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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Scripture

Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Scripture
With Four Examples of Doctrinal Errors that Arise When this Key is not Used.

images"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (John 5:39, 40)

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" - (1 Tim 2:5)

"The Scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them. Whoever turns aside from this object, even though he wears himself out all his life in learning, he will never reach the knowledge of the truth." - John Calvin

I have recently had the privilege of reading a phenomenal book that I highly recommend to all teachers of the Word. That book was Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy. Its thesis is simple: the Gospel (or, Jesus Christ) is the Key to all Christian Hermeneutics. During the course of reading, his focus got me to thinking about its antithesis which would be that almost all errors and inconsistencies in our understanding of Bible texts occur when our interpretation is less than Christ-centered. This is foundational. Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. The importance of the Bible (OT & NT) is that it testifies about Jesus Christ (John 1:43-45, Acts 3:18, Acts 17:2-3, 2 Tim 3:14-15,1 Pet 1:10-12, Rom 1:1-3, 16:25-27, Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46).

Jesus never condemned a Pharisee for taking Moses too seriously. They take him far less seriously than they should. For Jesus says, "If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for He write of Me. But if you don't believe His writings, how will you believe My words. Your accuser is Moses." (John 5:46). So to understand Moses is to come to know Christ when He is revealed. Likewise, Abraham saw Jesus’ day and was glad, the Bible testifies. And "...foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." (Gal)

But now, let's shift gears by getting specific about doctrinal errors that fail to take into account the above biblical principles ... These are produced by an interpretitive grid or presupposition that arises from Christless or less-than-Christocentric views of Scripture. In the following, I wish to give 3-4 examples of current popular, but erroneous, interpretations, that err simply because they fail to see the centrality of Jesus Christ in their understanding:

1) The False Assertion that Salvation can be Lost

The claim by some that a Christian can actually lose his or her salvation is a prime example of reading Christ out of the text, because the focus becomes your own moral ability rather than Christ. Some erroneously believe that a Christian, after being saved by Christ, can make certain choices that will lead to the loss of their adoption and justification, and thus, their salvation in Christ. In other words, they must, by their own effort, or with the Spirit's help, maintain their just standing before God. With such a view, Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Such a doctrine should immediately make us think of Paul's warning in Galatians: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3) But why is Paul so stern as to call them foolish? Because they have forgotten that Christ and Christ alone has saved them. To think that we can add to Christ's perfect work is to utterly misapprehend the Gospel at its core. For, we ask, is it Jesus or something else which is sufficient to carry you to the end? Any addition to Jesus Christ is to believe that justification is found in something else has forgotten about the centrality of Christ.

So we ask in relation to this doctrine, is it Christ who saves us, or does He merely assist us so we may save ourselves? The warning passages in Hebrews actually warn against this very error. They start by pointing out that Jesus is superior to the angels, to Moses and to the Sacrificial System. The warnings of falling away are actually warnings about going back to something inferior to Christ, like the sacrificial system which only pointed to Christ. To read that a particular sin can make us lose our salvation, is thus, to utterly forget what the context of the Text in Hebrews itself is. So the assertion that a Christian can lose salvation is the first error that we have spotted that arises because Christ was seen as the ultimate interpretive presupposition, and thus, left out of the interpretation. Some other ultimate presupposition guided our exposition.

2) Synergism

Synergism is the error that affirms that the natural man can cooperate with God in the regeneration process (the new birth) ...that an unregenerate person has the moral capacity to embrace the Gospel apart from the work of the Spirit changing the heart.

Again, remember what our interpretive Key to the Bible is? Jesus Christ. So, in relation to regeneration and conversion, when the gospel is preached, what makes people to differ in their response to it? Does Jesus Christ make us differ or does something else? This “something else” may take various forms; it may be something native to the human constitution (i.e. Pelagianism) or something alien yet universal (i.e. Arminianism)? In either case, the point is that it is not Christ that makes the difference. Anyone who claims that the difference arises from one of these something-else’s has failed to see first our hopelessness as fallen creatures apart from Christ and second the exclusive sufficiency of Christ’s saving work. If I am different than my neighbor because of something other than Jesus Christ, then Christ, whatever role he may play, cannot be central to my understanding of salvation. He is only partly responsible for it. It is the grace we have in Christ that saves, and nothing in addition to it.

3) Four-Point Calvinism

Four-point Calvinism fails the test of Christ-centered interpretation because this view tends to see the TULIP as an abstraction. But the TULIP only works when we see Christ at its center. Consider the TULIP as a chiasm with the "L" at the top of the pyramid. It is Jesus Christ which makes sense of all the doctrines of grace. Four-point Calvinists who reject Limited Atonement but embrace irresistible grace must consider this: Irresistible grace is not some abstract doctrine but must be seen in relation to Jesus Christ, specially in relation to the grace purchased by Christ upon the cross. The Spirit of Christ illuminates, regenerates and effectually brings to faith his elect. And this enabling, effectual grace is, from first to last, Christ-centered. It does not come out of a void, nor from some hidden source of grace in God the Father. Therefore Christ must have died for the elect so as to purchase that grace in a way – a redemptive way – that he did not die for the non-elect. That is why we often call it particular redemption. Irresistible grace is one of the redemptive benefits purchased by Jesus Christ ... and it was never granted to the non-elect nor intended for them. I believe that until Jesus Christ is seen as central to the TULIP then four-pointers will continue to reject what is plain.

4) Purgatory

Roman Catholics believe in Purgatory, which again accents their belief that Christ is not sufficient to save completely. Rather then, we must work off our sins after death for 1000's of years until it is paid. Where is Christ in all this? Was His work insufficient to cover their sins completely and once for all?

Each of these errors occurs when the our hermeneutic - our ultimate presupposition - is not Jesus Christ.

J.W. Hendryx

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Munus Triplex - The Triple Cure - Christ as Prophet, Priest and King

Prophet-Priest-KingIn the Old Testament, a person could be a prophet, a priest or a King, but it was impossible to be all three. Yet Scripture attributes all three of these offices to Christ. To discover what He does for us as He fulfills these three differing roles is a wonderfully enriching biblical study.

Christ holds these offices eternally. As the ultimate revelation of the Prophet, He speaks the word of God to us; as Priest, He represents us fully to the Father and brings the supreme atoning sacrifice (of Himself) that placates the Father's holy and just wrath against us for our sin; and as the conquering and reigning King, He is forever worthy of our worship and adoration. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Christ's threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King is a central teaching in Reformed Theology, but it is a much neglected theme in much of the modern day Church. The Latin theological term for this is Munus Triplex, also known as "the Triple Cure," referring to these offices of Christ providing the remedy for us in our fallen condition.

As far as we can tell, it was Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (1.3.8) who first described the concept of these three fold offices of Christ. He said that Jesus is “the only high priest of all, and the only king of every creature, and the Father’s only supreme prophet of prophets." Yet as with most things, it was John Calvin who made the concept widely known by his teaching in the Institutes:

"Therefore, in order that faith may find a firm basis for salvation in Christ, and thus rest in him, this principle must be laid down: the office enjoined upon Christ by the Father consists of three parts. For he was given to be prophet, king and priest." - Institutes II. xv. 1

This concept was then taken up by others in the Reformation, including Herman Bavinck, as seen in this quote:

"…Christ, both as the Son and as the image of God, for Himself and also as our Mediator and Saviour, had to bear all three offices. He had to be a prophet to know and to disclose the truth of God; a priest, to devote Himself to God and, in our place, to offer Himself up to God; a king, to govern and protect us according to God’s will. To teach, to reconcile, and to lead; to instruct, to acquire and to apply salvation; wisdom, righteousness, and redemption; truth, love, and power – all three are essential to the completeness of our salvation. In Christ’s God-to-humanity relation, He is a prophet; in His humanity-to-God relation He is a priest; in His headship over all humanity He is a king. Rationalism acknowledges only His prophetic office; mysticism only His priestly office; millennialism only His royal office. But Scripture, consistently and simultaneously attributing all three offices to Him, describes Him as our chief prophet, our only [High] priest, and our eternal king. Though a king, He rules not by the sword but by His Word and Spirit. He is a prophet, but His word is power and really happens. He is a priest but lives by dying, conquers by suffering, and is all-powerful by His love. He is always all these things in conjunction, never the one without the other: mighty in speech and action as a king and full of grace and truth in His royal rule."

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: refers to it in questions 23-26:

Q. 23. What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?

A. Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet (Deut 18:18, Heb 1:1-2), of a priest (Heb 4:14-15, Heb 5:5-6),and of a king (Is 9:6-7, Lk 1:32-33, John 18:37, 1 Cor 15:25), both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

Q. 24. How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?

A. Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his Word (Heb 2:3) and Spirit (1 Peter 1:11), the will of God for our salvation.

Q. 25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?

A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice (Acts 8:32-35), and reconcile us to God (Col 1:21-22), and in making continual intercession for us (Heb 9:24).

Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?

A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us (Col 1:13), and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies (Col 2:15).

Here is Dr. Kim Riddlebarger teaching on the three fold offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King:

Love Not Uncertain Riches

We should not love the world because it will direct us toward things that are unreasonable, which will be seen in these four particulars: 

1. It will direct you to things that are merely probable, and make you leave things that are certain. It is unreasonable to be taken away from things that are certain in order to be put on things that are only probable. It is only probable for any man in this world to get the world. It is unreasonable to follow hard after that which is only probable, whether we shall get it or not. Haggai 1:6 says, “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.” Verse 9 then concludes, “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it.” It is a hazard, a great venture to get the things of this world. Men may take a great deal of pains to pursue these things eagerly, and yet come short of them. Most people die in their expectations; they look to get these things and do not get them.

Indeed, those who labor most usually attain least. Therefore, as the wise man says in Ecclesiastes 9:11, “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift.” Now who should win the race but the swift? It is most probable that the swift should win the race; but “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” It is uncertain whether they shall get these things or not. The promises of the world and the devil are seldom made good. However, there are other things that are certain, and therefore it misleads men to think unreasonably to leave certain things for improbable things. God’s promises are certain. God will not fail men who take pains for true wisdom and understanding. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7). Seek these things, for they are certain.

Deeds of Darkness and Death. Lights of Love and Life.

Today’s devotion comes from 1 John 3:11-15.

“11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;  12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother.  And for what reason did he slay him?  Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.                                

13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.  14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love abides in death.  15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer;  and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”  1 John 3:11-15.

There are deeds of darkness and death.

“Cain … was of the evil one and slew his brother.  And for what reason did he slay him?  Because his deeds were evil”.  Verse 12.

“Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”  Verse 13.

“He who does not love abides in death.”  Verse 14.

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer”.  Verse 15.

“and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”  Verse 15.

There are lights of love and life.

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another”.  Verse 11.

The deeds of Abel “were righteous.”  Verse 12.

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.”  Verse 14.

Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, is our only hope that we can be those lights of love and life in a world of darkness and death.

“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light,
And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death,
Upon them a Light dawned.”  Matthew 4:11.

“In Him (Jesus Christ) was life, and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  …

“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:4-5 and 9-13.

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;  but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  1 John 1:5-7.

“The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”  1 John 2:10.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God;  and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  1 John 4:7.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  1 John 4:10-11.

“We love, because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  John 5:24.

Posted by: Bill Hornbeck | February 19, 2013
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