF would not exist without it and its influence on the Reformed world cannot be understated. But, as with any confession of faith, it is not infallible. With the influence of the cultural setting these men were in, it seems to have led to the inconsistency on their application of general equity and that different from what we find in Reformed thinking. May God continue to Reform His church.

Lessons Learned From the Thomas Collier Incident

The Particular Baptists were not strangers to controversy. One of, if not their biggest, disagreements with the establishment around them was on the issue of infant baptism. They were distinct in that they generally argued against it from the perspective of covenant theology (see Sam Renihan’s book, From Shadow to Substance). Although they agreed with Reformed orthodoxy on many things, they would not capitulate to the Church of England nor to their Puritan brothers, whom they identified with as Separatists. Controversy not only found itself from the outside, but also from within. The Particular Baptists, beginning in the 1640s, were faced with a substantial threat from a prominent and active member among them: Thomas Collier.

Historical Background

Thomas Collier was not a fringe or silent member of the Particular Baptists. He was quite active and, “served as a chaplain, pastor, evangelist, church planter, and associational leader in the west. Over the span of his long ministry, Collier covered considerable territory, geographically and theologically.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174) Just because a man is in this position does not mean error will not follow, although one would think he would have the spiritual maturity to avoid the heresies he would espouse. But espouse heresy he did. In the 1640s and into the 1670s he was teaching heresy. Renihan gives us a picture of his teachings:

…Collier published heretical expressions regarding the trinity, denying the distinction of the persons…In 1674, Collier boldly placed himself outside the boundaries of Protestant orthodoxy in a book entitled The Body of Divinity. Two years later he espoused heterodoxy even more explicitly in his Additional Word to the Body of Divinity. Among other things, he taught that God exists in a “increated” heavens, that Christ died for the universe, that man is able to believe the gospel of his own power, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, that believers could lose their salvation, that salvation remained possible after death, and other heresies regarding the hypostatic union of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, asserting that God the Son was a creature.”

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174-175

In other words, Collier was attacking the biblical teachings of the church. These deviations went to the heart of the Christian, let alone Particular Baptist, faith. This was not just about baptism or who the members of the new covenant were anymore. This was a fight for the faith itself. And the response of the Particular Baptists was one that needed to be proportionate to the teachings brought against them. Given he was no small fish in the Particular Baptist pond, this problem had to be dealt with quickly. And try they did.

A prolific author and active church-planter, Collier’s open and published embrace of heresy could not go unanswered. In fact, regional pastors and some of the members of the church in Southwick where Collier was pastoring took notice and requested help from London leaders in order to deal with his deviations.

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 175

Collier was addressed by Nehemiah Coxe, William Kiffen, and others, although there was no repentance on the part of the heretic. “…it was clear that Collier had no intention of changing his mind or putting down his pen on the matter.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178)

In response to the beliefs of Mr. Collier, and to distance themselves from him, what would come to be known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith would be published (it was originally called A Confession of Faith put forth by the Elders and Brethren of many congregations of Christians (Baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and the country).

In fact, the Confession was published the same month (August of 1677) that elders from London and Bristol were declaring Collier a heretic (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178).

Lessons Learned

While there are probably many things that could be learned from the Collier incident, there are three items that can be gleaned.

  1. Sound doctrine is crucial to eternal life. This should seem rather obvious but it is good to re-iterate. What you believe will impact how you live especially as it relates to what we believe about God, His Word, and the Gospel. With the Gospel in particular, Paul was adamant about ensuring it was taught, and if another “Gospel” was taught, those who espoused it were damned to hell (Galatians 1:8). What Collier taught was against orthodoxy and ultimately went to the heart of the faith. Who God is, salvation, who Christ is, all these things were taught in a way that could not be reconciled with the Christian faith and really led to another Gospel, thereby securing him as a heretic.
  2. Having association with other like minded churches can be very helpful. While associationalism is not commanded in the Scriptures, it is a very helpful way for churches to support one another. We see this clearly in the Collier incident. Churches worked together to try to stamp out Collier as he made a stink among the brethren with his heresies. This strong associationalism can allow other knowledgeable brethren to deal with issues in other churches without being authoritative over a local church or substantially interfering in their affairs.
  3. Properly defining what we believe is very important. The 2nd LBCF coming out of this incident with Collier showed how important it was to clearly define what orthodox doctrine is and what the Particular Baptists believed. The Particular Baptists did not want to be associated with Collier in any way and wanted to ensure that there was no confusion in what “real” Particular Baptist theology was. This Confession was that official response. Properly defining as a church what is believed in said church is crucial. The Reformed were very careful to define their beliefs and were not casual or lazy in how they defined core orthodoxy. This meant that substantial time had to be given to their expositions and defenses, but it meant they could clearly define who they were as opposed to those around them, namely Rome (although the Particular Baptists were primarily dealing with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists, but there may be more). We need to clearly define what we believe and use this to take a stand against heterodoxy.

Conclusion

Collier is by no means an isolated incident in false teaching creeping into the church. The church has constantly been dealing with false teaching in one way or another and it was no different for the Particular Baptists. Their commitment to Biblical truth was what guided them through this difficult time and the Lord ultimately united them in it. May we have the strength and passion for truth as the Particular Baptists.

What Does It Mean To Have Our Minds Set On Eternity?

The world is constantly battling for our minds. We are bombarded with the world’s way of thinking daily. The evil one is seeking to hinder us in our walk with God. Our mind is the gateway for our actions and the way we think always impacts how we live. This is why having a worldview that is Biblical is the only consistent way to live in this evil world that we must remain pilgrims in. The battle for our minds is here.

Trouble of the World

What is the “world” in this sense? Is God’s creation evil since sin is in the world and we are told not to “love the world”? Let us look at what Scripture says about creation.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31 (NKJV)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;  for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)

In both these places we are told that created things are “good”. There is nothing that God has made that is inherently evil. We should enjoy those things that God has given us: the birds, the fish, the animals, all creation is ours to enjoy and it points back to the Creator who made it (Psalm 19:1). Now, how do we deal with passages that seem to associate the world as being bad?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV)

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4 (NKJV)

These passages seem very clear in the their indictment of the world. However, the “world” here (Greek word κόσμος) is not referring to the created world (as we have already established above) but the system that is opposed to the things of God (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament by Alexander Souter is great for further study). The world is that way of thinking that is against God. Lust, pride, etc. are things that are of this “world” and are sin, and therefore “lawless” (1 John 3:4). These fundamental principles will help us to understand what it means to have our minds truly set on eternity.

The Christian’s Relation to the World

With this grim picture of the κόσμος, how are we to live? Unfortunately, the Christian tendency in running from the world’s evil thinking is to run from society itself. We create these “Christian” communities that have their own cultures outside of the society we live in. This principle is discussed by R.C. Sproul in his book Pleasing God. It is seen as being separate from the world and somehow biblical. That is not to say that cultures that Christians create are necessarily bad, but I think there is a tendency to do so as a reaction to the culture around them. Just look at the radical homeschool movement, where sending your kids to public school is sinful, women must wear dresses, and heaven forbid a woman work outside the home. And again, I want to be careful here. There are those who do so out of genuine conviction and there should be some sensitivity (this can be seen in Romans 14). But when these become the standard for obedience to God and are done in an unbiblical manner, then the matter changes, and this tends to be what happens when these “cultures” are created.

Christians are not to separate themselves from this world. Jesus prayed to His Father in the Gospel of John:

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15 (NKJV)

It is not God’s will that we live in segregated communities apart from society. This is contrary to Scripture. Paul also makes the point against segregation in 1 Corinthians:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NKJV)

Paul wanted to clarify what he was talking about. Sinful people of this world are not to be avoided (generally speaking). We would have to leave this earth to completely avoid them! It is the one who claims Christ yet shows no repentance that we are to avoid — church discipline is in view here. Also, how are we to tell the lost about Christ while we are separated from them! We would have to disobey Christ’s Great Commission in order to leave this world. We are to be living in this world and be a light in a dark place.

Using Our Minds Rightly

What does all this have to do with how we think about eternity? What we THINK or BELIEVE about our relation to the world will dictate how we live in it. If we think that the way we are to live with eternity in mind is to leave the world, we will have a warped view of what it means to genuinely have a heavenly mindset. A heavenly mindset is the one that is constantly thinking about the things of God. The Psalmist lays this bare:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-4 (NKJV)

The one who is righteous follows God’s law and his MIND is focused on it. He is constantly meditating on it. His grounding in God’s law leads him to prosper and walk obediently. And where is God’s law found? In His Word. This is the foundation of how we are to live in this world and think rightly. This ultimately is where we should look and where all thoughts and worldviews must be vetted. Manmade rules of how we are to think rightly will never be able to compare to this and, in fact, do nothing to stop the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

This passage really summarizes what it means for us to have minds set on eternity. We are to think on those things that are good and our obedience to God will follow as a result. This verse is not forbidding the thinking of things that are evil (meaning thinking of the things themselves, not actually sinning in our thoughts) since this would require us to leave this world. The world is the devil’s playground, full of sin, and is opposed to God. But as already discussed, we are called to live in it and it is not our Lord’s will that we leave it. The Scriptures themselves contain many instances where there are things that are not lovely, admirable, noble, pure, etc. Paul here is not creating a dichotomy between thinking of that which is good and not. What he wants is the Philippians to have their minds focused on the good so that it will change the way they live. The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 8:

Concluding these exhortations, Paul calls his readers to a life of obedience, the right response to the peace of God. The virtues listed are not exhaustive but representative, and they come to expression in countless ways (note the repeated “whatever”). Thinking on such things is not an end in itself, but preparation for purposeful action (v. 9).

The Reformation Study Bible, page 1724, English Standard Version

This is what being eternally minded means. This is how we are to walk. As our minds are properly set on eternity, our lives will follow in obedience.

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