Archive for November, 2014

The Great Leadership Challenge

Posted: November 19, 2014 by J in Bible, Theology

I find myself thinking about leadership challenges and power struggles, lately. In particular the leadership challenge mounted by Satan. Reading Genesis and Luke, I’ve been thinking about the role of the evil one, the Satan, in world history. And I think I’ve identified one of those structural things where the whole drift of my thinking doesn’t mesh well with the Scripture story.

I think I’ve always seen it as essentially a challenge to God’s position as sovereign. Milton’s Paradise Lost, and all that. Satan seeks to rule heaven itself. Challenged God, lost, was cast out into Hell with the angels who followed him. That sort of thing.

Well, not sure how much of that might be true, and how much folk-mythology. But it strikes me that as a contender for God’s throne, Satan is a bit of a fizzer. I mean, for one thing, he’s created. The most fundamental distinction in the universe, between Creator and creation – and he’s on the wrong side of it. Wrong, that is, if you want to be God.

No, I can’t see that Satan was ever going to mount an effective leadership challenge against God. Kind of like my basil plants attempting a coup and taking over our house. Just not likely in the nature of things.

As I read Scripture, it dawns on me (slowly), that the real leadership challenge was directed at US. We are the ones Satan is contending with for rulership of the world. We were given that role, but he has usurped it. From us.

That was always the challenge, right from the start. It was the serpent vs Adam and Eve. It was Adam and Eve’s offspring who was supposed to crush the serpent’s head. But Adam’s heirs always prefered to fight against God (cf the name ‘Israel’: ‘he wrestles with God’) – we had the wrong adversary all along. And so, not knowing our rightful opponent, we always got crushed instead of doing the crushing.

For a long time the evil one seemed to be winning every bout hands down. It was like the old days of the America’s cup yacht race:  theoretically anybody could win, but when Alan Bond came along as challenger with the Australia II, the US had won it every time since 1870. In practice it was always the same outcome, every challenge: Satan – 1 , Adam and family – 0.

The amazing significance of Jesus’ incarnation and his life and death and resurrection is not so much that God could defeat Satan. No surprises there! God could surely have flicked Satan out of existence any time he pleased. It’s still glorious and worth celebrating when God does conquer his enemies. But if I’m reading it rightly, the amazing, unexpected, world-changing thing about Jesus was that a man stood up to the evil one. He repented of our habit of fighting against God (his baptism), and got on with the job of wrestling with the real adversary (in the temptations in the wilderness). And Jesus defeated him. He took back the leadership. He entered the ‘dominion of darkness’ and started turning it into his own kingdom (cf. Colossians 1:14).

John, Mark and Luke portray the Jesus story as one of conflict with the demonic powers. They all see that conflict coming to a head in Jerusalem at the passover, as Jesus faces the final challenge of the cross – and emerges victorious: “It is finished!”. The Father, as a good umpire, raises the hand of the victor through resurrection.

Now a man is on the throne again. The leadership challenge has been settled decisively, once and for all: ‘The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of God and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11). Not just the victory of God, but of God and his appointed man. And not Jesus alone ruling: Jesus as the Christ, as our representative. And because Jesus, we also. We are invited, indeed called, to take up that rule again, in him. “Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6). Here judgement is a leadership role, much like governing. It involves taking charge and setting things to rights, restoring right order in the creation. The good news is, that is once again mankind’s destiny:

if we endure,
we will also reign with him. (2Tim. 2:12)
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev.5:10)..
 

Once mankind is restored in Christ, our future is one of leadership again:

They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22:5)

And that leadership over creation will bring about its final restoration. When we ceded control of the world to Satan, we left it in the hands of a destroyer. But Jesus took back the reins. He restored the whole created order by undoing the original cause of its distress: the fall of man from his role as leader.

Would it be pushing things too far to suggest that the great question of world history was not, who will conquer, God or Satan? It was ‘who will conquer, man or Satan?’ And that question has been answered finally at the Cross. The demons will not always have free rein. In Jesus, mankind conquers at last, reclaims his ancient birthright, and begins once again to rule as God appointed him to.

Praise God for his Son, the man, King Jesus!

A beautiful picture

Posted: November 12, 2014 by J in General

Found this picture on the web. Dear to my heart…

 

Power tripping

Posted: November 11, 2014 by J in General
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We evangelicals have a robust view of human depravity. We all tend to go wrong. Watchdogs like ICAC are needed because humans can’t be trusted with power and money. Our solution to child abuse? – don’t let adults be alone in a room with a child who is not family. Wise. Sin hides itself in the heart and comes out when no one is looking. No one is exempt. People love the feeling of getting power over others, it so easily goes to the head and intoxicates. It’s so very sweet. Power-tripping comes naturally to humans everywhere, no matter our politics or religion, our sex or age. Power makes monsters of us. Our evangelical doctrine of depravity gives us a big head start in facing these issues realistically.

Except when it comes to church leadership.

There our doctrine and its wisdom tends to get thrown out the window. Most church leaders operate largely unseen and are accountable to no one. That is, there is no one who can effectively call them to account. I’ve been in Baptist, Presbyterian and Anglican churches, and seen the same thing in all three. Power is concentrated in the hands of ‘the minister’ or the ‘staff team’, and they answer to no one. Individuals in the congregation are at their mercy, they can promote or shut down, they can build up or destroy reputations. They pretty much do as they see fit.

That may be bearable as long as the leader is acting with integrity and has the best interests of the people at heart. But here’s the thing: what happened to our doctrine of depravity? Did we forget to apply it to our church leaders? Surely the Royal Commission going on in Australia at present should make us think again?

What would we say about church leaders if we applied this wisdom to them? We’d say that ministers, left to themselves, will be corrupted by power and money, and tend to become abusive. We’d say that unless they are accountable to someone, they will very likely become abusive.

And then we would say, but they aren’t accountable at the moment.

Does that ring alarm bells for you? Does for me.

Here’s what happens. Many people in the congregation know that they need to be in the minister’s good books, so they tend to suck up to him a bit. Give him (or her) special treatment. He gets to like it. He starts to really believe he’s someone special, that he is the church’s repository of wisdom. To feel that he is entitled to be revered. The bigger the church, the more this functions. In big churches the minister can keep himself distant from the people, deal with them by remote control, through secretaries and underlings. The feeling of power increases.

Power-tripping ministers are hyper-sensitive to criticism. Anyone who questions what they are doing is probably motivated by evil intentions. Or just doesn’t understand. Who are they to question the leader? People should respect authority and know their place.

This happens all the time in churches. Necessarily so, because our leaders are depraved like the rest of us. But when leaders go wrong, the effects are much greater than they would be for a rank-and-file church member.

Baptist churches have no week to week accountability structure in their leadership model. Only, the congregation can pull the plug on the leader at any time. Short of that they can do nothing. It’s all or nothing. Day to day power, long term insecurity. This is the worst possible combination, encouraging the minister to feel defensive, anxious and secretive, as well as the immediate feeling of power and privilege.

Presbyterians have a system where the minister is accountable to other ministers who don’t get to see what he does. A group of remote buddies. Weak as water.

Anglicans in Sydney diocese have the least accountability of all. Rectors are deliberately classed as ‘not needing supervision’, i.e. no accountability. There is no one in the whole world who can call a rector to account. Even the bishop can only step in if there is serious misconduct. By then of course it’s too late, and the damage is all done. At least the Baptist and Pressies have a go at this: Sydney Anglicans deliberately don’t try.

In my view we have engineered a situation where the temptation for our church leaders to go power-tripping is almost overwhelming. And of course sexual abuse is just a form of power-trip.

I’d be surprised if most people in c.21st Australia will feel comfortable with our leadership structures. People have become sensitised to these issues, and know where these things lead. Judging by the Royal Commission, we may need the world to educate us on this issue.

What a shame. Literally shame. Surely we should be the experts in dealing with sin and temptation. Shouldn’t we should be able to get our own house in order?

  1. Quenching the Spirit

After recognising that his position will offend many, Gaffin makes some helpful concluding remarks. He suggests that what is often seen as ‘post conversion baptism of the Spirit’ really is a great working of the Spirit, in convicting us of the gospel! ‘Often too, what is seen as prophecy is actually a spontaneous, Spirit-worked application of Scripture’. In relation to tongues he makes a damning appraisal of the contemporary practice. He notes that it is often seen as a gift for all believers, for personal benefit, not relating to judgement in any way, and with interpretation either being neglected or ‘applied in a dubious fashion’. Hence; ‘Contemporary tongues are not the gift of the Spirit described in Acts 2 or 1 Corinthians 12-14.’ Smack down! He concludes with a genuine appreciation of the many strengths of the charismatic movement, which we could all learn from.

Reflections:

I really dug the first section. Gaffin’s Old/New Covenant gear was great. The Spirit is the risen life of Christ amongst his people. I for one need to make more of that. I dug plenty of other stuff along the way, but the jury is still out on the issue of cessation of tongues and prophecy.

At times, Gaffin places too much weight on uncertain exegesis (eg. In relation to 1 Cor 14:14 he says that ‘my spirit’ must be the Holy Spirit, whereas Paul seems to have a distinction between the Holy Spirit and our spirit. Eg. Rom8:16.) But at many points he garners enough evidence to convince me. He convinced me that prophecy is always revelation and even that tongues are about the revelation of gospel mysteries too.

However I’m still unsure about the beam that bears most of the weight in his argument for the cessation of prophecy. Keeping in mind the ‘covenantal, redemption-historical character of all revelation’, I think his key statement is: ‘Since the history of redemption has been definitively accomplished, and since after Pentecost its ongoing movement is delayed until Christ’s return […], the basis and rationale for new revelations is lacking and revelation has therefore ceased.’

I think this characterization of prophecy is overly restrictive. His insistence that all prophecy is covenantal and redemptive historical in character is laudable, but I think he applies those categories too restrictively. Prophecies like Agabus’ concerning the famine (despite Gaffin’s arguments) doesn’t seem to fit within his tight definition. Old Testament prophecy didn’t always relate all that directly to salvation history either (eg. 1 Kings 20:35, or 2 Kings 2:3-5). Without a shadow of a doubt I’m not the exegete that Gaffin is, but I do find it hard to see how some prophecies in the scriptures relate directly to ‘the ongoing movement’ of redemptive history.

Similarly, I agree with him that we shouldn’t expect any ‘new revelations’ concerning salvation history, or the character of our God revealed therein. It’s just that plenty of prophecy doesn’t seem to offer significant new information about salvation history or God’s character either. Is it possible that similar prophecy could operate today? Maybe prophecy ‘forthtelling’ old information for new believers in certain circumstances?

For this reason I’m not convinced his arguments for the cessation of prophecy hold. This would then carry for tongues also. However, I’m still not sure what I think about this tricky topic!

  1. The question of cessation.

The temporary Nature of the Apostolate

The existence of ‘apostleship’ in lists of gifts is evidence that not all gifts are intended to continue. Are there other gifts that are ‘so integrally associated’ with the ministry of the apostles that they disappear along with the end of the apostolate?

The foundational character of the Apostolic witness AND of prophecy.

The Apostles witnessed to Christ and so lay out the once for all foundation of the church. Ephesians 2 associates prophets with apostles in this work. ‘They have a foundational, that is, temporary, noncontinuing role in the church’s history, and so by God’s design pass out of its life, along with the apostles.’ To those who might suggest that there are other kinds of non-foundational prophecy that continue, he responds that this is a misunderstanding of the ‘covenantal, redemption-historical character of all revelation’. He argues emphatically that, ‘Since the history of redemption has been definitively accomplished and since after Pentecost its ongoing movement is delayed until Christ’s return […] the basis and rationale for new revelations is lacking and revelation has therefore ceased.’ Ie. All revelation is about salvation, and salvation is sorted.

Three related remarks: First, ‘Scripture leaves no place for privatized, localized revelations for specific individual needs and circumstances.’ Second, there were plenty of prophets who spoke the Word of God for their moment but weren’t inscripturated. Third, Gaffin insists that having anything other than a closed canon ‘conflicts with the covenantal nature of all revelation’.

The cessation of tongues

This part of the argument follows simply from the first, given that he’s more or less equated prophecy and tongues. An interesting side point is the way he suggests (with reference to 1 Cor14:20-25 and an analogy with parables) that tongues fit in the context of the founding of the church by demonstrating God’s (new covenant) judgement and rejection of Israel, and so ‘intensify and harden unbelief that is primarily Jewish.’

Tomorrow, Gaffin’s conclusion and mine.

  1. Prophecy and Tongues.

1 Cor. 14: Some controlling Observations.

In this chapter tongues and prophecy are played off against each other, prophecy is clearly superior. However a sharp division between these two isn’t possible, and their partnership in 1 Corinthians 14 underlines this. Both are about the reception and communication of “mysteries” (13:2, 14:2).

Prophecy

‘New Testament prophecy is revelatory. […] The words of the prophet are the words of God and are to be received and responded to as such. […] The prophet reveals the Word of God, the preacher expounds that word.’ They, with the Apostles, reveal the ‘unsearchable riches, the ‘mystery’ of the gospel. It includes both ‘forthtelling’ and ‘foretelling’. There are no levels of authority in prophecy, even between written vs oral prophecy. It’s all revelation. Weighing of prophecy wasn’t ‘sifting worthwhile elements’, but determining if the whole prophecy was from the Holy Spirit or another spirit. Obviously there is spurious prophecy even within the church (eg. 2Thes2:2).

 

Tongues

Gaffin begins by dispensing with a common view of tongues which suggests that the Spirit bypasses our minds to produce this vocalization of a ‘volitional, yet non-intellective, preconceptual capacity in man, usually with the emphasis that tongues bring to expression the more primal, deeper levels of personality.’ Gaffin points out the ‘insuperable difficulty’ with this position, that Paul doesn’t see mind and spirit as opposites. In fact, they both have ‘essentially the same reference’ in Paul’s anthropology (eg. Rom1:9). This view comes from a ‘conviction that religious experience is essentially irrational.’

Rather, Gaffin argues for a ‘fully inspired’ view. ‘Tongues are a mode of prophecy.’ Pretty well the only difference between the two is that prophecy utilizes ‘the speaker’s existing language (conceptual) capacities’, while tongues doesn’t. ‘His speech capacities are so taken over by the Spirit that the words spoken are not his’. This reading depends on reading 1 Corinthians 14:14’s ‘my spirit prays’ as ‘the Holy Spirit prays’ (which Gaffin admits ‘is difficult’, at least its initial impression).

He goes on to argue that tongues must be a genuine kind of language.

Tomorrow, arguments for cessation.

 

  1. Some basic perspectives on the gifts of the Spirit

The gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Gaffin lays a few planks in his argument here, but they’re not especially load bearing (unless you hold a particular view).

  1. The ‘universal donation’ of the Spirit is a foretaste of eschatological life, while the gifts variously given are ‘particular operations pertaining to various ministries and as such, are provisional and sub-eschatological (1Cor13:8f).’ The ‘subsequent course of the entire discussion is decisively determined’ by this distinction.
  2. Therefore the essence of the New Covenant is tied to these gifts. They ‘disclose the essence of the kingdom and its blessings, but without at the same time constituting or embodying that essence.’ They act as signs. Therefore ‘each gift has to be examined in order to determine its specific purpose(s) and the specific conditions for its presence in the church.’
  3. In terms of function, ‘From beginning to end the gifts are given for service in the church.’ If the recipient of the gift gets something out of the exercise of that gift (in service to others), that is a ‘fringe benefit’. In this vein, he acknowledges the possibility that tongues could be used privately (eg. 1cor14:18,28).

Gaffin then makes two moves which are probably quite familiar to many of us. First, he says that the lists of gifts are ‘selective and representative’. In fact, he pushes it a bit further, saying, ‘Too sharp a line should not be drawn between many of the gifts.’ There are the two categories of ‘word’ and ‘deed’ gifts, but there’s also overlap. Second, in the matter of ‘identifying your gifts’ he calls us to ask not ‘What is my spiritual speciality?’, but ‘What, in the situation in which God has placed me, are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word an deed?’

 

A reflection: I find this general, ‘overlapping’ approach, while realistic, hard to square with his recommendation of examining each gift. Such an examination seems to require quite a clean cut, test tube definition of a given gift. This is exactly what he’ll go on to provide. In practice though, how do these two approaches fit together? With tongue in cheek, I wonder how the Spirit feels about being cross examined on why he’s blowing where he is. But then Gaffin goes and says something awesome like this;

 

‘Probably the most important and certainly the most difficult lesson for us to learn is that ultimately spiritual gifts are not our presumed strengths and abilities, not something that we “have” (or even have been given), but what God does through us in spite of ourselves and our weakness.’

Tomorrow, more detail on prophecy and tongues.

This review is by regular contributor Dan.

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At The Grit we dig the big G. ‘Resurrection and Redemption’ is a great read, as is his more basic ‘By Faith not by Sight’ (which ties in much of R and R as well). So we had to read this one too. One other attractive point, nothing over $12.50.

Gaffin starts broad with a general discussion of the Spirit before narrowing down to the specifics of spiritual gifts, most specifically tongues and prophecy, for which he argues for a cessationist position. There’s plenty of extraneous stuff along the way, much of which is worthwhile. However I won’t mention much of that, nor his regular pauses to respectfully disagree with Pentecostal and Second Blessing theology.

So, starting general…

  1. The Gift of the Spirit.

For Gaffin, the day of Pentecost is hugely significant. ‘It is fair to say that everything said in the New Testament about the Spirit’s work looks forward or traces back to Pentecost.’ [News to me.]

Pentecost and Christ

He argues that the whole work of Christ could be seen as the securing and communicating of the gift of the Holy Spirit (with special emphasis on the fact that Jesus baptises with the Spirit). This is argued both from the direction of New Testament promise and fulfillment.

Promise: John states that Jesus’ work is to bring a spirit and fire baptism. ‘[This] baptism as a whole involves nothing less than the eschatological judgement with its dual outcome of salvation or destruction.’ This sets the scene for Jesus’ work. ‘For the Spirit-fire baptism […] to be one of blessing rather than destruction for the messianic people, the Messiah himself must first become identified with them as their representative sin bearer […] and be endowed with the Spirit, in order to bear away the wrath and condemnation of God their sins deserve. If that are to receive the Spirit as a gift and blessing, then he must receive the Spirit for the task of removing the curse on them.’ Gaffin is at his best here, seeing Pentecost in light of the bigger story of the Bible.

Fulfillment: As in Peter’s Pentecost address, the Spirit is the ‘promise of the Father’, ‘and so the essence of the entire fulfillment awaited under the Old Covenant.’ A ‘most basic, controlling principle’ for Gaffin is ‘the absolute coalescence, the total congruence in the church between the work of the exalted Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.’ The exalted Christ is the life giving Spirit. (1 Cor15). Their work is to bring Christ’s risen life to the church.

Pentecost and the Church

Basically, Pentecost establishes the church as the New Covenant people of God, the body of Christ.

Pentecost and the Individual Believer

The big point here, which contributes significantly to the greater argument, is that Pentecost is an unrepeatable moment in the History of Salvation, rather than a moment in each believer’s Ordo Salutis. We aren’t to see Pentecost as a ‘conversion’ moment. Eg. Peter didn’t start believing then. They had already worshipped Jesus, being continually in the temple (Luke 24). However, each believer is baptized en the Spirit ‘at the point of incorporation into the church, His [Christ’s] Spirit-baptised body.’ Again, Gaffin’s strength in taking in the whole story of the Bible is seen in his discussion of the pneumatological difference between the two covenants. He insists that the distinction isn’t between ‘theocratic endowment’ and ‘personal indwelling’ of the Spirit, but rather is found in the work of Christ. Gaffin’s summary is worth quoting at length. ‘This union, as union with the exalted Christ, is the immediate ground and source of all the other blessings of salvation, yet it was not enjoyed prior to Christ’s death and resurrection. Old Testament believers were regenerated, justified, and sanctified on the basis of Christ’s (future) work, but the mode of covenant fellowship in which they experienced these blessings was provisional and lacked the finality and permanence of union with (the glorified) Christ.’ The New Covenant in the Spirit makes us adopted children with new hearts, rather than slaves/minors.

Tomorrow, getting onto the gifts of the Spirit.