Category Archives: Ecclesiology

PODCAST: Bridging the Gap w/ special guest David Lapp

I was pleased to have David Lapp as my guest to discuss the growing divide between groups of people along political and religious lines. David, through his work with Better Angels (, has been working to heal, in particular, the political divides which were so apparent in the recent U.S. presidential election by focusing on what unites us as Americans. He’s also a convert to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism and we spent a great deal of time discussing how Catholics and Protestants can find unity even as we divide over issues of authority and doctrine.

Some of his writing can be found at the Institute for Family Studies’ website–

Podcast link:

“The Itis” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

PODCAST: Finding Jesus in the Jewish Feasts

Discussion of the biblical feasts, (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles) their spiritual lessons, and how they point forward to Christ.


“The Itis” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0


The New Testament’s Relationship to the Old Testament (with discussion of typology, the relationship between law and grace, and theonomy)

One of the perennial difficulties in Christian theology is the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. Perhaps the strongest proponent for discontinuity between the Testaments, Marcion the second century Gnostic, famously rejected the Old Testament revelation as canon and removed Old Testament references from the New Testament writings to create a fiercely anti-Hebrew canon. This would have been difficult work indeed, since G.K. Beale, referencing a personal study by Roger Nicole, noted, “295 separate quotations of the OT in the NT (including quotations with and without formulas). These make up about 4.5 percent of the entire NT, about 352 verses. Thus 1 out of 22.5 verses in the NT incorporates a quotation.”1 It is no surprise then that C.H. Dodd claimed that the Old Testament formed the essential substructure of the New.2 If the New Testament authors were so eager to quote the Old Testament, this raises the question of how they viewed it and used it in their writings. Did they seek to argue that the revelation of Jesus Christ was in major continuity or discontinuity with the Old Testament? Were their citations of the Old Testament to support New Testament ideas exegetically warranted, or were their concepts being read into writings which were fundamentally against the message they were seeking to disseminate? In this essay, I hope to show that the key to understanding how these two bodies of writing relate can be discerned by how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament.

To begin with, there are numerous Old Testament passages referenced in the New Testament as direct prophecies of Christ. For instance, Acts 8:32-33 quotes Isaiah 53:7-8 and claims that Isaiah’s suffering servant prophecy was really of Jesus. More interesting for our purposes are those passages which seem to claim that Christ is recapitulating Old Testament figures. Paul, for instance, claims that Jesus fully reversed the curse that Adam brought upon humanity (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). Jesus is also, at numerous times and by numerous authors, compared to David and related to Old Testament texts about David with the indication that he has fulfilled the Davidic covenant (Mark 11:10, Luke 1:32, John 7:42, Acts 2:30-36, Acts 13:45, Acts 15:16, Romans 1:1-4, Revelation 3:7). These examples show that the apostolic writings didn’t always simply exegete what the Old Testament said, but that they saw the Hebrew scriptures as prefiguring Christ even when Christ wouldn’t necessarily have been seen as having been in view by the pre-Christ reader.

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of this hermeneutic is Matthew 2:15. Matthew claims that Hosea 11:1, wherein God reminds Israel that He called them out of Egypt, was fulfilled when Christ was called out of Egypt. Regarding the plain sense of Hosea will by no means lead a reader to see any future fulfillment of Hosea’s passage—it was after all a reference to a past event. However, Jesus, the unique Son of God and the perfect representative of Israel, could be compared by Matthew to Israel to emphasize the typological fulfillment of Israel in its head, the King Messiah. Notes Jonathan Lunde:

“Consequently, ‘what is said of one figure can then be applied to another who fits within the identity of the group or who serves as its representative.’ This assumption allows NT writers to craft arguments that pivot on relationships between Jesus and the nation or its corporate representatives. It also reverberates under the surface of the titles that are applied to Jesus, such as the Son of God, the Servant, and the Son of Man. Snodgrass notes: [These] were all representative titles that were applied to Israel first. Jesus took on these titles because he had taken Israel’s task. He was representative of Israel and in solidarity with her. God’s purposes for Israel were now taken up in his ministry. If this were true, what had been used to describe Israel could legitimately be used of him.”3

Matthew was not unique in seeing Messiah as the perfect Israelite and as Israel’s representative. Isaiah’s Servant Songs (Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 52:13-53:12) seem to go back and forth between describing Israel and describing their unique Messianic representative who brings peace and healing to the nations where they have failed to do so. These songs culminate in Isaiah 53, where the Servant Messiah is said to be crushed for the iniquities of Israel despite their having gone astray. Clearly God has two “servants” in mind, or else one could not redeem the other:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, NIV).

This New Testament view of recapitulation finds fulfillment not only of persons and nations, but even if holy objects. The temple of God in the Old Covenant was the place in which deity resided, where He dwelt among His people, and where propitiatory sacrifices were offered to atone for the sins of the people of God. And yet John tells us that Jesus, speaking of His own body, said to the Jewish leaders, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19, ESV).

What we see in these typological fulfillments is both continuity and discontinuity. There is continuity in that the entirety of the Old Testament looked forward to its fulfillment in Christ, and yet the fact that there is fulfillment suggests something new and different which was in some senses unlike what had come before. Though Christ’s sacrifice made the temple and the priests obsolete, for instance, He also affirmed their underlying meaning. The acceptance of such a continuity only requires the acceptance of one presupposition: that, as G.K. Beale wrote, “history is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.”4 Therefore, there is no more significant discontinuity in the temple sacrifices pointing forward to Christ then there was in God’s giving animal skins to Adam to point forward to the temple sacrifices.

Focusing on recapitulation provides us with a broad overview of the Old and New Testament continuity/discontinuity, but how does it look when dealing with specific biblical issues? At this point, we will turn to two such difficulties in particular.

One particularly thorny problem for resolving continuity/discontinuity between the Testaments is the relationship between law and grace. Since the Old Testament is founded on the revelation of God’s Torah to the wandering Israelites, and since the apostle Paul seems to denigrate the law as being counter to grace, a surface reading of scripture might cause one to presume a large degree of discontinuity on this issue.

Paul tells the Galatian church, of which many members had been keeping strict observance of the Torah, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13, ESV) and “for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, ESV). But is Paul saying that Christians should reject the idea of moral duties and ignore the Old Testament witness of God’s holiness as an example for us? May it never be! Paul himself quite explicitly explains the issue he was addressing: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4, ESV). The problem was not that these Christians revered the Torah—it was that they thought strict observance of it could save them.

Moreover, Paul did not think of the Old Testament saints as having been saved by law in contrast to the church which is saved by grace. Paul speaks of two Old Testament figures in particular and concludes, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness…’ just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin'” (Romans 4:3-8, ESV). Indeed, Paul claims the Old Testament was written “for our instruction” (Romans 15:4, ESV) and that we ought to “uphold the law” (Romans 3:31, ESV).

According to Paul, the Old Testament people of God were not saved by keeping the law, but in fact, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20, ESV). Salvation by grace is not new, but is testified to in the Old Testament writings: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Romans 3:21, ESV).

Finally, Paul makes it quite clear that the Old Testament saints were not justified by their good works, but the blood of Christ covered them:

“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” (Romans 3:23-26, ESV).

There is therefore not fundamental discontinuity between the Testaments on this point. However, this directs us to our second difficulty. If the Torah still has value for Christians, what of its civil laws? Are Christians obligated to establish a neo-Mosaic state (theonomy) with the same legal requirements that God expected from the Israelites?

To begin with, Jesus Himself claimed that there was a distinction between church and state when He was tested by the Pharisees on whether religious Jews should pay taxes to a pagan state. His famous answer: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, ESV).

This distinction was also supported by Paul, who told Christians, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19, ESV), but said of the pagan state, “let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV). It is of note that Paul was speaking of a pagan state which would shortly be in the business of oppressing Christians. Paul was not claiming that the government always acts in accordance with God’s moral values, but that God is sovereign enough to ensure that His will be done even by pagan dictators. This is the same point made by Old Testament prophets such as Habakkuk and Jeremiah who spoke of pagan Babylon’s coming subjugation of Judah.

But what makes this church/state distinction characteristic of the New Covenant when it wasn’t characteristic of the Israelite state? One might make an analogy to Jeremiah’s contrast (in Jeremiah 31:31-34) of the Old Covenant laws written on stone (emphasizing that covenant’s physicality and spatiality) to the New Covenant laws written on the hearts of God’s elect (emphasizing this covenant’s spiritual nature). Jesus, when asked by Pilate why His followers wouldn’t fight to release Him since He is a king, responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36, ESV). This is not to say that there is no future kingdom of God which is political in nature, only that it is not now that kind of kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 15:24).

However, even with these important distinctions which argue for discontinuity between the Testaments, one might argue that these is in fact more continuity on the issue of civil laws than not. For one thing, even the civil laws of the Torah are supported by eternal moral values, and both are written for our edification. The penalties might change (as God Himself made exceptions for the death penalty in the cases of David, Moses, Paul, etc., suggesting the mutability of the civil laws’ legal requirements), but the values supporting these laws remains. More than that, however, the Old Testament itself suggests that the elect are held to a higher standard than the non-elect. For example, in Amos we find God judging the pagan nations based on broad moral categories that are accessible to all men while He judges Judah specifically for its covenant unfaithfulness. Dennis Kinlaw concludes of Amos’ words of judgment, “we might say that Yahweh judges the other nations by natural law.”5 If God requires something different from the elect than the non-elect, and since the elect in the New Covenant are an ecclesial and not a political grouping it would not be appropriate to establish a theonomic state. In other words, while God’s moral law (which is expressed in Israel’s civil laws) is eternal and therefore retains continuity with the New Testament, Jesus’ coming changes the way these laws are to be expressed by God’s covenant people.

Recall how C.H. Dodd characterized the Old Testament—as the substructure of the New. The earliest Christians had no New Testament, so the Old Testament was their Bible. That this valuation of the Old Testament remains for Christians today is established by the fact that the apostolic writings utilized the Old Testament as the fertile ground of New Testament revelation. The key to the Old Testament’s use is to read it as the apostles did—christocentrically. Which is to say as the revelation of God and the ground for all of God’s promises which are fulfilled in Christ.

1Beale, G.K. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Kindle Edition.

2Note the subtitle of C.H. Dodd’s According to the Scriptures: The Substructure of New Testament Theology.

3Berding and Lunde editors, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Kindle Edition.

4Beale, G.K. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Kindle Edition.

5John N. Oswalt and Dennis F. Kinlaw, Lectures in Old Testament Theology, Kindle Edition.

Coercion in Faith – Infant Baptism, Theocracy, and Divine Determinism

From the time that Christianity became the official state religion of Rome (under Theodosius I in 391) until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the church was almost universally united in its acceptance that coercion must be connected with faith. One group in particular resisted this trend– the Anabaptists. Their view of freedom in faith separated them from the majority of Protestants (the Magisterial Reformation) as well as Roman Catholics and caused them to be viewed with suspicion by both groups.

An event took place in January 21, 1525 that we would think of as commonplace today, but it was perhaps the most revolutionary event during the Protestant Reformation. This was when two followers of the Magisterial Reformer Ulrich Zwingli chose to baptize one another. Roger Olson explains:
While that may not seem a particularly courageous thing to do now, at the time it was. Refusing infants baptism and rebaptizing persons was illegal because it was considered both heretical and seditious. These Brethren, as they called themselves, had all experienced life-changing conversions and after careful study of the New Testament had come to believe that infant baptism is not true baptism because it precedes repentance and faith. Zwingli had refused their efforts to abolish it and the Zurich city council had threatened them with punishment if they acted on their beliefs” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle Edition).

If baptism seemingly came after repentance in the New Testament, why were the actions of these Anabaptists (a compound word meaning “to baptize again”) considered so dangerous to the church and to the state? Put simply, this doctrine undermined the broader church’s insistence upon coercion in faith.

Divine Coercion

In Roman Catholic thinking, infant baptism achieved two important goals:
1. It removed the stain of original sin, thus saving, without their will or even awareness, the souls of the infants who were baptized.
2. It made the church into the cement which held society together.

Both of these goals imply that a true conversion of the person is not the central concern when administering the sacrament of baptism. Indeed, the individual was believed to be saved by the actions of others (God and the Church) on his behalf apart from his own will or actions. Later, when this individual was capable of making a choice to reject or affirm the grace given at baptism, it was the coercive force of society, backed by its laws and threat of punishment, that was expected to keep him focused upon following Christ.

In defense of the Roman Catholic position here, it at the very least allowed that the individual could, after the age of accountability, make a grace-enabled choice to continue with Christ, or else to fall away. However, the major view of the Magisterial Reformers was that God not only enabled sinners to come to Him, but that this enabling coerced the sinner into salvation and was withheld from those whom God determined not to save. The Magisterial Reformers, in contrast to the so-called Radical Reformers (the Anabaptists) such as Balthasar Hubmaier, still maintained the need for infant baptism:
“Hubmaier likened infant baptism to an inn hanging out a sign announcing its fine wine before the growing season. It is presumptuous. Of course, Luther and Zwingli both defended infant baptism on the ground that faith is a gift of God and not a contingent, free decision. Their monergistic views of salvation form at least part of their foundations for the practice” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle Edition).

An important concession to make here is that since these Reformers believed that only those whom God chose would be saved, not everyone baptized would necessarily be saved, since not all who were baptized were necessarily God’s elect. However, the Magisterial Reformer Martin Luther and his followers, oddly, taught that infants could respond in faith to God’s effectual calling, so that their faith at the time of baptism saved them (see here). John Calvin, in his Institutes, also argued against the Anabaptist position, claiming that withholding baptism for infants was unchristian:
“Paul comprehends the whole Church when he says that it was cleansed by the washing of water. In like manner, from his expression in another place, that by baptism we are ingrafted into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 7:13), we infer, that infants, whom he enumerates among his members, are to be baptised, in order that they may not be dissevered from his body” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4, 16, 22).

For both Roman Catholics and the Magisterial Reformers, teaching against infant baptism was dangerous as it was believed to undermine God’s sovereignty and (for the Roman Catholics especially) called into question the state of the unbaptized infant. In stark contrast, the Anabaptists taught that baptism followed repentance and thus they baptized converted adults at the risk of their own lives.

State Coercion

This last point leads us into the second type of coercion that the Roman Catholic Church and Magisterial Reformers supported– that of the state.

The position of the Anabaptists was well explicated by Balthasar Hubmaier:
“Hubmaier wrote that ‘the inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, because counter to the teaching and example of Jesus they condemn heretics to fire. . . . For Christ did not come to slaughter, kill, burn, but so that those who live should live yet more abundantly.’ He urged especially religious authorities to use only the weapon of God’s Word against those they perceive as heretics and to hope and pray for their repentance rather than kill them” (Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, Kindle Edition).

Those who sought to connect church and state (the Roman Catholics and Magisterial Reformers) held a very different view. The great Catholic thinker Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica gave perhaps the most eloquent defense for violence against heretics that could be rationalized:
“I reply that, with regard to heretics, two considerations are to be kept in mind: (1) on their side, (2) on the side of the Church. (1) There is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be shut off from the world by death. For it is a much more serious matter to corrupt faith, through which comes the soul’s life, than to forge money, through which temporal life is supported… If he be found still stubborn, the Church gives up hope of his conversion and takes thought for the safety of others, by separating him from the Church by sentence of excommunication; and, further, leaves him to the secular court, to be exterminated from the world by death” (quoted from Bettenson & Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, p.141)

Likewise, the Protestant reformer Zwingli consented to the capital punishment of those he viewed as heretics (despite the fact that he was afforded the luxury to speak against the Roman Catholic Church), as did John Calvin (most famously in the execution of Michael Servetus). Though Luther acknowledged that a heretic should not be molested for holding his views in secret, he believed that the heretic who shared his views deserved the punishment of the magistrate. Though he felt that using the sword against heretics was cruel, he felt that “it is crueler that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the true and in this way seek to subvert the civil order” (quoted from Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 376).

Even apart from the question of whether heretics should receive the death penalty, the status quo view of the church at the time was that the state’s job was to uphold the church and use the force that the church could not, though was necessary to ensure a Christian state. In Reformation circles, this has often been referred to as theonomy. The Anabaptists stood out from their culture and saw such an arrangement as leading to an insincere, merely cultural Christianity that Jesus would spit out of His mouth.

Freedom in Christ

In this article, I have set up a contrast between freedom and coercion. Though they were imperfect, the Orthodox Anabaptist Christians give a fair representation of what free Christianity looks like, and they managed to apply this concern for free individual conversion across the board:
1. Though grace is necessary for repentance and conversion, God does not force anyone to convert. He gives the individual the freedom to accept or reject Him, which comes from a grace-enabled will.
2.  As a result, baptism, a sacrament that represents being reborn into Christ, should only be given after the individual actually is reborn into Christ, which happens during conversion.
3. Since true faith can only come from someone who freely chooses to trust in God, there can be no coercion in faith on the part of the state. This also requires a relationship between church and state that is not so entangled as to compromise freedom of faith or freedom of expression (let alone preaching). Heresy must be silenced by a thoughtful expression of  true Christian faith and good conduct, not by threats of violence.

As one can see, this arrangement is consistent. Underlying all of these concerns is the belief that God wants true converts who choose Him freely. To remove these values is to posit a faith which is based on coercion and is thus no true faith. To  hold to some of these values but not others is to hold to inconsistency. The Christian who believes that God desires true repentance while demanding that the state use force to make society look ostensibly Christian, for instance, is holding to incoherence.

“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:15-17, ESV).

An Interview with Jehovah’s Witnesses (MP3)

Last year, I had the opportunity of interviewing an older Jehovah’s Witness couple regarding some of the central JW teachings. They were both quite knowledgeable and the husband had even worked for the headquarters in Brooklyn at one time. They were also very friendly, as is evidenced by their willingness to dialogue with me.

I included the recordings below in hopes that they might be instructive for those who are curious about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and the arguments they are likely to use in dialogue with Christians. I, for one, found it to be a fascinating conversation that reiterated to me why the teachings of Christianity, in contrast to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, are so important and precious. Click the links to view in your browser, or right-click to save them to your drive.

Interview Part 1

Interview Part 2

World Vision, Same Sex Marriages, and Christian Hypocrisy

Recently, the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision changed their policy of not hiring individuals in same sex marriages ( The change in policy does not necessarily reflect agreement with same sex marriage by the organization, but “World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently ‘tearing churches apart’ over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor” (Christianity Today). In other words, they are a broadly Christian organization but not a denomination or a local church. As a result, they have decided to keep employment open to anyone who fits into the camp of broadly Christian, or what others might call “mere Christianity,” as opposed to having strict requirements similar to what a denomination might require for membership.

The issue of whether or not there can be “gay Christians” has been of major discussion in Christian circles. Some churches have written statements of faith essentially denying this possibility while others have affirmed it. While World Vision is not a local church or a denomination, they are a symbol of the disagreement among churches and denominations on this issue. Because they don’t want to get involved in denominational disagreements, and this issue now represents an area of denominational disagreements, they have decided to seek to be neutral.

The response from conservative Christians to this news has been predictably negative. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (and I’m not trying to pick on Mohler especially. His response is more moderate than many others have been), wrote:
“World Vision claims not to have compromised the authority of Scripture, even as its U.S. president basically throws the Bible into a pit of confusion by suggesting that the Bible is not sufficiently clear on the question of the morality of same-sex sexuality. Stearns insists that he is not compromising biblical authority even as he undermines confidence that the church can understand and trust what the Bible reveals about same-sex sexuality” (

When I consider what the response of Christians who view same sex sexual activity as a sin, even when monogamous and committed between professing Christians, should be, I am reminded of an ethical issue that once carried this same weight in the early church but no longer does. I’m referring to the question of Christians in the military.

While some scholars of the early church and patristics have sought to simplify this issue, claiming that the only point of contention was whether Christians could join a pagan army that required religious service to the Roman emperor, the early texts tell us a different story.

The story these texts tell us is of a church which once seems to have universally commanded that Christians, following Jesus’ example (Matthew 5:38-48, Matthew 26:52, John 18:36, 1 Peter 2:19-25, etc.), not take up military service if it entailed taking life.

The early church father Irenaeus in 180 A.D. wrote of those who converted to Christianity:
“But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these [nations] did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, [that is], into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek, then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them” (Irenaeus, Book IV, Chapter 34).

Lactantius (250-325 A.D.) likewise wrote:
“It is not therefore befitting that those who strive to keep to the path of justice should be companions and sharers in this public homicide. For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge [often interpreted to mean an official ordering a criminal be put to death], because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal” (Divine Institutes, Book VI, Chapter 20).

A church order dating to the 3rd-4th century and believed by some scholars to be attributed to Hippolytus of Rome makes its position about Christians being soldiers clear:
“A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected [from the church]. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God” (Apostolic Tradition 16:9-11,

Kreider in “Military Service in the Church Orders” (p. 429) also noted a variant of the Apostolic Constitution known as the Alexandrine Sinodos wherein a soldier was prohibited from becoming a Christian unless he “leaves his robbery and violence… otherwise, he shall be rejected” (read in Sprinkle, Fight).

Examples could be multiplied, but the message is clear — Christians cannot kill.

If you were talking to an early Christian, or even to one of the many Christian pacifists today who hold their position, what would you say to them about how they should treat soldiers who claim to be Christians? Would you ask that they seek to be understanding and assume the best of them, or would you say that they shouldn’t budge in condemning them as pagan compromisers loudly and often?

While I find the biblical evidence to be decisive and clear in favor of Christian pacifism, and believe that the popular position of “just war” theory is an act of compromise that came about when Christians were finally allowed to hold political power, I wouldn’t assume that someone who is a soldier is a false Christian– only a mistaken one. I wouldn’t abuse him with my words, call him a sinner or murderer, etc., even if technically this is what his occupation would make him. The reason for this is that I have seen areas in my life where I have been weak, incorrect, or inconsistent, and I trust that I was still in Christ. I might seek to persuade a Christian soldier to leave his occupation, but I would not politicize his sin and shut out compassion for him. I wouldn’t claim that he can’t possibly be a Christian, anymore than I would claim that the over-eater or overly material-minded person (and compared to many others in the world this description fits the vast majority of the West) couldn’t possibly be a Christian.

Has Christianity in the West “compromised the authority of Scripture,” throwing the Bible into a “ball of confusion” to use Mohler’s words, when it comes to the issue of militarism and Christians in the military? Because I believe that Scripture and early tradition are both clear on this point, I could say yes. However, I am a bit more charitable on this point. Instead of calling the contemporary church post-modernists who have compromised the authority of Scripture, I will simply assume that it doesn’t know better. But if I can accept a Christian who chooses to kill for a living while justifying it as godly, why would I throw so many Christians under the bus for seeking to live out a sexuality they didn’t choose for themselves in the context of a committed romantic relationship in which they are trying their best to reflect Christ? And if the church remained the church through its endorsement of war, racism, and Jim Crow, why is its identity now in jeopardy, as some conservative Christians claim (I am not seeking to make a comment on the propriety or impropriety of homosexual relationships, but merely asking why we use such double standards)?

It is good to dialogue with others and seek to change their minds for the better. Seeking to change minds isn’t the problem. We as Christians ought to be doing this. The problem is how we characterize and treat those whom we disagree with, as well as those outside of our group.

The Lord’s Supper, Passover, and Redemption

The topic of the Lord’s supper has been a controversial one. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even some protestants have understood celebrations of the Lord’s Supper to be, in some sense, a sacrament wherein the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ. Other protestants have argued that there is no basis for this reading in the New Testament. While the difference between these two views is significant, the more heated, and important, debate is focused on the view that the elements become the body and blood of Christ in order to be a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins of those who take part. In contrast, protestants (including many who do in fact believe that in some sense the wine and bread becomes Christ’s blood and body in the supper) believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is a once-for-all sacrifice that completely saves His people, forgiving them of their sins, when they turn to Him. To begin, we should look at what the Lord’s Supper was in its original historical context.

The Lord’s Supper as a Passover

To understand what the Lord’s Supper is, it helps to go back to its origin. So often, we as Christians divorce our beliefs from their Jewish context, assuming that Jesus brought something completely new and distinct from His Jewish background. While He did most certainly innovate, we shouldn’t over-emphasize this truth. There is far more continuity than discontinuity with what God had revealed to Israel before.

John Zizioulas, the Eastern Orthodox metropolitan of Pergamon, focuses on the discontinuity to emphasize the Lord’s Supper as something completely new. He sets the groundwork for this by contrasting the Jewish and the Greek views of truth:
“It is usually felt that the principal characteristic of Hebrew thinking as opposed to that of the Greeks resides in the Jews’ interest in history. The ‘signs’ which the Jews seek, says St Paul, are precisely the manifestations of God’s presence and his activity in history… The Greek mind, for its part, seeks truth in a way which transcends history” (Zizioulas, Being As Communion, p. 68, 1985, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York).

Zizioulas then argues that Christ as truth corresponds to and even transcends both views. He does so through the eucharist. For Zizioulas, the eucharist exemplifies Christ as historical as well as ontological truth. The eucharist points to God’s saving work in history, while connecting believers through all ages and places to this salvation event.

However, the concept of a historical salvation event that transcends time was not new with the incarnation, but simply poured out in its fullness. When a Jew kept the Passover, he was told that the Passover seder in some sense brought the participant back to the first Passover, so that God’s saving action in history could be demonstrated to have been for all of Israel.

This concept is still found in contemporary Haggadahs (guidebooks to keeping the Passover seder):
“In every generation it is one’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had gone out from Egypt… It was not only our fathers whom the Holy One redeemed from slavery; we, too, were redeemed with them” (p. 45, The Family Haggadah, Rabbi Nosson Scherman trans., Mesorah Publications ltd., 2006).

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but HASHEM our God took us from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (p. 27).

This is what communion is for the church– a celebration in the present that links all Christians throughout time, connecting us back to the sacrifice of Christ in history which reflects God’s purpose in salvation from all eternity.

This similarity is not simply coincidental, because the Lord’s Supper was in fact a Passover meal which took the Passover symbols and imbued them with additional meaning which had not been understood before. Jesus was our Passover lamb, and His sacrifice in history connects all of those whom He died for, constituting the church. Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of this truth, just as Passover reminded the Jews of the same (though not fully explicated) truth– that God saves His people through the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church would acknowledge much of what is stated above, but includes additional information which more fully reflects the Roman Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper. To begin with, it deals with the Catholic Church’s teaching that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood through the work of a priest:
“As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out” (CCC, 1364).

It then goes on to explain how this aforementioned redemption is carried out through our observance of the Lord’s Supper:
“[Christ left his church the visible sacrifice of the eucharist] by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit” (CCC, 1366).

In other words, the eucharist is offered continuously, until the end of the world, for the purpose of providing forgiveness for the sins we commit that Christ’s bloody sacrifice did not cover, and indeed cannot cover, unless we continue to take communion. Forgiveness is not accomplished by faith in Christ, but faith plus receiving communion– and even that must be done regularly to be efficacious and cover the sins we continue to commit. This bit-by-bit salvation may not even be accomplished at death, as 1371 of the CCC clearly teaches (“The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who ‘have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,’ so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ”).

But if the eucharist takes its cue from the Passover, and the Passover celebration does not require that the unleavened bread change substance to become the bread from the first Passover in order for Jews to be associated with God’s saving work in Egypt, why should the communion elements become the literal body and blood of Christ? Of course, many protestants have argued that Christ is in some way contained in the wine and bread of communion, or is in some way more strongly present in the sacrament (in a similar way that Jesus claims His presence is more strongly there when two or more Christians are gathered). However, Roman Catholics have insisted upon the transubstantiation of the elements into the body and blood of Christ as a means of handing out bits of grace at a time, which strongly undermines the finished, once-for-all, work of Christ on the cross.

Offered Once to Bear the Sins for Many

While the Catholic Catechism pays lip service to the concept in Hebrews that Christ died “once for all,” it shoe horns in the concept of the eucharist as “re-presenting” the sacrifice of Christ so that new sins can be forgiven every time one goes to mass. The result is that one does not have total peace with God, and if someone dies with un-atoned-for sin on their account, they will have to have it expiated in purgatory. The distinction that the Catholic Church attempts to make is that while Christ’s sacrifice was made once for all (He is not continually crucified), it must be applied over and over again, never completely forgiving the one who draws near until Christ comes in judgment and purges sin from His people. While this is a clever way of trying to get around the concepts that the author of Hebrews uses to describe the atonement, one has to wonder why he would have used such strong language about “once for all” and the like if in the back of his mind he knew that sins had to be regularly atoned through taking the Lord’s Supper in mass or else paid for in purgatory.

Note the contrast that the author of Hebrews makes between Christ’s once-for-all atonement, and what the temple priests did every day–

Hebrews 7:27 NET
“He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all.”

Jesus does not need to offer a sacrifice every day, but the sacrifice was completed once for all. This verse focuses explicitly on Jesus not having to offer a sacrifice again and again because once was enough, but this is later followed to its logical end- that the one sacrifice need only be applied to the sinner once for all – as the author’s argument builds.

Hebrews 9:24-28 NET
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation.”

There are two important contrasts in the previous passage. The first is between the sacrifices of the temple which never made full atonement and the sacrifice of Christ which “put away” sin once for all. The second contrast is between Christ’s two comings. In the first he bore the sins of many, and as a result of this first coming, those who wait for His appearance do not wait for Him to bear sins again but to bring His kingdom and to completely destroy death.

Hebrews 10:1-3, 10, 17-18 NET
“For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year.  By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Then he says, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.’ Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

This is what the author of Hebrews has been building up to, and this is his strongest statement against what later proto-catholic theology would devise. The sacrifices of the priest did not “perfect” those who drew near to worship. If they did, they would not need to be offered again and again. Instead, the temple had a continual sacrifice to remind the people that their sin had not been fully dealt with. They must continue to come to the temple in order to receive new grace and forgiveness for new sins committed. This is where the rubber hits the road. The Catholic can claim that Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all, but their view of the Lord’s Supper entails exactly what the author of Hebrews is saying Jesus came to destroy. Jesus is sacrificed once-for-all, and the result of this is that our sins are atoned once-for-all. If there is forgiveness, these is no need to present a new offering.


The Lord’s Supper is important because of what it teaches us about Christ’s atonement for us. It reminds us that God had from the foundation of the world set out to redeem His people from sin and death. To claim that keeping the Lord’s Supper doesn’t offer additional forgiveness of sins is not to undermine the importance of the Lord’s Supper, but to magnify the God who saved us completely. Jesus told us to keep the supper “in remembrance” of him, because, as the author of Hebrews states, since Christ there is no longer “a reminder of sins.” As the author of Hebrews also states in this section, “for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). We are perfected in Christ, even before we are sanctified. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we, being one body existing at different times and places, have been completely redeemed by our God.

Is Scripture Alone Enough?

Scripture Alone

The Protestant Reformation had, as its ultimate authority, scripture alone. Their claim was not that no other authority can provide true or useful information, but that the sole infallible rule of faith must be the word of God. This viewpoint flows from Scripture itself. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3 that:
“evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:13-17 ESV).

To summarize, Paul warns Timothy about those who will claim to be Christians (even Christian teachers) but will in fact be deceived and deceive others. They will claim that their doctrine is true and perhaps claim some kind of authority or tradition to back it up.

At this point, Paul could have told Timothy (the recipient of his letter) to hold fast to the doctrine of the magisterium, to Peter, or to Peter’s successors. He does not. Instead, he calls him to hold fast to the scriptures, which contain all information that one might need to receive salvation from God (implying that anyone who claims that there are doctrines that must be believed to be saved which have no place in the word of God must be rejected as false or even, to use Paul’s word, “evil”). Scripture is sufficient to serve its purpose because scripture is “God-breathed.” Neither Paul nor any other writer claim that any other source is God-breathed but scripture alone.

Tradition and the opinions of men can be helpful and good. However, scripture warns us that it can also be destructive and against God, even when delivered by those who are in religious authority over God’s people. Jesus chastises the teachers of the Jews for this very thing when he tells them, “you leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). Similarly, Peter rejects the authority of the religious leaders of Israel when he tells them, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 ESV). Paul goes even further when he declares that, “even if we [apostles of Jesus Christ] or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Paul admits that even those in the highest religious authority can be wrong, and that if they are their teaching must be vehemently rejected.

It is Paul’s claim that all tradition, all teaching, all authority must be tested by that which is God-breathed– which is the scripture of God. Any system which does not allow its teaching to be tested, altered, or even completely abandoned in light of scripture is a system of deception which is headed by impostors. If anyone wishes to argue that any other source may be just as authoritative as scripture must demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that this source is God-breathed. The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society all fail to live up to this standard, so they must be rejected.

The Magisterium’s Role in Defining Scripture

A Roman Catholic, however, might argue that without the magisterium, there can be no scripture, thus the magisterium must be as authoritative as scripture. This claim is based on the faulty premise that the Roman Catholic Church gave the world the Bible and defined infallibly what it is. There is at least one major problem with this claim however– the Roman Catholic Church did not define the canon of scripture (which books are in the Bible) until the 16th century at the Council of Trent– and they included Old Testament books that neither the Jews nor many Roman Catholics had accepted as scripture beforehand. Are we to believe that there was no scripture until this definition? Or did the church have the Bible before the Council of Trent? If it did, then the claim that one needs the magisterium to infallibly define the canon of scripture is bogus and a smokescreen.

In fact, since it is God who inspired scripture, scripture exists without men making any declaration on the matter. Since it is God who uses His scripture to bring his elect into relationship with Him and sustain their faith, it also seems likely that He would make it evident what books He inspired, which is in fact what happened.Through a process of a few hundred years– and without any declaration from a catholic council– the church did in fact come to a clear consensus in regard to what New Testament books were inspired. Their litmus test for deciding these books demanded that the books be ancient, apostolic in nature (written by an apostle or a companion of an apostle), and that they be universally used throughout the church. This criteria for recognizing what God had inspired makes sense since the gospel and teachings of Jesus were given to the apostles, and the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible could bring His church to see what it was.

As for the Old Testament, according to Romans 3:2 those books were entrusted to the Jews. The Jews accept (and accepted in Jesus’ day) a canon that does not include the so-called deutero-canonical books in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, which suggests that in what can loosely be called Christianity, it is the protestant variety which holds to the correct Old Testament canon, and that the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to have an infallible definition of the canon does not hold up.

The Final Authority for the Early Church

The concept of papal and magisterial authority developed over time, and it is not difficult to find seeds of this concept in the relatively early church. Tradition also was given some weight, though occasionally wrongly (see for example Irenaeus’ bogus claim that Jesus lived to be in his 50s– a tradition he claimed to have received from those who knew John [Against Heresies, 2:22:5]). However, one still sees a strong witness for the doctrine that scripture alone must be the final authority for the Christian.

Often, when tradition is brought up by the church fathers, the context tells us exactly what they meant by that word– the tradition which is contained in scripture. For instance, Athanasius in his letter to Adelphius defines apostolic tradition as such:
“While the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, ‘Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh,’ and in what Paul writes, ‘Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Letter 60, To Adelphius, 6).

Irenaeus also speaks of what was handed down as being contained in the Scriptures:
“We have learned from none others [the apostles] the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…” (Against Heresies, III:1:1).

Early church fathers stated in varying ways that doctrine must be taken from scripture, and that all doctrine must be held to the light of scripture and either accepted or rejected on the basis of that light.

Hippolytus wrote that:
“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source…. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn” (Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 9).

Note that Hippolytus claims that it is from scripture alone and no other source that knowledge of who God is can be gained.

Similarly, Athanasius sounds downright Lutheran in his claims that, “vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things,” (History of Councils, 6) and, “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth” (Against the Heathen, 1:1).

We would be wise to follow the counsel of Basil of Caesarea when he stated that, “hearers who are instructed in the Scriptures should examine what is said by the teachers, receiving what is in conformity with the Scriptures and rejecting what is opposed to them; and that those who persist in teaching such doctrines should be strictly avoided” (The Morals, Rule 72).

In response to this emphasis of scripture as final authority from the early church, many Roman Catholics might argue that all Catholic dogmas come from the apostles and must be witnessed to at least partially in scripture. However, claiming that something must be in scripture is quite different from claiming that it is. Someone who claims that, for instance, the Roman Catholic dogmas of Mary’s immaculate conception and assumption are attested to in scripture, let alone early church tradition, is no longer reasoning objectively and is simply accepting the authority of the magisterium and its bogus claims that its doctrine is apostolic. For the Roman Catholic, there is not in practice the three-fold authority of scripture, tradition, and magisterium which they claim. The debate between protestants and Roman Catholics is one between scripture alone and magisterium alone– in Roman Catholicism the magisterium has the final authority to define what scripture and tradition are/mean, and no one may challenge what Rome declares, regardless of what scripture plainly teaches.

For instance, could the Roman Catholic say with Augustine, without pause, that we ought not, “[dare to] agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God” (On the Unity of the Church, 10)?

For the Christian trying to determine what source is authoritative for his doctrine and practice, tradition and church authority must always be subservient to scripture.

The Inconsistency of Arguments for Eternal Conscious Punishment

I recently listened to a debate between contributor Chris Date and apologist Phil Fernandes ( Date was arguing that the ultimate fate of the wicked was annihilation (God would destroy them) and Fernandes took the traditional view of the eternal conscious torment of the wicked. The debate was incredibly interesting and I recommend that others listen to it.

Click here to listen to/download the debate.

As I listened to this debate, I noticed a number of inconsistencies from Fernandes in defending his view that I wanted to discuss. Now, I am not picking on Fernandes specifically– I have listened to and benefited from much of his recorded material. I am simply discussing his arguments because they are typical of the way most traditionalists argue against annihilationism. If he, or anyone else for that matter, finds my critiques to be uncharitable or inaccurate, please let me know and I will seek to fix that. In any case, here were some of the issues I noticed.

Degrees of punishment

Fernandes claimed that because Scripture tells us that there are degrees of punishment in hell, annihilationism must be false, because all who are judged in this scheme get the exact same punishment– death. This really is no problem for the annihilationist who believes that God will raise the unsaved up to judge them. This annihilationism only states that death is the final punishment of the wicked. The quality of that death, or the events preceding or causing it, can easily admit to degrees of punishment fitting for the sins committed. It is, however, an enormous problem for Fernandes and other traditionalists. Why? Because his main philosophical argument (which is representative of many if not most traditionalists) for eternal conscious torment is that a sin against an infinitely holy God requires an infinite punishment. But does infinity admit of degrees? If the sinner is already bearing the fullest punishment he is capable of bearing for his infinite sin, how can the punishment be increased? It is not the annihilationist that is inconsistent with Scripture on this point, but the traditional view.

Church tradition

Fernandes, a protestant, begins and ends his opening statement against annihilationism by pointing out that the general consensus of the church for centuries has been that God punishes the wicked with eternal conscious torment. He further demonstrates this preference for tradition (apparently over the straight forward interpretation of human language) by pointing out how many Christian theologians have understood eternal death not to be death at all but eternal existence of a poor quality. While he does allow for the possibility of tradition being corrected, he is subtly undercutting his own position as a protestant by emphasizing the role of tradition to the extent that he does. Yes, tradition is important. Yes, we should be sure that we have good reasons before challenging it. However, if protestantism is correct, it is not only possible but likely that tradition has led us astray on numerous issues.

Fernandes beats this drum in other ways. For instance, a key argument that resurfaces again and again is how “weird” or “strange” it would be if annihilationism is correct, because that would mean “cultic” groups like Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses which also accept a form of annihilationism have been correct while the broader church throughout the centuries had been wrong. One could easily imagine a Roman Catholic debater saying the exact same thing to a protestant. “If this doctrine of imputation is true, why is it that only a small group of theological rebels endorsed it when the church over the centuries has taken a different view?” Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument, and any protestant who believes in traditional hell should consider this argument to be a failed one.

Jesus as an alternative to torture

Fernandes also partly bases his defense of eternal conscious torment on how effective it is as a tool for evangelism. He admits that had he not believed in eternal conscious torment, he would probably not be a Christian. Apart from this view being problematic for its potential to convert people who do not love God or desire to know Him, but merely fear torture, it presents myriad other issues. Chris Date, Fernandes’ annihilationist opponent, rightly points out that eternal conscious torment has also made people pull back from the faith in revulsion at what appears to them to be a barbaric doctrine unworthy of a loving God. But regardless of which view is most effective, this mode of thinking betrays a pragmatic view that if something is convenient, this somehow counts as a point for its truth value. This is ironic, because Fernandes in this same debate accuses annihilationists of trading in the truth of God for a gospel that is more suited to today’s cultural climate. Fernandes here argues out of both sides of his mouth, and he is once again following the line of most traditionalists in doing so.