What is Grace?

This post is mostly a cut&paste from a long-winded email exchange. I have edited it in a few places, so hopefully it stands mostly on its own, but out of context it may look in places as if I’m arguing against a phantom. Well, we can name that phantom Frank Valenti (but it’s so much easier to refer to him by his initials, FV).

What is grace? Unlike faith, the bible does not offer a concise, authoritative definition, so there is room for disagreement and misunderstanding — and surprisingly wide gulfs can follow as the (theo)logical consequences of what seem to be only subtle differences. Here are a pile of alternative statements concerning grace:

Grace = UNmerited favor (or just plain favor) Grace = DEmerited favor
‘Grace’ means the same thing in the context of giving/receiving, and having/mediating ‘Grace’ has different senses in those contexts
‘Grace’ is used univocally in scripture ‘Grace’ is used equivocally in scripture
Jesus was a recipient of grace from the Father Jesus was not a recipient of grace from the Father
‘Grace’ in Lk 2:40 (NIV) is used the same way as, say, ‘we are saved by grace through faith’ ‘Grace’ does not take its primary meaning in Lk 2:40 (ESV)
It was gracious for God to make a good creation and put Adam in it. The act of creation was good, nice, benevolent, charitable, and generous of God, but not gracious.
There was grace before the Fall Sinless Adam was by definition ineligible for grace
The Adamic covenant was just another facet of the (mono-)covenant of grace The Adamic covenant was a non-gracious covenant of works, distinct from the covenant of grace

I see these all as equivalent questions. Depending on your definition of grace, you answer them all in column A or you answer them all in column B.

I know that an argument from the authority of WSCAL (Horton) doesn’t carry much weight with those who already endorse column A, but this quote touches on most of the above questions:

Grace before the fall is entailed by the denial of the covenant of works. Many interpreters think that they observe a contradiction in the federalism of the Westminster Standards on this point, where the divines speak of God’s relationship to Adam in terms of “voluntary condescension.” However, this is not the same as grace; a term that would have been used if that is what was intended. The divines knew exactly what they were doing (and Ursinus defended every one of their points before the Assembly ever met). “Voluntary condescension” is hardly grace. Why is that so? In the first place, the former simply means that God was not compelled by any necessity to create: it was a free act. Second, by pronouncing his benediction (“It is very good,” not just “good”), God was approving Adam’s standing. But upon what basis was Adam currently acceptable before God? On precisely that basis indicated by the benediction: his intrinsic worthiness as a loyal son and servant.

Third, to conflate “voluntary condescension” and “grace” is to empty grace of its most precious scriptural meaning. Scripture nowhere speaks of this relationship as gracious, and with good reason: grace happens to sinners. Friendship, condescension, familiarity, goodness: these in no way entail graciousness on God’s part, since the relationship was not yet marred by sin. Grace is not treated in scripture as merely unmerited favor, but as demerited favor, God’s favor toward sinners despite their having deserved the very opposite. In that sense, grace and mercy are interchangeable terms, just as the “covenant of grace” has sometimes been called the “covenant of mercy.” God cannot be regarded as gracious or merciful to creatures who as yet do not deserve otherwise,. “Goodness” and “condescension” are not equivalent to grace and mercy.

Amen! So either Horton is right, or he is uninformed about the historical understanding of the Covenant of Works by Westminster, or he is lying, or his understanding is confounded by his presuppositions. Or Westminster had it all wrong. Choose for yourself. BTW, here’s the article of the WC that he was talking about, from ch VII “Of God’s Covenant with Man”

I. The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.

If you don’t agree that the divines intentionally avoided using the word ‘grace’ there, you must at least agree that FV intentionally seek to use ‘grace’ there. Here are the next two articles:

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

Reading that plain text, can anyone honestly say that Westminster is trying to express that the covenant of works is a covenant of grace?

From this blog, a quote about the Adamic covenant from Thomas Ridgley’s commentary on the LC from the 1730’s:

Some call it, ‘a Covenant of Innocency,’ inasmuch as it was made with man while he was in a state of innocency. Others call it, ‘a Covenant of Works,’ because perfect obedience was enjoined, as the condition of it. In this light, it is opposed to the covenant of grace; as there was no provision made in it for any display of grace, as there is in that covenant which we are now under.

Why no provision made for any display of grace? Because there was no sin, no DEmerit!

Moving on to Luke 2:40, one of Frank Valenti’s proof-texts for the concept that sinless Adam was a recipient of grace, on the basis that (and in the same way that) Jesus was a recipient of ‘grace’. Let’s take a look. Think in your mind, what does the word ‘grace’ mean to you? Now read Luke 2:40 from the NIV:

And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

“Oh, that kind of grace!” was probably your response (unless your name is Frank Valenti, in which case you use this verse as a crowbar to lever sinlessness into the definition of grace so that it can also apply to the Adamic covenant of works!) Clearly this usage of the word grace has more to do with Godly deportment, composure, demeanor, etc. Let’s see what others think.

Calvin, commenting on Luke 2:40, spends 1000 words expositing how it was that God incarnate could increase in knowledge, affirming that the man(child) Jesus did suffer from ignorance, and progress through a phase of education via ordinary means. At the end, the critical phrase is dismissed thusly:

The following phrase is more general, “and the grace of God was upon him“: for it includes all the excellence of every description that shone brightly in Christ.

(That was my boldening there). Matthew Henry’s commentary expounds a little more in the same vein:

Other children have foolishness bound in their hearts, which appears in what they say or do, but he was filled with wisdom, by the influence of the Holy Ghost; every thing he said and did, was wisely said and wisely done, above his years. Other children show the corruption of their nature; nothing but the grace of God was upon him.

Finally, note that the ESV resolves this issue by not even translating the word as grace (presumably to avoid confusion with the primary theological definition, which is tied to mercy):

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Now to the question of whether Jesus was a recipient of grace (aside from the specific understanding of the single verse Luke 2:40). I affirm (certainly all Christians do) that Jesus continued eternally (and Adam continued only finitely) in God’s favor. But if the definition of grace is going to stretch to include “continued favor” instead of “demerited favor”, then that’s a radically different definition for grace than the grace we sinners receive. From an article that attempts to argue for the orthodoxy of FV:

There is especially a controversy over the definition of “grace” in these debates. FV advocates tend to define it as the favor of God generically, whereas FV critics (especially Meredith Kline) tend to define grace as God’s demerited favor. Hence, there can be no grace before the fall. As Norman Shepherd [RR: one of the patron saints of FV] has written to me privately, the extent and quality of grace clearly changes after the fall. FV advocates appeal to Paul’s use of a related Greek word for “grace” when Paul says in Phillipians 2 that Jesus was “graced” with a name above every name. But obviously, FV advocates would agree that grace is demerited after the fall, indeed, qualitatively different. This seems to be an unfortunate dispute over terminology.

Unfortunate indeed, as here we are. If FV is going to name what sinless Jesus and sinless Adam had as ‘grace’, that’s fine, as long as they are clear that they are using a different meaning of grace than what is applied to us sinners. But no, FV wants to rename the (confessionally-labeled) Covenant of Works as another gracious covenant, or part of the mono-covenant of grace. Is the Covenant of Grace a Covenant of Continued Favor? No, that’s ridiculous. The Covenant of Grace is a Covenant of Mercy.

The following I would not object to: Covenant of Works=Covenant of Continued Favor=Covenant of Passive Grace, vs. Covenant of Grace=Covenant of Demerited Favor=Covenant of Active Grace. But to call them both gracious covenants is to either be dishonest about distinctions between various meanings of grace intended, or to honestly be confusing grace and works (“in by grace, stay by works” anyone?).

So that’s what I have to say. To sum up:

  • The most important usage of the word ‘Grace’ is well-defined as Demerited Favor, which is logically connected to Mercy.
  • This primary definition is what applies in “Covenant of Grace” and “saved by grace, through faith”.
  • This primary definition is absent from the Covenant of Works, and was was not applied to pre-fall Adam or sinless Christ.
  • If you want to insist that Luke 2:40 is best translated with the word ‘grace’, using some secondary definition (continued favor? passive grace?), and transport that secondary definition from Jesus to Adam and the Adamic Covenant, be my guest — just be clear about the distinction.

84 Responses

  1. Amen. Grace has no biblical meaning used in a non-salvific sense.

  2. I know I’ll take flak for this, but consider that Heb 11:1 may not be a full/complete definition of faith.

    Compare NKJV with ESV:

    NKJV: 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    ESV: 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    Rather than saying what faith is, it says what faith does. The NKJV is a better translation. “Substance” is preferable here to “assurance”. The NIV seems really misleading to me.

    NIV: 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    It’s not saying what faith is, it’s saying that faith is the substance of something else. It’s saying more about “things hoped for” than about faith. What are things hoped for made up of? Faith. Faith is their substance. It is what our hopes boil down to. What evidence do we have of that which is not seen? Faith. Faith serves as evidence to what we cannot see, and it gives us hope. This is some of what faith does, but not all. And it is not what faith truly IS.

    For example, faith works. Faith is a gift. Faith is given in a certain measure. Faith grows. It matures. It results from the preaching of the Word. Faith IS spiritual life. None of that is here.


  3. I’ve only one thing to add about grace.

    Plato/gnosticism/western culture teaches/believes that we require redemption simply in virtue of being creatures, rather than SINFUL creatures.

    If we say that the grace that we receive as sinners is the same thing shown to Adam before the fall, then we undermine the distinction between a fallen man and a pre-fall man. The pre-fall man didn’t need to be redeemed, he needed to prove HIMSELF. He failed to prove himself, and for THIS reason he required redemption. If we call both grace, then we’re saying that man was just as needful of redemption prior to the fall as he was after.

    This entails buying into the Platonic/gnostic categories of: matter is evil, spirit is good. Matter is not inherently evil. That which is physical is not inherently evil. We BECAME evil when we sinned in Adam.

    People buy into this confusion because we are born in sin, and born with a sinful nature. So from that standpoint, we all appear to be born evil. That makes us think that there’s something evil about us, simply because we are physical beings. Buying into this is simple. Our bodies have various appetites that we think cause us to sin. We hunger, but that leads us to gluttony. We desire sex, but that leads to lust. We have lots of appetites that people perceive as evil, and they are located in the body.

    But these appetites themselves are not evil. It is not evil to want to eat food. It’s evil to turn food into an idol. It’s not evil to long for a sexual relationship, or to long to be married. It IS evil to turn sex into an idol. The problem is not located in these natural desires, but in our sinful idolatrous hearts, which we inherited from our father, Adam, who did not have that sinful heart from the beginning. He BECAME sinful, and we followed because he was our federal head, our representative in the covenant of works. In Adam, we are all covenant breakers.

    That’s about all I got.


    PS Has anyone read the OPC’s critique of the Federal Vision, New Perspecive on Paul?

  4. http://i-need-sheet-music.blogspot.com/2007/01/here-is-part-ii-of-paper.html

    Check out Bruce’s well written paper excerpt about covenant theology.


  5. If Frank Valenti’s theology is seriously FUBAR, then what difference does it make about his definition of a word, [grace in this case]? If he bases certain theological formulations on the definition of a word [grace in this case] then what does that say about his hermeneutic? I’d say he has elevated his rational mind [perhaps unwittingly] above the mind of Christ.

    That said, I hear the bible speaking [God speaking] about common grace and redemptive grace. Both are demerited favor. How can I prove that? I look at my heart. I am not neutral ethically in the sight of God.

    In grade school the teacher used to put check marks by your name on the blackboard if you were “bad”. Each check mark equaled 30 minutes of “staying after”. What did we call ’em? We called them demerits.

    BTW, go read Echo’s comments to the above paper. He points out the trouble you can get into if you base your theology on your definitions. Rationalism can get you [will get you] into trouble.

  6. Bruce,

    I’m glad you brought up common grace.

    Common grace should not be viewed as that which was shown to Adam in placing him in the Garden, for example. Or for that matter, man is created in the image of God – well, that’s rather kind of God, isn’t it? Man didn’t deserve to be created, much less did he deserve to be made in God’s image. But this is not what common grace is.

    So what is common grace? Let me turn around and ask this question. Why didn’t God immediately send Adam and Eve to hell? For that matter, why doesn’t Jesus Christ return to earth today and commence the judgment? What’s he waiting for? Scripture gives us an answer:

    Rom 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

    Perhaps we could put it another way. I was born in 1975. Why didn’t Christ come back in 1974 and consummate his kingdom? Because I am elect, and I hadn’t been born yet. Why didn’t Jesus come back yesterday? There are some who are elect who haven’t yet been brought into fellowship with Christ. They haven’t yet been regenerated. God’s plan is not yet finished. There probably remain some that need to be born who need to be saved. There are some elect who are already living who haven’t professed faith in Christ yet.

    In short, God’s judgment is waiting until all who are ordained for salvation are brought into the fellowship of Christ.

    Building on this, we can now answer what common grace is. Common grace is like fallout from a nuclear bomb. When there is a nuclear explosion, radiation spreads to the surrounding area, so that those who are not killed in the initial blast are killed by the radiation. And for hundreds, if not thousands, that area is uninhabitable. A great evil to be sure. But common grace operates the same way. God’s judgment of humanity is waiting for the fullness of the elect to be saved. For the sake of the elect, the reprobate or non-elect, enjoy the benefits and joys of this life. This is what I mean by fallout. The grace that God shows to the elect has beneficial consequences for the reprobate in this life.

    There is an analogy for this seen in families. In the reformed churches, we baptize infants. Since the parents are believers, the children come to church. They are welcomed into membership of the church, and given many of the privileges that their parents enjoy. But they don’t get to take the Lord’s Supper; that’s withheld from all but those who have made a credible (as judged by the elders) profession of faith. This works very similarly (analogously) to common grace. The non-elect get the benefits of this life, sort of like the children of believers receive the benefits of church membership. They get to hear the preaching of the Word every week and get to participate in the fellowship of the saints. They are granted the privilege of worship. They don’t get this benefit on their own, but because their parents are members of the church. Thus they are baptized, because they are afforded this privilege. And Paul confirms this mindset:

    1Co 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

    Baptism, for the reformed, takes on this truth and makes it visible. The children of believers are holy. That’s not because their salvation is guaranteed. We don’t believe that baptism is a guarantee of salvation, any more than Baptists believe that baptism is a guarantee of salvation. They require a profession of faith first, but people can always be lying. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is. There’s no way to screen true believers from false believers, because only God looks on the heart. So when Paul says that the children of believers are holy, he’s not saying that they are necessarily saved. It means they are counted among God’s people. “Holy” strictly speaking, means “set apart to the Lord”. For example, in the OT, the knife they would use to slaughter animals for sacrifice was considered holy. Why? Because that knife had a specific purpose. It was a tool to be used in the proper worship of God. This knife is different from other knives. It’s not the knife you use at home to eat a steak. It’s the knife used to slay an animal before the Lord.

    In the same way, the children of believers are set apart to the Lord. They have a life that is characterized by being different than the children of unbelievers. On Sunday morning, the children of unbelievers are perhaps watching TV, while the children of believers are hearing the preaching of the Word. They are being promised the promises of God. They are being taught who God is and how he relates to us. They are being taught to worship him and to confess their sins to him and that forgiveness is found in him. They are being taught to seek him for mercy. To signify this difference, this holiness, the reformed baptize the children of believers, prior to a profession of faith. The reformed recognize that the children of believers are coming into intense and intimate contact with the promises of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood. They are not guaranteed those promises, but they have come into contact with that covenant.

    For this reason, the reformed distinguish the invisible church from the visible church. The visible church are all those who claim to have faith in Christ, while the invisible church are those who are elect, who truly are trusting in Christ for their salvation deep in their heart, who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

    This distinction between the invisible and visible church is parallel (analogously) to the distinction between common grace and redemptive grace. Common grace allows all humanity to participate in the benefits of this life. Every breath the non-elect person takes is a benefit of the fact that the judgment of God is waiting for the fullness of the elect to be saved.

    Jam 5:7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

    James confirms this. The elect are the fruit for which the farmer waits patiently. And also, the deeds of the saints which God has prepared for them to do (Eph 2:10) must be completed before Christ will return. Meanwhile, the reprobate or non-elect are not judged. They live and die in the ordinary fashion. The parable of the “tares” confirms this:

    Mat 13:24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
    Mat 13:25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.
    Mat 13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
    Mat 13:27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’
    Mat 13:28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
    Mat 13:29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.
    Mat 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

    Now here is a parable with double meaning. Most recognize that this refers to the church. As it is said, false prophets will arise among you (the church). Not all who claim to be believers in the church are actually believers. So people interpret this parable in that light, and conclude that God allows the weeds to grow along with the wheat, and on the last day, God will send reapers to gather the harvest. So we don’t try to look on the heart of believers, because we can’t do that anyway. The church must judge believers based on two things: 1) their profession of faith and 2) their deeds. These deeds are what James is talking about in James 2, when he says that Abraham was justified by faith AND works. He doesn’t mean that he was justified before GOD by faith and works, but that Abraham is SHOWN to be justified to US. In the same way, if your church sees you in unrepentant sin – say perhaps that you’re determined to divorce your wife – they will bring you under discipline. They will withhold the Lord’s Supper from you, because your justification in their eyes is shown to be false. You are not producing the fruit you are supposed to be producing. Faith without works is dead. They are judging the confession not of your mouth, but of your actions, and they judge it to be false. They are saying that you are not justifying yourself to them. God looks on the heart, and can see if your faith is genuine apart from your deeds. Deeds serve as outward evidence of faith to us who cannot look on the heart. But this is an imperfect judgment. Nonetheless, the church does it’s best to make an informed decision. But only God looks on the heart. Excommunication doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot be saved in the end. Of course, if you are elect, you will repent and return to the church – I am convinced. But excommunication is the judgment of the church, not of God.

    Anyway, this parable can ALSO be interpreted to refer to the whole world. For the sake of the wheat, the weeds are not uprooted. They stay in place. God is saying here that if he were to leave only the elect to live on earth, it would actually do harm to the elect. The elect actually derive a benefit from being in the world full of unbelievers.

    How can that be? Well, it has to do with being refined by suffering, which is made possible by remaining in a sinful world full of sinful people. Besides, if the world wasn’t full of unbelievers, believers would not be able to look at them and be humbled.

    What I mean is this. I recently visited a somewhat distant relative who is a homosexual and hates God and the church. He even told my wife that she shouldn’t pray, among other things. So I don’t say that he hates the church merely based on his homosexuality, but based on things he said.

    But some of you might be surprised at how this experience affected me. Thanks to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, I did not look at him and say, boy am I glad I’m not like him, he’s a really horrible person! Instead, it made me tremble. He is an older man, jaded and bitter and full of hatred. I realized that that was who I could have become apart from Christ’s redemption. There were a few key things about him that reminded me of myself in a very creepy sort of way. Kind of like watching a plane that you were 5 minutes late to – so you missed your flight – burst into a ball of flames before your eyes. You don’t look at something like that and smugly declare yourself to be brilliant for being late. You tremble, and realize: that could have been me. That should have been me.

    So you see, there is value for the elect in having the reprobate around to remind us that, essentially, that should be me. That should be me who is full of hatred and bitterness and rage at God and his church. I should be the one who is full of selfishness and driven by greed and enmity with God to such an extent that I’m willing to go against nature and give a man a golden band to wear on his finger, as if to tell God that he has so little control over me that I even deny the distinction between male and female, perhaps one of the most fundamental things of the created order. It should be me that sets myself up as an object of worship by amassing great wealth for myself and separating myself from my family, allowing them only the occasional visit to my glorious estate, that they might worship me at my footstool, in hope that they might receive a portion in my inheritance. Yes, that is my relative. He is filthy rich. He lives next door to a famous actor. On a beautiful golf course with an armed guard at a gate in an exclusive community, on a 1.5 acre lot in a place that goes for 8 million an acre. And he has separated himself from his family, because he thinks that we all judge him for his sinful renouncing of the sexes. And he only occasionally allows someone to visit him, and when they do, they fawn all over him, hoping that he’ll remember it when he makes up his will.

    That should be me.

    There is value to the wheat in leaving the weeds to grow alongside them. My realization that, despite how grave and great my relative’s sin is, I am just like him in my sinful heart, is of tremendous value, driving me to be fearful and tremble before God, and to be humble. It’s pretty hard to think so highly of yourself when you realize that you should be just like someone like that.

    I am not being melodramatic when I say that the man was like walking dead. I don’t mean that he was like a vampire or a zombie, one who IS dead but somehow walks around like the rest of us. No, he was very much alive. VERY much alive. But the life that was in him was death. It was as if death itself had become incarnate, as if death animated him. He was far from an empty shell with no real life in him. Death was his vitality. Death flowed through his veins and came out his pores. He radiated the power of Death as a black hole consumes even light.

    And I AM just like him.

    So the reprobate have a purpose in relation to the elect. God uses them all for his purposes, to serve his glory. But the elect bring a benefit to the reprobate. My relative only continues to live, to see sunrises, to enjoy the beauty of creation, because of God’s patience with humanity for the sake of the elect, for the sake of waiting for the crops to come in and be harvested. And this is common grace.

    In the Garden, Adam did not experience common grace. God did not spare Adam before the fall for the sake of the elect. There was nothing for him to be spared from, because he had not yet sinned. He was not yet sinful. He didn’t need to be spared. He was righteous.

    In the same way, benefits are given to the VISIBLE church for the sake of those in the INVISIBLE church. Those that are charged with administering those benefits (Word, sacraments, discipline) cannot discriminate between those who are in the INVISIBLE church and those who are not, so they must administer those benefits to all who are in the VISIBLE church. For it is man that preaches the Word, man that administers the sacraments, and man that administers discipline. And they cannot see what is invisible. Thus, for the sake of the elect, those in the church receive certain benefits. Thus we baptize the children of believers, because they are set apart to the Lord. They are a part of the VISIBLE church, a part of the community of people who have come into contact with the covenant of grace and its benefits. A profession of faith is still a thing of the VISIBLE church. It is no guarantee of what takes place in the heart.


    PS If you want to dispute infant baptism, I think you should ask Rube for a new thread on it, rather than dispute it here. I didn’t bring it up simply for rabbit trail purposes, but to draw an analogy that might shed light on common grace and what is meant by it. I had no intention of hijacking the thread.

  7. Echo and others,

    You said, “I was born in 1975. Why didn’t Christ come back in 1974 and consummate his kingdom? Because I am elect, and I hadn’t been born yet. Why didn’t Jesus come back yesterday? There are some who are elect who haven’t yet been brought into fellowship with Christ. They haven’t yet been regenerated. God’s plan is not yet finished. There probably remain some that need to be born who need to be saved. There are some elect who are already living who haven’t professed faith in Christ yet.”

    I am sure you have a great answer for this question, but I will ask it anyway. How do reconcile the above stance with verses like:

    I Timothy 2:1-6 “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.

    Is there a need for missions? Or will those God elected find there way into the kingdom regardless?

    Thankfully you brought this point up in the early part of your diatribe so I was able to read it and ask this question. :)

  8. Echo,

    As I continue to read through your post (I have to go in stages, you know) I come across more controversial (in my opinion) remarks. This is in regards to the story about your homosexual relative who you refer to as a “reprobate”. Based on your understanding it sounds like the “elect” and the “reprobates” have already been decided by God and there is nothing we can do about it.

    What if you presented him the gospel and he accepted Jesus as his savior? Would he then become “elect” and thus God has changed His mind about this indivual, or is it impossible for him to recieve the gospel because he has already been deemed “reprobate” by God

  9. it sounds like the “elect” and the “reprobates” have already been decided by God and there is nothing we can do about it.

    Bingo. But precisely because we are not privy to the details of election, we MUST not behave as if any person who appears reprobate is beyond the Gospel.

    What if you presented him the gospel and he accepted Jesus as his savior? Would he then become “elect” and thus God has changed His mind about this indivual, or is it impossible for him to recieve the gospel because he has already been deemed “reprobate” by God

    If he received the gospel with true faith, then it would turn out to have been the case that he was elect all along. If he has already been deemed reprobate by God, then when we fulfill our duty of sharing the gospel, they will not receive.

    Matt, you missed eleven recent posts with literally hundreds of comments on Calvinism vs. Arminianism, which extensively covered predestination, irresistible grace, etc. If you have a few days, you could read at all the posts and comments under this tag. If you have less time, you could read just the posts…

  10. Matt, I don’t pretend to answer for Echo but I can give you a brief explanation for your inquiries into “elect” and “reprobate”.

    If you consider God eternal, (and I am sure you do), then no matter which way you look at it you will have to at some point acknowledge that those who will and won’t be saved are indeed set (at least in God’s eternal view) and nothing could or can be done to change that.

    This doesn’t mean that Echo should give up praying for his relative, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t preach the gospel assuming that those who will be saved will be saved no matter what we do.

    It means we should consider ourselves blessed to have the opportunity to be used by God in fulfilling his purposes on earth. It mean we should have confidence that God’s power supersedes our abilities or inabilities. it means that we can trust his will over our own.

    It means a sovereign God is sovereign.

    True if we aren’t careful with this view we can become ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge, but with a right understanding we can become more emboldened and fruitful in our ministry.

    I admit I haven’t read any of Echo’s comments on this current thread, so I am (at least partially) speaking out of turn. I apologize if I am stepping on anyones toes.

  11. looks like a stepped on Rube’s toes. Sorry. But yeah Matt, I have some good books on the subject that would actually be better reading then this blog (no offense to the blog elites) and would be happy to discuss the topics with you whenever.

  12. Yea, I have gone around and around with people on this subject and it gets next to nowhere.


    Does God create people that He knows will never hear the gospel and thus go to hell, or does He know everyone He has created will have an opportunity to hear the gospel and only those who choose to accept it are considered the predetermined elect?

  13. I realize that this is not really what this thread is about, but I would love the Calvinist view of evangelism, because I haven’t read a post that covers this specifically. (Though I will not pretend I have read them all! I may have missed it.)

    The elect and the non-elect or reprobate, I guess, are set in stone, predetermined and predestined by God, yes? Should we then be approaching the unsaved in this sort of manner: “Repent! God’s mercy MAY be available to you! Forgiveness MAY be your destiny!” Honestly, I don’t mean that to sound sarcastic. This is, in fact, what we are saying if we believe man’s fate is completely predetermined, right? We may be speaking to a non-elect person when we are sharing the Gospel. Is it not a lie to say, “God’s mercy is available to you through Jesus,” when in fact, it might not be? Is this a truth that we save for when we are sure a person is elect? If this is the case, when are we ever sure? People fall away from God all the time when once they appeared to be serving faithfully.

  14. “Evangelism and the sovereignty of God” by Packer. I’ll let you borrow it on Saturday secret.

  15. secret: We extend the gospel call to all, and it is up to God to give faith to his elect. One plants, another waters, but only God actually causes to grow.

    matt: the answer is (a) — not only that, he creates people that he knows WILL hear the gospel, and that he will not give them faith to respond in belief, but he will harden their heart, and they will thus go to hell. Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? See Rom 9 and here.

    echo: still haven’t read #7, just knee-jerking here, because we’ve been around this tree a few times

  16. Rube,

    It seems condradictory that God desires for “ALL” and “EVERY” to be saved(I am sure you know the passages that use this wording), but then purposely hardens some hearts so that it is impossible for them to recieve the gospel and thus be saved, no?

  17. I would contend that there are some aspects of the Bible, some aspects of God and His plan that will never be fully understood by us in our finite minds(SEE JOB 11). This topic very well may be one of them. I think to be dogmatic about either position (free will\election) is presumptious.

  18. I would contend that there are some aspects of the Bible, some aspects of God and His plan that will never be fully understood by us in our finite minds(SEE JOB 11). This topic very well may be one of them. I think to be dogmatic about either position (free will\election) is presumptious.

    Fastest tap-out in the history of theology.

  19. It seems condradictory that God desires for “ALL” and “EVERY” to be saved(I am sure you know the passages that use this wording), but then purposely hardens some hearts so that it is impossible for them to recieve the gospel and thus be saved, no?

    No more contradictory than the fact that God ‘desires’ for ALL and EVERY to be saved, and has the omniscience to know that not all will be saved, and the sovereignty to create the universe any way he ‘desires’, and yet he goes ahead and creates a universe in which the Fall occurs, and many are damned. God does (ordains) many things that cause himself grief, but everything is to his glory in the end, whether the glory of his mercy or the glory of his righeousness judgment.

    I don’t want to seem glib, but with this blog having gone over this territory so exhaustively in recent months, I find it difficult to go into fuller details again. I really do suggest that you read at least all of the posts (certainly not all of the comments), and have a chat with DBalc, and everybody spam Albino Hayford to remind him that he agreed to post his own theological opinions on the Arminian Articles of Remonstrance on his blog…

  20. God did not predestine me to opine on your boy, Arminius, yet. But good things come to those who wait. And faith is still not a work, and yes, Virginia, forced love still sucks.

  21. Matt,

    Some people distinguish between God’s revealed will and God’s secret will (the decree).

    There is no easier way to see this than the life of Jesus. As God’s Son, God surely mourned his death, right? One reformed pastor preached a sermon that described the ripping of the veil in the temple as symbolic of God tearing his robes, like they did in those days when they were given terrible news. I’m sure it was rather unpleasant for the Father to witness the death of his Son. And to underscore the terrible pain of that moment, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus and the Father are one. If Jesus is mourning what is taking place, then the Father is too. I mean, it even hurts fathers to spank their children. It is painful. How difficult it must have been for God to send his own innocent Son to the cross for the sake of his enemies!

    And yet, as we know, that was the hour of Christ’s greatest triumph. That combined with his resurrection from the dead comprise the greatest revelation of God to man possible. God had determined from the beginning that this would be the case. The Bible calls Jesus the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. This was God’s plan all along. But as it plays out, it caused him grief.

    In a similar way, you can see God in the OT getting angry at his people. But does God really get angry? Or rather, does he get angry in the same way that you and I get angry? We get angry when someone stands in our way, violates our interests. Who can stand in God’s way or violate his interests? Is he all powerful or isn’t he? Why would God get angry at our sin as if he couldn’t see it coming, as if it took him by surprise and his emotions ran away with him and he became angry in reaction to what we have done? God’s emotions are not dependent on us. God is full of wrath at sin to be sure, but it’s not the same kind of anger you and I experience. God is just. He is righteous. He cannot tolerate sin. He will not tolerate it. He must judge sinners and condemn them, and they must be punished. But we should not suppose that God is walking around in a good mood singing to himself, and then we commit some sin that we had promised him we’d never do again, and God sees and starts crying and it ruins his day and he refuses to talk to us. Nonetheless, he is angry at our sin.

    God’s anger is analogous to our anger. Analogous just means that one is an analogy for the other. God’s anger is like our anger in some ways. But it is also not like our anger. We are made in God’s image, but we are also very different from God. We are analogies of God. That’s what it means to be made in his image. Everything the Bible says about God is an analogy.

    This helps us understand how the Bible, in the same chapter, can say that God regretted making Saul king of Israel, and that God is not a man that he should have regret. Both are true. The only proper way to understand this is that when it says that God regretted making Saul king, it doesn’t mean the same thing that it would mean if it said that Echo regretted doing something. For after all, God is not a man that he should have regret. He doesn’t undertake some action and then wait to see what results from it. He knows the end from the beginning. He is eternal. He doesn’t just know the future, he makes it. He possesses it even now. He possesses a timeless existence. He does not experience time like we do. How could he have regret or react with surprise?

    But he still did reveal that he regretted making Saul king. But this says more about Saul’s failure than about God. Saul is the one who had failed. He had actually done harm by becoming king of Israel. They would have been better off without him. This is revealed by saying that God regretted it.

    In a similar way, when Israel’s sin grew heinous, prophets would come and tell the people that God is angry at their sin. They use language that is very colorful to say the least to describe this. They describe God as a fierce warrior strapping on weapons and armor getting ready to go to war with his own people. Or they describe him as the husband whose adulterous wife has cheated on him and he is full of rage. But this says more about Israel’s sin than about God. What the prophets were trying to get the people to understand is that there is a God who is watching and does indeed see what they are doing. He is not ignorant of it. He’s not off somewhere sleeping or otherwise distracted. Rather, judgment is coming. God is angry at your sin.

    But God’s anger is not exactly the same as what is being described. In Isaiah 59, God is getting dressed for war, strapping on weapons and armor, etc. But does God have any reason to wear a helmet? What would that reason be? Is he afraid someone is going to hit him over the head with a blunt object or a sword and kill him? Why does he wear a breastplate? Is he afraid someone will shoot him with an arrow and pierce his lung? Why, if he can destroy us with a word, would he need a sword or arrows? And for what purpose could he possibly need a sheild? For that matter, does God have a body onto which these pieces of equipment can be placed? This is all merely poetic language. It’s an analogy. It’s pretty powerful language too. But it is telling an analogy. It is true, but it is put into language that we can understand, so that we can understand how to relate to God. The message of the passage is clear: God is angry, and he’s about to go to war and destroy you (or whoever he’s angry with). Imagine being told that God is about to wage war against you! Pretty intimidating. Might even cause you to repent, one would think.

    Many passages of Scripture are designed to have a certain impact, and they are phrased accordingly. Revelation is like this to a great extent. It is full of word pictures designed to have a certain emotional/psychological impact on you. That’s poetic language.

    Anyway, I hope that helps illustrate the principle here. What is revealed in the Bible about God is not to be taken univocally, nor equivocally, but analogically.

    Univocally means that there is a perfect one to one correspondence. This would mean that if the Bible says God spoke, then he must have a mouth and sound waves must have emanated from it. God must therefore be a part of the universe.

    Equivocally means that what is written in the Bible has nothing to do with truth. When the Bible says God spoke, it’s just a fairy tale that the Bible is telling us to cause us to think a certain way, but God doesn’t speak.

    Analogically means it is true by analogy. This is sort of in the middle. When the Bible says that God speaks, it means he spoke, but it doesn’t mean that God has a mouth or that sound waves necessarily came out of his mouth. What exactly DOES it mean? We don’t know really. I mean, we are made in God’s image, but we know we aren’t exactly like God. But neither are we completely different from God. It’s not univocal or equivocal, but analogical. We don’t really know in precisely what ways we are similar to God. We can take some guesses, but we don’t really know. Yet, we DO know that what God says is true. If he says that we are an analogy of him, then we learn something about him. We are given a way to think about him. We can put all the many analogies together and come up with a very good understanding of him. But we’ll never, ever understand him completely. It’s not possible for our finite minds.

    I know this doesn’t answer ALL of your questions. But trust me when I say that to answer ALL of your questions would take time. It’s not the kind of thing you can just answer in a word or two. You have to start out slow and chew on it for a while. Then you have to take another step and chew on that for a while. You can’t just understand it after hearing a couple sentences of explanation all the time. What you’re really asking for is a way to perfectly understand the Bible. Besides the fact that no one can understand it perfectly, it’d take me a week to type out all of my thoughts on the matter.

    I’d encourage you to spend some time digging through the posts in the archives on Calvinism vs. Arminianism.


  22. Secret,

    Calvism and evangelism.

    1. It should be done by those who are trained/prepared for the task. If you just got saved yesterday, you have no business leading someone to Christ today. But why not? Because you aren’t trained. You will spread error.

    Example: people are really into angels these days, and believe all sorts of strange and goofy things about them. Some Christians may have fallen into this trap of believing things that aren’t true. Now they go and do evangelism, and they explain things in terms of their goofy angelic belief. And the error spreads.

    So we believe, in short, that evangelism is the job of the church as a whole, not individual believers. The responsibility for preaching the gospel lies not with the layman in the pew, but with the minister and elders. Yes, you must always be ready to give an answer for the hope within you, because you will come into contact with people who ask questions. But the layman should not dilude himself/herself into thinking that he/she can and should answer all their questions. He/she should talk about their hope in Christ, and invite them to church if they want to come. But it is not the place of the layman to do things like street evangelism. That’s not the layman’s job. And I’m not making that up, but quoting Sunday morning’s sermon actually. I’ve asked my pastor for his manuscript, and maybe I’ll post some quotes from it.

    2. The gospel is held out to all. Rest assured, that when the pastor says, “Repent and believe”, the reprobate need not be told that this is impossible for them. They simply won’t repent and believe. They simply will reject the message. Fine. That’s what happens. We don’t have to worry about telling people to do things that are impossible for them to do. We’re telling them something that they don’t WANT to do. They don’t WANT to believe in the gospel, they don’t want to repent of their sins. They love their sins. We hold the gospel out to everyone without predjudice. And what happens after that is up to God.


  23. Echo, you come across as someone who thinks “evangelism is the job of paid professionals only.”

    This isn’t what you really believe. Is it?

  24. Echo,

    Am I then to understand that a woman should never evangelize outside of speaking about her hope in Christ and inviting another to church? You have made your views on women being ordained pretty clear, so that would make us all laymen (laywomen?), therefore unable to properly answer all the questions posed to us, therefore unable or unqualified to evangelize. Yes?

    What about female missionaries? Should such a thing exist?

    Just picking your brain…

  25. Daniel,

    Re: 25

    Well, I guess it depends on your definition of evangelism. If by evangelism, you mean making friends with people and having conversations with them, loving them, manifesting Christ to them, no, obviously a layman can do that.

    My point is that while we bear witness, the burden/responsibility of making disciples and preaching the gospel falls on the shoulders of the church as a CORPORATE body, not as individuals. And in the context of the corporate body, ministers/elders are the ones who teach/preach.

    I don’t know why you refer to them as “paid professionals”. I think your choice of language reveals a bias. It’s not a matter of “it’s not my job”. It’s a matter of: these men have been given to the church by God precisely for this task. That’s what God gives them to us for. Everyone doesn’t have every gift. Every part of the body can’t be a hand. Some are feet. Not everyone can be an eye or a mouth. Some are livers, some are shoulders.

    Point is, the Great Commission was/is given to the church as an institution, not to individual believers. As my pastor said on Sunday, the mindset that this is the job of everyone in the church, the responsibility and calling of everyone in the church, and the use of guilt to try to force people into it is wrong and a recipe for spreading error.

    So yeah, you basically received the message I was sending, but you are looking at it in completely the wrong way.


  26. Secret,

    Many feminists find the biblical call to submit to their husbands restrictive. They feel choked by the very idea of having to be obedient to their husbands. They can’t see this as anything positive at all. They see it only as a restriction on what they can and cannot do.

    In a similar way, many unbelievers think that Christianity is simply a collection of do’s and don’t’s. They think it is a set of rules to be followed. Thinking this a restriction on their freedom, they aren’t interested.

    But Christianity is, of course, far more than that, and it is in Christianity that true liberty is found.

    In the same way, the biblical call for wives to be submissive to their husbands can be looked at as a liberating thing. With the command to submit comes a lifting of responsibility that can simplify things and actually be very comforting. It shifts responsibility to the husband, who has his own set of responsibilities and commands, such as that to love his wife and lay his life down for her as Christ did for the church. Not an easy command to obey when you get right down to it, and quite a lot of responsibility to boot.

    Similarly, laymen/laywomen are freed/liberated from many responsibilities in the Bible that many churches today would seek to put on their shoulders. That I point this out results in a response from you that would *seem* to indicate that I have offended you, as if I am trying to take freedoms away from you that I have no right to take.

    So, lest you fear that I am stealing your rights and liberties, I want to say a few things to reassure you.

    I can’t take anything from you. This is a blog.

    If the Bible doesn’t grant something, you never had the freedom in the first place, so there’s nothing to take away.

    The only freedoms we want to protect are those that God has actually given us. And we want to be very careful to protect those.

    So that being said, no, laymen don’t need to feel like they have to evangelize the world. Laymen – as individuals – are not responsible for that. But by all means, do your part to contribute. Go to work, pay your tithes, give to missions, pray for missions etc. Encourage your pastor, pray for him, etc.

    Whether or not a woman should be a missionary…

    Well, in the OPC, we send ordained missionaries. They are pastors. They are sent by the OPC, paid for by the denomination. They don’t have to raise support from everyone they know. It’s taken care of.

    But pastors often bring their families. And sometimes more than one pastor goes. So sometimes, like in Uganda, you have a couple of families with a number of children each. Our missionary staff to Uganda now includes a tutor for the children who is a young woman who I happen to know. She’s not there to preach the gospel on street corners, but she helps the missionaries by teaching their children. I think she also teaches local children sometimes as well and helps with a ladies’ bible study. But she is a missionary assistant. She doesn’t preach sermons. She is not the missionary. She is helping in an invaluable way, but she is not the missionary.

    Whether I agree with that or not is more or less irrelevant. It’s what my church does, and I’m content with that.

    But I do think that sending ordained ministers as missionaries is the way to go. I think it’s a good safeguard.

    I have some friends with Wycliffe who have gone out in the world to a place where there is no pastor. There are lots of “missionaries” but no pastor. No one qualified to preach. So on Sunday mornings, they don’t get the preaching of the Word. They get together and share or whatever, but no one preaches to them. I find that situation to be most distressing and sad. Solid gospel ministry by an ordained (called by God, confirmed for the church, set apart FOR the ministry) minister is crucial for the Christian. Crucial.


  27. Salvation comes by faith, which comes by hearing the preaching of the Word:

    Rom 10:13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
    Rom 10:14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
    Rom 10:15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

    God gives men set apart for this very purpose (preaching):

    Eph 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
    Eph 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
    Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
    Eph 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

    Where it says “ministry” in vs 12, please don’t assume that means the ministry of the minister/pastor. Ministry here just means service. Everyone should be involved in the church. They are part of it. They should all be contributing to it. But they are not all pastors.

    But here it says that through pastors the church is built up to maturity. Pastors are set apart for the purpose of making Christians mature in Christ. Their job is to disciple, teach, etc. We, as laymen, are dependent upon them for this, because that is God’s provision.


  28. Echo,

    You said in point 27
    “I don’t know why you refer to them as “paid professionals”. I think your choice of language reveals a bias.”

    That’s not a revelation of my bias so much as me trying to tell you how you are coming across. As I further read your points you demonstrated that you don’t necessarily feel evangelism is the job of only paid professionals. That’s good. I don’t think anyone would disagree with you on 27 but 24 didn’t come across that same way.

    Thus I said, “this is how you come across” or “this is what you sound like”. For the purpose of affording you the opportunity to make a clearer statement. (which you did, thank you)

  29. Well, I guess it depends on your definition of evangelism. If by evangelism, you mean making friends with people and having conversations with them, loving them, manifesting Christ to them, no, obviously a layman can do that.

    That’s probably exactly what most evangelicals think evangelism is, except maybe foreign missionary work. I am also discomforted by your restricted definition of evangelism, especially since it is accompanied by such a strong opinion that the pulpit addresses itself only to the butts in the pews, not to the world.

    I’m not ordained (neither are you for that matter); should we be conducting apologetics in the blogosphere?

    Or when you say “evangelism. It should be done by those who are trained/prepared for the task.” you should be a little more clear on what you mean by trained/prepared.

  30. Daniel,

    Re: 30

    Right on. Thanks for the opportunity to improve/clarify what I was saying.


  31. Re: 28

    I did not mean to come across as offended, Echo. I’m not even expressly saying I disagree with you. I was just curious.

    I certainly believe that a wife should submit to her husband. That’s clearly biblical. I have no problem submitting to my own husband. Like you said, this is not a restriction IF the husband is doing his part as well and following his command to love his wife sacrificially. It is a perfectly-designed system that we, as humans, are great at screwing up.

    Question: What qualifies a person to be “trained/prepared?” Is this only ordination? Or would a certain amount of study qualify a person, too? This question isn’t just for Echo…

    Re: 31

    Rube, what would be a good, reformed definition of evangelism? You seem to imply that most evangelicals misinterpret its true meaning. I wouldn’t consider “making friends with people and having conversations with them, loving them, manifesting Christ to them” my complete definition of evangelism, but I was wondering what yours is.

  32. Rube,

    Re: 31

    I don’t feel like you’ve said all you want to say. I get the impression that you want to say something more specific. I think Daniel’s question and my subsequent answer did help to clarify what I’m saying. If you disagree, disagree. Maybe you think laymen should become missionaries and preach sermons. Maybe you think that laymen should go out to do street evangelism. Maybe you think that people don’t need pastors to help them understand the Scriptures. I don’t know. Getting me to change my view or rearticulate it or whatever won’t change what the Bible says. What I say doesn’t matter. What the Bible says is what matters. I think I’ve said enough about what I think the Bible says. If you disagree about what the Bible says, quote the verse, and we’ll talk about how to interpret it. But I don’t want to have a long drawn out discussion about what my view is.


  33. Echo said,

    “But it is not the place of the layman to do things like street evangelism.”

    “Maybe you think that laymen should go out to do street evangelism. Maybe you think that people don’t need pastors to help them understand the Scriptures.”

    Geez this sounds a lot like Catholicism to me. Just because someone has the title “pastor” does that mean they are guaranteed to be more well equipped to handle the Scriptures? Maybe that is the way it should be, but we all know not all pastors are as committed to their craft as they should be.

    We do not need a pastor, priest, or anyone else to “help” us understand the Scriptures, preach the gospel, witness to people, or lead the lost to the Lord. We have everything we need in the Bible and with the Holy Spirit to equip us to do these things, and by all means we should do these things when the opportunity arises.

    How do you think people get saved? Is it only by coming to church and hearing the word from the pastor? Tell that to the thousands of people getting saved around the world right on the street or right in their homes. The Holy Spirit can grip a person any time and in any place and through the ministry of any person.

  34. Secret,

    Re: 33

    Not everyone who is ordained is qualified to tell you where to buy a Bible, much less to interpret it.

    But anyway, a pastor who is ordained, is someone who has been declared by the church to be called by God to that office. Perhaps the church is wrong, but without the church making that judgment, you aren’t fit to be preaching, and evangelism entails preaching. (Faith comes through hearing the preached word Rom 10).

    The reformed take this so seriously, that when interns or seminary students give a sermon, it isn’t called preaching. It’s called an exhortation. Only the ordained can give the benediction or administer the sacraments. Once a student gets licensed, then he is considered to be preaching. But the requirements that must be met are quite rigorous. It includes examinations in the languages: Greek and Hebrew, examinations in all kinds of areas of theology, church history, and other things. This is all done in committee. Then before the regional body, called a presbytery, which is all the ministers from the area and one elder per church usually, the candidate preaches a sermon and is questioned in theology. Then the members of the body can ask him whatever they want, and then they vote. That’s just to get licensed. Once you’re licensed, then you are eligible to be called by a congregation to be their pastor. Once you receive such a call, then you go through ALL these exams all over again, so that the presbytery can approve of you to be ordained.

    I’d say that the men who become pastors in such a system are pretty highly qualified. But even here, some of them are pretty confused about a lot of things. You wonder sometimes how they made it through the process. Anyway, these are the qualifications to be a pastor in a nutshell.


  35. Matt,

    Re: 35

    Eph 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
    Eph 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
    Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
    Eph 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

    Verse 11 lists a number of offices: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.

    Verse 11 also says that God gave these gifts to the church. God gave them to us. All of us are not apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Rather, there are men that God has given to the church to fulfill this role.

    And what role do they play? They teach us about Christ, as it says in verse 13. Do you find that astonishing that God would send men to the church to teach the church about Christ when clearly the church doesn’t need anyone to teach them about Christ because as you said the Holy Spirit within and the Word of God are sufficient? You don’t need to be taught about Jesus, but yet God has sent specific men to the church to do just that. Hmmm.

    And perhaps the most astonishing thing is that he sends these men to us to teach us about Christ in order that “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

    So now Paul is telling us that these men are a safeguard against spiritual immaturity (we may no longer be children). Interesting, don’t you think? They are a safeguard against being deceived by “human cunning” and “every wind of doctrine”.

    So these men have been given to the church by GOD to prevent us from falling into errors of various kinds, to prevent us from being spiritually immature so that we get tossed back and forth with every new thing that comes along. And they do this by building us up in our knowledge of Christ, which equips us for our works of service to the church (translated here “ministry”).

    So on the one hand, you have the church WITH these gifts, on the other hand, you have the church WITHOUT these gifts.

    With these men, the church grows in the knowledge of Christ, the body is built up into maturity and everyone contributes, and they are safeguarded against error.

    Without these men, the church is immature, tossed back and forth with every error that comes along, and isn’t equipped to make a contribution.

    That’s just what this text says. Straightforwardly. I don’t think I’m adding anything to this passage here. Just looking at what the words actually say, and what the words mean.

    And I find that your statements are directly refuted. By Scripture. Looking at simply the plain, self-evident meaning of the text.


  36. The biggest question I have is when do those men start a church from scratch? You mention yourself, “once you get licensed you are eligible to be called by a church to be their pastor.”

    Echo is that what you are going to school for? To get a call from some congregation saying, “please be our pastor.”

    What ever happened to Paul’s ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known (Romans 15:20)?

  37. 38 is in response to 36

  38. Churches plant churches, with a temporary ordained pastor (possibly coming out of retirement, possibly doing double-duty), until the plant is large enough to support and call a pastor.

    I don’t feel like you’ve said all you want to say. I get the impression that you want to say something more specific.

    How about this: I feel that I am qualified to do street evangelism. I don’t do it because I’m lazy and scared, but not because I think I shouldn’t. I also think that engaging in apologetics and offering the gospel in a blog is could be called “online evangelism”.

  39. Does the Great Commission in Matt. 28 apply to us today or was it just for the disciples 2000+ years ago?

  40. Echo,


    These are all great verses and apply to why there are pastors and what function they serve in the local church. They are very important and serve a very important purpose, I would not refute that.

    I do refute that you believe only pastors are allowed to do “street evangelism” or lead people to the Lord.

    Maybe this is an insecurity for you because you have a hard time sharing your faith with unbelievers and this way you are exempt from doing so, don’t know?

    We are all called to be a light, to give reason for the hope that is in us, and to follow through with the Great Commission

  41. Daniel,

    Re: 38

    Right. That’s another option. A man can be ordained as an evangelist. He gets his call not from a congregation but from the presbytery.

    Typically, however, they won’t send a man out into nothing to preach to whoever he can find. Usually they have regional home missionaries who encourage and help people start bible studies in various areas. When a Bible study gets big enough – maybe a couple of families attending regularly – they can apply to the presbytery to be recognized as a mission work. I’m not sure of all the in’s and out’s.

    But for a pastor to be called to one of these Bible studies, they typically like to have a couple of families in place first, because the pastor has to make a living somehow. They get some support from the denomination and presbytery, but not all of it.

    I know one guy who took a little mission work with only 4 families, and had to take a salary of 27 grand. His wife just had a baby. I find it pretty tragic. But he knew what he was getting into, so it was his decision I guess. Anyway, the presbytery doesn’t want to see that happen to guys if it can be avoided.

    Typically, the bible study starts by an elder who maybe gets a few families together who live a bit further away. For example, let’s say that there are 4 or 5 families who live an hour away from the church they normally go to, and one of those families the father is an elder. So he might start having bible study at his house Sunday nights so that those families only have to drive an hour on Sunday mornings. Well, then this grows hopefully, and maybe some day they become a church and call a pastor.

    But there are evangelists, and there are missionaries, etc.


  42. Matt,

    If I’m afraid to “share my faith” I suppose I’ll have to get over it, as I’m a seminary student seeking an MDiv. I intend to become a pastor. So I guess I’ll have to get over that fear.


  43. Rube,

    To build on what I said above to Matt: I am absolutely against, against, against anyone ever using this “fear” of going to do “street evangelism” as a way of making you feel guilty.

    Oh, you’re afraid are you? That’s just because you’re more afraid of man than you are of GOD! Sinner! Bad Christian!

    That’s WRONG. You don’t have to lead someone to Christ every year or every month or every week to be a “good Christian”. There’s no such thing as a good Christian. We’re wicked sinners. You have a way of contributing to the body of Christ. You can be a friend to your neighbors, being kind to them. Maybe you talk about your faith, maybe you don’t. But your life, like it or not, is a witness, no matter whether you speak out boldly or remain silent. Christ is glorified in you.

    Do whatever your hand finds to do, but whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. And that will be your witness.

    Your contribution to your church can be many things. It doesn’t have to be talking to people. Some in the body of Christ are internal organs. Some are mouths and speak for the church, but not everyone.

    Be kind to all, live at peace with all – but don’t let your fear to do street evangelism make you feel guilty. There is no law of God that demands that you DO street evangelism. The law for you is the 10 Commandments. For explication, see the Larger Catechism. Don’t add to that law, and don’t let anyone else add to that law.

    How come Paul and James both say that if you love your neighbor as yourself you are fulfilling the law? If we are all just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread, point people around you to church, because that’s the soup kitchen.


  44. “As I’m a seminary student seeking an MDiv. I intend to become a pastor.”

    That is great Echo.

    Although I may disagree with some of your interpretations of the Bible, I applaud your diligence in study of the Word. Based on what I have read here I am sure that whoever the Lord entrusts to your care will get a good dose of the gospel and grow in their faith through your very capable ministry.

    Stay humble,


  45. I look forward to disagreeing with you in the future :)

  46. To be fair, Matt didn’t try to use fear to prod you to “street evangelism”. He simply asserted that you may have a fear of sharing your faith.

    Which you may have. Who doesn’t? I recall Albino once being interviewed on some “christian” television program talking about how he made a commitment to share his faith with everyone he spoke to on a particular day. He talked about trying to share his faith with a taco bell drive through person. The hosts loved this story and then asked him something like, “so why is it so easy for you to share your faith with people?” What happened next was priceless. He stared at them with a blank look in his eyes and said, “It’s NOT easy. it’s hard, thats my point.”

    I hope Albino has that clip somewhere because it was priceless.

    Point is. We are all afraid to share our faith at some point or another. This is good, it encourages prayer. it strengthens our faith. Perhaps most of all it reminds us that we have this treasure in jars of clay. It is what keeps us humble.

  47. Matt,

    You’ve totally made my day!

    While I know I come across as very “my way or the highway” I do actually try to avoid that. I don’t want to come across that way. I want to come across as “The Bible’s way or the highway” or maybe “The gospel or the highway”. I know that as hard as I try to maintain that difference, I will still come across as “my way or the highway”. Well, anyway, Christians can and always will disagree on things. But hopefully we can all agree on the gospel, and build on that foundation.


  48. Daniel,

    That’s a great point.

    I took a speech class last semester, kind of a prelude to preaching. Speech in general. Well, there were only 6 of us in the class, because it’s kind of a remedial speech class for those who couldn’t test out of it. You can test out of it by giving a speech to the prof ahead of time. But I decided not to try to test out of it, because the more speech training I get, I figured, the better. So there were only 6 of us. So I gave speeches to 5 people. Every time I got nervous. And these guys weren’t going to judge me or be hard on me. It was hard for them too, and they were going to get up next, or they had just done it. And watching videos of myself giving speeches was terribly humiliating. I look like an idiot, I sound like an idiot, and, well, you get the point.

    So yeah, I’m afraid of standing in front of people. It’s terrifying, especially talking about something so intensely personal as this great faith of ours, which is our very life. But thankfully, that hasn’t stopped me thus far. I mean, at least I did GIVE my speeches.

    But since I am going to (Lord willing) be a pastor someday, it’s not my fear that is driving me to avoid evangelism. In fact, the interns at my church will be doing a Bible study…somewhere. ;) Soon. And I volunteered to be a part of it. It’ll involve a whole lot of speaking to strangers. But I can’t let my fear of that stand in the way. That will be an evangelistic type of thing. But as interns, unfortunately for me, because now it’s put up or shut up, we no longer fall into the category of laymen. Now we’re pastors in training, and we need to be doing some training by doing.

    So I am personally removed from the equation. The fear I was talking about was Rube’s confessed fear. He said he doesn’t do street evangelism because he’s afraid to do it. I’m trying to tell him that, hey, that’s not only ok, but you shouldn’t even feel the burden to do that. Because what can typically happen is that you feel the burden, but you’re afraid to do it. So you don’t do it, but that doesn’t relieve the burden. So you have a burden that you’re doing nothing about, producing guilt. You don’t do what you think you’re supposed to be doing. It is this guilt that Evangelical churches often, but not always, use to try to push people into doing things that they aren’t supposed to be doing in the first place.

    Faith comes through hearing the preached Word (Rom 10), and we, the OPC, take preaching VERY seriously, because we find that it is more important than a matter of life and death – it’s a matter of eternal life and death. The proper location for preaching is the pulpit.

    Now, laymen interact with people in the world all the time, so it’s inevitable that they’ll eventually be in a situation where they’re talking about what they believe. In my mind, however, this isn’t evangelism. When you go over to someone’s house for dinner and talk to them about Christianity, this is not evangelism, properly speaking. Evangelism, I believe, is preaching, preaching that gives rise to faith in Christ. That person needs to be invited to church, to hear the preached Word. They may need to warm to that slowly through the advice and help of a friend or whatever, but what is really effectual for salvation is the preached Word, by the ordained servant of God, who carries the treasures of Christ in a jar of clay.

    Some friends of mine have been Baptists for years, and recently made the move to the OPC. In talking to their new pastor – they will be joining the church very soon – lots of light bulbs have gone off in their minds. Things are just clicking into place. Well, they are hearing the exact same thing I’ve been saying and other people have been saying, and as abrasive as you guys think I am, some of the things I have said and others have said has in fact contributed to their decision. It was handled delicately I think. But anyway, now that the ordained minister is telling them these things, they are far more willing to listen and submit. He has an authority that I don’t have, that the others who have been planting seeds in them for years don’t have. Suddenly they are growing in their faith by leaps and bounds because they are hearing the gospel preached by the properly trained and ordained man bringing it to them from the Word of God. And even conversations they are having with him, asking him questions, they’re hearing nothing really new, but from the mouth of the man who has the authority to properly say it, and it is having a far, far greater effect. I would assert that it is because now they are being exposed to the man that God has set apart for that purpose, the man whose life is dedicated and set apart to bring the Word of God to people, the one who has the authority, properly, to do so. Yeah, he’s gone through seminary fully already, but he has also gone through ordination, which as I have explained, is no walk in the park. This man is properly qualified, called and recognized by the church for this purpose, and called by God for this purpose. So it only makes sense that what he’s doing and saying has a far bigger effect on their lives, because it’s how God has said it should work. So while I contributed, along with others, the part we played was very minor. We only softened them up to it a bit, but the pastor is now actually doing the shepherding/discipling. He’s better at it, and God blesses it. He’s saying roughly the same things, but he has God more fully behind him. So, anyway…


  49. Echo,

    Questions about your illustration with your friends…

    Is this pastor, in fact, leading them to salvation? You said they have been Baptists for years. Did they not understand about salvation in all those years? Is their new pastor really just helping them to mature?

    Also, would you assert that it is the fact that a man is set apart by God for ministry that makes him qualified or the training, ordination, liscencing, etc. that makes him properly suited?

  50. Secret,

    Re: 51

    No, he’s not leading them to salvation, more discipling. But the Great Commission is not a command to merely make converts, but to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything that Christ has commanded us. What I’m trying to point out is that the pastor is far, far more suited to the task than the layman, but ultimately, this is something that the church as a whole does. The pastor acts as the church’s agent in some ways. Anyway, the Great Commission is given to the whole body of Christ, with its diverse parts. The pastor can’t do what he does if everyone isn’t contributing their part. I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen some churches where the pastor literally does EVERYTHING. Those guys tend to get burned out REAL quick. Everyone needs to be contributing.

    You also asked what exactly makes a man well suited for these acts of ministry, namely pastors; is it the call of God on their lives, or their training and the rest of the process? I think this is a good and fair question to ask. The answer is really all of the above. But that only begins to answer your question.

    God gives men gifts that they can use to help contribute to the body of Christ, the church. To some he gives hospitality, for example. But having the gift of hospitality doesn’t mean you are magically hospitable. My parents are extremely gifted in this regard. They are like professionals at being hospitable. But they didn’t become that way overnight. It took years of cultivating that talent. In some ways, they took to it like ducks to water, but still, they have to cultivate those gifts. They have to learn how to do certain things. In some ways, you could say that they have a high aptitude for hospitality, but they still had to learn and practice the skill before they got really good at it.

    The gifts God gives to ministers work the same way. Yeah, he gives them this gift, but they don’t miraculously preach excellent sermons the day they graduate high school, and they don’t automatically know how to counsel people. They have to learn those things. They have to grow into their office, and they continue to grow throughout their careers. Thus you’ll find that older pastors are usually more desirable for a church than younger pastors, because older pastors are like the old masters of their craft. Young pastors often clearly have the gifts, but can still tend to lack refinement in their skills. Pastors then, like all of us who are being sanctified, like a good wine, get better with age.


  51. How would you know if you drink wine from a box? ;-)

  52. hahahaha…

    Because I don’t EXCLUSIVELY drink it from a box. Orfila rules. My wife and I are OWL club members.


  53. no idea what that means.

  54. Orfila vineyard in Escondido. Owl club is just their wine club. You but 6 bottles, twice a year, and you get discounts and free tastings whenever you want. It’s an excellent vineyard. Best around.

  55. talk about thread-jacking.

    From grace to wine.


  56. It had already been jacked. It was grace to Calvinism to Calvinist evangelism to pastors to wine.

  57. I liked that as much as David Letterman’s Top Ten List. Especially the following verse. This speaks to our need to stay humble and realize that we are just vessels which God allows to be used for His purposes. It is God who is the orchestrator and He should get the glory.

    “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

  58. From grace to wine.

    Isn’t the Lord’s Supper a means of grace? Which reminds me of the present doctrinal threat posed by Frank Valenti, in which objectivity and sacerdotalism get close to equating grace and wine (which is why Frank usually pushes paedocommunion).

    There. Full circle.

    I guess I need to write more new posts — these comment threads are becoming more like message boards!

  59. Daniel,

    Re: 59

    Piper’s article there is a PERFECT example of the motivation by guilt that I was talking about. He makes every single person who isn’t involved in missions who reads that article feel like they’re being disobedient if they aren’t involved in missions.

    He says: “God calls some to MISSIONS, not just evangelism.” This comes close to being helpful, because it implies that not EVERYONE is called to missions. But this is the only statement in the entire article that I noticed that seemed to even imply anything of the kind. Many people could read that article without even noticing the implication of this statement. Many people can interpret this article as, “If you aren’t involved in missions, you aren’t being obedient.”

    Piper’s statement here also implies that EVERYONE is called to evangelism, if not missions. There is no distinction made between what Paul did and what the individual person should do today. There is no accomadation made for the fact that Paul was an apostle and held a unique office. There is nothing said about whether you need to have certain gifts or certain training. The only requirement seems to be that you are a Christian.

    But we’ve already established on this blog elsewhere that there is a VERY minimal thing that someone needs to believe to be considered a believer. If someone only just barely made those requirements, are they now qualified to teach others? Do we imagine that Paul always spoke off the top of his head, or that everything he said was miraculously, instantly plopped into his head by the Holy Spirit? Not so, the man studied and worked.

    2Ti 4:13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.

    Timothy was going to visit Paul, and Paul said, hey, when you come, will you bring my jacket and the books I left behind? Why would he be concerned about having books except to read them?

    Further, in Acts 17 in Athens, Paul quotes even from pagan poets. He quotes them. The man was well read and well versed in the Scriptures.

    Now I’m not saying that everyone who preaches has to be the apostle Paul – not by any means. I might as well give up my chosen profession if I think that. But the fact is, James says:

    Jam 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

    James, writing in Scripture, says not many of you should become teachers. James by NO MEANS encourages everyone to get into the act of teaching. Maybe you will object that it says “teachers” rather than “pastors” or “missionaries” or “evangelists”, but pastors, missionaries, and evangelists all engage in teaching. They teach people what the Bible says. And James says that not many of us should do this. It is not something that everyone should do.

    Why does he say that not many of us should do it? Because teaching brings with it a stricter judgment.

    Here’s the proof (as if I need to prove James right, since his words are inspired by the Holy Spirit – but I’ll prove it anyway). Intuitively we understand that the requirements of what you ought to believe to become a Christian are very minimal. You only need to basically believe that Jesus is your only hope for salvation because of your sin. You need to believe something about God, and Jesus being God, and also the Holy Spirit. That’s about it. We all understand this.

    But what do we want in a pastor? Don’t we want OUR pastor to believe a little bit more than just the basics? Don’t we EXPECT our pastor to be wise about the Scriptures, don’t we expect that he can answer almost all of our questions about any point of Scripture? Don’t we expect that of him? And don’t we expect that he will also be able to give us wise counsel, and that he will be patient and gentle with us, in short that he will manifest Christ for us? Don’t we just automatically EXPECT that of our pastor?

    But we think anyone and everyone who believes the most basic truths of Christianity can and should be evangelists and missionaries, as if this is something different from being a pastor.

    It’s not being a pastor. The job of the evangelist is not simply to make converts. Tell me – where does Paul seem satisfied that people have only grasped the most very basic concepts of Christianity? Doesn’t the author to the Hebrews rebuke his readers because they should be ready for spiritual meat, but he must restrict himself to spiritual milk, as if they were babies?

    Intuitively, don’t we believe children ought to be taught by adults, not other children? Aren’t children who teach other children sort of like the blind leading the blind?

    The Great Commission is NOT a charge to the church to just make converts. Jesus never says, go and help people to believe the very most basic truths of Christianity, and be satisfied with that. He said:

    Mat 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    Mat 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    “Make disciples…teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded you.” (emphsis added)

    So where is the command to make converts who only believe the most fundamental truths of Scripture? Where are we told to be satisfied with believing the minimal truths? Where are we told to teach others only the minimal truths?

    If more than the minimal basics need to be taught to people, why are we sending out so many missionaries who don’t know much more than the most basic things? Why isn’t there some kind of requirement that they understand ALL that Christ has commanded us, since that is the command, to teach ALL that Christ has commanded?

    When we talk about teaching people ALL that Christ has commanded, it’s not just the 10 commandments, or the law to love your brother and love God. ALL that Christ has commanded us includes FAR more than that. It includes not just what we are to do, but also what we are to believe! Those who teach must be able to teach the entirety of the Christian faith to people.

    Then it seems to me that the first requirement – the very first one – needs to be at a MINIMUM that all teachers be THOROUGHLY versed in the Scriptures, and that they understand them. Their charge as a teacher is to teach the ENTIRE counsel of God.

    Act 20:26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you,
    Act 20:27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

    This is Paul talking here. Notice he doesn’t only say that he taught these people the whole counsel of God. Rather, he says that SINCE he had taught them the whole counsel of God, he is innocent of their BLOOD. The implication is, if you DON’T teach the full counsel of God, you ARE guilty of their blood.

    Why is this? Well, beside the fact that we are reminded of the words of James, that not many of us should be teachers because it brings a stricter judgment, there is more to it. It’s not that we simply are judged more strictly if we are teachers, but here’s why. We are judged more strictly because we have a greater responsibility – if we become teachers.

    Paul here is saying what his responsibility is as a teacher. He was responsible to teach them the whole counsel of God. To fail in his responsibility as a teacher is to be guilty of shedding their blood – figuratively speaking of course. But what is this business of shedding blood? Paul is saying that by witholding the truths of Scripture from them, he would have been spiritually murdering them. This harkens back to this:

    Eze 34:2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
    Eze 34:3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.
    Eze 34:4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

    Here we have not only an indictment of the wicked shepherds, but also a job description for what a shepherd SHOULD do. Shepherd is a pastor, teacher, whatever. In this passage it is talking about the prophets and the priests, but this can easily be translated into the NT offices of pastors, missionaries, evangelists, whatever.

    If the wicked shepherds are wicked because “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Then it follows that the job of the shepherd is to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind the injured, bring back the strays, find the lost, and rule with gentleness and understanding. This is the description of the godly shepherd. This is the description of the pastor, of the teacher.

    But, you say, evangelism is different from preaching, and missions are different from preaching, it’s different from being a pastor. We’re not asking people to be pastors and shepherds, but only evangelists and missionaries.

    I hear that objection. I understand why you might object in this way. I probably would have objected in the very same way once upon a time.

    But if Christians who ALREADY believe need to be shepherded by someone like this – how much moreso those who DON’T believe?! If believers, who are ostensibly far more loving and tolerant, need to be handled delicately, how about the unbeliever who is wicked, sinful and hostile to the Word of God? Are unbelievers worthy of less careful guidance than you or I are? Is something less required for them to come to faith than for you to grow in faith? Do you suppose that you need more sophisticated teaching because you’re a believer, while the unbeliever can be saved regardless of the quality of the instruction, or the quality of the instructor for that matter?

    I think the Bible makes it exceptionally clear that faith comes from hearing the preaching of the Word (Rom 10), and I think it also makes it exceptionally clear that those who preach are those who hold the office that gives them the authority to preach.

    God gave certain, specific men with specific gifts to grow you in faith through the preaching of the Word. The elect person who is as yet unregenerate needs to be handled more carefully than even you do. No, we don’t know who the elect are. Unbelievers could possibly all be elect, but as yet unregenerate. They could all be elect. If they are elect, and YOU are elect, aren’t you both God’s sheep, deserving of the gifts he has given to his church? If you are both elect, both God’s sheep, don’t you both need to be guided by his shepherd?

    But the believer who is untrained, who only knows “the basics” is not qualified to be YOUR pastor. You don’t want someone who just got saved yesterday to be your pastor do you? Aren’t all of God’s children worthy of the same quality shepherd you are?

    If we encourage EVERYONE to go be a missionary to Africa, for example, we’re saying that anyone who is a believer is qualified for the job. What – do we suppose the people in Africa aren’t as worthy of a pastor as we are?

    Again, the command is NOT to make converts. Nowhere in Scripture will you see anyone say, “Just teach them the basics, and that’s enough.” No – everywhere it says that they need to be taught ALL Christ’s commands, they need to be discipled. Paul says they need to be taught the whole counsel of God. There are other places too. The point is, the command is never, ever to teach the bare minimum.

    But by encouraging EVERYONE to be missionaries, encouraging EVERYONE to do evangelism, and trying to tell them that this is merely being obedient – implying that to not do so is to be disobedient – is to say that the work of evangelism and missions isn’t to make disciples, but only to make converts.

    If you say that everyone is called to be an evangelist, you are necessarily implying that evangelism means simply to make converts, to simply teach the most basic things about Christianity.

    Nowhere in Scripture is it ANYONE’S job description to only teach the basics. This is NOT what an evangelist does. This is not what a missionary does.

    If it is NOT the job of the evangelist and the missionary to teach only the basics, then automatically, it’s not everyone’s job to do missions and evangelism, because everyone doesn’t know more than the basics.

    True, we are all obligated to grow beyond the basics – all of us – but not everyone has yet.

    Ok, so maybe you say that only the older, wiser, more mature among us ought to be evangelists or missionaries.

    Yep, now you’re barking up the right tree. We have a process by which people are proven and tested by the church to discern their maturity and their wisdom and their ability to teach the Scriptures beyond the basics. We call this process ordination, whether to be a pastor or an elder. And these men are the ones who teach.

    And it just so happens that Paul says that these are those whom God has given to the church for their growth in maturity – which includes not only the later steps in the Christian life, but the very first step, because even the very first step in conversion is a step toward maturity.

    Evangelism, missions, teaching, preaching: these should done only by those who have been judged and tested by the church and set apart for that task.

    Jam 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

    If God judges teachers with greater strictness, then you ought to be very relieved if you discover that you are not cut out to be one. If you are not cut out to be one, it is because God has not called you to that task. You ought to be glad of it, because your judgment will be less severe. Less has been given to you, but less will be required. God has given you just what you need. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Not everyone has been given the gifts from God to teach. And thank God for that, because if everyone was trying to teach everyone else, no one would learn anything.

    Evangelism is not making converts. It’s making disciples.


  60. Daniel,

    Re: 62

    I just realized that that whole last post was addressed to you personally, when I really just used your Piper article as a springboard to make general statements. So that post is not a direct assault on you, and I hope you don’t take it that way. If anything, it’s Piper I’m disagreeing with, but I realize I’m really disagreeing with MOST of the Christian world when I say this.


  61. Echo,

    What do you think of the following situation: a group of people (or one person, it doesn’t really matter) who are not new Christians but are also not pastors go on a short-term foreign mission with a pastor as their leader. They go to a place where a small church is already established (by a long-term missionary pastor who lives there or a native believer who is a pastor), but the population as a whole has not heard the Gospel (or been exposed to it the way we typically are in American culture). That team does work around the city or town, whatever it may be. Whatever the resident pastor deems helpful or appropriate, they do. This may include passing out written information, doing dramas that teach the Gospel, service works (cleaning, building, etc.), putting on concerts (if they are so gifted in this area), having kid’s camps/activities, etc. They do these things not simply to make converts then leave; but they do this to help spread the word, then direct those people, in whom they may have planted seeds, to the local church where those seeds can be watered and God can make them grow.

    Do you see a problem with this situation, provided the members of the team would be mostly made up of mature Christians and spearheaded by a pastor, maybe even two?

  62. Echo,

    The problem here is your definition of evangelism is different from alot of other people’s definition(including mine).

    You have stated previously that when a Christian is talking with a friend, family member, co-worker, stranger, etc… about Jesus in casual conversation that it is not “evangelism”.

    You seem to equate evangelism alot more with teaching rather than just sharing your faith with others.

    I would disagree with that and say that it is evangelism and that person is doing what John Piper seems to be intimating is “missions”

    I believe this is why it is hard for you to get on the same page with what some of us are saying

  63. FWIW, this topic (migrated from “What is Grace” to “Who can evangelize”) is now being tossed around nearly verbatimly centering on whether or not a newly converted fellow like Jeffery DaHmer should be encouraged, allowed or whatever, to evangelize upon being converted:

    Here is the link. In it you will find Mr. zrim doing the heavy lifing.

  64. Secret,

    Re: 64

    While the situation you describe could have some problems, it’s probably alright. I mean, error could come into that situation, but as long as the laypeople who go recognize that they aren’t teachers, it’s ok. Drama and concerts can be tricky when it comes to a worship service, but outside that context, that’s ok, provided laypeople aren’t doing “altar calls” and such. But yeah, passing out flyers is great, doing charitable, deacon-type work is great, reaching out to children is great too. While most Christians aren’t qualified to teach adults, many are qualified to teach children, at least if you give them a curriculum or something, like in a Vacation Bible School curriculum. That’s ok. I mean, lay people can teach children’s Sunday School classes.

    But the biggest burden that should be on the shoulders of the layman is to love. Love especially their brothers, but also their fellow human beings. That’s the best and most effective witness to unbelievers and an encouragement to other believers.


  65. Matt,

    God gave pastors to the church to teach them the gospel. Pastors speak for God bringing his Word. You and I don’t have that authority.

    You can talk to your unsaved or unchurched or underchurched friends at work or whatever, but if you think that the RESPONSIBILITY to bring them to Christ falls on your shoulders, you’re putting an unnecessary burden on yourself. I’m not saying you can’t talk to them, I’m just saying it’s not sin if you don’t. I mean, if they ask you if you’re a Christian and you say no, obviously that’s a sin because you’re lying. But it’s not your responsibility or your place to work on getting them saved. Pray for them. Invite them to church. Answer their questions, but point them to Christ and to his church. You are not the God appointed speaker for God, your pastor is. Your pastor IS obligated to speak, which is why he does it every Sunday. But you aren’t, which is why you don’t.

    Now you can define “evangelism” however you want for your own purposes, but if you’re going to talk about the Bible’s use of the word “evangelism” then you have to stick with the Biblical definition for the word. You can’t just make up your own.

    2Ti 4:5 (ESV) As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

    First, this is a command from Paul to Timothy, not from God to you. That doesn’t mean God has nothing to say to you here, but it might not be the same thing as what Paul is saying to Timothy. Anyway, Timothy was a pastor.

    Evangelist comes from two root words in Greek: “eu” meaning “good” and “angelo” meaning “announce or proclaim”. Ok? The word “angel” in english comes from this same word, because an “angelos” is a messenger, and angels are God’s messengers. But this word can also (in the opinion of some) be used to refer to pastors as well, as in the letters to the 7 churches. Some say it’s “to the pastor in the church at…” But I digress. Now the word “evangelist” means, according to Strong’s:

    From G2097; a preacher of the gospel: – evangelist.

    An evangelist then is a preacher of the gospel. You can even see this from the root words. The word “evangelical” actually comes from “euangelion” which refers to the “good news” or “good announcement” or “good proclamation”, which is the gospel. It doesn’t mean sharing your faith or loving your brother, or whatever. It means preaching the gospel. And if Stong’s definition isn’t good enough for you, I just dropped over 100 bucks on some fancy lexicon, so if you want a full discussion of what the word means, by all means feel free to ask.

    Evangelism as defined by the Bible means preaching the gospel. Period.

    Rom 10:14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
    Rom 10:15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

    How are they to preach unless they are sent? And who sends them? Who sends people to preach the gospel? God.

    Eph 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
    Eph 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

    And again, please don’t get hung up on the word “ministry” in verse 12, because it just means “service”.

    My point is that preaching the gospel is something done according to God’s calling. God calls the pastor, so he trains and then he preaches. Preaching is his calling. Still not convinced?

    1Co 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

    All the same words being used here. “Euangelion” is what it says every time for “gospel”, while “proclaim” is a different word, but one that means pretty much the same as “preach”. But whatever, those who are proclaiming the gospel should make their living by the gospel, according to the Lord’s command, says Paul. So preaching the gospel is a full time job.

    Is preaching the gospel your FULL TIME job? Is that how you make your living? Is it what your life is consumed with? If not, that’s no big deal, it just isn’t your calling. God has people for that. Are all a hand, are all a foot? The body has many members. It’s ok. It’s not evil or the fear of man for the foot to say that it is not the mouth. But if you want to preach the gospel, then you should do it as a full time job. You should go to seminary, learn how to do it properly, and then go do it. Otherwise, it’s not your responsibility.

    But again, if you want to change the definition of evangelism to mean that you are responsible to love your brother and your neighbor, fine, go ahead. But before you say that evangelism is everybody’s responsibility and make people feel guilty, you better make sure that you’re not injecting your extrabiblical definition of evangelism back into the text. Because the definition of evangelism is very specific, and those who are responsible for doing it is also very specific. If you want to use your own ideas for what evangelism means, fine, but don’t go to the Scriptures for support for your ideas, because it isn’t there.


  66. Echo,

    I am curious what you would do with somebody that asked you to tell them about Jesus? Would you? Or would you refer him to your pastor? (Knowing that although you are in seminary you are not a full time minister)

  67. Matt,

    You either didn’t read this paragraph, or by the time you got down to the bottom of my unreasonably long post, you had forgotten, because it was toward the beginning of the post. Here it is again.

    – Echo said (68):
    “You can talk to your unsaved or unchurched or underchurched friends at work or whatever, but if you think that the RESPONSIBILITY to bring them to Christ falls on your shoulders, you’re putting an unnecessary burden on yourself. I’m not saying you can’t talk to them, I’m just saying it’s not sin if you don’t. I mean, if they ask you if you’re a Christian and you say no, obviously that’s a sin because you’re lying. But it’s not your responsibility or your place to work on getting them saved. Pray for them. Invite them to church. Answer their questions, but point them to Christ and to his church. You are not the God appointed speaker for God, your pastor is. Your pastor IS obligated to speak, which is why he does it every Sunday. But you aren’t, which is why you don’t.”

    Believe it or not, that answers your question. See the part where I said, “Answer their questions…” or “You can talk to your unsaved friends”.

    Look, if you have a beef with the difference between having a casual conversation with a friend and preaching the gospel, take it up with Paul, who isn’t interested in binding peoples’ consciences to have casual conversations, or to make laymen feel like they have to be pastors.

    You see I have found that a very serious problem in Evangelical churches, who think everyone is called to evangelism, is that they tend to have a very, very low view of the office of pastor. Is that right? Is that biblical? What does the Bible say about our pastors? What’s their job? How should we think of them? You tell me. If we start to think too much of what it means to be a layman believer, we start to think too little about what it means to be a pastor. The church is not a democracy.


  68. Echo, “The church is not a democracy.” Is a funny thing to say when your denomination relies on vote taking to form it’s doctrines. And correct me if I’m wrong but after you graduate and are licensed aren’t you then supposed to wait for some congregation to call you and then you go through a couple of interviews and then hope that the elders vote you in as pastor? And then can’t they also vote you out if they don’t like what you have to say? seems like a lot of politics for something that isn’t a democracy.

  69. re: #66
    What would you say if someone who persecuted and killed Christians became an Apostle? Who would have thunk it? And how would he have fared with his missionary board application?

  70. re: #72

    re: #66
    What would you say if someone who persecuted and killed Christians became an Apostle? Who would have thunk it? And how would he have fared with his missionary board application?

    You obviously didn’t read the material referenced in #66. That very question was raised and addressed. So also was Moses’ murderous past addressed.

  71. Daniel,

    You and I are clearly operating with different distinctions.

    Presbyterian government is more like a republic, or a federal government. Sure, there are votes in matters of doctrine, but that’s like saying that since Congress votes on things, this is a democracy. When I say democracy, I mean pure democracy. In other words, my comment should be interpreted as saying that the church is not governed by the laypeople. A church equivalent of democracy would be congregational churches, not presbyterian churches.

    Anyway, you are right about a few things. For one, the church does call its pastor. The laypeople vote on whether or not to call a guy. But they don’t have the final say. For one thing, the elders of that church have to approve him first before it even gets to the congregation. Furthermore, once the congregation approves, then the guy goes through the testing at the presbyterial level (regional church, consisting of representative elders, generally one or two from each of the regional churches, as well as all the pastors of the churches in the region). So if the elders of that church say no, it isn’t even put to a vote. If the elders of that church say yes, and the congregation says yes, the presbytery can still say no. The presbytery has the ultimate authority there.

    If one were so inclined, one could think of the pastor-church relationship a little bit like a marriage. Just because the woman consents to marry a man doesn’t mean she has the authority in the marriage, it just means that she enters that relationship freely.

    Now, if a church wants to get rid of their pastor, they can’t just vote him out, as you say. Charges must be brought against him. This cannot be done at the local church level. This charge can only be brought at the presbytery level, and only they have the authority to dissolve that relationship. But even if they approve of the dissolving, it can still be appealed to the General Assembly. The church has to prove to the presbytery, and then the GA if appealed, that the man is teaching wrong things, that his preaching is out of accord with the established doctrines of the church, which means out of accord with primarily the Scriptures, secondarily the Westminster Confession, and thirdly the OPC book of church order. The Presbytery then decides the case. If they find him not guilty, the church is stuck with him, just like a woman who no longer fancies her husband is stuck with him.

    With regard to matters of doctrine, laypeople don’t vote on that. The people in the pews don’t have the authority or the right to say what our church believes. The authority comes first from the local session of elders at the local church, and if the decision made there is not appreciated, it can be appealed to presbytery. That can in turn be appealed to the General Assembly.

    Now, the General Assembly is made up of delegates, a certain number from each presbytery. It forms and is dissolved every year. It’s usually about 130 delegates or so. All elders and ministers. They are the final human authority on all matters. Hopefully, what they do is in accord with the Scriptures, the Confession and the BCO. If it isn’t, sometimes people appeal to the following General Assembly.

    For example, there was, once upon a time, an elder who was charged with teaching something other than justification by faith alone. It was a very confusing and vague thing he was teaching, and people disagreed as to what exactly he was saying. At the very least it was unclear. So, someone in his church brought charges against him in the local church, the local elders. Well, I think they exonerated him. But this was appealed to presbytery, where I think they convicted him. This in turn was appealed to General Assembly, where they found him not guilty. He repented in front of them all, apologized for being unclear, restated his conviction that justification is indeed by faith alone, etc. All fine and good. Many, however, in the denomination didn’t like this decision.

    So a local church sent an overture to their presbytery, asking them to overture the next General Assembly, to ask them to do a study of the New Perspective on Paul, the Federal Vision, and to reaffirm the Assembly’s stance on justification.

    The General Assembly received this overture, and they did exactly that. They didn’t overturn the previous judicial decision; no one asked them to do that, though the GA has that authority. We aren’t Romans, who think that our GA is infallible. Anyway, they didn’t ask them to overturn their previous decision, they asked them to erect a study committee to look into these matters, and produce a critique of these errors (NPP and FV). This was done. The General Assembly also published their affirmation of justification according to the Westminster Standards, Scripture, etc. The study committee produced the statement on justification, which was passed by a subsequent GA. This was a very good thing, because it got people thinking about this stuff, and now there’s a critique out there of these errors that has the GA’s stamp on it.

    To be sure, the lower authorities appealed to the higher authorities and asked them to rethink what they had done. But notice that there remained throughout a clear authority structure that was not circumvented in any way.

    In the same way, your wife might ask you to do something, but it remains up to you to do it, because the husband is the one with the authority. When you do what she asks, you haven’t given her your authority, you have had mercy on her, loved her, and did what you thought was best to keep her happy. Especially if she hasn’t asked you to do anything wrong, perhaps even more especially if she asks you to do the right thing, she ought to be listened to as wise counsel. But the decision rests with the one in authority, the husband.

    This is anything BUT democracy. In a democracy, the laypeople are the ones with the authority.

    The USA is not a pure democracy. It is a democratic republic. California is a little more democratic with its ballot initiatives, but it remains a representational republic.

    In Presbyterian government, we feel very strongly that Christ alone is the king of the church. Elders and ministers serve under him. No one man is ever in charge of anything. There are always a plurality of elders in charge. This seeks to make the statement that Christ is the king, and they ought to convince one another of what Christ would want. Thus everything must be according to Scripture, and the Confession, which is a summary of what we claim the Bible says.

    So I reassert my comment. The Church is not a democracy.

    That does not mean, of course, that there are no politics.


  72. Albino,

    To be sure, Paul was absolutely evil, and his crimes were a manifestation of rage against Christ. In this regard, he and JD are the same, only in varying degrees.

    There is, however, a tendency in SOME circles, to put the guy on stage who has the most, shall we say, interesting testimony. In SOME circles, this has to do with people being fascinated by the SIN, rather than being fascinated with the redemption. In SOME circles, there is a lack of shame about prior sin. Hey, I’m all in favor of someone who has been forgiven much to be super grateful to God. This is only right. If JD is a true Christian (something I am in no position to judge whatsoever, because I have not heard his confession), then by all means, he ought to be grateful, and should even appropriately shout it from the rooftops.

    However, he should not be viewed as a rock star among Christians, as if his former sins are glamorous some how. That is the concern here. This particular situation reflects two errors on two sides of the coin. With regard to JD:

    1) Some people would tend to be awed at his sin, and want to be regaled with tales of his former life. This is wrong and, well, yucky.

    2) Some people would tend to deny that it’s possible for him to be saved at all. That’s equally yucky.

    But if the man should speak in front of people, then let him be properly trained first, so that he understands his own salvation clearly.

    I do not doubt that a testimony like this could be a very powerful one. If nothing else, it is a reminder to us believers not to fall into error 2 above. We shouldn’t look at even a JD like he is beyond salvation. We have no right to even be skeptical.

    But we must first hear his confession if we are to judge one way or the other.

    At any rate, there are SOME people who say that the pastor should not tell stories from his own life from the pulpit. I bet you can’t even imagine why someone would have that opinion. I don’t know how I feel about it. I think (I’m not sure) that the argument has to do with speaking for God from the pulpit, not yourself. I think it has to do with separating the man from the office when speaking from the pulpit, as if to underscore that we don’t preach ourselves but the Word of God, in other words, Christ. Him we proclaim.

    I tend to find this argument to be plausible and generally good. I’m not sure it can be totally absolutized though. I don’t think the man can be totally divorced from his office.

    Where I stand right now is, I don’t think a man should get up in the pulpit and ALWAYS draw an illustration from his own life. But once in a while, and I’m not willing to put a number on it, that’s ok. Whatever it takes to help people understand the text I say. What needs to be remembered by the man in the pulpit is that he IS in fact speaking on behalf of the Word of God, not himself. So he’s not up there giving his opinion, but what the Bible says. If you can maintain that and tell your own story from time to time to help underscore and clarify what the text is saying, so be it. Whatever gives the text the clearest voice. Paul certainly used illustrations from his own life.

    But that brings us back to JD. Again I would say that the man’s testimony should be told. But if he is to preach, let him be properly trained first, so that he can make the clearest sense of his story, so that he understands it himself, so that he can most clearly explain what the Bible says, utilizing his own story.


  73. Echo, I agree with every one of your points. This may be a first.

  74. I am glad of it. Now we can get back to the question: What is grace?


  75. Or perhaps more needs to be said about evangelism before returning to the main topic of this thread?


  76. 48 hours of silence.

  77. Echo –

    Throughout post 7 I was reminded of Romans 9:18-26 (NASB):

    “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.” AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”

    Interestingly, God is willing to make His wrath known for those prepared for destruction, however, because of His grace and for His glory, He endures until all the called come to repentance. You make the point that God has left the false believers within the community of faith in the visible church for the sake of waiting for the elect. You also point out that the reprobate enjoy the benefits of this grace, but I would like to add that it is for the vast glory of God bestowed upon the elect that, in accordance with Romans 9, the reprobate are being endured. Either way you look at it, I would agree that the longsuffering of God in relation to the reprobate is ultimately for the sake of the elect, and that we receiving God’s glory may offer it back to Him for the sake of His Name.


  78. Josh,

    Amen. Well said. And I am not surprised.


  79. […] bugs me. Faith and faithful are words that (to me, at least), have unrelated meanings (see also grace vs. graceful). Faith is belief, but faithful does not mean being ‘full of faith‘. […]

  80. […] to MSamudio) This article by Kline shows incredible insight into the hows, whys, and wherefores of Frank Valenti (known to most as FV). Kline expresses in crystal clear words an understanding I could never quite […]

  81. […] “Grace” (part I) Posted on July 12, 2008 by RubeRad It appears it is necessary once again to discuss the definition of “grace”. In English (as in Greek), there are many […]

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