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Archive for the ‘Covenant’ Category

Covenant sentence

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In his book That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton identifies five common aspects of God’s covenants, and shows how these aspects are frequently used to structure Biblical texts. We see the “cash value” of this when it gives us a deeper insight into Biblical passages: for example, Michael Bull observes this pattern in the book of Revelation and deftly rebuts the hyper-preterist reading of Revelation.

In some ways the five-point covenant model is a fresh insight, but in other ways it is just putting a name on inescapable aspects of relationships and communication, especially between a superior and an inferior, a creator and a creature. In that vein, and with tongue somewhat in cheek, I present the five-point covenant model of the English sentence.

First, let’s review the diagram of a typical sentence:

Now we apply the five-point covenant model to this sentence:

  • Transcendence: The subject of this sentence is the transcendent initiator of all action.
    • Hierarchy: The indirect object is the dependent receiver of the subject’s speech and action, blessing and curse.
      • Ethics: The verb expresses the communication and action that extend from the subject to the indirect object, which comprises laws, commands or covenant conditions.
    • Oath (Sanctions): The direct object signifies the blessings and curses that the subject is offering to the indirect object.
  • Succession: The object of the preposition describes the outcome, the future goal of the subject’s covenantal actions.

Our sentence diagram now looks like this:

Depending on how you react to Sutton’s approach, you may either feel that this proves that it is truly a hammer seeking to turn everything into a nail, or else that this validates his approach by showing it is a simple taxonomy of unavoidable aspects of covenantal relation and communication. Thus, as Gary North observed in his publisher’s preface to Sutton’s book, these five points serve equally well as a framework for understanding political theory.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 10, 2021 at 4:51 pm

Baptism exhortation (2)

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In the New Testament, Peter and Paul speak of two great old–covenant baptisms: the baptism of the flood, and the baptism of the Red Sea crossing.

In both of these, God rained water on his people, and drowned his enemies. Psalm 77 tells of God’s rain at the Red Sea crossing, and Psalm 68—the great battle Psalm of the Huguenots—tells of rain in the wilderness:

O God, when You went forth before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness:
The world shook;
Indeed, the heavens dripped at the presence of God, the One of Sinai,
At the presence of God, the God of Israel.
A rain of gifts You showered, O God;
Your inheritance, though it languished, You Yourself established.
Your beasts dwelled in it;
You prepared it in Your goodness for the lowly, O God. (Psalm 68:7–10, James Jordan)

So you see that the waters of baptism are a rescue from judgment and death, and they are a source of life and refreshment. But they are also a commissioning, into a priesthood and into an army! As soon as Israel had crossed the Red Sea in battle array, they fought the Amalekites. Likewise, Psalm 68 continues:

My Master gives the word;
The messengers are a great army.
Kings of armies flee; they flee;
And those remaining at home divide the spoil,
Those remaining with the sheepfolds:
A dove’s wings covered with silver,
And her pinions with green–gold.
When the Almighty scattered kings there,
You made it snow on Black Mountain.
O mountain of gods, mountain of Bashan,
O mountain of ridges, mountain of Bashan,
Why your hostility, you mountains of ridges,
Toward the mountain God delighted for His dwelling?
Yes, Yahweh will dwell there endlessly.
The chariots of God are twice myriads,
Thousands upon thousands,
My Master among them,
At Sinai, in the holy place!
You ascended on high;
You captured a captivity;
You took men as gifts—
And even rebels—
In order that Yah, God might dwell. (Psalm 68:11–18, James Jordan)

The same thing happened when Israel crossed the Jordan into the promised land. God brought them safely through waters, circumcised them, and formed them into his own army to conduct a holy war.

Amos, God still has an army that wages holy warfare with the sword of the Spirit: the word of God. God has commissioned you into his service today. You are and will always be a soldier of Jesus. You belong completely to him, and it is good to belong to him. I charge you to serve him faithfully and fearlessly!

See also: Baptism exhortation

Written by Scott Moonen

November 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm


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Modern society tends to deprecate cultural modes of expression such as ritual, ceremony, and formal signs of affection and respect because they appear “arbitrary.” Of course, each individual cultural expression, like all symbols, is arbitrary, but the existence of some cultural expression is not arbitrary. It is humanly essential. The meaning of a cultural expression may be determined by tradition rather than by the rationally calculated requirements of the situation. But in language, art, and other matters of cultural expression, much of the symbol’s effectiveness in strengthening a community derives from the community’s tradition. To reject a language because the meaning assigned to each sound is arbitrary misses the point. All languages are arbitrary, and there is no workable substitute for a common set of meanings passed on by a human tradition.

Likewise, people in modern society can often deprecate cultural expressions as “inauthentic.” This objection also ignores an important human truth. If each individual or grouping is expected to develop independently an “authentic” and rich system of symbolic expression, then such systems will never come to be. Instead, human life will be gradually impoverished of its means of expression, and the human realities that need regular expression will be left unprovided for. Cultural expressions are shared meanings, not unique creations.

(Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, 607–608)

Written by Scott Moonen

March 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm

Life-giving bonds

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The covenant is the happiest place on earth.

Duane Garner, Performing Our Vows

Written by Scott Moonen

March 25, 2019 at 5:03 pm


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John Barach, speaking on Judges 19-21 and God’s “church discipline” for Benjamin and Jabesh-Gilead:

When you side with apostates [or Canaanites], God treats you like an apostate [or Canaanite].

Written by Scott Moonen

October 26, 2018 at 8:56 am

Corporate spiritual disciplines

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When we think of spiritual disciplines, things like prayer and Bible reading usually get the most attention. But there are a set of things that have to do with our life together as the body of Christ that can also be considered spiritual disciplines.

For my church, I taught a discipleship class introducing the spiritual disciplines and elaborating on these corporate spiritual disciplines. The class recording and my notes are below.


Welcome to our spiritual disciplines discipleship class! The elders have planned a cycle of several classes per year over the course of three years, and this is the second time we’re going through this material.

There are three books this class uses for inspiration, but these books are not required reading. Three years ago, we based the class entirely on Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, which is a good practical overview of the disciplines. This time we are also drawing from Tim Keller’s book Prayer and from David Mathis’s recent book Habits of Grace. I recommend Mathis highly; he is a good mix of practical reminder but also inspiration. He gives a great reminder that we are not just doing these things out of duty or for our improvement, but because they are all ways of growing in our experience and fellowship with Jesus who is our great treasure and delight. In fact, his book’s subtitle is “Enjoying Jesus through the spiritual disciplines.”

Let’s start by considering what spiritual disciplines are, and then we’ll finish up talking a bit about the disciplines of fellowship. In the coming weeks other teachers will talk about the disciplines of Bible reading, study, meditation, and memorization; prayer; and evangelism. We’re covering quite a lot of ground today, so we are only going to scratch the surface in a “tour guide” sort of way.

The idea of spiritual disciplines comes from 1 Timothy 4:7–8, where Paul says that we are to “train [or discipline] yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This theme appears in many other passages related to self–control, self–discipline, training, discipleship, and work. In some ways you could say that all of life is spiritual discipline just like all of life is worship. But it is helpful to narrow down and say that disciplines are efforts or practices that we consciously pursue that will help us to grow spiritually. So, for example, suffering is beneficial to us, but it is something God brings to us, so it is discipline from him rather than one of our spiritual disciplines.

As we consider the spiritual disciplines over the next few weeks, we need to be careful to remember that they are not a way of earning access to God or earning his favor and approval. God is already disposed to love us as our Father. He wants and delights and schemes and works to see us spiritually healthy and strong, but his love comes before and runs underneath all of this.

God’s love for us and his work in us makes spiritual disciplines a bit of a mystery. Paul says in Colossians 1:29 that “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” In Philippians 2:12–13 he exhorts us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” All of the work in us is God’s—but much of the work and all of the sweat is ours too!

Let’s think about a few pictures of what spiritual disciplines are.

First of all, they are spiritual food, something that is necessary for our spiritual life and our growth in faith. There are many examples of this in Scripture. In John 4:34, Jesus says that “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” In John 6:55, Jesus says that we are to feed on him: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Paul and the author of Hebrews both compare the word and preaching to eating, telling us that there is both milk and solid food (1 Cor 3:2, Hebrews 5:12–14). David declares—and we sing with him—that God’s word is sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10, 119:103).

If spiritual disciplines are food for us, then it is wise for us to work towards a balanced diet of disciplines. We should work to grow from milk to solid food; not that milk is bad, just that it is not our only diet. Also, to state the obvious, we shouldn’t starve ourselves. The disciplines are what we call means of grace, a channel through which the Holy Spirit normally works to powerfully help us. We need to get ourselves regularly into the path of that help and power; to shun the disciplines is to quench the Spirit.

Second, the spiritual disciplines are a preparation for battle. They are not just food but like a kind of preparation and strength training. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus warns his disciples in Gethsemane to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” We already saw that in 1 Timothy 4:7–8, Paul charges Timothy to “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” In Psalm 119:11, David declares—and we sing with him—that “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” We are like children wrestling with our Father, like Jacob wrestling with Jesus. He wrestles with us to make us stronger, and he is proud to see us succeed. He gives us hard things, sometimes even permanent hard things, but they are all gifts to enable us to depend on his power and strength, and also to prepare us to be fruitful and victorious. The cross and our own experience prove that through suffering and dying to ourselves we will experience victory and life.

Third, the spiritual disciplines are not just a preparation for battle but they are actual spiritual warfare. We know that God goes to battle for his people as we pray, both individually and corporately. From Ephesians 6, the word and prayer are part of how we wrestle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” From Psalm 8:2 and Matthew 21:16, we know that praise, including the praise of our infants and babies, “still[s] the enemy and the avenger.” From Romans 8 and Galatians 5 we know that the Spirit and the flesh are at war within us. Practicing the disciplines is directly engaging in that battle to put our flesh to death.

Fourth, all this means that the spiritual disciplines are a way of becoming more like Jesus. The result of the battle between Spirit and flesh in Romans 8 is that we are “conformed to the image of his Son,” who is the “firstborn among many brothers.”

Finally, but most importantly, David Mathis reminds us that the point of spiritual disciplines is not just to fulfill duties or even to grow stronger and more mature and more like Jesus, but to fellowship with Jesus. In Ephesians 1:10, Paul insists that the purpose of creation and our salvation is “to unite all things in [Jesus], things in heaven and things on earth.” Jesus is our greatest treasure, and our greatest delight should be is to experience him. This is the best and greatest reason to pursue the spiritual disciplines.

So: you are attending a class right now, which is a kind of a spiritual discipline. But classes are certainly one of the lesser ways to learn things. We hope that you are inspired and challenged by these classes, first to invest more in all these other spiritual disciplines, and second to see that all of this is an investment in your pursuit of Jesus.

To summarize, the spiritual disciplines are: food, preparation for battle, actual battle, a means of becoming more like Jesus, and a means of fellowship with Jesus.

We can think of the disciplines in several categories. Consider the ways that Jesus works and wrestles with us through the Holy Spirit: first, directly and personally; second, through his word; and third, corporately through his people, as the Spirit’s streams of living water flow to and from one another. Mathis groups the disciplines into these three groups, except he calls the disciplines of the word direct, and fellowship with Jesus in prayer, fasting, and journaling indirect. Under the disciplines of the word he groups hearing, reading, study, memorization, and meditation.

Today we’ll make a whirlwind tour of the corporate disciplines. Under the corporate disciplines Mathis groups fellowship, worship (which includes preaching and the sacraments), rebuke, evangelism, discipleship, and generosity with our money and time.

As Christians, members of Jesus’s own family and body, we are connected to each other in a special way unlike any other relationship and fellowship in the world. We are connected or bound to Jesus our head, and through him and his Spirit we are bound to each other. He is the hub and we are the spokes. This unity we have in Jesus as his body is an important theme throughout the New Testament. 1 John reminds us that “if we walk in the light . . . we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7) and that because “God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Really this is just our being invited into the fellowship God has had for all eternity. As a Trinity, God has existed in perfect loving fellowship since before creation. Amazingly, he created the world not just to display his glory and beauty, but to invite us into that fellowship as his friends, as his family.

Incidentally, this is the opposite of how the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches view our relation to saints and icons. They say that we can have a relationship with Jesus through saints or icons, but we recognize that the fellowship of the saints exists only because we are all connected first of all to Jesus, and through him to one another.

So, we can say that all of the corporate spiritual disciplines have to do with life in the body, life in the covenant. There is both a give and take to all of this life; God has made his body to work in such a way that we are never purely giving or purely receiving. Really all of the spiritual disciplines are part of our speaking to and with Jesus; the corporate disciplines are just how we do this together.

A big part of covenants in the Bible is meals and feasting. The new covenant has a weekly feast at Jesus’s table and is moving to a final great feast at his table. We could express many of the corporate disciplines in terms of this. First of all, our corporate worship is our life at Jesus’s house and at his table. Then, our fellowship and hospitality is about imitating Jesus’s table and having proper manners at Jesus’s table and his house, since we are his house. Finally, evangelism is an invitation to Jesus’s house and table.

However, our life together is not just about resting together but also about laboring and battling and warring to reach rest together. God gives us a taste of final rest here but it is not final. He sends us out after every weekly worship–feast to rejoin the battle. We are like the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half–tribe of Manasseh. They received their inheritance and rest on the far side of the Jordan, but they were not allowed to enjoy it until they had fought to bring their brothers to rest as well. So, first of all, worship is also replenishment and warfare and receiving battle plans from our commander in chief; then, fellowship and hospitality and discipleship are replenishment and refreshment, training and weapon sharpening, planning strategies and tactics; and finally, evangelism is warfare and conquest.

Let’s spend a few minutes thinking about worship and how God serves and strengthens us there. In one sense worship covers all of life, but there is a special way that God’s people meet with him as we gather together corporately, especially on the Lord’s day when we assemble as the entire body, bride, and army of God. If we look at the Old Testament precursors of worship at altars and tabernacles and temples, we see a pattern of meeting with God that we call covenant renewal. Sacrifice, song, gathering, bringing offerings of tribute to the king, hearing the word and teaching, and feasting are all connected together. Although God is always near to us, the book of Hebrews especially links our corporate worship with this pattern of covenant renewal, declaring that when we worship we actually draw near to God at his heavenly temple (Hebrews 8), at the heavenly mountain, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12). In a way, you could say that while Jesus is always with us by his Spirit, especially when two or more are gathered together; however, on the Lord’s day we are transported up to be with him.

So, the Lord’s day worship is not just a convenient mutual aid society where we help and are helped. It is an actual meeting with Jesus, an actual hearing from him, an actual feasting together with him. But this means that we are really and supernaturally helped, in ways far beyond anything that happens if we were to get together on our own. This really heightens the importance of our gathering together: you have been invited to an audience with the emperor of the universe. You need to make extraordinary effort and sacrifice to keep tryst with him. There is no privilege in the universe like Christian privilege: we get to have an audience with the king of kings and judge of judges and the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17).

It is the meeting with Jesus that is the whole purpose of worship. We don’t attend worship because we are helped by it, though we are greatly helped by it and so our effort to get there and participate is a kind of a spiritual discipline. Think of all the ways that worship helps us:

  1. Our very ability to draw near to God is a strong assurance that we stand completely forgiven.
  2. Our going up to meet with him in song and adoration is a strong rehearsal and assurance of his greatness and power and victory that he wields for us, his family, his bride.
  3. Our hearing the word and preaching is a real word from Jesus to us. Consider Ephesians 2:17 where Paul says that Jesus “preached peace” to the Ephesians. Jesus was never in Ephesus, but Jesus preached peace to the Ephesians through his apostles and pastors.
  4. Our receiving and witnessing baptism is a real word from God that in Jesus we are all beloved Sons, with whom he is well pleased.
  5. Our eating the Lord’s supper at the Lord’s table together with Jesus is a real word from Jesus that we “shall eat at my table always” (2 Samuel 9) just as lame Mephibosheth always ate at David’s table “like one of the king’s sons.”

Of course this means we are brothers and sisters and must show good manners, both at the table and beyond. So now let’s consider how our corporate life and fellowship works in our homes and at our tables.

We know from 1 Corinthians 10–11 that it is possible by our eating to partake of the “table of demons” and by our lack of consideration and patience for one another as the body of Jesus to eat and drink judgment on ourselves. We know from Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 that it is possible by our eating to destroy a brother. We know from Galatians 2 that by refusing to eat with one another it is possible to walk out of step with the truth of the gospel. We know from Peter’s vision in Acts 10 that by refusing to eat with one another we could become a fountain of uncleanness in the church. Eating together, and how we eat together, are really important. Of course, the first way we practice these Christian table manners is in the Lord’s supper, but it should be taking place at our own tables as well.

This family and table life together in the covenant, in the body, is actually the foundation of all of the kinds of fellowship that we can practice. Love, charity, and hospitality are the foundation of our entire life together. All of the harder aspects of life together, such as forgiveness, warning, rebuke, and even excommunication, grow out of the soil of love for one another in Jesus. As we work at the practical expressions of love and hospitality year in and year out, we are making an investment in building and strengthening our bonds in the body, which will pay off when the hard times come. There is a genuine cementing of our bonds that takes place in fellowship, especially over food.

Let’s take some time to think through some of the spectrum of how we should practice this fellowship, considering it as a spiritual discipline. The first organizing idea I want to use for the discipline of fellowship is the list of “one–another” and “each–other” commands and prayers in the Bible.

By far the most common command is to love one another, which appears about 15 times. In addition to that, we are to have peace with one another, wash one another’s feet, honor and prefer one another, be like–minded (twice), edify, receive, admonish, greet (five times, with a kiss!), wait for, care, serve, forbear with (twice), be kind to, forgive, submit to (twice), comfort (twice), do good to, stir up, confess to, pray for, show hospitality toward, and fellowship with one another. We are to bear one another’s burdens and esteem one another more highly than ourselves. However, we are not to judge one another, defraud, devour, provoke, envy, lie to, speak evil of, or grumble to one another.

In all of this we are acting towards each other with the heart and attitude of Jesus toward his sheep. And as always this is a two–way street; we are just as much receiving from one another Jesus’s own personal care for us.

The second organizing idea I want to use for the discipline of fellowship is the kinds of speech that we are to give and receive. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 speaks of admonishing, encouraging, and helping, with patience towards all. 2 Timothy 3:16 speaks of teaching, reproving, correcting, and training, with all of this coming from the word and working to equipping and completion.

In one way it is possible to think of these kinds of speech as being positive or negative, reinforcing or redirecting. But all of our speech is working in love for the good of one another and the good of the body. All of it should have the purpose of building or rebuilding each other. In terms of Romans 14 and the stronger–brother and weaker–brother instructions, this love means we should not despise one another, nor pass judgment on one another. Not despising is easy to understand, though it can be hard to live! Never passing judgment, however, seems surprising. A couple helpful ways to think of this are that, first, this doesn’t at all keep us from questioning and warning one another, and second, that Paul is speaking of individual judgments. There is a place for the church under the rule of the elders to make judgments, perhaps even ending in excommunications. And those churchy judgments actually draw the lines of our Christian fellowship. So, we can say that we ought to have scruples about how we live, and the church altogether defines our scruples about who we carry on Christian life with, but in between we are only allowed to have opinions and not scruples about one another.

The last organizing idea I want to use for the discipline of fellowship is the gifts and fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). The Spirit is building and knitting together the body, proceeding from the Father and the Son toward us and proceeding from us toward each other. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit are a key way the Spirit is doing this building and knitting. Most of the gifts and fruits can only exist in a one–another context, and all of them are oriented toward the good of one another, even internal ones like joy, peace, and self–control. So, part of our discipline of fellowship is to steadily practice and cultivate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control.

We could go on to add the various lists of gifts of the Spirit, and also work through the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. We could look at how the godly woman is described in Proverbs 31, because this is just how Jesus’s bride should behave. We could think of different models of relationship: brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and how these spell out different kinds of friendship and discipleship. Perhaps you can do this and more on your own time. And we need to remember that all of this grows out of love, so we need to take care to walk in wisdom, patience, and faith, to walk with and be led by the Spirit, and to consider the fact that this love requires us to sacrifice ourselves and die to ourselves.

But let’s shift for a few minutes instead to think about some practical matters of how you do this. Afterwards I really want to hear some ideas from you as well, since there are combined centuries of experience in fellowship here in this room. Here are a few thoughts from my limited experience:

  1. Think small and simple. Invite someone over after church for a Wal–Mart pizza; spaghetti noodles and Ragu; bread, cheese, and salad; or even peanut butter and jelly. Pack a picnic lunch after church and announce that to your group. Offer to bring food over to someone’s house as an alternative if that makes life simpler for their family (we did this a number of times especially as newlyweds). Attend the piano recital or baseball game of each other’s children. Since you are going to the fireworks or state fair anyway, extend an open invitation for folks to join you. Bring a meal over just because someone had a hectic week. Remember that it is more important to fuss over people than over food and decoration. Have faith that steady little investments over a long period of time will blossom and bear great fruit. Your faithful participation in your home group are is one simple but tremendously powerful bit of fellowship. Think about how things pile up and grow over years; Lisa and I are now coming up on close to 400 home group meetings since we joined the church 18 years ago!
  2. Think large and festive, like the feast of booths, which was Israel’s annual Bible camp. Plan a home group picnic, dinner, bowling night, or caroling outing. It’s certainly possible to pull off a home group camping trip, mountain cabin stay, or beach trip. It requires some organization and planning, and you likely won’t be able to fit everyone’s schedule. But it is not beyond your reach, and I can promise you will benefit tremendously from extended unprogrammatic time together. You don’t need to wait for your home group leader to plan this.
  3. Think in groups. Invite multiple people or multiple families over to multiply the conversation and fellowship.
  4. Do a little bit now rather than waiting and scheming for the perfect. As they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Set realistic and even plodding goals. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with guilt; simply plod along. Pick a Sunday and work from there. Also, accept the limitations of your circumstances or season of life. Perhaps your fellowship and worship are more taken up with caring for little children, or perhaps they are quite taken up with your kids’ friends. Welcome this as part of the fellowship God is calling you to practice right now.
  5. Be spiritual. This doesn’t have to be sophisticated. The important things are all covered by basic, solid questions. What is God teaching you? How can I pray for you? What are you reading? What is one area you want to change? What are your fears? What are your dreams? What do you love?
  6. Be human. One of the points of fellowship we will always have with Jesus and with one another is our shared humanity. Make time to laugh, play games, watch movies and sports, unpack good literature, discuss politics, and more.
  7. Phil has spoken often of the concentric circles of responsibility, from our church and family to our extended family, friends, neighbors, city, state, and world. We can’t carry an equal burden of care for all of these spheres of responsibility. Everyone has unique connections and needs to work out their priorities and spheres of responsibility before God. But as a general rule, make sure that you are placing the most weight on the inner circles. You don’t have to be equally close friends, even to everyone in your home group. But you should be spending time with them.
  8. Fellowship and especially hospitality are a way of expressing and living out that “these are my people.” Depending on where our culture goes over the next years and decades, there could be a real cost and risk to this. In the future it may be harder work to delight in being counted together with Jesus and his people. And of course, “our people” extends beyond the membership of this church to Jesus’s entire church. Jesus’s marriage is the one marriage that will endure into eternity, and his family is the one brotherhood and sisterhood that will endure into eternity. So, there is a kind of priority that the church as our family and people has even over our human families.
  9. Generosity has an important part in our life together as God’s family, as Jesus’s body. Our love for Jesus and for one another should lead us to be generous not just with our affection and time, but also strength, wisdom and experience, money, belongings, food, and homes. Receiving others’ generosity is just as important. It is a blessing both to give and to receive. Sometimes there is even a cost to receiving help — perhaps things are not done just the way you want them. Blessing others by not being picky receivers is itself a kind of generosity. Similarly, in your hospitality, be willing to suffer some broken and dirtied possessions. It is certainly part of the cost of parenting and that cost will be multiplied if you bring more children into your life and home.
  10. On rebuke, much wisdom is required. There is a time to be silent, and a time to speak; a time to answer a fool according to his folly, and a time not to do so; a time to thunder, and a time to ask questions. Pray for wisdom, walk in step with the Spirit, and seek Godly counsel!
  11. Finally, remember that although all of this working at building up the body is a kind of spiritual discipline, and although we receive great benefits from it, the work and the benefits are not our goal. Our love for one another, our love for Jesus, and the fact that we experience Jesus and his Spirit as we strengthen our bonds are really what should be driving us. Jesus is our greatest treasure, and we are doing all of this to pursue, obey, and fellowship with him.

So: now I want to hear and benefit from your experience and counsel! Keeping in mind that we will cover evangelism later in these classes, what thoughts, questions or challenges do you have related to fellowship, hospitality, discipleship, and worship?

. . .
What are some unique ways you have engaged in fellowship?
What are some unique challenges you have had to overcome?
. . .

My final charge to you is this: before you go to sleep tonight, discuss and plan one thing you can do between now and the end of the year to practice the disciplines of fellowship and hospitality. Who will you invite to lunch after church or invite to your Thanksgiving dinner?

Thank you!

Written by Scott Moonen

October 7, 2018 at 5:22 pm


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Paul views the by-pistis path (the allegiance path) as fundamentally different than the by-works-of-law path, even though both avenues equally demand good works for final salvation. One path succeeds through Holy Spirit-infused union with Jesus the Messiah; the other fails. Good deeds are required for salvation even though (apart from allegiance to Jesus the king) they are not on their own in the least bit meritorious. Nor can the good deeds necessary for salvation be enumerated or definitively prescribed as part of a salvation system without running afoul of Paul’s teaching here. Pistis alone counts—loyalty to Jesus that is pragmatically expressed in obedient and willing service to him as the king. (Matthew Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 121-122)

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2017 at 8:45 pm

Sola fide

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The debate between credobaptists and paedobaptists is not so much a debate over what baptism is, as it is a debate over the nature of the church, the body, the covenant, the kingdom. Do the body and kingdom consist only of those who are beyond a certain point of intellectual development? In a sense, quite the opposite (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17).

A key scripture for this debate is the prophet Jeremiah’s description of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, and as quoted in Hebrews 8 and 10. This passage is often taken to imply that the new covenant is not just a new covenant but a new species of covenant: that its membership is fashioned spiritually, by faith; rather than naturally, by birth. This is a distinction that does not hold water, however: there are natural blessings in the new covenant; and salvation in the old covenants was by faith, grace, and through Jesus just as much as in the new. Moreover, as I have argued previously, Jeremiah 31 cannot be taken to mean that the new covenant excludes children; the opposite reading makes far better sense of the context and of related passages.

The church has almost universally confessed that her infant children go to be with Jesus if they die. Our infants are part of Jesus’s church-body-kingdom. Since they are to be seated at his heavenly table, it is right for us to seat them at his earthly table. Indeed, if they have a place at Jesus’s table, to refuse them access is to eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor 11:29) and to walk out of step with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). And of course, to say that our children are fit participants in the Lord’s supper is to sneak baptism in the back door, for baptism is the seal of entry into the body, and the supper the seal of continuation and renewal.

But even granting all this, credobaptists normally balk at the thought of baptizing infants because baptism is normally in scripture linked with faith. Thus, a young child who can express the basic confession of Romans 10:9 may be a fitting subject for baptism by virtue of his profession of faith, but not an infant: even if he is likely part of Jesus’s body, he must wait until his faith becomes evident.

To make our infants wait is to confess that they have no faith, or no faith that we can discern. But we speak otherwise when we say that Jesus receives them if they die, because we also confess that justification is by faith alone. If our infants are to stand justified before God—and we believe that they are—then it must be by faith.

More importantly, scripture teaches us that they do have faith; if we were to better moderate the evangelical diet of conversion songs with Psalm singing, this confession would resonate more strongly with us. Psalm 22:9 speaks first of David’s and Jesus’s infant faith, but also our own. Psalm 71:6 speaks of the same. (Here we see the very spiritual dimension of the old covenants.) Certainly David speaks of a child-like faith rather than an adult faith; there is much more of fiducia to it and much less of notitia and assensus. But it is faith none the less.

Thus, infant baptism: because justification is by faith alone.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 4, 2016 at 8:45 pm


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There’s a lot of material in the Bible on covenant, the vast majority of which focuses on God’s covenants with his people. But there are human relationships in the Bible also described as covenants, such as Abraham and Abimelech (Gen. 21:27, 32), and Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:44). Importantly, marriages are named as covenants. God explicitly calls human marriage a covenant (Malachi 2:14). God also describes his own covenant with his people as a marriage (Ezek. 16), and this is surely one of the aspects of God’s marriage that is mirrored in our own (Eph. 5:32).

There are some dimensions of God’s covenant with his people that are not mirrored in all human marriages, except in rare cases such as Hosea. But there are still many insights into covenant from biblical theology that we can apply to our own marriage covenants. Here, in no particular order, are twelve reflections on marriage as a covenant:

Architecture. Covenants are relational-structural bonds. As a bond, a covenant establishes a sort of structure or architecture for the relationship. Like the architecture of a house, the covenant is not the purpose of marriage, but reflecting on the covenant can help us to understand the purpose and pattern of marriage. The covenant is sort of the hub or lattice on which all of the pieces of marriage can be arranged.

Complementarity. All covenants are asymmetric or complementary relationships in some way. Complementarity, the differing roles and responsibilities of husband and wife in the dance of marriage, is built into the fabric of covenant. For example, God calls the husband and wife together by the name of the husband (Gen. 5:2), and the first husband named the first wife. God, who establishes the marriage covenant (Matt. 19:6) has different exhortations and requirements for husbands and wives (Eph. 5:22, 25).

Particularity. Covenants are particular and exclusive: God is God and savior to these people; this man cleaves to this woman and no other.

Death. Covenants are not mere contracts that exchange goods and services for mutual benefit. Contracts have their place, but a covenant is a promise and a giving of oneself. Theologians speak of the “self-maledictory oath” in a covenant: covenant promises are a sort of “cross my heart and hope to die.”

Blessing and curse. There are always both blessings and curses attached to a covenant. God calls us to a standard of fidelity and sacrifice, but in this he equally intends to give us great gifts and happiness and joy. In fact, death and sacrifice are the very soil in which happiness and joy flourish.

Adoption. A good picture of a covenant is what happens in adoption: you leave an old world-situation-family and enter into a new one; you become responsible for and to one another. In fact, in marriage, husband and wife do adopt one another as brother and sister in a way (consider the sister-bride in the Song of Solomon).

New creation. Every covenant establishes a new creation, a new order of things. This involves a rejection and separation and death to what came before: what came before was good in its time, but it is no longer adequate for the current situation. Out of this death, every covenant brings a kind of new life or resurrection into a new world-creation.

Union. This new creation involves a new union: union with Jesus in one case, or union with one another in marriage. This is the husband and wife becoming one flesh, leaving and cleaving; it is an incorporation of the other into oneself. Sex is a part of this but it does not exhaust the meaning of it.

Signs. Covenants have covenant signs that mark their establishment and renewal. The old covenants were marked or renewed with rainbow, circumcision, offering, and sacrifice-feast. The new covenant is marked in baptism and renewed in the Lord’s Supper. Our marriage covenants are marked (often) by the exchange of rings, and renewed in sex.

Fellowship. These unions and covenant signs often include meals. The meals are an expression of fellowship, a high point of the entire covenant. Consider that God’s covenants are broken by false eating (Genesis 3, 1 Cor. 10) and in the end are summed up in a feast (Revelation 19). Even the most reluctant of covenants (Jacob and Laban) is an expression of equality through a meal (Gen. 31:54). Likewise there is an experience of equal footing and deep fellowship that we are to enjoy in our marriages.

Administration. Covenants make provision for their administration: they are not private agreements, but public ones. Our marriages are administered by God (Matt. 19:6, Mk. 10:9) through the help of his body that also serves as a witness.

Succession. All covenants make provision for their future and succession. God’s covenants include promises and instruction for future generations. God intends for our own marriage covenants normally to produce worshipers (Mal. 2). We also see that God intends to preserve Christian marriages (Mt. 19:6, Mk. 10:9), and this is not a mere platitude: he will give grace to us to accomplish this.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 3, 2016 at 9:42 pm


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A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not “die to itself” that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of “adjustment” or “mental cruelty.” It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. This is expressed in the sentiment that one would “do anything” for his family, even steal. The family has here ceased to be for the glory of God; it has ceased to be a sacramental entrance into His presence. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it. In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only “natural.” It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But “by the cross joy [and not ‘happiness!’] entered the whole world.” Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken “until death parts,” but until death unites us completely. (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 90-91)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 30, 2016 at 8:38 pm