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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Essentials of Reformed Doctrine: The Church

It has been contended by Pentecostals that the Reformed doctrine of the church overlooks the application of certain biblical texts in their explication of it. For example, Paul Elbert, in an e-mail to me said:

When Paul speaks of the fact - as far as he was concerned it was a fact, although to some forms of Reformed tradition it might of little interest - that those that are led by the Spirit are not under the law (Gal 5:18) or that those that are led by the Spirit are the sons of God (Rom 8:14), we should notice that he does not refer his overall readership back to the OT or LXX texts that would have been deemed sacred by his Jewish readership.

These are loaded statements. Most Reformed theologies I have read have nowhere denied that Paul said believers were led by the Spirit. In fact, that is the plain meaning of the text; moreover, fundamental Reformed understanding of biblical interpretation is the doctrine of perspicuity--the Holy Scriptures are so clear that even a child may understand the plain meaning of them. Where the Scriptures are hard to understand we are to refer to other passages that are more clear so that we may properly understand them. It seems to me that Mr. Elbert here has painted a strawman without investigating the nuances of the Reformed position as it is represented holistically in a vast body of theological materials.

Also, in exegeting any verse of Scripture, that verse cannot be taken out of its immediate context, including paragraph, pericope, chapter, section, and the book as a whole as that book fits with the entire canon of Scripture. Mr Elbert seems to be reading the various Pentecostal interpretations of various other texts back into Galatians 5:18. Finding the charismatic gifts of the Spirit on every page of the Bible is unjustified where the immediate context indicates otherwise. Galatians 5:18 is directly preceded by Galatians 5:16 where Paul clearly draws a parallel between the sinful nature and being led by the Spirit, the issue being one of progressive sanctification and not an ecstatic or mystical leading of the Spirit into revelations or extraordinary workings of miracles, etc. In fact, Galatians 5:14 is a direct quotation from Leviticus 19:18, "‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." (NIV). This should make clear that Paul is using the Old Testament Scriptures to ground his remarks. I should emphasize that Paul mentions the mosaic law in the very verse that Mr. Elbert says does not mention the Old Testament, a direct contradiction to his position. The Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ our Lord and all of the apostles used the Jewish Scriptures as their "Bible." I'm willing to bet they used both the Hebrew Bible and one of the Septuagint versions in Greek. This sort of gross misreading of the immediate context is only possible where there is an agenda not to take the plain meaning of the text at face value.

Regarding Romans 8:14 the immediate context again has to do with issues of sanctifying the flesh or the sinful nature and how the Christian may have assurance of salvation. Romans 8:14 has nothing to do with extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit as Mr. Elbert and other Pentecostal scholars seem to infer unjustifiably. Beginning at verse 3 of chapter 8 and preceding verse 14, the issue of the "flesh" (sarx) or "sinful nature" is mentioned a total of 13 times. The contrast between being under the control of the flesh/sinful nature or under control of the Holy Spirit is the immediate and direct context of verse 14 without a doubt.

Again, Mr. Elbert neglects the immediate context for Paul's concern for the mosaic law and its moral implications, which is indicated in verses 3 and 4:

Romans 8:3-4 (NIV)

3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Mr. Elbert's assertion that Paul is unconcerned with the relationship of the Spirit to the Old Testament is refuted by the context. I will concede, however, that a thorough doctrine of the Holy Spirit will consider all passages in Scripture while trying to keep faithful to a biblical theology that makes immediate context the principle of interpretation as opposed to imposing one's "systematic" or "dogmatic" theology on the text.

Neither does he refer to the authority of his own text, although I regard it as authoritative.

This raises another issue altogether. How did we get the canon of the New Testament in the first place? There is no doubt that in the years immediately after the ascension of Jesus in to heaven there was no written record of his teachings or that of the apostles. However, before long it was recognized that there was a need for a written record. Luke's introductions to the Gospel of Luke and the Acts are good examples of this. Prior to the inspired writings of the New Testament or their canonization in the 4th century we have only oral traditions or perhaps a document (or documents) known as "Q" to New Testament scholars. We could go the way of Roman Catholicism and make Scripture subservient to the agenda of the church or redefine apostolic tradition so as to include ongoing innovations or "revelations" that are part of "living tradition." This is in fact the greatest danger posed by Pentecostalism. It is in an indirect way a reassertion of the Roman Catholic position, albeit inadvertently. This seems to me to be precisely why there is such an aversion to the Protestant Reformation by certain Pentecostal scholars, despite the fact that the Pentecostal revival itself is a sort of Third Great Awakening in line with two previous Evangelical Awakenings, including the First Great Awakening intiated by the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, a Reformed and Puritan preacher and theologian.

Rather he refers to an experience with the Holy Spirit. Of course such an experience, which Paul does not define because he expects familiarity with it on the part of most readers, is not going to extend in deportment or in speech into contradictions with what Paul writes or with what is written in the OT or the LXX.

In contradistinction to Mr. Elbert, Paul does in fact describe the content of what he means by being "led by the Spirit." In fact, Paul spends the entire chapter telling us what he means by being led by the Spirit. Verse 13 says that if we "live by the Spirit" we will put to death the misdeeds of the body (soma). Since verse 14 immediatedly follows verse 13 it stands to reason that being "led by the Spirit" is a parallel term referring back to the antecedent term "live by the Spirit" in verse 13. Also, we find a direct allusion to Hosea 1:10 (in both the LXX and the BHS the correct reference is Hosea 2:1), "sons of the living God." Again, Mr. Elbert forgets that the Apostle Paul was a rabbi and most likely trained well in both Hebrew and Septuagint Greek and does in fact allude to the Old Testament Scriptures in the same verse that Mr. Elbert says does not refer to the Old Testament.

Paul does not employ the "final authority" language of some. This language evolved out of the arbitrary hermeneutical imposition of epochs upon the NT text that Paul and others labored to leave us in God's providence.

This comment begs all sorts of questions. My first question is why reading Holy Scripture in light of contemporary issues of any era or epoch is an "arbitrary hermeneutical imposition...upon the text"? The Pentecostal hermeneutic is even more open to this charge since it is a 20th century phenomenon that evolved out of a wesleyan holiness hermeneutic immediately preceding and informing its own. Paul does say many things that lead to the idea that Scripture is to be the test of doctrine, including 2 Timothy 3:15-16, although most likely Paul is here thinking of the Hebrew Scriptures since the New Testament for the most part had not been yet written. The Reformers were not imposing "arbitrary" interpretations upon the text but applying the text to their contemporary situation and rightly so. If the text cannot be applied to contemporary situations of each era, then it is meaningful only in the first century and irrelevant to us. This would mean that Pentecostal hermeneutics would be equally "arbitrary" since that position is a reaction to what they see as a negative assessment of Pentecostal theology.

This imposition was itself germinated by the ministerial and political needs of the magisterial Reformers themselves. The authority of texts was subjugated in some key instances, by Calvin, for example, to current and pressing ministerial and political needs, but nevertheless the Reformers were correct to set out a case for that authority.)

This is a weak concession but I'll take what I can get. The Reformers were dealing with a situation where false miracles were being employed to justify traditions of the church that were not supported in Scripture, including the veneration of Mary, the immaculate conception of Mary, prayers to the saints, justification by faith and by good works or merits, purgatory, indulgences, the supremacy of the pope in Rome, and a host of other Roman Catholic abuses. Also, I wonder why Mr. Elbert qualifies the Reformers as "magisterial"? The Reformers were persecuted by Rome and often at great price. Let's not forget that Martin Luther came close to being martyred and many of the English Reformers were martyred for their faith in God and His revelation in Holy Scripture.

By most accounts, including Pentecostal scholars like Ronald Kydd, the sign gifts had mostly ceased by the 3rd century (See: Kydd, Ronald A. N. Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984). Calvin and the other Reformers argued rightly that miracles cannot substantiate the traditions of men that are actually innovations unsupported by Holy Scripture as over against fallible church fathers and church councils.

Interestingly, Mr. Elbert mentions in an aside in his paper that the apostles creed and the nicene creed obscure the full teaching of Jesus on Prayer and cites Jurgen Moltmann to substantiate this:



  • So, while Evangelicals may claim that ‘Pentecostal’ experience is unrepeatable and cannot be found in Luke’s second book and cannot have any connection with his first book, and that in order to countenance experience according to Lukan descriptions we also have to have new Incarnations, these cessationistic proclamations are not as applicable to ‘all who are afar off’ as their proponents believe them to be. Such proponents seem unaware that the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, the ‘Our Father’, the ‘Apostles’ Creed’, and the ‘Nicene Creed’ do indeed eclipse and ignore the fully developed teaching of the earthly Jesus on prayer and hide his other important teachings and doings, as Moltmann has recently pointed out with respect to the latter two ecclesiastical conceptions.

  • [See "PENTECOSTAL/CHARISMATIC THEMES IN LUKE–ACTS AT THE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY: THE BATTLE OF INTERPRETIVE METHOD," Journal of Pentecostal Theology: 12.2 (2004) 181-215, page 195, also page 15 online at: http://www.pneumafoundation.org/resources/articles JPT_PentCharThemes.pdf]

It seems to me that Pentecostal traditions, that were formed as a result of the rejection of Pentecostal experience, doctrine, and teaching by mainline denominations and Evangelicals in the early years of the Pentecostal revival, have caused Pentecostal scholars like Paul Elbert to throw out the baby with the bath water, as Pentecostals are fond of saying about Evangelicals. Pentecostalism started out as a sect that came from many Evangelical and Protestant backgrounds, especially the wesleyan-holiness movement and represented later in the revival by the Keswick higher life movement, a decidedly Reformed side of the Pentecostal movement. Mr. Elbert's strong aversion to Reformed theology at least makes a concession to J. Rodman Williams' Reformed theology in his paper (see footnote 34 on page 191). (Though we should note that J. Rodman Williams has contributed little scholarly discussion to the issues other than his systematic theology on renewal themes and this is merely a restatement of basic theology taught to ministry students in pentecostal/charismatic colleges).

I will save further comments for Mr. Elbert's response to my e-mail to him. At some future post I will try to do a more thorough critique of his paper, including one portion where he relates a Pentecostal "experience" in which he utilizes an intuition to overcome a perceived persecution by Evangelical scholars at the Evangelical Theological Society.

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