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Archive for the ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’ Category

5. Priest, King, and Prophet

We can begin with the phrase “prophet, priest, and king.” This is the order normally heard from preachers and theologians. But it is not really the Biblical order. The age of priests ran from Moses to Saul, the age of kings from Saul to the end of the Kingdom, and the age of prophets from Elijah to Jesus. If we believe in any kind of development and maturation of the kingdom of God in history, we shall have to admit that king is more than priest, and prophet more than king. Since, however, the prophetic function is associated with predicting the future, it has often been abstracted from its historical context and placed at the beginning. At the same time, as we shall see below, the prophet does come at the beginning as well as at the end, to close one period and begin a new one, so that usual ordering of these terms is not so much erroneous as incomplete.

The Larger Catechism produced by the Westminster Assembly in England in the 1640s, and used by Presbyterian churches and some others, follows the order “prophet, priest, king.” Let us look at what it says about them.

Q. 43: How does Christ execute the office of a prophet? Christ executes the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and word, in diverse ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.

Now, as a matter of fact, these things are not unique to prophecy at all. According to Malachi 2:7, “The lips of a priest should preserve knowledge; And they should seek the teaching from his mouth; For he is the messenger of Yahweh of armies.”
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The previous essay on “Monocovenantalism” brought up this matter, so a few comments here. In this area also the mindless militants have perverted the conversation. The notion that the death of Jesus was insufficient for our justification and that we must also have an imputation of His perfect life in order to be declared just is a notion found in none of the Reformed Confessions. It was debated at the Westminster Assembly, with people on both sides, and the Assembly decided to write nothing about it and leave it as adiaphora.

Like American political liberals who find the right to abortion hidden in the Constitution, today’s militants have found this doctrine hidden in the penumbra and interstices of the Reformed faith and are determined to pronounce as heretics anyone who differs from it. Never mind that their behavior makes the entire Westminster Assembly into heretics!

I’m rather dubious about this doctrine myself, since I cannot find it in the Bible. Perhaps it is there by implication, as indeed may be the case. I do think, however, that there are some underlying issues that play into the matter, and these I wish simply to note here.

One issue  is the incarnation. The early church and the Nicene Creed affirm that the incarnation was “for us” as well as “for our salvation.” The Son was not incarnated as man only to save us from sin, but also to “bring many sons to glory.” In other words, the incarnation was planned all along, sin or no sin. God created humanity as a bride for His Son, and it was always going to be the Son who would come into the world and bring His bride to full glory. Notice the Creed:

Who for us men,

          And for our salvation,

Came down from heaven,

And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

And was made man;

          ALSO [etiam] was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

          And suffered….

Together with this is the effective rejection of Romans 8:30, where “justified and glorified” are in the same tense. There is present glorification just as there is future justification. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 assures us, we are presently growing from glory to glory. The early church called glorification “deification.” The passages used nowadays to show imputed righteousness, such as the robing of Jeshua in Zechariah 3, are actually about glorification (as is obvious).

God killed an animal to cover Adam’s sin in the garden, and then clothed them in tunics, a royal garment. This “same” tunic of royal rule was stripped from Jesus at the cross and the soldiers cast lots for it.

The “day of atonement” in Leviticus 16 is actually literally the Day of Coverings, plural. Blood covers the Ark-Cover, removing sin, and then the priest is covered in his glory garments.

I lean my hand upon the sacrificial animal, but he does not turn around and put his innocent paw upon me. Rather, he dies and his blood is displayed. That’s justification. Then, however, the sacrifice enters into God’s fiery shekinah presence inside the “altar” (communion site) and ascends up to the throne. That’s glorification.

My robes are white in the BLOOD of the Lamb, not from “imputed righteousness.” The Lord’s Supper displays Jesus’ DEATH to the Father until He comes.

Jesus receives my liability to sin and thus dies, His blood displayed. What I receive from Him is union with His glorification by the Spirit. It is His new life, resurrection and transfigured life, that is given to me. It is the well nigh universal failure of the Reformed faith to take this Biblical data into account that is behind the confusion over justification. Jesus died for me. That’s why I’m forgiven. That’s enough.

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Hebrews 11 makes it very clear that Abram (later, Abraham) exercised saving faith from the time he left his home to go wonder in Caanan. He was justified at least from the time of the call in Genesis 12.1-3 on. Yet I keep reading people

  1. who think that any appeal to the fact that believers are justified in various events at various times repeatedly is an attack on “the doctrine of justification, and
  2. who treat Genesis 15.1ff as if it was Abram’s initial act of faith by which he was justified.

The two mistakes depend on one another. (1) forces people to adopt (2) and (2) is then used to support (1).

But the whole idea is wrong. Any reading of the text that takes the sequence from Genesis 12 to Genesis 15 seriously, and that also has regard for the inspired commentary on these events in Hebrews 11, has to reckon that Genesis 15 is the record of a special test of faith–much like, though not as intense as, the test in Genesis 22.

Just as the Westminster Confession assures us that “God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified,” so also the Bible teaches that he continues to reckon as righteous and vindicate those that are justified. He does not do this by means of a mere assent, as James points out so emphatically in chapter 2 of his epistle, but on a basis of a true trust in God. This trust grows and matures as it passes through tests.

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I spent the last few days at A Conversation on Denominational Renewal, which thankfully met in St. Louis. The conference was well attended, about 300 or more people. The audience was mostly PCA ministers and elders, but because it was held in St. Louis there were a good many Covenant Seminary Students and professors.

I’m not going to summarize the conference. All I will say is that it was quite stimulating and helpful. When they post the mp3s of the lectures on their website, you need to listen to them. I’ll try to alert everyone when they are posted.

I’d like for us to discuss one part of Jeremy Jones’s lecture on Wednesday morning. The title was “On Renewing Theology.” I think it was one of the most challenging lectures of the lot.

Jeremy addressed problems with the way we tend to conceive of and do theology in the Reformed world, especially the PCA. Early on he talked about “The Ecclesial Culture of Reformed Sectarianism.” He lamented the fact that so many Reformed ecclesial cultures end up as little more than “denominational police states.” How does this happen?

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I’ve recently re-discovered an awesome theological resource, The Westminster Shorter Catechism Project. It is excellent, not least because it demonstrates the healthy diversity that has always been allowable in the Reformed Tradition until recently.

For example, consider the sources attached to Question and Answer #94:

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Chist, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

Among the links we have Matthew Henry and James Fisher.

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The BHrethren might be interested in this post I wrote on my personal blog which disagrees with John Gerstner’s understanding on the Church.  Amid all the discussion of eschatology and hypercalvinism and how the visible church may properly be called the body of Christ, I completely overlooked how Gerstner’s reasoning actually condemns the Westminster definition of the invisible Church as the body of Christ.   He writes,

We will not deny that a person who sincerely and truly makes a sound profession of faith in Christ is a member of His true church, but how do we (or they) know that all who make the profession sincerely believe it? How can they be sure that they are not receiving hypocrites? So long as officers cannot search the hearts of professing believers, they cannot know whether such professors are sincere, true believers or not; nor can they prevent the admittance of some nominal (in name only) believers.

So the rule is: he or she who is not regenerate may not be counted a member of the Church. But by this reasoning, the members of the invisible church also cannot be counted as members of the true church.  After all, according to the Westminster Confession, the invisible church, which is Christ’s body, consists of everyone who will ever be called into final salvation, whether or not they are yet regenerate or even conceived into existence.

The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

So, by Gerstner’s standards, this definition is in error. Those who are not yet sincere believers must never be defined as members of the body of Christ.

We can rehabilitate Gerstner’s concern by pointing out that the invisible Church is an eschatalogical plan (which, when brought to completion, will be brilliantly visible).  But this goes back to the problem Gerstner seems to have with eschatology, wanting a present invisible realm as an alternative to the problems of the present, rather than a future glory that is realized through those trials.  Death and resurrection is everything.

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