Archives For Definitions

Contrasts of Christmas

Greg Strand – December 24, 2016 Leave a comment

When we ponder the incarnation we are confronted with numerous contrasts. These contrasts get to the heart of the miraculous work of God. In many ways, Paul’s brief “but God” (Eph. 2:4) summarizes these twin contrastive truths, which help us to understand the gravity and glory of the incarnation.

As you read these statements, please pause to read, ponder and pray through the Scripture texts. Use these texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries as an aid to worship of God in all his fullness, who is the one who, in the fullness of time, “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Jesus experienced a human birth (Lk. 2:11), that through him we might have heavenly birth (Jn. 1:12).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

Jesus’ resting place was a lowly manger in a stable (Lk. 2:7), so that we might have heavenly mansions (Jn. 14:2-3). 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:2-3

Jesus became a member of the human family (Matt. 2:11), so that we might become members of the family of God (Gal. 3:26). 

“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus was made (made himself) subject to others, i.e., he obeyed them (Lk. 2:51), so that we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might be made free (Gal. 5:1).

“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Jesus’ glory was concealed (Phil. 2:6-7; cf. Jn. 17:1-5), so that we might receive glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7

“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:4

Jesus became poor (Matt. 8:20), so we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Matthew 8:20

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

 Jesus’ birth was welcomed and celebrated by the lowly and despised shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), while our new birth is welcomed and celebrated by angels (Lk. 15:10).

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Luke 2:8-9

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Herod sought to destroy Jesus through death (Matt. 2:13), but Jesus destroyed Satan and death through his death (Heb. 2:14-15).

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Matthew 2:13

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-15

These eight contrastive truths are thoughts from Donald Grey Barnhouse, who served as a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ for many years at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1927-1960). James Montgomery Boice, who also served at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1968-2000), summarizes these great contrasts in the following way (The Christ of Christmas [Minneapolis: Grason, 1983], 59):

When we put these texts together we see a great pattern. We see that Jesus endured a human birth to give us a new spiritual birth. He occupied a stable that we might occupy a mansion. He had an earthly mother so that we might have a heavenly Father. He became subject that we might be free. He left his glory to give us glory. He was poor that we might become rich. He was welcomed by shepherds at his birth whereas we at our birth are welcomed by angels. He was hunted by Herod that we might be delivered from the grasp of Satan. That is the great paradox of the Christmas story. It is that which makes it irresistibly attractive. It is the reversal of roles at God’s cost for our benefit.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Eight days after Jesus was born, he was circumcised (2:21), according to the law (Gen. 17:11-12), and given the name Jesus (2:21), just as the angel Gabriel had said (1:31). Jesus was circumcised to identify with Israel; He was/is our representative, and is the one who is preeminently a son, the chosen One (Lk. 9:35). [Jesus undergoes baptism for the same reason].

Joseph and Mary were pious, law-abiding Jews (2:22-24, 39). After the time of Mary’s purification (40 days after birth, Lev. 12:2-4, 6), they traveled from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem to present their firstborn, Jesus, to the Lord (2:22; cf. Ex. 13:2; Num. 18:15-16) and His service (I Sam. 1-2), and to offer a sacrifice in accordance with the Law of the Lord (2:24; cf. Lev. 12:8). The Law stated that one was to offer a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove as a sin offering. If one was poor and could not afford a lamb, then either two turtledoves or two pigeons would be sacrificed. Joseph and Mary’s offering was that of the poor which identified with those Christ came to save (1:52; 4:18-19; 6:20).

The Historical Context

The focus of this fourth and final song is Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. When he saw the baby Jesus, his wait was over. He took him in his arms and praised God. Simeon’s praise and prophecy are known as Nunc Dimittis.

In obedience to the law, Joseph and Mary had their baby boy circumcised on the eighth day, and named him Jesus. They do what all Jewish parents would have done who had given birth to a Jewish son. In the Old Testament, the law stated tan any son of Abraham should be circumcised on the eighth day (Gen. 17:11-12; Lk. 1:59). In the baby’s circumcision he was identifying with his people as their representative leader or as a representative human. But the main emphasis of this text of Scripture is on the naming of this baby boy – Jesus – not his circumcision. The name means save or salvation, which aligns closely with how he was referred to in 2:11: “Savior, Christ the Lord.” Jesus is his name, Christ is his title, and Savior is his purpose.

After the prescribed time of purification, according to the law, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present their firstborn to the Lord and to dedicate him to the Lord’s service (Lk. 2:22-23). The law stated that the mother of a male child was unclean for 7 days and then had to be confined for 33 days before traveling to the temple to offer a sacrifice. The presentation of the firstborn to the Lord (Ex. 13:2, 12, 15) and the dedication of the firstborn to the Lord’s service (1 Sam. 1-2) were both commanded in Scripture.

The sacrifice they offered for their purification was that of the poor. One of the birds was for the burnt offering and the other for the sin offering (2:24). In Leviticus 12:2-4, 6 a lamb and turtle dove are to be offered unless you cannot afford it. Then it was to be either two turtle doves or two pigeons. There offerings emphasizes different aspects in the process of communion with God. The sin offering emphasizes punishment or retribution for sin borne by the animal instead of the worshiper. The burnt offering emphasizes complete, whole consecration to God, which includes utter destruction of sin and uncleanness – the animal sacrifice is completely consumed. Even here we look forward to Christ as the final offering to which all the animal sacrifices find their fulfillment. As Mary and Joseph make the offering of the poor, they identify with those their son, Jesus, came to save (1:52; 4:18-19; 6:20).

While Joseph and Mary were in the temple with Jesus, they were met by an old man named Simeon who said great things about Jesus (2:25-35). We will say more about Simeon below, as we focus on his “song.” There was also an old prophetess named Anna who continually worshiped in the temple. She too gave thanks to God for Jesus and tied Jesus in with the redemption of Jerusalem (2:36-38). Anna was married but lost her husband at a young age and never remarried. She was a pious woman. Although she did not live on the temple grounds, there would have been a place for her to stay, and she was there daily, fasting and praying. We are told that she worshipped night and day. Anna’s activity pictures a person whose life is totally focused, consumed on serving God (as the burnt offering, totally consecrated, consumed).

Anna, too, encountered Jesus while in the temple. She gave thanks to God for this child-Redeemer, and also spoke to the crowd about Israel’s redemption through this child – he would redeem those enslaved to sin (2:38). The focus is on the Redeemer and the new age ushered in with his birth. Anna reveals that before the Messiah came, one could be decent and live a good life. But it is an unfulfilled life, which reflects a life absent true, real, lasting and abiding life. That is why John’s words are so apt: “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 Jn. 4:9).

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the law, they returned home to Nazareth (2:39).

The infancy events began in the temple with Zechariah (1:5ff) and ended in the temple with Jesus (2:41-51). After all the events of Jesus birth, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19). After an early fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy regarding the blessing and pain brought about in Jesus, while he tarried in the temple that caused his parents concern when they could not find him, Mary “his mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51). Jesus’ public life begins in the temple and it ends by him replacing the temple or becoming the true ultimate temple that the earthly temple foreshadowed. Humankind, both male (Simeon) and female (Anna), praise God for Jesus.

A Word About Simeon

Simeon was in Jerusalem waiting for God’s appointed consolation (2:25). Israel’s consolation referred to the hope of deliverance for the people. In the Old Testament various agents brought God’s consolation, but a primary agent who was anticipated was the Servant of God. This desire for consolation or deliverance characterizes the believer or God-fearer in Luke (6:23-24; 17:22-37; 21:25-36).

He was clearly a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led man. What was revealed about Simeon was his spiritual condition, not his vocation or his age. He is righteous and devout, an exemplary saint. The text states “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). Verses 25-27 reveal his character is a result of the Holy Spirit, his life was guided by the Holy Spirit. He had received a special work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (2:26). He was anxiously waiting. Simeon received a promise that God would not let him die without seeing the Messiah, the Lord’s Christ. The Lord’s Christ, the Messiah in verse 26 is linked with the consolation of Israel in verse 25. It was for this that he waited. But he trusted that God’s word was sure and it would be fulfilled so he did not wait hopelessly. Rather he waited hopefully.

Moved by the Holy Spirit, he went into the temple courts and there he met face to face Jesus, the consolation of Israel (2:27). Once again we see Simeon being guided and led by the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit’s prompting, Simeon went to the temple and while there his wait was terminated as he met Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Can you imagine his elation and excitement – his wait was now over, but more importantly God’s promise, which always comes true, had been fulfilled.

Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God (2:28). I can imagine that Simeon was overcome with gratitude to the point of tears. As he grabbed the baby Jesus, we can see tears streaming down his face, his knees growing weak, almost to the point of needing to sit down. The praise then completes the excitement, the joy he feels over the fulfillment of God’s promise. This leads him to sing a song of praise to God for the fulfillment of the prophecy, and also to utter a prophecy about the future ministry of Jesus.

The Theological and Doxological Response

Now that he had seen Him, his life could end in peace (2:29), because he had seen the Lord’s salvation (2:30), which is to be for all people (2:31). Simeon also prophesied that Jesus would cause the rising and falling of man in Israel and Mary’s soul would be pierced (2:33-35). In the midst of this worship Simeon “sings,” the fourth and final songs Luke records of the infancy narratives.

The song emphasizes that Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem his people, and through the song he utters a prophecy of the future ministry of Jesus.

God is praised for the fulfillment of his promise (2:29-32). God is addressed as the sovereign Lord who is faithful to his promises (2:29). God is the Lord, Master over everything. He determines the beginning and the end. What he has ordained will occur. What he has spoken, will come to pass. Here Simeon praises the sovereign Lord who was – and remains – faithful to his promises, and in his kind mercy he allowed Simeon to live to see and experience the consolation of Israel, in the Lord’s Christ, Jesus.

Simeon, God’s servant, can now depart in peace (2:29). In the Greek text, “Now” stands at the beginning of this sentence and is there for emphasis. In the coming of Jesus, “now is the time – the time of the consolation of Israel. (It brings to mind Paul’s urgent and timely exhortation, where the same word is used: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2, emphasis mine).) Simeon is God’s servant. He refers to himself as “your servant,” much like Mary referred to herself (1:38), and is a fitting contrast to the description of God as the sovereign one. Simeon is like the watcher who can now leave his assigned post because the anticipated event has come. Now the watcher is ready to die and he can depart in peace because he has seen and held the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 16:33), sent from the God of Peace (Phil. 4:9; Rom. 16:20) and experienced the peace of God (Phil. 4:7) because he was at peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

The reason Simeon can now depart is because he has seen the Lord’s salvation, a light, prepared in the sight of all people: revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel (2:30-32). In the coming of Jesus, salvation come. This is why it was essential for Simeon to experience it. Then and only then can he depart, not under a burden, but in peace. Although Simeon was a righteous and devout man, he was not prepared to depart in peace until he met Christ. Only then he was ready. This salvation was not outside of history, given to a few special people. It was done within of history in the sight of all people. God intends to extend to all the salvation that comes in Jesus. The light is Jesus himself and he comes to shine in the darkness (1:79). The effect of this light will be revelation will to the Gentiles – the Word, and glory to Israel, the Shekinah glory. God is acting for his people. This explains how he will be the consolation or deliverer.

Jesus’ future ministry is described (2:34-35): “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”

Jesus’ ministry will cause pain for his mother, Mary. The reference is to the pain that Jesus’ ministry causes Mary, as Jesus creates his own family of disciples and his own priorities, and his suffering because of it. This is seen early in Jesus’ ministry. After a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, they returned home, and assumed the boy Jesus was with them. After traveling a day, they realized he was not with them. They returned to Jerusalem looking for him, and continued to search for him three days before they found him – in the temple. Upon being questioned by Mary, he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (2:49). Although this was reflective of Simeon’s prophecy, his parents did not understand what he meant by this (2:50).

Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many people. Please will either be drawn to Jesus or stumble over him. Those who reject him are headed for a fall, while those who receive him in faith are headed for a rising, a blessing. The sign will be that of resistance, contention and rejection of Jesus and his ministry. Simeon addresses how people will respond to Jesus. He will be resisted and rejected. For those who resist, Jesus will not be a hope of promise fulfilled, but a figure who is to be opposed. Although Jesus is God’s hope, not all will respond positively to him. The reality of this experience will “pierce through your own “[Mary’s] soul.”

The purpose of Jesus’ ministry will reveal where hearts really are before God. Jesus will expose those who do not believe. How humans respond to God’s promise is made evident by how they respond to Jesus, as that will reveal their thoughts (cf. Heb. 4:12). And that response results in eternal spiritual death or eternal blessedness with the Lord.

Mary pondered and treasured all of these truths in her heart. Simeon states that “thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” in responses to Jesus. With this in mind, ponder these questions, treasure these truths in your hearts, and worship him.

  1. How did Joseph and Mary respond to the Law?
  2. What kind of a man was Simeon? How is he described?
  3. Why does Simeon praise God? What is the significance of what Simeon says about the Lord’s Christ?
  4. What kind of a woman was Anna? How is she described? What does she say about Jesus?
  5. If you were to die today, could you sing with Simeon, “now dismiss your servant in peace?” Have you encountered the Prince of Peace, so you can experience the peace of God, the One who brings salvation?

May God’s favor be upon you and may you receive His peace during this Christmas season!

Recently Mark Yarhouse presented a National Association of Evangelicals Webinar on Pastoral Care of LGBT Persons and Their Families. Because of the strong response they received from those who participated, NAE is making this resource available. While there is a cost for this resource, NAE is offering free access to supporting denominations, which includes the EFCA. Yarhouse lectures about 45 minutes and concludes with about 10 minutes of questions and answers. As the title indicates, the focus is on pastoral care to those who struggle or suffer with gender dysphoria and their families. It is quite helpful.

Many of you attended (or subsequently downloaded the recordings and notes) last year’s Theology Conference, when Mark Yarhouse joined us for our Postconference on the topic The Ministry of the Gospel and Gender Dysphoria. Yarhouse focused on the following themes in our three sessions: Gender Dysphoria: Foundational Considerations Key Terms and Biblical Perspectives; Gender Dysphoria: Scientific, Biological, Psychological, and Sociocultural Considerations; and Gender Dysphoria: Toward a Pastoral Response.

I also include a link to another excellent resource, a message given by James Anderson, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary: Thinking Biblically About Transgenderism. Anderson’s 30 minute lecture consists of (1) definition of terms, (2) basic facts which orient to the contextual and cultural situation, and (3) 8 theses from a Christian perspective on transgenderism. The message concludes with about 10 minutes of Q and A.

This is an extremely helpful lecture. In order to encourage you to listen to the whole lecture, I include Anderson’s insightful 8 theses, which you will have to listen to the lecture to hear how these theses are delineated.

  1. How you think about transgenderism will depend on your anthropology which depends, in turn, on your broader worldview.
  2. The mainstream narrative on transgenderism has been shaped and supported by secular worldviews that are committed to human autonomy.
  3. A consistently Christian approach to transgenderism must start with a biblical worldview and a biblical anthropology.
  4. A biblical anthropology has to be grounded in the first three chapters of Genesis.
  5. Gender dysphoria is a genuine condition which is best understood as a psychological disorder or dysfunction (and perhaps also as a deeper spiritual disorder).
  6. The different aspects of transgenderism call for different kinds of Christian responses.
  7. Since the biblical view is that there are only two sexes, male and female, and biological sex is the primary indicator of ontological sex, any treatment for gender dysphoria should proceed on the assumption that a person’s biological sex (rather than their gender identity) defines whether they are truly male or female.
  8. The sexual revolution and the LGBT movement don’t merely invite God’s judgment—they are themselves a manifestation of God’s judgment (Romans 1).


Addictions: Sin and/or “Chronic Disease”

Greg Strand – November 28, 2016 2 Comments

How are we to understand addictions? Are we affected by genetics and upbringing (nature and nurture)? Are we morally responsible for them? How does this affect our understanding of sin and responsibility? How does this affect how the church views and responds to these matters in the lives of individuals?

The USA Today includes a pronouncement from the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, on this matter, who claims addictions are not an indication “of a character flaw or a moral failing . . . It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.” (Surgeon general: 1 in 7 in USA will face substance addiction).

The article begins in this way:

A federal report released Thursday calls for a shift in the way America addresses substance addictions, finding one in seven Americans will face such disorders. Only 10% of those addicted receive treatment, the study said.

“Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health” marks the first report from a U.S. surgeon general dedicated to substance addiction, raising the profile of the widespread epidemic and advocating proven treatment options.

This is the heart of the pronouncement:

“We have to recognize (addiction) isn’t evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing,” Murthy said. “It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.” [Another article reports Murthy saying the following: “. . . not as a moral failing, but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”]

Bryon Adinoff, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said the report’s influence carries hope that how Americans see and understand addiction might change.

Genetics account for about half of a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted, Adinoff said, but viewing addiction first and foremost as an illness clashes with Americans’ up-by-your-bootstraps mentality.

“Our whole approach to substance abuse disorders is they’re illegal and you go to jail,” he said. “It’s the only illness for which you send people to jail, for long long periods of time.”

Ponder a series of questions as you think through how to respond to this claim biblically, theologically and pastorally:

  • How do you read, understand and respond to this claim?
  • What implications does this have for how we understand and respond to individuals with addictions?
  • Do you see a moral equivalency between alcohol and/or drug addiction and diabetes or heart disease?
  • Can some heart disease be caused by sin, e.g. overeating, so that ought to be addressed morally as well?
  • How do we distinguish between Christian and non-Christians in the realm of addictions, and how does this distinction affect your pastoral care and counseling, i.e., what difference does union with Christ make in the life of a believer as he/she engages in this battle?
  • How do we understand the implications of the struggles with ongoing sin and the empowering presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit as we engage in the battle for holiness and purity, as we put off the sins of the flesh and put on the graces of Christ in the realm of addictions?
  • Has the church generally, or any one of us individually, approached those with addictions more judicially than compassionately?
  • In response to those addicted, how does one uphold the biblical truths of moral accountability and responsibility while simultaneously being loving and compassionate, and to do so pastorally?

Update: In a recent article in Christianity Today regarding addictions, “Just Say No to Shame,” Timothy King writes, “Framing addiction as chronic disease does not remove the moral choices involved but gives us a broader framework for understanding them.” When I served in pastoral ministry, this is one reason I encouraged individuals to address both medical (depression, addictions, etc.) and spiritual issues. It often was not an either/or response but a both/and approach. As the medical or addictive issues are addressed, the patterns and behaviors that accompanied those medical issues or addictions also need to be addressed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2).

The free church tradition, not just the EFCA, has had a strong emphasis on the doctrine of salvation and a generally weak understanding of the doctrine of the church.

This has generally led to a weak understanding of the ordinances and how they function within the church.

This is one of the reasons we focused on the topic we did at last year’s Theology Conference: The Doctrine of the Church: The Embodiment of the Gospel

One of the messages focused on the church and the understanding and practice of the ordinances. Michael Lawrence, in the second lecture, addressed “The Church: A Visible Community – Boundary Markers of the Community.” (For a recent treatment of this, cf. the book he referenced by Bobby Jamieson, Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership.) Lawrence delivered this message as a Baptist (with a capital “B”) to a group that is baptist (with a small “b”).

In the Free Church we primarily affirm believer baptism by immersion, but we will not divide over the time and mode of baptism. This means what matters for church membership is that one be born again, regenerate, converted, a believer. That is to say, if one was baptized as an infant and they are truly born again today, and they do not consider their baptism to be their salvation, it is not required that they be baptized by immersion prior to becoming a member. It is here we will not divide. So time (infant or older) and mode (immersion or sprinkling) are matters in which we will have a view and hold it strongly and we will discuss/debate it, but we will not divide over it. For a brief explanation of this, read Baptism: Infant and Believer.

It is vital to note the importance of baptism. Requiring baptism is a mandate. However, providing charity on time and mode, a unique Free Church perspective, adds an important theological and ecclesiological aspect to the understanding and practice of baptism. This is different than not requiring baptism at all for membership (to say nothing of the intimate and organic relationship it has to the Lord’s Supper). Requiring no baptism at all has no New Testament support and has no historical precedent in the church.

In the lecture delivered by Lawrence, he helped us to realize the importance of the ordinances for the church. Because it was from a Baptist perspective, it raised important questions for those baptists in the Free Church. Agree or disagree, no one gets a pass, and all must understand what the Scriptures teach and how that ought to be applied in the church today.

The lecture generated a great deal of discussion. I was grateful since it enabled us to have this discussion about the ordinances in the Free Church, that are often treated more as adiaphora, matters of indifference, rather than critical to the life and ministry of the church.

Because Lawrence had to deliver his lecture virtually, I prepared questions for discussion. I include them below as questions to ponder as we seek to reflect in our understanding and practice the teaching and truth of the Scriptures.

Questions for Thought and Discussion  

A Couple of Statements/Sentiments Regarding the Free Church and Ordinances (real statements made but not necessarily true or accurate)

  • “What is required to be a member in the local church is nothing more than what is required to be a member in the true church.”
  • “It is contrary to Free Church history and polity to require baptism for membership.” 

Soteriology and Ecclesiology

  • What is the connection between the gospel and the church?
  • What is the relationship between soteriology and ecclesiology?
  • Is the church the plural of Christian? Or is it an authorized community with delegated authority of the king to show what the kingdom of God is like? 

Ecclesiology: Ordinances, Membership and Discipline

  • What is the connection between salvation and baptism?
  • Should baptism be a requirement for church membership, in any mode?
  • What is the role of church membership?
  • Should baptism be a prerequisite for communion?
  • What is the role of discipline in the life of the church?
  • What authority does the local church have? 


Michael argues that the gospel creates the church and the church embodies the gospel, and the means by which this corporate covenant community is manifest is in the ordinances, membership and discipline, which are three ways to talk about the same truth.

  • With what do you agree/disagree?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses in the Free Church?
  • What about your own understanding of the gospel and practice of the ordinances?