In our I hope brief blog-versation, Doug Wilson has posted a couple more things to think about. In one he asks who our father/Father is. We either have God or the devil as our father. Well, yes and no. I’m with Doug in what he’s getting at, I think, but here again I’m not so sure about terminology. The devil as father was a liar from the beginning. Well, every child lies instinctively. You don’t have to teach kids to lie. Those little children that Jesus wanted to come to him were “of their father the devil” in some sense. So am I, since I still have an Adamic death-nature that messes with me — and as far as I’m concerned Romans 7 STILL is talking about that, even if I’m increasingly lonely in thinking so.
When Peter confessed Jesus as the son of the Living God, Jesus blessed him for listening to the Father. Five minutes later Jesus condemned him as a mouthpiece of Satan.
Also, of course, I had a physical father; and if I were a Presbyterian clergyman I would address Presbytery as “Fathers and Brethren,” acknowledging that older minister are fathers to younger ones. Every human being has God the Father as his father by creation; Adam as his father by generation; and the devil as his father by Adam’s decision to give the world to him. Christians have God the Father as father because they are in Christ, the Son.
Perhaps I should write “faithful Christians.” It seems to me that the Bible is telling us to be concerned about who is faithful, who trusts and obeys, and leave the heart (and “regeneration”) to God.
Doug writes that someone who denies the Apostles’ Creed and breaks all Ten Commandments is not a true (faithful) Christian. Well, of course. Certainly. My only beef, such as it has been, is with the use of “regeneration” and the implication that this means a “change of nature” in what I personally think is a more philosophical sense of “nature” than I’m happy with. People who deny that God knows the future; men who won’t let their wives have the Lord’s Supper save by their own hands; people who keep mistresses — that’s what excommunication is for. I’ve had the privilege of kicking wicked people out of the church more than once — and in those cases I did not shed a tear. They were wolves.
In his second post-Jordan post, Doug speaks of his own father’s remarkable work. I note that his dad’s name is Jim. So, there. What more need be said?? I’m certainly all in favor of what his father did. Sure, there are more than a few baptized people who need conversion, to “get saved.” But here again I have to enter a caveat from the chapter on “Conversion” in my Sociology of the Church. Let’s take a case in point. Mr. RB is asked to teach Sunday School to adult men in a liberal church. He teaches them, and they come each week, but there is no real sign of life. Until the third (yes, third) year. Then one after another the men seem to have eye-opening “AHA!” experiences. Suddenly it all makes sense as it had never before. They each feel converted and think that for the first time they are real Christians.
Ah, but is this what happened? Something happened, yes; something wonderful. Alleluia (as we say in Matins, which is a darned good discipline for Christian schools and others). But was this conversion from death to life, or from baby faith to self-conscious faith? Or a conversion from confused messed-up trust in as much of God as their liberal church had taught them to a wonderful faith in the whole-Bible God? If these men, who went to church every week in a liberal city where they could have stayed at home, who thought of themselves as Christians, who would have argued that Jesus was the savior even if they could not carry the argument very far — had died in the first year of this Sunday School class, would they have gone to hell?
Well, folks. I don’t know. Some were probably ignorant, shallow real believers. Some may have been in the church merely for social reasons. (There was a Jewish man who always came to my father’s class at the Methodist church when I was little — it was his way of staying in touch with other businessmen.) Anyway, that’s why I’m a Bible teacher. My job like Doug’s is to teach indiscriminately anybody who will give me the time of day every last thing I know from the Bible.
But what I do earnestly believe is that is can be very dangerous pastorally to hold up such situations as this as normative for actual faithful Churches. The norm in a serious church is for children to grow up never knowing a time when they were not loyal to Jesus, and undergoing conversions along the way from baby faith to child faith to adolescent faith, etc. The first epistle of John speaks of baby faith, youthful faith, and aged faith. They look different.
Two other tads and I hope I’m done for now. 1. I do not see Jesus or anyone else ever accusing children or even ordinary Christians of being sons of the devil, etc. This language is reserved for older men who are officers in the communities of the faithful. It’s not “woe to you, whoever you are,” but “woe to you, scribes and pharisees.” These also are the only people Jesus threatens with hell. Those who presume to be teachers incur stricter judgment. Please note also that in Matthew 7, those who come and say “Lord, Lord” and to whom Jesus says, “I never knew you,” are in fact false prophets, not ordinary people. I’m not at all saying that “ordinary” Christians cannot be sinful hypocrites and bound for hell; but I am suggesting we learn our rhetoric from Jesus and Paul.
2. And here’s a serious question: were Abraham and David regenerated? Were they born again? Did they have the New Heart? My answer is no. All these things are Pentecostal blessings and aspects of the New Age. Only by some kind of metonymy can they be applied to people before that time. But, were Abraham and David friends of God? Were they despite all, faithful men? Certainly. Abraham is the father of the faithful; he is not said to be father of the regenerate. My plea is that we talk the way our Protestant Reformers did: of faith and faithfulness; of obedience and disobedience.