Monthly Archives: August 2013

Authority: Submission in the State

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

The civil magistrate, or State, has no trouble making people submit.  Christians are sometimes surprised to learn that the Bible instructs them to submit to the State.  The following verses prove the point:

Romans 13:1 says,  “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities…”

Romans 13:5 says, “Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes,…”

Titus 3:1 says, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,…

I Peter 2: 13 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

The fact that Christians are ordered to submit themselves to the State could not be any more clear.  It is, of course, always assumed that no Christian has to submit to and obey the State when the State specifically orders a believer to do something that is contrary to the Word of God.  For example, we all agree that if the State ordered a pregnant woman to abort her baby, she would be right in refusing to submit to that order.  When the Christians in the post-apostolic Church were ordered to cease preaching the Gospel, they rightly ignored that order.

On the other hand, insofar as the State does not order an individual believer to violate the principles of God’s Word, he is to submit to and obey the State.  This is true even when the members of the State are very immoral men and women and the dictates of the State are also immoral.  Rome was an amazingly immoral society and the Roman State was filled with immoral practices, but Paul still enjoined the believers in Rome to be in subjection to the governing authorities.

To which expression of the State should the Christian submit?  To whichever ones he pays taxes.  Paul told the Romans that the taxes that they paid to Rome were their duty in exchange for the civil order that is brought about by a state institution.  Sometimes critics of Christians who believe in liberty charge them with being anarchists.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been sucked into popular movements, that they deem to be Christian and patriotic, that encourage them to cease paying taxes and renounce the civil government.  Nothing could be more contrary to the truth.  Of course much of what the taxes are used to pay for is immoral.  That was true in Rome and it is true now.  But Paul does not order the Romans to cease paying taxes.  Instead, taxes are the means by which the legitimate State authority may be recognized.   An individual knows who he has to submit to in the state arena by simply looking to see who he pays taxes to.  The tax is a statement of authority over someone.  When an individual pays a tax it is an act of submission to the taxing authority.  (Contrary to popular belief, God does have an opinion abut the type and amount of tax the State may extract.  That is the subject of another essay.)

Peter continues this theme when he orders the Jewish believers to submit themselves to every “human institution” that acts as a governing authority.  Just as is the case in the United States, there were numerous taxing institutions in his time.  Sometimes he had to submit to a king, sometimes he had to submit to a governor.  Today, we have to submit to the Federal, State, and local governments to which we find ourselves bound via the payment of taxes.

Nothing of what has been said about submission to the State should ever be taken as an endorsement of the policies of the State.  When the State engages in immoral activities, submission to the State does not constitute endorsement of that immorality.  Christians are ordered to submit to the State under which they live.  They are never ordered to become a part of the State under which they live.  They are certainly never expected to bind their consciences to any state policy that is contrary to the revealed Word of God.

Mr. Thoemke is, Apparently, a Selfless Propagator of new Life

I recently wrote an open response to Mr. Shive regarding the Law. After writing it, I began to think that maybe that one sermon was a poor reflection of the overall teaching at Hillside Community Church in Golden, CO. Maybe if I listened to more sermons, the questions I had raised would be answered. So, I decided to listen to the most recent (as of August 26, 2013) sermon, which can be found here, and see if it would shed any light on the questions I had. This sermon was preached by Mr. Thoemke, who is also a pastor at Hillside. The basis of his sermon is Matthew 7:7–14.

I did not understand much of what he was trying to teach. His exposition of verse 12, though, I found quite interesting. Verse 12 says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (NASB). Mr. Thoemke then defines what it means to treat people the way you want them to treat you, saying, “This is committing to selfless living. It’s serving those in need, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. Bless them. Encourage them. Be involved, and you will be living out God’s mission of the kingdom.” He then goes on to give a detailed example of the service that he and others are doing in the community. It is quite reminiscent of the way Mr. Shive paraded around their service in Nicaragua. That, however, is not what I found most interesting.

The most interesting part is that Mr. Thoemke defines treating people the same way you want them to treat you as going around and performing voluntary services for people in the community. He apparently arranges and participates in all sorts of service projects where they repair people’s homes and hand out food to people. This is interesting for two reasons. It is interesting first because it means that Mr. Thoemke wants the community to repair his home and give him food, all free of charge. If he is doing it to them, then it must necessarily be what he wants them to do to him. It is interesting second because it has nothing to do with what Jesus is talking about in verse 12.

The command to treat others as you would want them to treat you is simply a rephrasing of the last part of Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We know from Matthew 22 that the whole Law and the Prophets stand on this along with the greatest commandment. Is that not exactly what Jesus says here in Matthew 7? Treat others the way you want to be treated, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Clearly, Jesus is referring to the second table of the Ten Commandments when he says to treat others the way you want to be treated. The problem for Mr. Thoemke, though, is that nowhere in any of the Ten Commandments does it tell us to go around performing voluntary services for strangers. Rather, we are told to respect people’s life and property. You don’t want people to kill you, so don’t kill them. You don’t want people to steal from you, so don’t steal from them. You don’t want people to be a false witness against you, so don’t be a false witness against them. Treat people as you want to be treated.

Mr. Thoemke missis all of this as he touts his community service. He even goes so far as to say that people in the community are coming to life because of the voluntary services he provides. He says that “people are suffering in the community, and the simple fact that we want to come in and help them with simple things around their house makes them come alive.” Wow! I thought the gospel was the power of God unto salvation for those who believe. Apparently, the voluntary service of Mr. Thoemke is the power of God unto salvation for those who receive it.

Given the other ridiculous things he says in the sermon, I should not be surprised at his departure from orthodoxy and propagation of social justice what is essentially his own version of Liberation Theology. Here are a few quotes I compiled while listening to the sermon:

“The kingdom is a new set of rules and principles.” Really? I was under the notion that the kingdom of God is the realm in which God exercises his authority over his people.

“It is the relationship with Jesus that pulls us in and helps us figure out how we live the principles of the kingdom.” Really? I was under the notion that God’s objective revelation in the Bible is how we figure out how to live the principles of the kingdom.

I felt like grace in this city “was only going to come by asking God to show us how to break through, asking him for the tangible work of the kingdom to move into action amongst the streets we were looking down upon.” I don’t even know what this means.

“We no longer need the Law and the Prophets to lead us to Christ. Our relationship motivated out of true love and the principles of the kingdom will lead us to some up all those things.” Really? I was under the notion, again, that God’s objective revelation found in both the Old and New Testaments is where everything is summed up.

It is not a total loss, though. At the end of the sermon, Mr. Thoemke addresses those of his listeners who may be confused by what he had been saying. When I heard that, my ears perked up. I was certainly confused by virtually everything he had to say. Fortunately, Mr. Thoemke provides a solution for those of us who might be confused. He says to us, “All the life we are talking about this morning begins in a conversation with Jesus Christ.” Wow! Thanks Mr. Thoemke. Next time I bump into him, I will be sure to strike up a conversation. Until then, I guess I will just have to remain confused.

Let’s Make Room for Prophets in the Church

I have regular conversations with Christians in which they tell me all about what God has been telling them. Most recently, someone told me how God had told him what the outcome of a particular event would be. Sure enough, he turned out to be right. Though, there were only two potential outcomes to this event, so he had a 50/50 chance to begin. Still, he used the accuracy of what he had heard as evidence that God had indeed spoken to him.

When I find myself in these situations, I really don’t know what to do. There is no sense in putting forward the theological argument that the Bible contains everything necessary for all matters of life and godliness and is the only rule that God has given for faith and practice. There is no sense in telling the person that if the Bible is indeed God’s complete and sufficient revelation, then any revelation outside the Bible is at best superfluous and at worst false and misleading. It is useless to say these things in this situation because one cannot argue with another person’s experience. Have you ever tried to say to someone who thinks he saw a UFO that UFOs don’t exist? It’s not going to work. For these people, experience trumps everything; and if they believe they have experienced something, like God talking to them, then it must be true.

The reality is that most evangelical churches are full of these people. How many times have you heard or said yourself, “I just really feel like God is telling me . . . ”? It happens all the time, but there is a question that I don’t hear anyone asking. Is there a place for this in the modern church? Should those who have the ability to hear God’s secret voice be told to shut up or get out, or should they be welcomed into the church and encouraged to exercise their prophetic gift?

I might upset some people with my answer, but I think we should make room for prophets in the church. Personally, I believe that God has said everything he is going to say and that prophecy ceased in the first century. However, as I stated above, I cannot argue with someone else’s experience. Since it is impossible to prove that a person who thinks he had an experience did not actually have that experience, those people who claim to receive special revelation from God should be given a place in the church to exercise their gift.

The prophetic office is a public office, so anyone who believes that he receives revelations from God should be brought before the congregation and presented as someone who claims to be a mouthpiece for God. When this person receives a revelation from God, he should be allowed to share it publicly, and the congregation should take note. In fact, they should take detailed notes and test everything the prophet says that God is saying. The first time this prophet presumes to speak something in God’s name that God has not commanded him to speak, he must be put to death. The way we will know if the prophet has spoken presumptuously is if that which he proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true (see Duet 18:20–22). This will ensure that only true prophets stand up in the church to proclaim God’s secret will.

I know, I know. This would never happen and should never happen. God does not want the church to execute false prophets. When the church and the state were separated into two distinct institutions, only the state retained the authority to execute people. I certainly don’t anticipate that any modern state will execute anyone based upon whether or not what he says about God is true. However, I do expect the church to exercise its authority over and against those who blaspheme the name of God. Some time ago, a man whom I had gotten to know was suddenly struck with a potentially deadly illness. He was certainly not an old man, and we all wanted and expected him to get better. In times like these, prophets often come crawling out of the woodwork. This instance was no exception. Numerous people received word from God that this man would be healed; and it was all quite encouraging up until he died, at which point all the prophets crawled back into the woodwork. This kind of behavior should never be tolerated in the church. Those who speak presumptuously and make false proclamations on God’s behalf make God out to be a liar, which is blasphemy. These false prophets should be brought before the congregation and their folly paraded around for all to see. Then, they should be excommunicated and treated as unbelievers who have no place in God’s household.

If we make room in the church for prophets to practice their gifts within biblical parameters and then treat those prophets with biblical expectations, I guarantee that prophecy will cease in the church overnight. The words, “I feel like God is telling me . . . “ will never again be uttered, and the Bible will be restored to its rightful place as the only rule of faith and practice. So, let’s make room for prophets in the church.

Authority: Submission in the Church

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

The following verses are not nearly so popular, not nearly so often read, and not nearly so often taught, as the passages about submission in the family.  Nevertheless, they are a vital part of the doctrine of authority.

I Corinthians 16:  15-16 says, “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanus, that it was the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.”

Ephesians 5: 23-24 says, “…as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ…”

Hebrews 13: 17 says, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

Lastly, I Peter 5:5 says, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders…”  (This passage is in the context of I Peter 5:1 which says, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God…”  This passage is frequently misunderstood by those who interpret the phrase “be subject to your elders” colloquially and understand it to be simply a general exhortation to honor the elderly.)

It is understandable that these verses of Scripture are frequently ignored.  Pastors and teachers are seen as pedantic and self-serving when they preach and teach a passage that orders others to submit to them.  So as not to offend anyone and so as to not appear to be in any way a tyrant, these verses are relegated to the dustbin of the preacher’s repertoire.

Although it is understandable why these verse are ignored; it is also reprehensible that they are ignored.  It is the duty of the preacher and teacher to declare the entire Word of God, without favoritism to any passage and without any respect of persons.   To allow self interest of any fashion to creep into what is selected to be preached is dead wrong.

The majority of the Evangelical churches in the United States are ordered according to a congregational form of government.  The idea of being in submission to an elder and congregational government does not mix well.  The majority of Evangelical Christians in the United States are indoctrinated to believe in the quasi biblically ordained concept of democratic government in which the leaders (elders) are expected to be servants who submit to the orders of the congregation.  I will come back to this problem a bit later in this essay.  For now, it is sufficient to say that there is a great presuppositional bias lurking in the minds of most Christians that makes it almost impossible for them to understand what is being taught in the four passages listed above.

Paul orders the Corinthians to submit themselves to the representational authority of the ministers.  Paul spells out the chain of authority to the Ephesians when he says that Jesus, to whom all authority has been given, is the Head of the Church, and the Church is subject to Him.  Within this Church he has ordained His representatives.  The writer to the Hebrews makes it very clear that it is the moral duty of the members of the congregation to be under the delegated authority of Jesus seen in the leaders of the local church.  To refuse to submit to that representational authority is unprofitable for the members!  Why?  Because in their refusal to submit to the delegated representative of Jesus, they are, in fact, refusing to submit to Jesus Himself.  That rebellion against the chain of command that God has established has serious negative consequences for the rebel.

The warning that non-submission is unprofitable to those who practice it is entirely consistent with the teaching on representative authority seen in the example of the Centurion.  Refusing to follow the orders of the superior does not injure the superior authority.  The consequences of refusing to submit to the superior authority fall squarely upon the head of the insubordinate one.  Therefore, insubordination primarily harms the spiritual welfare of the rebel, not the designated authority.

Most churches today are fearful of exercising authority.  Indeed, the situation is so horrendous that most churches make the conscious decision to not even instruct the congregation on their duty to submit.  Such is not the case with the third class of verses that speak about the necessity of submitting to representational authority.  Those are the verses that speak of the civil magistrate.

An Open Response to Mr. Shive Regarding the Law

Mr. Shive is a pastor at Hillside Community Church in Golden, CO. He recently preached a sermon, which can be found here, on Matthew 5:17–48. Jesus begins the passage by saying that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill. He then goes on to explain what the Law says about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love. In his sermon, Mr. Shive attempts to define the Law and its intent and then tries to explain the true meaning of the Law in regards to murder and the other issues addressed by Jesus. So many things stand out to me in this sermon. It is not necessary for me to address all of them, but it may be helpful to address some of them. First, though, let me say that I am unable to determine if Mr. Shive is being willfully deceitful or if he is just so deceived himself that he does not realize what he is saying. So, while I do urge you to critically consider what he teaches, I urge you to not judge his character based solely upon what I write here.

As Mr. Shive tries to define the Law and its intent, he informs his listeners that there are numerous things that might be meant by “Law.” He says that sometimes the New Testament writers are referring to the entire Old Testament when they use the term “Law.” Sometimes they are referring to the first five books of the Old Testament. Sometimes they are referring to God’s moral law. Sometimes they are referring to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, and sometimes they are referring to the pharisaical interpretations of the Law. Mr. Shive fails to both tell his listeners how Jesus uses the term “Law” in this passage and how he uses the term “Law” in the rest of his sermon. Still, that does not prevent him from using the term throughout the sermon.

After failing to define what he means by “Law”, Mr. Shive tries to reveal the true meaning of the Law and makes some contradictory statements about how the Law was designed to reveal our sin but that it was not designed to point out what people do wrong. He says that the Law was never meant to point out the wrongs of the people around us as a way to exclude them from Jesus. Instead, the intent of the law was to draw people deeply into what God’s heart was so that Christians would understand God’s love and favor and grace. He says that the Law was designed to be attractive to the people around us rather than excluding them from us. It is true that the Law reveals God’s character and that love and grace are part of God’s character; but how does the Law draw people deeply into what God’s heart was, and what does that even mean? Mr. Shive does not explain. Neither does he explain how the burdensome and bloody ceremonial laws were meant to be attractive or how all the laws regarding cleanliness and purity, which informed the Israelites of who was to be excluded and who was to be included, were not designed to exclude people. It seems to me that the exclusion of particular people is a key aspect of God’s character and ought to be a key aspect of his church (see 2 Corinthians 6:14). It would be nice if Mr. Shive would explain his position a little bit more clearly and precisely.

He then goes on to say that the Law’s aim is towards love, love of God and love of our neighbors, and he rightly concludes that love is the fulfillment of the Law. The follow up question would of course be: what is love? However, Mr. Shive does not even pretend to attempt to define what he means by “love.” So, all he is really saying is that an undefined word is the fulfillment of the Law. In other words, he has said absolutely nothing. I have no further response to nothing.

Mr. Shive continues in the second half of his sermon and addresses the issues raised by Christ. What I find most fascinating is what Mr. Shive says about murder and retaliation. Concerning murder, Jesus says that anyone who commits murder will be liable before the court and also that anyone who is angry with his brother and says to him, “You good-for-nothing,” will be liable before the court. Mr. Shive fails to properly address the doctrine of anger and tell his listeners when anger should be expressed and when it should be suppressed. He instead says, “You can’t say bad things about people, even in your head. And this is a tough one for me. There are some people I don’t get along with well.” He rightly reads that if you bring your offering to the alter and remember that your brother has something against you, you should leave your offering and go to your brother. He then says regarding those who have something against him, “It’s not their responsibility to come to me. It’s my responsibility to go to them and own my wrongs.” Oh really? Do Mr. Shive and the other elders at Hillside really believe this? Was there not an accusation of apostasy made against Mr. Shive and all the elders of Hillside more than a year ago? I wonder if he or any of the other elders have left their offering at the alter and gone to that brother who made the accusation?

What Mr. Shive says about retaliation is equally insincere. He quotes verse 40 in which Jesus says, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” Mr. Shive claims that this should be taken literally at all times and that Christians should give to people whatever they ask. He then touts something that Hillside is doing as a church in Nicaragua as evidence of their love, whatever that is, and deep relationship with God, whatever that is. Apparently, there are some boys in Nicaragua who need a lot of things and who ask for a lot of things from Hillside. The fact that Hillside gives things to these boys is, according to Mr. Shive, evidence that they as a church are being obedient to Jesus’ command. Hmm, let’s test this theory. Mr. Shive, I need $100,000 in cash tomorrow. Will you and or your church please give me $100,000? If you don’t have $100,000, I will be willing to accept whatever you do have.

If they give me a suitcase full of cash, I will be sure to write about it on this weblog and tell everyone that Mr. Shive and Hillside are indeed sincere in their belief that Christians should give freely to those who ask of them. Until then, I can only conclude that Mr. Shive is either insincere or deeply confused in his teaching.

I would like to interact more with what Mr. Shive says about the Law and love; but, as I have said above, I am not actually sure what Mr. Shive says about the Law and love. All I do know is that the sermon was quite confusing and left me wondering if Mr. Shive really believes what he teaches.

If he or any of the other elders from Hillside would like to clarify any of these issues, they are more than welcome. In fact, we invite them to do so right here on this weblog.

Authority: Submission in the Family

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Ephesians 5:22 says:  “Wives, be subject  to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Colossians 3:18 says:  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

I Peter 3:1 says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands…”

Lastly, I Peter 2:18 says, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”

These verses are familiar to all Christians who read the Bible but they are not always recognized as pertaining to a particular class or group.  In the first three examples it is the wife who is ordered to be submissive to the husband.  The fourth seems to be of a different class because it discusses servants or slaves.  The conception that the fourth example is different from the first three is illusory.

I Peter 2:18 is often used as a verse to describe employer/employee relationships.  That is a great confusion with respect to the doctrine of authority.  As you recall, employers and employees enter into voluntary contracts with each other to provide something for each other in exchange for a price.  No coercion is involved.  It is not possible that Peter is telling Christian employees that they must submit to the representative authority (of which they have none) of an employer.  He is certainly not telling Christian employees that they are to do nothing when the employer breaks the terms of the voluntarily entered contract between the two of them.  No, in order to understand the I Peter passage it is important to remember the historical and cultural context in which it was given.

Slavery existed in the New Testament era.  Some Christians owned slaves.  Other Christians were slaves.  In some sense the slave owner was seen as having the representative authority of Jesus, otherwise the slave would never have been ordered to submit to the representative authority of the master.  How could a slave master have Jesus’ representative authority over a slave?  There is only one answer.  Because the slave was a member of the family.

The Old Testament recognized that slaves were members of the tribal family units.  They were accorded some of the privileges that other family members had (participation in circumcision and Passover are two examples).  This did not change in the NT.  Slaves in the NT era were also deemed to be members of the family of the master.  Granted they were inferior members, but they were still members.  As such, they were under the representative authority of the head of the family, the father/husband.

All four verses are referencing the same class of representative authority:  the authority delegated from Jesus to the head of the household.  The Ephesian and Colossian passages specifically mention the fact that submission to the husband/father is de facto submission to the Lord.  Why is this so?  Because the authority of the husband/father is representative authority.  The husband represents Jesus to the family and the family members are ordered to submit to him in the exact same way they would submit to Jesus Himself.

For most Christians the concept of submission, although probably not very popular, is not difficult to understand.  Churches in general do a pretty good job of preaching and teaching this principle to the members.  Very few Evangelicals are unfamiliar with the principle of family submission to the head of household.  That, however, is not the case for the other two classes of representative authority that demand submission to the representative head, who, in turn, also represents Jesus Himself.

The Cure for Salvation Doubt

One of my hobbies is to listen to a particular talk radio program called Stand to Reason. This isn’t your typical talking head show all about politics; the host, Greg Koukl, deals only with questions on the subjects of “ethics, values and religion”. Most of the callers are people who want to be apologists and call in to get help with some specific argument they are having with an unbelieving friend. The other majority of callers are atheists or “skeptics” who call in to prove that everything Greg believes is wrong. However, on a few occasions over the past couple of years I have heard one particular fellow call in to the show to get some help that really shouldn’t come from a talk radio host.

This fellow, I honestly don’t remember his name so let’s call him Bob, was pretty pathetic in a truly non-derogatory sense. He told Greg that he was disabled later in life so he could not work or even leave his mother’s house without assistance. Though he was a Christian, his mother was not and she refused to take him to church. So, over the course of many years in this position – despite the fact that he reads and listens to sermons – Bob had come to doubt his position as a Christian. The first time I heard him call in, his question was a simple one: how do I know I am saved?

Greg did his best to answer his question and, from what I can remember, gave Bob some hope. But over the years I have heard Bob call back with further despair and further doubt. Greg gave Bob all of the correct theological answers to the questions he was raising – what more did he want?

Though the answer had been brought up during every call, Greg was too busy attempting to deal with the theological issues that Bob was raising to realize and emphasize what the real problem was. Finally, after what may have been the third or fourth call from Bob over the course of a couple years, Greg sternly admonished Bob to find someone to take him to church. The real problem was that Bob was separated from the Body of Christ.

The solution for Bob – and for anyone in a similar position – was to become a member of a church. As I listened to Bob, I despaired that he couldn’t get the help and care he really needed because of his position.

While I admit that membership in a church doesn’t solve every problem, and that membership is not a guarantee of salvation in and of itself, it does have its benefits. First of all, in the process of joining a church you develop and establish a pastoral relationship. Second, by regular participation in worship services you receive the means of grace. And third, when elders faithfully exercise church discipline, you have a better chance of truly knowing your position. Allow me to explain each benefit in further detail.

When you are outside the church, you have no shepherd to take care of you. God has ordered the covenantal institution of the Church to provide men to watch over the souls of His sheep. If Bob had been a member of a church, he would have developed a relationship with an elder who could not only answer abstract theological questions, but deal with the personal issues behind them. A sheep without a shepherd can all too easily wander off and into pastures of sin or doubt.

To continue the sheep/shepherd analogy, when you are outside the church, you do not have access to the pastures where you receive spiritual nourishment: the means of grace. There is much more to the Christian life than listening to sermons on an iPod and reading your Bible by yourself. These activities are beneficial, the latter is certainly necessary, but they are insufficient. Hearing the Word faithfully preached, participating in good teaching, and taking communion all give the believer the spiritual nourishment necessary to face the trials and tribulations of life. Or, as the reformers classically put it: they convey grace; grace that, without which, you will become spiritually malnourished.

Lastly, when you are outside of the church by choice, there are no means by which you can be put out of the church as a result of discipline. The faithful exercise of church discipline is a mark of every true church because it is necessary for the body as a whole and for individual believers. Though you may never see it today, discipline is the means by which peace is ensured within the church. In most cases, this would look like correction within the body so that the sheep stay in the right pasture. In some cases, for the purity of the church, sheep must be put out of the flock entirely. If you are outside of the church by your own choice, you have put yourself in that most extreme position. Without discipline, it is nearly impossible to rightly know your position and, when you have de facto excommunicated yourself, it is almost guaranteed that you will doubt and despair over your salvation.

The problem for Bob, like so many others who call themselves Christians today, is that they are outside of the institution that should be taking care of them. While Greg can provide good theological answers, he doesn’t know who he’s dealing with the same way an elder should. And Greg can’t do what is nearly as important as providing the right answers: follow up and make sure that Bob gets better. Even though Greg and other podcasters may make theologically sound arguments or preach sound doctrine, grace is not conveyed through an iPod – it is only conveyed through the church. Without this food, I have no doubt that Bob was spiritually skin and bones and am not surprised he was at the point of despair. Lastly, Bob excommunicated himself by separating himself from the body of Christ. Because of this there were no elders available to examine him and tell him where he really belongs – whether that is inside the church being brought back to spiritual health or outside of the church and knowing for certain that he is not saved. Bob had put himself in a position where doubt is not only probable, it is necessary.

So, if you are that one person that is reading this post and not a member of TRBC, and you happen to be doubting your salvation: flee to the bride of Christ. It is only within the body that you can know and “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” (Heb 13:17) It is only at church that you can be nourished with the bread of life who promised that He has “come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (Jhn 6:38-9) And it is only within the church that you have the opportunity to receive judicial statements from the Lord’s under-shepherds so that you may know where you belong; for only the elders have been told “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matt 18:18)

Authority: Representative or Covenantal Authority

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

All parts of the doctrine of representative authority come from the initial statement of Jesus in Matthew 28:18 where he says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” That one statement, as a part of the Great Commission, summarizes everything that needs to be known about representative authority. The word that Jesus used was ‘exousia’. The Greek word literally means “delegated influence, jurisdiction, or authority”. The key concept here is ‘delegated’.

All representative authority is delegated from the holder of all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus, the Son, had the authority of His Father delegated to Him because of what He accomplished in His redemptive work. Jesus Himself delegates authority to His chosen representatives (hence the term ‘representative’ authority). There is no greater authority than Jesus and all authority which exists, exists because of Him. He has been given all authority and He decides to delegate some of that authority to His representatives on earth.

The nature of authority is dramatically illustrated in Matthew 8: 8-10 where Jesus commends the Centurion:

But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not qualified for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come! and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this! and he does it.”
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel…”

Jesus commends the Centurion for his faith, but his faith was predicated upon his conception of authority. He knew that authority was representative because he knew that whoever he ordered to perform a task would perform that task as his representative. There was no question that it would be done. Conversely, he was under authority himself. His commanding officers knew that he would accurately represent their orders to those under him.

Not only is the representative nature of this authority illustrated by the Centurion; he also illustrates the very important point that representative authority is necessarily coercive. It was inconceivable that he would not obey the orders of his superiors. It was inconceivable that his subordinates would not obey his orders. What made these two events inconceivable? The fact that coercion was legitimately involved. As a man under authority he was expected to put aside his own opinions, his own voluntary wishes, and obey the orders he was given. Likewise, he expected those under his authority to do the same. The whole system of representative authority “works” because of the reality of coercion.

To better grasp the coercive nature of representative authority it is perhaps best to approach it from another angle. Submission is something that is regularly enjoined upon different groups of people in the Bible. Submission is a coercive term. To not submit to legitimate representative authority is to sin against God. To enforce submission to lawful authority, different groups of people are granted various powers of coercion that they may use to enforce submission. Unlike the service/contractual authority we examined earlier, there is no voluntary nature to representative authority. To make this point clear it is necessary to do an extensive examination of the biblical passages that demand submission.

The Relationship of Submission to Representative Authority

There are twelve passages in the New Testament where one class of people is directly ordered to submit to another class of people. These twelve passages are easily broken down into three different categories based upon shared characteristics. First of all however, we need to understand the Greek word for ‘submission’.

‘Hupotasso’ is the Greek word most commonly translated as ‘submission’. It is a compound word made up two parts: ‘Hupo’ and ‘Tasso’. ‘Hupo’ is a preposition that can be translated in various fashions but always contains the idea of “being under”. ‘Tasso’ can mean to “put someone over or in charge of something or someone” or “to order, fix, determine, or appoint”. ‘Hupotasso’ then, in the context of human relationships and interactions, literally means “to be under the appointed authority of another person”. The biblical command to submit is a command to put oneself under the delegated authority of another person who in some way represents Jesus to a particular group of people. The first group, or class, or people are described in the verses that follow.


Scripture is clear that God is gracious and compassionate. We see this stated throughout biblical revelation. All of the various traditions within Christianity can agree that grace and compassion are true reflections of God’s character, but how often do we actually define these things. Compassion, in particular, is a word that many of us use without stopping to consider what it actually means. We often think of God’s compassion as his looking upon a people and being moved to have pity on them because of their condition. Do we think this because it is an accurate, biblical definition or because that is how the world around us has defined it?

I would like to draw your attention to Jonah 4 and the account of the plant that God causes to grow up over Jonah’s head to relieve him of his discomfort. Nineveh has just repented, and Jonah has gone outside the city in his anger to watch the city and has asked God to let him die. In verse 6, God appoints a plant to grow up over Jonah so that it might provide shade for his head and save him from his discomfort, and Jonah is exceedingly happy about the plant. Then, in verse 7, God appoints a worm to attack the plant so that it withers. After the sun comes up and beats down on Jonah’s head in verse 8, he becomes faint and asks that he might die. Then, in verse 10, God says to Jonah, “You had compassion on the plant.”

In this statement, God defines compassion for us. He says that what Jonah did with the plant was compassion. So, what did Jonah do with the plant? Well, nothing. He was merely upset when it withered, but why was he upset? Was he upset because he felt bad for the plant? Was he upset because he had some sort of emotional connection with the plant that made him sad when he saw it withering? No. He was upset because it was not providing him with shade any longer.

What is interesting is that God uses the same word in verse 11 when he says, “And should I not have compassion on Nineveh?” God equates his behavior towards Nineveh with Jonah’s behavior towards the plant. Therefore, God’s compassion on Nineveh is not his feeling bad for the Ninevites. It is not his being moved by some kind of emotional connection he has with the Ninevites that makes him sad when he thinks of destroying them. His compassion is his showing pity simply because he wants to show pity. For whatever reason, relenting from calamity and showing pity to Nineveh better served God’s purposes than destroying them would have.

So yes, God is gracious and compassionate. Compassion is indeed part of God’s perfect moral character. He does relent concerning calamity and show pity to people who do not deserve it. However, compassion is not an emotion that he expresses when he feels bad for people. It is not a behavior he engages in because of an emotional connection he has with the people to whom he shows compassion. God shows compassion for one ultimate reason. That reason is to display an aspect of his perfect moral character. The amazing thing is that we get to benefit from this display. Not only do we get to see his character but we are also very often the recipients of this compassion. For this, I praise God and thank him for who he is.

–J Bolt

Authority: Service or Contractual Authority

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Service authority is most commonly witnessed in the business community. The Bible does not have a great deal to say about economic philosophy. As a result, this class of authority is not frequently found in the Bible. However, the concept is not ignored. Jesus speaks about service authority in Matthew 20: 25-27. Here we find:

But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave…

In this passage Jesus is speaking about the sinful tendency of those in positions of authority to become tyrants. In this case legitimate authority is transformed into illegitimate power. The people legitimately under authority are illegitimately manipulated and coerced by the exercise of the illegitimate power mongers.

In direct contrast to what the disciples often observed in the world, they were to obtain authority by serving others. To rise to positions of great authority it is necessary to “enslave” yourself to others in service. The concept of service authority is a difficult one for most people to grasp. Due to the fact that authority is almost exclusively understood as the application of power over another person, it is hard to conceive of authority being grounded in service to others. As mentioned earlier, the business world serves as the best example of service authority.

Service Authority in Business

Why is Bill Gates the richest person in the world? Popular economic theories argue that Mr. Gates has obtained his wealth by exploiting everyone else in the world. In this view there is a static amount of wealth that exists and all people are in competition for their fair share of it. Whoever is the most powerful, or the most devious, or the most clever, is able to rise to the top and obtain the greatest share of the wealth.

This position is further cemented in the minds of people by politicians who pander to the envy found in the hearts of men. In exchange for your vote, the politician says, I will use the coercive power of the state to extract wealth from the powerful and redistribute it to you, the less powerful. Unfortunately, this view is based upon an utterly fallacious understanding of the way the world operates economically.

The world, in the absence of coercive forces (government being the most common one in the United States, the Russian Mafia being the most common in the former Soviet Union, etc.) operates under the principle of “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant”. Income and wealth flow to the person who serves the needs and wants of the most people. This makes no statement about the moral, or immoral, nature of those wants and needs. The simple fact is that a person becomes wealthy, powerful, and influential by serving others.

Bill Gates is the wealthiest person in the world for one simple reason: he made millions of people very happy by means of the software that he produced. More so than any other human being in the last several decades, Bill Gates produced what people wanted. As a result of his service to others, he is fabulously wealthy. There was no static “pie” of wealth that he managed to garner the greatest percentage of. Quite the opposite, Mr. Gates has greatly enlarged the size of the pie of wealth, or capital, that exists in the world. For this service to mankind in general, and his customers in particular, he has been generously rewarded.

It is an inexorable economic law that service to others results in wealth, and the authority that accompanies it, accumulating to the person doing the serving. Because of his service Mr. Gates is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on software development, software marketing, personal computers, and information networking. Because of his service to others, Mr. Gates is in the position of employing thousands of people. It is here that the nature of service authority as “contract” authority is best seen.

The Nature of Contract Authority

The key concept involved in an understanding of “contract” is the voluntary nature of it. Again, assuming no outside coercive force, a contract is only entered into by the parties involved on a voluntary basis. Nobody is forced to contract with anybody else. Contracts are written with the understanding that, under certain terms, they may be nullified or made void. Each party to the contract is making an exchange; something is being given up in exchange for something more desirable. In an employment contract the laborer is providing labor services (skilled or unskilled) to the employer who generally provides monetary income.

Bill Gates has provided the opportunity for thousands of employment contracts to be written. In the absence of his entrepreneurial skill, thousands of people would be doing something else for a living, probably at a much lower wage. In the presence of his enterprising activities, thousands of people are unified in recognizing the fact that without Bill Gates their lives would not be as materially prosperous as they are. This creates power and authority and grants that power and authority to the person who brought it all about.

Notice, however, that the authority that Bill Gates has is in no way coercive. He can’t make anybody do anything that they do not want to do. If people do not do what he wants them to do (buy his next software version, for instance), there is absolutely nothing that he can do about it. The moment Mr. Gates ceases to give the consuming public what they want he will be cast aside as irrelevant. One of the most amazing things about wealth in the United States is the transitory nature of it. Examine the Forbes Magazine annual list of the wealthiest people in the US. Notice how much the list changes year by year. Decade by decade changes are even more dramatic. People are constantly being added to and subtracted from the list. What is the reason for this mobility? The practice or non-practice of service/contract authority.

This is the nature of service/contract authority. Serve others, get authority. Stop serving others, stop getting authority. Nothing else matters. Coercion is never involved. You rise to the top or sink to the bottom of the authority chain based entirely upon your service rendered to others and nothing else. All Christians should be practicing the words of Jesus and become the servants of others. It is by this means that God provides for income to be generated by the family. It is this understanding of authority that undergirds the classic doctrine of employment or vocation.

The focus of this essay is not upon service/contract authority. It was important to discuss only to distinguish it from representative/covenantal authority. Representative authority is what needs to be considered next.