Jun 24 2015

The Babylonian Unity of the Church

A must-read essay by Toby Sumpter   |   Theopolis Institute

The unity Jesus is leading us toward has far less to do with hammering out a single organizational structure and far more to do with many different Christian tribes and tongues bringing their respective glories to the King.

There are many legitimate reasons to lament the divided state of the church. Fleshly pride, theological hubris, sectarian rivalries are each in their own ways modern versions of the Galatian heresy, refusing table fellowship with brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. And denominations have frequently played the same role as the names of Paul and Apollos in Corinth, for which we join in Paul’s manifesto to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.

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Jun 16 2015

Those Afar Off


There are no “Abrahamic” promises concerning offspring — or real estate — for New Covenant believers.

Like the dogma of evolution, the doctrine of paedobaptism is not supported by indisputable evidence. Rather, the data must be interpreted through the lens of a pre-existing framework. The paedobaptistic lens is, however, a biblical one, being Abrahamic, and it comes in extremely handy when used in the right way. It deals with the few texts which paedobaptists rely on for proof, showing that they are not establishing a revised Abrahamic tent, but bringing the old one to an end.

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Jul 8 2014

The Meaning of Gideon’s Fleece


In the Bible, everything is confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (James Jordan notes that this is the basis for Hebrew parallelism and also verbal pleonasm. See Symbolism – A Manifesto.) An example of a “dual” witness from God would include the two dreams given to Joseph, and the two dreams given to Pharaoh. We see each Covenant confirmed by two witnesses as well. The Mosaic Covenant was a double witness at three levels: the two tablets of the Law, the second set of tablets, then a second giving of the Law in Deuteronomy.

A sign was given to Gideon to prove that God would save Israel by Gideon’s hand. He requested a second sign, and rather than chiding him, the Lord acquiesced. The Lord Himself asks us to prove all things. That explains the double sign, but not the ingredients of the signs, the fleece and the threshing floor. Fortunately, the consistency of biblical symbolism and structure not only gives us the answer, it reveals the events as a type of the events which followed, and, typologically, also shines light on the process of the first century apostolic witness.

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Nov 19 2013

The Household of Faith – 3

Part III – The Feast of Clouds

“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.”’ (Acts 3:6)

Israel consistently failed to keep the final feast, the Feast of Sukkot, because she took her calling to be elitist rather than priestly. She thought her calling, gifts and purification were for herself, rather than for the healing of the nations.

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Sep 1 2013

The Baptized Body – 5

“Leithart’s real problem is that one can tell the difference between a circumcised boy and an uncircumcised one, but a sprinkled baby looks no different to an unsprinkled one.”

Chapter 1 continued

See the Baptism links page for all articles in this series.

Sacraments Are Not Signs, Means Of Grace, Or Symbols

In the next section, Dr Leithart deals with three errors:

1) The tendency to treat signs rationalistically, as nothing more than a means of communicating ideas from one mind to another mind; and,

2) Talking about sacraments as “means” tend to mechanize them, turning the sacraments into machines that deliver grace rather than moments of personal encounter with the living God.

3) Symbolic exchanges (such as language) are not the “real relationship,” which is invisible and could occur just as well without them.

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Jun 1 2013

Q&A: Peter’s Use of Joel

How does Peter see the apocalyptic imagery of Joel in the events of Acts 2?

The first step is to take note of the context of Joel’s prophecy. It is the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:32)

Even if we identify the context, it may sound to us as if Joel is still looking forward to the first century events at the end of his predictions. The unfortunate chapter break between 2 and 3 stops us reading further, but if we keep reading without a break, the beginning of chapter 3 makes it clear that Joel is still speaking about the restoration from exile. God would judge all the Canaanite nations, including Israel, who had behaved like a Canaanite. But only Israel would resurface from the “flood” of Babylonian control, while all the Canaanite powers remained scattered forever. And Israel would be vindicated across the world, from India to Ethiopia, in the events of the book of Esther (predicted in Ezekiel 38-39).

This means that the particular “day of judgment” had already passed by the time Peter quoted the prophet, so he is not quoting the prophecy to announce its soon fulfillment. He is, however, announcing a similar destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, with all that this entails.

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Sep 12 2012

Better Call Saul

or Mr White and the Black Hat

“There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.”
(Proverbs 14:12)

King David committed far worse sins than did King Saul. Saul was not an evil man, yet his judgments caused the deaths of many people, including Jonathan, his other sons and even the priests of God. Why did a reign that began so well end in such tragedy?

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Jun 15 2012

Business As Usual

“In circumcision, Adam was Divided.
In baptism, Adam is Conquered.”

It seems to me the assumption that the New Covenant “people” includes infants because the Old Covenant people did has to overlook Pentecost. Are we to believe that once the Gentiles were included things went back to business as usual, with churches simply serving as Jew-Gentile hybrid synagogues, another “genealogical” people of God?

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Feb 14 2012

A Tongue of Gold


“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

This passage (or pericope?) retraces the Covenant pattern, which is also played out in the flow of the history of Israel. We’ll have a look at the structure of the passage and then I want to discuss the significance of the literary placement of “every tongue.”

WARNING: Weird ahead.

[This post has been refined and included in Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.]
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Aug 20 2011

Judicial Maturity


“…and their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”
(Genesis 3:7, cf. Matthew 9:30; Luke 24:31; Acts 9:8)

Jesus’ sermons are all literary masterpieces. Perhaps it was not only the explicit content of His speeches that riled the rulers. He not only claimed to be Yahweh, His sermons all follow the structure of the speeches of Yahweh. They are Covenantal not only in content but in form. No other man spoke like this man, except perhaps Moses and the Prophets, who repeated the Words dictated to them by God.

Do not think
…..that I came to destroy
……….the Law

……….or the Prophets.
…..I did not come to destroy
but to fulfill.

This stanza is deliberately missing its “Pentecost.” It follows the Creation pattern but the Law has not yet been “opened.” As Robert Alter claims, much of the Bible’s communication relies on repetition of establishes forms but with modification, additions, and omissions. Sometimes what is not said is the elephant in the room. Jesus would fulfil the Law at the centre of history and send the Spirit. He would kindle the fire on the Altar of Israel at Pentecost, and it would be totally consumed in AD70. He does it again in stanza 2.

HIERARCHY – Delegation
For assuredly, (Initiation)
…..I say to you, (Delegation)
……….till heaven and [Land] pass away, (Presentation)
……………[No Holy Fire, no Pentecostal Purification]
……….one jot or one tittle (Transformation – Law repeated)
…..will by no means pass from the law (Vindication)
till all is fulfilled. (Restoration)

Notice that heaven and Land are at Day 3,  the Ascension offering. Genesis (Initiation), Exodus (Delegation), Leviticus (Presentation)… All the tribes possessed Land except Levi because the Levites were the holy Firstfruits upon the Altar-Land.

ETHICS – Purification (Israel threshed)
Whoever therefore (Creation)
…..breaks (Division)
……….[of these commandments the least] (ironic Ascension)
…………….(No Testing)
……….and teaches men so, (Maturity)
…..shall be called least (ironic Conquest)
in the kingdom of heaven; (Glorification)

Notice that this stanza follows the Creation week’s 1-2-3 (least), 1-2-3 (least) forming and filling. In this case it is a failure to form and a subsequent failure to fill. It is Adam at Day 6 who is least.

SANCTIONS – Vindication
but whoever (Creation)
…..[shall practise (Division)
……….and teach, (Ascension)
……………this one] (Testing)
……….great (Maturity)
…..shall be called (Conquest – Vindication)
in the kingdom of heaven. (Glorification – Succession)

Finally, we have a Man in the middle.

SUCCESSION – Restoration
For I say (Genesis)
…..to you, (Exodus)
……….that unless your righteousness (Leviticus)
……………exceeds (Numbers – Testing)
……….the scribes and Pharisees, (Deuteronomy)
…..you will by no means enter (Joshua)
the kingdom of heaven. (Wise Judges)

What did Jesus mean in this final stanza? The purpose of the Covenant process is to put Man under God’s eyes at Ethics/Testing, so that Man might become God’s eyes by the end, and initiate the next cycle as God’s tried and tested representative. Adam failed so God moved to the next generation, which also failed. The failures continued (except for Enoch as righteous Firstfruits) until Noah become the first righteous judge, and was handed the sword of judgment instead of being scattered by it.

The scribes and Pharisees came to an end with the Old Covenant in AD70. They were denied Succession. The key is that this entire structure above recapitulates God’s Covenant plan for Adam. Jesus is saying that unless you have eyes that judge righteously between good and evil, by obedience to the Spirit of God, you will be as blind as the Pharisees, who judged according to outward appearances only. The Spirit’s choice of the Son of David was the same as it was for David. The Pharisees were not looking upon Jesus’ heart. But God was, and it pleased Him.

All those who have the Spirit of God are not missing the “Pentecostal” line of the Covenant poem. Obedience to the gospel allows God to pour out the holy fire and transform the sacrifice. Baptism is the vindication of such a person by the Church. At “Sanctions” and “Glorification”, we find robes and wine.

Robes and wine are for those who are spiritually, and judicially mature. But the watershed is one’s own personal Pentecost. The first birth is (fundamentally) about growing in stature, rising like a loaf of bread whose purpose is to be broken. The second birth breaks the bread, and its purpose it that we are to be poured out like wine.

For sure, we are to grow into even greater maturity after conversion, but if we have the Spirit of Christ, we are justified and have the wisdom of Christ guiding us into all truth. Certainly, there are stages of maturity within the regenerate, but the indwelling Spirit of God is quite clearly the baseline, and repentance and baptism are the first “baby” steps of obedience in our new life.

The beginning of this “judicial maturity,” this righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, is someone being cut to the heart, recognizing that they are unrighteous and Jesus is righteous, that light is day and darkness is night. Conversion begins a new creation — in that individual. It is a Covenant process that is both objective and subjective. Jesus calls His sheep and His sheep responds.

Paedobaptists object to credobaptism because it’s hard to tell if a child is ready. And if they are ready at aged 7, how can this be the Maturity that the Covenant process demands. We like to pin maturity down to how old someone needs to be. The Old Covenant pinned everything down so they didn’t have to think. Ages were specified. That’s priestly. It’s childhood. The New Covenant doesn’t do that. We are led by the Spirit, and babies aren’t.

To clarify, the “age in years” is more about the first birth than the second — a maturity that is practical and valuable but nonetheless a carnal wisdom. The wisdom the New Covenant requires is a gift of the Spirit of God. There are certainly overlaps (elders should be elders) but that concerns a maturity that comes with years of rule by the Spirit. A newborn Christian, born by the Spirit, that is, receives a Spirit of judgment far beyond anything the Pharisees could hope to possess. Their eyes were full of darkness, so Jesus fulfilled the Law and became a light to their path. When Pentecost finally came, they continued to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and His conviction of their unrighteousness. The only place for them was outer darkness. But the Spirit-filled man — or child — has wisdom beyond his years: the riches of the wisdom of Christ.

See also Matthew’s Literary Artistry.
Art: Sermon on the Mount by Laura James.

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