By Any Other Name?

single roseIn a previous post, I mentioned that I would be open to receiving and answering questions from the web ‘community’. The following is a query from my physical and spiritual father:

Is the word ” Reverend”…irreverent? Where did the word come from and why do some use it in churches and some do not…some ministers like it and some don’t? a Pastor recently told me NOT to call him ‘Dominee’ [dutch for Reverend?] because of its implications meaning ‘domineering’ he says.

First, the origin of Reverend is derived from the word Latin reverendus meaning ‘one who is to be respected.’ (source) This meaning certainly accords with the scripture’s command to “obey those who rule over you, and be submissive” (Hebrews 13:17) and “to recognize those who labor among you… and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).

However, all words change over time and certainly the term ‘Reverend’ does not mean exactly the same thing today as it did back in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries from where it originated. In my understanding, today it simply indicates one who holds an official, pastoral position and so it functions more as a indicator of the office and calling in the church than it does of the character of the man. So, for example, I often sign my name to church correspondence as “Rev. Daniel Kok” to communicate the fact that I am writing something or ‘approving’ of something in an official capacity. It is, then, simply a useful designation without being a scripturally sanctioned title.

I rarely if ever use this title, though, to introduce or speak of myself because of the connotations it might carry, such as worthy of being revered (see Acts 10:26 & Revelation 22:9), or possibly, as per the Dutch example you gave, a misunderstanding of how much I like to rule the church with an iron fist!

But, as you noted, many ministers and churches do not use this ‘address.’ Some will cite Matthew 23:8-10 to forbid the use of any and all titles in the church. However, Rabbi, Teacher and Father are, clearly, titles given in place of our one Rabbi & Teacher (Christ) and Father who is God, as opposed to simply designating someone with a particular responsibility. For the context that our Lord is speaking of is that of pride (vs. 5,6&11,12) not nomenclature.

In addition, some Christians eschew formal titles because  they think their use exalts the clergy over the laity and thus undermines the “priesthood of all believers” (see 1 Peter 2:9). Wishing to avoid all divisions amongst believers they will call themselves “brother so and so” or simply have others call them by their first name. Personally I don’t have a problem with this as long as it does not descend into false humility (Colossians 2:18).

Yet scripture does show us positive examples where titles or designations may be used. Peter, for example, calls those appointed to oversee the church “elders” (1 Peter 5:1ff.) and Paul tells Timothy to appoint “elders” in every city. (Titus 1:5). Paul signs his letters as an apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1) and calls for the elders and overseers of the church to hear him (Acts 20:17). When Paul was taken captive said “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5). All of these titles are used to identify those whom, as we noted above, are worthy of honor for their work’s or calling’s sake.

Furthermore the titles of  ‘Pastor’ ‘Elder’ ‘Deacon’ etc. are not made/created by man but given to us by God in His Word. Yes, these words indicate the servant ‘posture’ of these offices, yet at the same time identify those who have been chosen to serve in an official capacity and who, by the Spirit, possess real authority as representatives of Christ (Acts 20:28).


Ruth’s Genealogy of Christ

Awhile ago, I corresponded with a member of our congregation on the subject of Christ’s genealogy from the book of Ruth. I requested their permission to post the ‘results’ here as an example of a question that someone might wish to ask. The question is posed first and then my answer is included below it. 

R: The line of Christ is given as Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse.  That is the line of Christ came through Boaz. In the story of Ruth, Boaz is presented as a kinsman redeemer. As I understand the title, Boaz was to perpetuate the line of the deceased branch of the family. To this end the firstborn son was considered heir to the dead.  Should not the line of Christ include Elimemelch and Mahlon?

Pastor: My assumption would be that since the purpose of a kinsmen redeemer would be, as you said, to perpetuate the line of the family that Boaz would be given the honor of his name being included in the genealogy especially since Mahlon and Elimelech had been unfaithful (having left the promised land for Moab and living there for some time without returning to Israel; Mahlon marrying outside of the covenant house of God). That is their names were ‘erased’ from the line and replaced with Boaz. Besides Ruth had no children through Mahlon but only by Boaz. So at the very least Mahlon should not be included since he was never a father and the line of the covenant is usually through the father (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc.). This does not account for Elimelech but as we examine the genealogy at the end of the book of Ruth we see that the author is tracing a new, Davidic line more than trying to explain what happened to the other line. The same thing, albeit more broader, is communicated in Matthew. Matthew wants to account for the Judaic line of Christ through David; Elimelech, though of the house of Judah, does not need to be mentioned in order to prove the Davidic descent of Jesus since, technically, He did not descend from Elimelech since Ruth was not his biological daughter and Boaz was not his biological son.

The other consideration, and one that I have not verified or am fully persuaded of yet, is that Matthew’s genealogy is intentionally not complete (or not thorough) but symbolic since there are 14 generations from Abraham to David and 14 generations from David to Babylon and 14 from Babylon to Christ (14 = 2 x 7, 7 being, of course, a number of perfection or holiness). 40 years for a generation x 42 generations = 1680 which does not really account for the 2000 or so years that are between Abraham to Christ. 

Funerals, Faith and… Feeling?

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be open to receiving and answering questions from the web community. The following is a query from my physical and spiritual father:

Many Pastors at funerals openly say that the congregate at this persons funeral has gone to Heaven and is in the presence of Jesus. How can one really know that to be true? how does a Pastor know the HEART of the congregate? I hear this at reformed funerals as well. No one knows the heart of man -really – except God alone. Only the person themselves know of saving Grace in -their own- heart. Does scripture have anything to say about another person telling others he/she has gone to Heaven? [I realize the confessing of sin accepting Jesus as their Saviour….but the heart?]

First of all, I agree that only God can judge the heart  (1 Samuel 16:7).

But, in the case of a person who has died in the Lord, I believe we have every reason to speak of them as now with the Lord. In fact I believe that a pastor is well within his rights to speak this way because Paul (and the others apostles) does so as well. If we examine many of his letters he addresses professing Christians as “saints” and speaks to them and amongst them (that is to one another in the body of Christ) as believers. Clearly he rebukes them at times and, in some cases, warns them of their ways but he always talks of them as believing unless perhaps they have committed a sin worthy of excommunication and did not repent of it (see 1 Corinthians 5:4-5). 

So, in my opinion, the pastor speaks not from what he infallibly knows but from what he is compelled from scripture to say. This is not to preach everyone into heaven (though we certainly shouldn’t preach them out of there either!) but rather to speak from our hearts: what we believe and have every reason to believe. In the case you mentioned above the person has God’s sign and seal (baptism placed on them) and so we know that they are received into His covenant and church (Ephesians 4:5). And they have professed faith in Christ, and so we know that they have done all that is necessary to be saved. (Romans 10:9-13). So even though we could be wrong about their confession and maybe, in their heart, they despised their baptism, but we cannot judge that and we have no right to judge that now after their death anymore than we did when they were alive.

2 Peter 2:1 and the Atonement

Though I did not receive this question from the internet community, I thought it might be helpful to post it here (along with an answer) since it is frequently raised. The question pertains to the Reformed presentation of the doctrine of Christ’s atonement and the extent of said atonement as mentioned in 2 Peter 2:1. The passage reads:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

Reformed theology confesses, in the words of the Canons of Dordrecht (2.8), that:

it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father…

In other words, for the Reformed, only the elect are redeemed by Christ for only the elect are the objects of Christ’s redemption according to God’s eternal plan. However, this seems to contradict Peter’s statement that false prophets and teachers are bought by the Lord and yet perish, indicating that the atonement is for more than just a particular people (the elect) and does not guarantee final salvation (contrary to the Reformed teaching concerning the “Perseverance of the Saints,” namely that all those for whom Jesus died are infallibly saved and kept by God’s grace). 2 Peter 2:1, therefore, would be the death knell to the Reformed understanding of what is popularly presented as a ‘limited atonement’.

However, several questions must be asked of the text before we surrender the aforementioned article of the Canons of Dordrecht. They are as follows:

1) Who was bought?
No one but false teachers. Even if this verse teaches that there were some who were effectually redeemed by Christ’s blood and fell away it does not teach that everyone in the entire history of the world was redeemed by Christ. So already this verse fails to teach a universal atonement even if it contradicts the teaching of the Canons of Dordrecht.

2) Who bought them?
The Lord, or despotes (in the original Greek), the master, lord, owner of His people. This word is not a term of affection or intimacy. Its meaning is closer to explaining the relationship between a master and slave than a Father and child. It does not necessarily speak to the atoning, or reconciling work of Christ nor is one required to read it in this fashion.

3) What were they bought with?

The text does not say nor does the context indicate anything in particular. In fact one must assume that Christ’s suffering and righteousness were the cost. However, Peter later compares these false teachers to the fallen angels, the world in days of Noah, and Balaam, of whom it is not indicated were ever redeemed from their sins or saved by Christ. Quite the opposite is true: we know that demons are not saved, the world perished in the time of Noah, and Balaam was not of the children of Israel.

4) What were they redeemed from?

The text does not say. So we should not assume that they were redeemed from the condemnation or power of sin. Indeed Peter says that they are yet “slaves of corruption” (vs. 19). They remain as dogs and sows (vs. 22). Thus they are not bought with the blood of Christ which ensures our salvation from sin (1 John 1:7), reconciliation (Ephesians 2:3) and sanctification (Hebrews 9:14). Indeed if, according to Peter, these false prophets will be destroyed, how can that be if by the blood of Jesus we are saved from God’s wrath? (Romans 5:9)

5) What were they redeemed unto?
I believe that vs. 20 provides the explanation of this verse: these false prophets escaped the pollutions of the world for a time. They were professors of Jesus and members of the church. Thus they had knowledge of Christ (similar to Hebrews 6:4-6) but never had a saving relationship with Him. “They went out from us but they were not of us” 1 John 2:19. Indeed, Jesus Himself declares that He never knew them in a redeeming way (Matthew 7:23).

Therefore this verse fails to provide a solid and irrefutable basis for rejecting the Reformed understanding of the atonement as summarized above.

Of course this post does not answer all the objections people have to the Reformed understanding of the extent of the atonement, but it does indicate that 2 Peter 2:1 cannot be used to militate against it. It also instructs us to take great care when we use scripture in our theological conversations so that we properly understand the intent of a verse or text before we proclaims its true meaning.

Pictures of Christ

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be open to receiving and answering questions from the web community. The following is one from a reader of our blog:

How is the image of God in Jesus Christ, the man, different than the image of God in mankind? So that imaging Jesus (as a historical person) is viewed as a violation of the 2nd commandment while imaging other historical persons (also created in the image of God) is not viewed as such?


I should note, first of all, that I am firmly committed to the Reformed understanding of the 2nd commandment which has, historically, prohibited the creation or use of pictures of Christ in any form. The Heidelberg Catechism, expositing the second commandment,   states that “we are not to make an image of God in any way” (Q&A 96). And since the Christian faith affirms that Jesus is God then the issue seems fairly clear: 1) do not make images of God 2) Jesus is God 3) do not make images of Jesus.

However your question complicates the matter doesn’t it? Jesus is not only God but human (and fully human I might add). As the Apostle’s Creed puts it, He was “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.” All those who looked upon our Lord saw a man: not a man unlike them, or one who appeared in a ghostly fashion, but one who ate, drank, slept, and lived as any other. We, after all, confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2-3).

So what then is at stake if we make a picture of Christ? Are we not simply affirming the cardinal truth of His humanity? The answer is no. For as much as we believe our Lord is a type of Adam, He is also greater than him who is our first father in the flesh  (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). For even well intentioned people who wish to affirm Jesus’ humanity in a picture are in danger of robbing Him of His divinity. Whenever we think of Christ we ought to think of Him as being the Son of Man and simultaneously the Son of God. He is not either or, nor is He one more than the other. Of course some have attempted to portray His dual natures in images by pasting a halo around His head, or by making Him out to be a glowing being that radiates a gentle light (holiness?). But the irony is that this not only compromises His divinity (for how can God who is “dwelling in unapproachable light” 1 Timothy 6:16 have such an inviting countenance?) but it also compromises His humanity. Is this really how the gospels portray Jesus for much of His earthly ministry? And when our Lord did shine with great glory, was is not much more glorious? (Mark 9:2-6).

Furthermore, I believe that any picture of Christ ultimately misrepresents Him since He is NOW clothed in glory and honor at the Father’s right hand (Revelation 1). Though Christ retained His humanity even as He ascended into heaven, the Jesus of the New Testament is not as He once was on earth. As Paul says: “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16). If this is true for those who saw our Lord in the flesh, how much more is it true for us who have never gazed upon Him? Indeed, as Matthew Henry comments:

Those who make images of Christ, and use them in their worship, do not take the way that God has appointed for strengthening their faith and quickening their affections; for it is the will of God that we should not know Christ any more after the flesh.

What all of this demonstrates to us is that the human imagination is a powerful influence and one that easily corrupts what scripture teaches about Christ. Is this not confirmed in the history of Israel? Who would have thought that the formation of idols would lead to blatant denial of God Himself? And yet this is what happened time and time again.

This also was the conclusion of our Reformed forefathers. Having reformed the church at a time when idolatry was rampant, they held high the standard of God’s Word over man’s thoughts or attempts to worship Him. In particular the Heidelberg Catechism asks:

98. Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as “books for the laity”?

A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants His people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of His Word.

What is wrong with a picture of Christ since it teaches us, like a book, about His humanity? Simple: God has always taught us by His Word, that is His declared (not pictured) Word. Even when He commanded the tabernacle to be built with many images, these were a picture of the heavenly reality which has now come to its fruition in Christ (Hebrews 8&9). For since He is the full revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-2) we no longer need to rely upon dumb images.

Indeed we, as Protestants, believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word.  If “whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein” (BC, Article 7), images are  not needed to effectively communicate the gospel. Otherwise Paul would be wrong to rely solely upon the preaching of the Word to convert sinners. (Romans 10:14-15; 1 Corinthians 1:18ff.). Indeed if the word of God is sufficient, why are such images needed? Do not the gospels portray in their descriptions and words sufficient evidence of our Lord’s humanity? What else do we need to know about Him than what has been given? For we possess no pictures of Christ nor are we commanded ever to portray Him. Surely if this was needed God could have provided it. Instead He gave us His word that we might know the truth about our Lord (John 20:30-31)

But we are weak, aren’t we? We want to see, we want to have evidence of God’s presence and kindness. So we ask to see God or to find our fleece dry or wet in the morning. And God is mindful of our frailties (Psalm 103:14ff.). That is why, as others have noted, that God has already appointed an authorized ‘pictorial form’ of Christ to His Church: the sacraments of baptism & the Lord’s Supper. In baptism we see the cleansing blood of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. In the Lord’s Supper we remember the atoning work of Jesus in His once for all offering for sinners and His continued presence to strengthen His people with His crucified body and blood. We simply need to be satisfied with the spoken and visible word that God has appointed.