Archive for April, 2007

Baptists & Polity (Pt 2)

Pastor John Piper argues that a reading of the historic Baptist Confessions suggests that elders were assumed in most of the early Baptist churches. He provides evidence to support his thesis from a variety of historical Baptist sources: A Short Confession of Faith in Twenty Articles (1609), Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion (1612-1614), The London Confession (1644), Second London Confession (1677 & 1688), Articles of the Baptist Bible Union of America (1923), and Statement of Faith of the Southern Baptist Convention (1925 & 1963) (Biblical Eldership: Shepherd the Flock of God Among You, pp. 47-49).

At the very least, church history proves that it is not oxymoronic to be both Baptist and governed by a plurality of elders. In the words of John Piper, “It is false to say that the eldership is unbaptistic [emphasis his]. On the contrary, the eldership is more baptistic than its absence, and its disappearance is a modern phenomenon that parallels other developmentss in doctrine that makes its disappearance questionable at best” (Biblical Eldership, p. 49).

The Word of God is, of course, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. The Scriptures provide ample evidence that clearly supports the plural-elder model of leadership. The early church appears to have functioned in this way (Acts 14:23, Acts 15:2, Acts 20:28, Titus 1:5, Hebrews 13:7, James 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1-3). Alexander Strauch’s book, Biblical Eldership, does a fine job of highlighting this point from the witness of the New Testament. Baptist churches that are elder-led reflect the polity of the New Testament church and are consistent with what many Baptists have practiced throughout their history.

Baptists and Church Polity

Church polity was a hotly debated issue in the early Baptist church and it is one that continues to rage to this day. “The early Baptist church emerged in seventeenth-century England as autonomous units. Each church had an ordained leader (minister, pastor, or teacher) and deacons elected by the members. Some churches also had elders while others appointed messengers to organize new churches or minister to those churches lacking a leader” (Baptist Life, p. 47). It is best to admit that there were many different forms of church government within the early Baptist movement. In other words, deacon-led, elder-led, and congregation-led churches probably all existed early in Baptist circles.

It appears that many Baptist churches were in fact governed by elders. Former professor of church history at the Master’s Seminary, James Stitzinger, believes that Baptists had multiple elders in their polity up until Hiscox wrote his New Directory (a church polity manual) in the late 1800s. Pastor Mark Dever notes that, “Throughout seventeenth-century England, Baptists affirmed the office of elder. In 1697, Benjamin Keach wrote of ‘bishops, overseers, or elders,’ clearly implying that these New Testament titles refer to one office” (By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life, p. 18). In 1767, one of the great Baptist theologians, John Gill, wrote the massive systematic theology textbook, Body of Divinity. In his book, this English Baptist leader writes, “These pastors and teachers are the same with bishops, or overseers, whose business it is to feed the flock; they have the episcopacy or oversight of, which is the work pastors are to do; which office of a bishop is a good work, and is the only office in the church distinct from that of deacon.—And these bishops are the same with elders …” Later he adds, “These pastors, teachers, bishops, and elders, are called rulers, guides, and governors. A pastor, or shepherd, is the governor and guide of his flock; a teacher and a ruling elder are the same, 1 Tim. 5:17” (Body of Divinity, Vol. II, p. 575). John Gill clearly taught that there are only two offices in the church: elders and deacons. Elders are responsible for teaching, leading, and shepherding the flock of God, while deacons are more accountable for the physical needs of members within the church.

In his book, By Whose Authority, Mark Dever documents a continuity of belief in elder-governed churches from the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B Johnson, to William Williams (1874), a member of the founding faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to the renowned Charles Spurgeon (By Whose Authority? pp. 19-21). In 1907, A.H. Strong, author of a popular Reformed Baptist Systematic Theology, summarized his position a little differently: “In certain of the N.T. churches there appears to have been a plurality of elders…There is however, no evidence that the number of elders was uniform, or that the plurality which frequently existed was due to any other cause than the size of the churches for which the elders cared. The N.T. example, while it permits the multiplication of assistant pastors according to need, does not require a plural eldership in every case…There are indications, moreover, that, in certain churches, the pastor was one, while the deacons were more than one, in number” (Systematic Theology, p.916). Suffice it to say, many Baptist preachers and theologians understood that the New Testament model was elder-governed churches. Some differences existed among Baptist theologians as to whether this meant a plurality of elders leading the church (e.g., Benjamin Keach and John Gill) or whether it was acceptable in some instances to have just one (e.g., A.H. Strong).

“Old” Preaching

Derek Thomas has reviewed the sixth volume of Hughes Oliphant Old’s The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church.Old’s series is a goldmine for those wishing to explore the history of the Word preached. He starts with the biblical period of the OT and works to the present in a systematic and exhaustive fashion. In any work like this there will be gaps and oversights, which Thomas takes note of, but there is not another work that comes close to Old’s magnum opus.

Lunch Meeting with John Piper

I had the privilege to attend a Pastor’s lunch today where John Piper was the guest speaker.  I think their were about 100 pastors gathered together in Indianapolis so it was a relatively intimate setting.  Dr. Piper is a great preacher and a gift to the universal church.  His preaching and writing ministries have positively impacted thousands and thousands of pastors.  I am not a “Piper-ite” but I definitely appreciate this man’s unalterable commitment to the gospel and to sound theology.  We should all really pray for him this next month as he begins two important writing projects (one on the New Perspective and another on Christian marriage).  Pastor John said he is exhausted after a very busy Spring (go figure).  Please pray for him and his family.


In most areas I believe Piper’s “Christian Hedonism” campaign is very biblical.  I sometimes wonder though if he imposes this life long theological pursuit on too many passages of Scripture?  I know he (and his supporters) would argue otherwise.  They see God’s passion for His glory and the theology behind the slogan, ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’ as two of the most central doctrines in all of Scripture.  (I believe the first statement is entirely correct and that the second with qualifications is also a valuable statement).  I think Piper’s error is similar to what happens with some Covenant theologians/preachers.  Sometimes Covenant theologians in their noble effort to find/preach Christ in every verse of Scripture do a little hermeneutical esogesis.  In my humble opinion, this happens with John Piper in some of his lectures and sermons as well.


Dr. Piper spoke briefly on John 11:1-6 and showed the connection between God’s passion for His glory (v. 4) and the greater joy that is experienced by man when they too find their satisfaction in God’s love/power/glory.  He pointed out how important the Greek word translated in V. 6 as “so” or “therefore” is to the entire passage.  Jesus stayed for two extra days so that all these things could take place:  He was able to glorify himself and demonstrate His great love towards Martha’s family in and through this wonderful demonstration of His power/love/glory found in v. 11.  Dr. Piper than went to Philippians 1:20-26 and showed much of the same. 

One of the other major points John Piper tried to make was that God could be considered an egomaniac if He’s only concerned about His glory/fame/name.  Piper noted that because our joy is bound up in this very thing (namely that God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in Him) that God therefore is not unattractive nor an egomaniac, etc, etc.  This is true because our supreme JOY is bound up in God’s glory.  To a certain degree I see what John Piper is saying here but I’m still trying to process it out more fully in my mind.  I guess I don’t know if God would be unlovable, unjust, unattractive or what have you if He existed for His own glory apart from the part that we find our greatest joy in this very thing.  Read on and perhaps my dilemma here will make more sense.


During the Q & A session I was able to ask John Piper this question.  “Please help me understand the following:  Where does God’s unconditional election (in that He only chooses some unto salvation) and the doctrine/reality of endless punishment (hell) fit into your two major statements (That God exists to bring glory to Himself and that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him).” 


In other words, If God’s sovereign plan throughout redemptive history was/is to bring the most glory unto His own name (which it is); and IF ‘God is MOST glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in Him’, than how come God did not choose everyone?  Obviously the non-elect will never find their satisfaction in God like we believers do. 


Now don’t misunderstand me here. I believe God’s plan of redemptive history does and will bring Him all the glory He rightly deserves!  In my estimation this includes His sovereign election of unworthy sinners like you and I (the elect); AND His eternal damnation of unrepentant sinners (the non-elect).


Dr. Piper graciously answered my question by going to Romans 9:20-23.  He agreed with me that God’s grace is magnified in His wrath and His wrath is magnified in looking at His grace.  Dr. Piper believes that God is MORE glorified in His grace than He is through His wrath.  Which is probably why he says God is MOST glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.  On this point I don’t know if I wholly agree with him…Anyways, John Piper thanked me for my question and told me that his popular statement “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” definitely needs to be qualified.  Is God more glorified in the salvation of sinners than he is his punishment of evildoers?  Or is he equally glorified in both aspects in that they perfectly complement/magnify one another?  Clearly his statement is correct if we’re only talking about Christians.


Friends these are very small disagreements that I think I have with a Christian brother whom I hold in very high regard.  My thinking may be wrong here.  Feel free to express your biblical perspectives on this post but do not take this as a free for all to smash this dear saint.  This is not my point in posting this blog nor will I allow comments to remain posted that miss the spirit of this post.  All biblical teaching is subject to further examination, even the preaching of great teachers like Piper, MacArthur, & Sproul.  Any helpful thoughts here?  I will link the audio of this event when it is available.

Baptist History

While we wait for our other authors to complete their posts on the Atonement I figured I might as well post something over the weekend.  I pastor a reformed baptist church near Indianapolis.   Here is a brief research paper i recently wrote…

I open this brief essay by concurring with the words of Dr. Thomas Nettles, “It is with difficulty that men strive to define ‘Baptists.’” (By His Grace and for His Glory, p. 13). It is easier to list some of the influential leaders who have been part of the Baptist movement (Smyth, Bunyan, Carey, Gill, Broadus, Spurgeon, Strong, Henry, Nicole, Mohler, Piper) than to define what a “Baptist” is or is not. Any attempted definition must include a discussion of history, church polity, and doctrine. The primary goal of this short work, therefore, is to answer the following questions: When did the Baptist denomination originate? Have Baptists historically supported the concept of a plurality of elders leading and governing the church? For how long have Baptists taught the “Doctrines of Grace,” also called by some, “biblical Calvinism”?

We begin with the origin of the Baptist denomination. Some argue that Baptists reach back to the apostolic era (the Successionist theory and/or Landmarkism). People holding this view typically believe that only Landmark Baptists have followed the New Testament pattern of church life. They would also argue that they have always remained separate from the Catholic Church while tracing their lineage directly back to John the Baptist. This view cannot be substantiated historically (contra J. M. Caroll’s 1930s book, The Trail of Blood).

Others argue that Baptists belong to the Congregational branch of Protestantism from post-Elizabethan England. This theory believes modern Baptists originated with certain English Separatists who left or were simply forced out of the Church of England. This is a plausible explanation with some good historical support (see Joe Flatt’s, What is a Regular Baptist, p. 2). A third view contends that early Baptists were an offshoot of the Anabaptist movement. Proponents of this view reason that contact with Dutch Mennonites in the early seventeenth century led to the Baptist movement. Dr. William Brackney points out that “[d]ocumentation of the Baptist tradition commences when the first ‘baptizing,’ congregations, so-called, began to appear about 1608 [emphasis mine]. Through John Smyth and Thomas Helwys a connection with the heirs of the Radical Reformation can be established” (Baptist Life and Thought: A Source Book, p. 15). It appears that Baptists originated around 1608 or 1609. The first Baptist congregation to organize in America was founded by Roger Williams in Rhode Island in 1638 ( A common thread running through this movement is the Baptist commitment to orthodox biblical theology, congregational autonomy, and believer’s baptism by immersion.

Spong’s god of “nontheism”

Nationals Review’s Jason Lee Steorts reviews the latest book from retired bishop John Shelby Spong entitled Jesus for the Non-Religious.

Steorts writes of Spong, “The ‘theistic definition of God’ is dead, he says. What he means is that he does not believe — and does not think anyone else should believe — in ‘a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and able to invade the world in miraculous ways to bless, to punish, to accomplish the divine will, to answer prayers and to come to the aid of frail, powerless human beings.’ Our goal should be to ‘separate God understood theistically from the experience of God that we claim for Jesus.'”

Boice/Ryken’s “Doctrines of Grace”

Here is my outline of Boice and Ryken’s The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel that I used for leading a small group discussion. Click here for a PDF copy.

Good Books on the Atonement

As we wait for our friend Rich Ryan to post his thoughts on 1 Timothy 4:10 I thought i would let you know what books i own in my library that discuss this very topic.  I have not had a chance to read all of these books in full yet but all of them have been recommended to me by various people.  Of course good systematic theology text books will cover this topic as well.

 1. History and Theology of Calvinism (by Curt Daniel)

2. By His Grace and For His Glory (by Tom Nettles)

3. For Whom Did Christ Die (By R.B. Kuiper)

4. The Death Christ Died (by Robert P. Lightner)

5. A Price For a People (by Tom Wells)

6. The Atonement: It’s meaning and significance (Leon Morris)

7. The Death of Death (By John Owen)

8. A Biblical Theology of the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace (George Zemek)

9. The Five Points of Calvinism (by Steele and Thomas)

 Our faithful ET readers also recommend:

10. The Cross of Christ (by John Stott)

11. The Cross and Salvation (by Bruce Demarest)

For Whom Did Christ Die?

For Whom Did Christ Die? 

R.B. Kuiper of Westminster Seminary offers some great Biblical insights in his book “For Whom did Christ Die.”  I will try and summarize some of his major points.  He notes that it can be shown “w/o the slightest difficulty that certain benefits of the atonement, other than salvation of individuals are universal.”  Later he adds, “Certain benefits of the atonement accrue to men generally, including the non-elect.”  In the words of Charles Hodge, “There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which he died for the elect only.”  Kuiper adds, “The particular design of the atonement and its universal design in no way contradict each other.”


The Canons of Dort and John Owen agree that the sacrifice of Christ was of infinite value and worth.  Berkhof mentions that that “the schoolmen were accustomed to saying that Christ died sufficiently for all men, but efficaciously for the elect.” Kuiper notes that this language was adopted by some orthodox theologians and even by Calvin.  After this subject came under greater scrutiny Kuiper said that Reformed theologians preferred to say “that the death of Christ viewed objectively and apart from His design and purpose, was inherently sufficient for all, though efficacious only for the elect.”


Dr. Kuiper than goes onto to show how common grace is one of the benefits of the atonement (Matt. 5:43-48).  Let’s not forget that “No amount of common grace equals so much as a grain of saving grace.”  In the words of Louis Berkhof, “Reformed theologians generally hesitate to say that Christ by His atoning blood merited these blessings for the impenitent and reprobate.  At the same time they do believe that important natural benefits accrue to the whole human race from the death of Christ, and that these in these benefits the unbelieving, the impenitent, and the reprobate also share.”  I have a hard time understanding the distinction that is made here but perhaps some of you may?  In the words of Robert Candlish, “The blessings of common grace, although resulting only indirectly from the atonement, were surely designed by God to result from the atonement.”


Kuiper taught that the greatest blessing that flows out of the stream of common grace is sincere offer of salvation to all men (Mt. 23:37; Ezk. 3:19).  Kuiper sees this offer an obvious “fruit of the atonement.”  This is a paradox that Kuiper is willing to live with.  The intent of the atonement is clearly limited but the sincere offer of salvation is to all people and is “grounded in that same atonement.”  In quoting John Murray’s, The Free offer of the Gospel he provides a good summary of the difficult texts of Scripture found in 2 Peter 3:9 and Ezekiel 18:23, “We found that God reveals himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance and life of the wicked.  This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent loving-kindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those who he has not decreed to save.  This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.”

1 John 2:2 and the atonement of Christ

The book of 1 John is an immensely practical book and one that every Christian should be very familiar with.  This Epistle was written so that professing Believers could have full assurance concerning their salvation in Christ.  In the words of John himself, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).


According to F.F. Bruce the expression “by this we know” (or something similar) occurs frequently whenever a practical test of verbal profession is laid down (note 2:3, 2:5; 3:10, 16, 19, 20; 4:2, 13; 5:2).  1 John is a lot like the book of James in that it forces us to consider whether or not our profession of faith matches our every day practices (and vice versa).


Today we are going to briefly scratch the surface of 1 John 2:2 in hopes that it may shed some light on our current discussion regarding the atonement.  Obviously this is one of those controversial passages that often comes up during limited atonement discussions.  John’s purpose in including verse 2 was not to answer any direct questions regarding limited atonement per say which is why we need to briefly examine the context surrounding this text.


In verses 6, 8, and 10 of Chapter 1 we find the repeated phrase “if we say.”  In other words if one professes they are a Christian but don’t walk a certain way (v. 6), or repent a certain way (vv. 8, 10), then they’re spiritual phonies.  Obviously there is nothing more important in all of life than to be certain about our salvation in Christ (2 Cor 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10).  Sadly many people today (and many in John’s time) have a false sense of security in regards to their relationship with Jesus Christ.  In verse 8 and in verse 10 of Chapter 1 a professing believer claimed to “have no sin”.  A lot could and should be said about these verses but suffice to say one needs to admit that they are guilty and totally depraved before God will ever forgive him or her (v. 9) of their sins (Luke 18:13).  One also needs to acknowledge this before Christ will serve as their Advocate (2:1).


John’s desire was that as we reflect on the wonder of Jesus Christ and the glory of the cross that it would motivate us to pursue holiness (“I am writing these things that you may not sin”), but John knew because of our sinful outer man (to borrow Paul’s language in Rom 6-7) that even blood bought Christians would fall short.  I believe John is reminding us that when we do sin (after we by God’s grace come back to our spiritual senses) we need to quickly run to our Advocate.  As broken vessels we should humbly confess our sins to God and then believe with full assurance that He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We have this assurance because Jesus Christ is pleading His merits before the Father on our behalf.  “Christ’s intercession is the continual application of His death to our salvation” (Calvin).  In the words of one scholar, 1 John 2:1-2 describes the basis on which Christians enjoy a restored relationship with God after we sin.  What a heartening portion of Scripture this really is.


So why in the middle of this encouraging discussion does John say Jesus Christ (Himself) is the propitiation not only for our sins but also for those of the whole world? 


Jesus Christ as the sinless substitute (see Romans 5, Isaiah 53, 2 Cor. 5:21) bore the full wrath and fury of holy God.  Thus God’s wrath was wholly satisfied in the death of this God-man.  This is the most wonderful example of love the world has ever and will ever witness (note 1 John 4:10-11); In that while we were yet sinners Christ died for US, the just for the unjust.  Even in writing these familiar truths my hearth wells up with emotion and gratitude.  The old gospel truths never get old or become boring to the beloved of God.  We must never lose sight of this even in the midst of a academic dialogue regarding the extent and the intent of the atonement.


Ok so back to the discussion at hand.  What does the Greek word holos (translated “whole”) really mean?  In context does it really imply that Christ suffered in some way on behalf of the entire world?  If you believe contextually this is the best interpretation then you probably will hold some variation of universal atonement or at the very least the SFA position.  With that said, one could also argue that the whole world here simply means men from every tongue, tribe, and nation (peoples throughout the whole world or something similar).  If that’s your understanding of this text (and the emphasis you place on it) then you probably hold to John Owen’s interpretation of the atonement or the SFA view.  Over the years, much ink has been spilled over this discussion so I am not going to even try and solve this debate for you today.  Whatever you do, don’t allow your theological system to drive your exegesis (in this or in any portion of Scripture).  Let the Scripture passages speak for themselves and then and only then try and harmonize or systematize your theology.  Too often Reformed Christians and Arminian Christians have been guilty of this hermeneutical error.


Is it possible that Christ did suffer on the Cross for the non-elect but in that suffering only purchased non-redemptive benefits for them?  C. H. Spurgeon taught that, “Christ bought some good things for all men and all good things for some men.”  What role does the atonement play in this discussion?


John Stott taught that “this cannot be pressed into meaning that all sins are automatically pardoned through the propitiation of Christ, but that a universal pardon is offered for (the sins of) the whole world and is enjoyed by those who embrace it (1 John 4:19, 14; John 3:16).” 

Does this passage support the concept that the atonement is unlimited in its worth, value, and scope?  In the words of Steele and Thomas, “but it (the atonement) was not limited in value for it was of infinite worth and would have secured salvation for everyone if this had been God’s intention.”

In my humble opinion, some pastors spend too much time focusing in on the word “world” (which can obviously mean in some contexts the earthly realm of mankind but not necessarily every individual) and not enough time on the Greek word holos (whole or entire).  Smalley notes that the Greek adjective “whole”, is intensive.  How than does this adjective effect our understanding of Christ’s propitiation?  Finally, would the Gentile and Jewish believers that John addresses in this epistle truly believe the atonement was limited to their church family alone (or families in a specific geographic location)?  I can’t imagine this was the case, but it is a possible answer. MacArthur seems to be attracted to this option in his commentary when he references the words of Caiaphas in John 11:45-52.  In other words, John is saying the propitiation was not only for you (the original recipients of this letter) but was also for all those who ever would believe throughout the whole world.


MY CONCLUSION: Christ’s death on the cross did in fact secure eternal salvation for God’s elect (i.e. every person who ever will believe).  God’s election was unconditional and his grace is undeserved (Eph 1-2).  Many portions of Scripture, including this one, make these points crystal clear.  With that said, I am still not fully convinced that the atonement of Christ was limited in extent or to put it another way that it wasn’t sufficient for the non-elect.  It appears to me that the indirect implications of 1 John 2:2 do more to support a SFA view of the atonement than any other position.  Good Christian men disagree on this and I by no means have all the answers.  What say you?  Am I missing something really obvious here?

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