Results tagged “Law of God” from Reformation21 Blog

Mike Pence, "Truth's Table" and Fencing the Law

|

The last week provided more disturbing information on the collapse of civilization and reason in secular America. Vice President Mike Pence revealed that he follows the "Billy Graham Rule," refraining from private meals with women other than his wife in order to protect his marriage from adultery. The secular media responded with hysteria, describing Pence's policy as "rape culture" (National Post), "sexist" (LA Times), "perpetuating patriarchy" (TIME), and "prophylactic gender separatism" (New Yorker).

Apparently, the leftist media has not noticed how sexual sin has destroyed the American family, wreaking untold ruin to marriages and causing heartbreak to children whose homes are broken. The same media that savaged President Trump (rightly) for his sexual offenses cannot stomach Mike Pence taking prudent steps to avoid the same. Not only is Vice President Pence seeking to ensure that he remains faithful to his wife but also for her to be free from anxiety over the kinds of marital threats that are rife in the workplace. Years ago, I also began practicing the "Billy Graham Rule," as I think all pastors are wise to do. (It's actually not that hard and it doesn't exclude women, since meals can easily be arranged to include more than two.) While the media savages Pence for having so little sexual self-control that he will not eat privately with a woman, the reality is exactly the opposite. Self-control is best manifested not in the face of temptation but in the avoidance of it. Leftist American culture simply does not understand fallen human nature: it is not perverse to think that close working relationships between the sexes are likely to lead to marital infidelity, but rather wisdom.

While the mocking of godly wisdom among pagan media elites is troubling, it is not surprising. But it is noteworthy to find similar reasoning coming from fellow Reformed Christians. At the same time that the liberal media was going apoplectic over Pence's Christian prudence, a group of Reformed women on the Truth's Table podcast took aim at "Gender Apartheid" in complementarian Christian circles. Interaction over this podcast has been fairly heated and I have been advised by friends to avoid raising concerns, lest I be charged with racism. However, I believe it is a sign of respect to interact with the views that are publicly stated and I also believe the issues at hand are of significance. I agree with the women of Truth's Table that men should be listening to the concerns of women. Yet affirming and respecting women also includes being willing to challenge and interact with their statements. I hope that I will be able to do so both courteously and fairly.

Before getting to the topic of "fencing the law," which relates to Mike Pence, the podcast issued the charge of "gender apartheid" among complementarian Christians, equating the exclusion of women from conference plenary addresses to Nelson Mandela's multi-decade imprisonment for opposing radical racial separatism in South Africa. I have argued before that complementarians need to be careful not to over-react to the ordination of women in liberal churches and that we must foster opportunities for women to exercise appropriately all their gifts in the church. But is it really "toxic patriarchy" for Reformed conferences to assign plenary addresses only to male speakers, out of respect for 1 Timothy 2:11-14? Some might challenge judgment calls like this and point out unintended effects, but does it warrant the statement that conferences should use "penis shaped microphones" to live out our oppression of female biology? And is there a single non-theonomic Reformed church in America where women are forbidden to greet at doors and are given "no visible presence?" If so, I haven't seen it.

The Truth's Table ladies then took a shot at "purity culture," as if prudent steps for avoiding sexual sin are not needed today. In virtually the same language with which the liberal media criticized Mike Pence, one Truth's Table host argued that "purity culture" in the church teaches that "women are predators and are to be feared." To be sure, there are abstinence strategies in evangelical churches that need to be rethought (I would put "purity rings" in this category). But the label "purity culture" ought to be used in praise rather than scorn. "Why can't a married Christian man take my single woman phone number?" a Truth's Table host asked. One answer would be found in Hebrews 13:4, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled." It is one thing for the secular media to deny the tendencies of fallen human nature, but one would hope that Christians would critique Paul's "flee youthful passions" advice more positively (2 Tim. 2:22). Having been preceded in my last two pastorates by ministers who resigned over sexually-related accusations, I do not apologize for preserving my marriage, my family, and my congregation from passions that are only so natural for fallen mankind, and I do not think the "Billy Graham Rule" is too high a cost to be paid.

Of particular interest to me was the ladies' concern over "fencing the law." By this, they seem to mean the creation of extra-biblical rules designed to reinforce and protect the law of God among Christians. This is a subject that calls for careful reflection, to be sure. On the one hand, there is a kind of Pharisaism whereby the law is virtually replaced with man-made rules that become the basis for works righteousness. In some circles, the length of hems, the avoidance of restaurants that serve alcohol, and abstention from movies effectively displaces the good news of justification through faith. We should be willing to examine policies and practices that may have a similar effect in our circles. On the other hand, the Bible itself commands Christians prudently to avoid tempting circumstances. When Paul urged Timothy to "flee youthful passions," this was not hypocritical, gender-apartheid legalism, but godly prudence for those who wish not to sin. In Romans 13:14, Paul joined the active avoidance of sin together with the gospel message of Christ's righteousness: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." By that standard, Christians should unite in praise for Vice President Pence and follow his example in proactively avoiding our pagan culture's morass of sexual sin. There is a vast difference between "fencing the law" as a form of man-made righteousness and the positive application of the law out of a loving desire to honor Christ and be faithful in our callings.

Anyone who listens to the Truth's Table podcast will detect significant differences from the secular media's treatment of these same topics. The hosts expressed many biblical aspirations that the media would never espouse. Moreover, male listeners should see that false and truly unbiblical gender barriers are removed, keeping in mind the burden of these concerned women. Is there a role for a Lydia, a Euodia, or a Priscilla in our church? If not, why not? Yet, were the arguments about gender used by the Truth's Table all that different from the secular media? Listening to the secular media's reaction to Mike Pence, I have little hope other than revival through the gospel. Yet listening to the Truth's Table ladies, I do have hopes. I prayerfully hope we can avoid the divisive effects of inflammatory labels. I hope the Lord will enable me to listen to the hurts behind the heated rhetoric. And I hope we can communicate about significant biblical topics - and sexual ethics today is one of them - in a way that will bring us closer together at a table of biblical truth.

The Protestant Reformers, following Scripture's lead, roundly rejected the notion that believers might be justified in part or in whole by their own good works. Sinners, they maintained, are justified wholly on the basis of Christ's perfect righteousness imputed to them, a righteousness appropriated by faith alone. The doctrine of justification by works which gained traction in medieval theology and was defended by Rome at the Council of Trent was anathema to them. They took a much more positive view, however, of the doctrine of justification of works; that is, the doctrine that not only the believing sinner himself or herself but also the believing sinner's good works are cloaked in Christ's own perfect righteousness (apprehended by faith), and so are most pleasing to God.

Robert Rollock (1555-1599), the first regent, principal, and professor of theology at the University of Edinburgh and a key figure in the course of reform in Scotland in the sixteenth century, articulated this position well in a short treatise on good works published with his Romans Commentary in 1593. Rollock writes:

"Man already regenerated, having through faith recovered some portion of sincerity of heart, can by virtue of that portion be described as ready unto good works--according to that measure, of course, in which integrity and sincerity of heart has been recuperated. But the work of a regenerate man is good only according to its share of conformity to the law, and does not give all that is required to the Law of God, who is most holy and most perfect. Hence it does not, insofar as it possesses even the smallest degree of imperfection, satisfy God. For, then, a work to be satisfying to God and to conform to his own law and will, it must appear, as it were, before him--it must be led into his own light and view--cloaked in Christ's merit, which is apprehended by faith. Thus it is said in Rom. 14:23, "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." And similarly in Heb. 11:6, "without faith it is impossible to please him," which statement means not only that man's heart, by faith in Jesus Christ, is made clean and recovers some part of its sincerity and integrity, but also, in truth, that the imperfection of works proceeding from a heart only in part reborn are covered by that same faith. Therefore, faith accomplishes two things with regard to the good work of the regenerate man: first, it purifies the heart and fount of that good work (Acts 15:9); and second, it covers, as it were, the defects of that work which proceeds from a heart only partially reborn. The work of the man without faith, moreover, suffers a twofold loss: first, without faith there is clearly no beginning of regeneration, from whence that work should proceed; and second, without faith there is no veil for the impurity under which that work labors."

The doctrine of justification of works, unlike that of justification by works, stands to provide sinners of sensitive conscience with much relief. It encourages us to broaden our appreciation for what Christ accomplishes for us; he has not merely justified our persons by his perfect obedience, he has also justified our efforts to conform our lives to God's law and Christ's perfect example. It also encourages us to make greater efforts at good works, confident that our works, however imperfect, are most perfect in God's estimation. It encourages us, in other words, to act in faith, not apart from it, but still to act -- contra the perennial claim that Protestant teaching on justification encourages indifference towards good works.

Rollock develops the theme of the justification of believers' good works more fully in his treatise on the subject. That treatise, along with several other previously untranslated writings of Rollock, is now available in English translation in a short volume titled Some Questions and Answers about God's Covenant and the Sacrament That Is a Seal of God's Covenant: With Related Texts, published last month by Wipf and Stock's Pickwick Publications imprint. The principal work included in this volume is the titular catechism, which Rollock published in Latin in 1596. In addition to the treatise on good works noted above, the volume also includes treatises on the divine covenants and the sacraments which were likewise included in Rollock's Romans commentary. All the writings included in the volume make significant use of the doctrine of the covenant of works. That, indeed, was the logic of their inclusion. I've translated the texts myself, and have included an introductory essay which intends to shed new light on Rollock's role in the development of Reformed covenant theology. But, as hopefully indicated above, the treatises on good works and on the sacraments in particular are theologically interesting beyond the use they make of the doctrine of the covenant of works. The book is available from Amazon in hard copy or as an e-book, or directly from Wipf and Stock itself at a slightly reduced price. I dedicated the work to my dog Oakley for reasons explained in the acknowledgments, and all proceeds from the book will be devoted to his ongoing maintenance. So please, for his sake, consider purchasing a copy.

Results tagged “Law of God” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 19

|
Chapter nineteen of the Westminster Confession addresses the law of God. This is an important topic that teaches us about the character of God and how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. WCF 19:1 begins with the first law given in the Covenant of Works. This was the first covenant that God made with Adam, offering the reward of eternal life for perfect obedience to this law, or the judgment of eternal condemnation for failure. The Covenant of Works is an essential doctrine for understanding how sin came into the world and how God chose to accomplish redemption. First, it is important to point out that, in the Covenant of Works, Adam stood as a representative for the entire human race. His action had consequences for all of us. Second, Adam was created with the ability to keep this law. Yet he chose to disobey. His failure to keep God's law in the Covenant of Works brought condemnation and death to all human beings.

Chapter nineteen goes on to give what some may describe as a redemptive historical outline of the function of God's law after the Fall. In other words we can see how the law of God was revealed and functioned during different periods of redemptive history, as recorded in Scripture. WCF 19:2 describes the law of God given to the people of Israel in the form of the Ten Commandments received on Mount Sinai. This law addressed directly the duty of the people of Israel to God, and also their duty to other individuals. Perfect obedience was again required, as the law reflects God's perfect holy and righteous character. 

However, unlike Adam, perfect obedience was no longer possible in a post-Fall world. The people of Israel inherited a sinful nature, thus God's law was, in one sense, a reminder of His impending judgment. WCF 19:3 continues by distinguishing God's moral law (the Ten Commandments) from the ceremonial laws given to Israel in the Old Testament. The ceremonial laws instructed Israel in how they were to worship God, including the specifics of the sacrificial system in which they could atone for their sins as a nation. This was important for two reasons. First, it demonstrated God's provision for Israel under the law in the Old Testament.  Second, as WCF 19:3 explains, it points us to Christ by "prefiguring" the grace that would be given in the final suffering and sacrifice of Christ, which would ultimately satisfy the condemnation required by God's law. 

In addition to the moral and ceremonial laws, the nation of Israel was also given judicial laws. These laws governed the nation as a political body. The Confession is clear that the ceremonial and judicial laws ended with conclusion of the old covenant made with Israel. In the course of redemptive history, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, along with the writing of the New Testament, would move God's redemptive plan to a new stage of fulfillment.

For the Christian in the New Testament era, the moral law is still binding. Jesus Christ did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). What this means is that God's law is still in place, but our relationship to that His law has changed. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the requirement of perfect obedience to God's law on behalf of those who put their faith in Him. In other words, as Romans 5:12-21 teaches, Adam failed to obey God as our representative, but Jesus Christ accomplishes perfect obedience for those whom he represents (those united to him by faith). 

This blessing should not encourage the Christian to believe that they can now ignore God's law, since Jesus has fulfilled it on his or her behalf. WCF 19:6 teaches us that the law is of "great use" to the Christian. The law reveals to us God's will for how we should live and conduct ourselves according to His standards. Likewise, the law shows us our own sinfulness, as we continue to struggle in our sanctification. Such reflection on our own sinfulness should produce in us an attitude of humility and hatred for sin, along with a greater and clearer understanding of our dependence on the work of Jesus Christ. It is also part of the Christian's experience to struggle deeply with temptation and sin, to the point where the Christian may not be immediately repentant. The law reminds us that there are consequences to our disobedience.

Finally, WCF 19:7 addresses the important point that the law of God is not contrary to the Gospel. For those who embrace the Gospel, the Spirit of Christ will enable them to love God and His law, and to live more and more in obedience to that law. 

Dr. Jeffrey Jue is Associate Professor of Church History and the Stephen Tong Associate Professor of Reformed Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.