A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

In greater evangelical Christianity there are two major systems of theology: Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Although there is a common thread between the systems (i.e., the glory of God), there is a major difference in how the glory of God is ultimately displayed. For the Covenant theological system, the glory of God is primarily redemptive. This redemptive plan according to Covenant theology is observed by God establishing two (or possibly three) covenants with mankind: The covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. In Dispensationalism, there are three qualities that govern the system: the doxological purpose of God (which this author would argue governs the two other  qualities), consistently observing the words of Scripture in their plain and normal sense (i.e., the consistent normal historical-grammatical reading), and the distinction between Israel and the Church (in plan and purpose). From a dispensational view, the glory of God in all of His works is the focus and not only the salvation of mankind. 

One of the common criticism from those who adhere to Covenant theology is dispensational thinkers have an Israel-centered hermeneutic rather than Christocentric hermeneutic, as one such website notes

The very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement.

The Hidelblog.com. Covenant theology is not replacement theology. Retrieved from: https://heidelblog.net/2013/08/covenant-theology-is-not-replacement-theology/

Even though the word “replacement” has not been used in the past, this particular use of the word has not been without reason. There have been theologians throughout history that have stated that Israel as a nation, in comparison with the church, is now irrelevant. Justin Martyr (130-202 A.D.) in Dialogue with Trypho wrote:

Then is it Jacob the patriarch in whom the Gentiles and yourselves shall trust? or is it not Christ? As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race.

Justin Marytr. Dialogue with trypho. Retrived from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.cxxxv.html.

Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), another early theologian in his work An Answer to The Jews made a similar comment about Israel, using the historical narrative of Jacob and Esau he commented:

Accordingly, since the people or nation of the Jews is anterior in time, and greater through the grace of primary favour in the Law, whereas ours is understood to be less in the age of times, as having in the last era of the world attained the knowledge of divine mercy: beyond doubt, through the edict of the divine utterance, the prior and greater people — that is, the Jewish — must necessarily serve the less; and the less people — that is, the Christian— overcome the greater.

Tertullian. New Advent. An answer to the Jews.  Retreived from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0308.htm

Those who subscribe to Covenant theology connect their hermeneutic back to the early church fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr, Tertullian, etc.), as one author noted:

In the history of theology, the elements of what we know as covenant theology; the covenant of redemption before time between the persons of the Trinity, the covenant of works with Adam, and the covenant of grace after the fall; have existed since the early church…Indeed, Reformed readers who turn to the early church fathers (c. 100–500 AD) might be surprised to see how frequently they used language and thought patterns that we find very familiar.

Clark., S (2006). The history of covenant theology. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/history-covenant-theology/

However, when a person observes Scripture in its plain meaning there are promises that are explicitly given to national Israel. For example, God promised Abraham’s descendants physical land that stretches from Egypt to the River Euphrates (as far as Egypt to what is now modern day Iraq) (Gen. 15:18). 

future-map5
The future borders of Israel outlined in Gen. 15:18. Retrieved from http://www.ahavat-israel.com/eretz/future.

In addition, God promised David a physical King that would come from his line and rule Israel on his throne to usher in an everlasting righteousness (2 Sam. 7:8-14). Furthermore, the promise of the new covenant is given specifically “to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Ezek. 31:31). The future promises that are given to national Israel are associated with the consistency of creation itself described by the prophet Jeremiah!

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease. From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the Lord

Jer. 31:35-37 NASB

How would a Covenant theologian explain the land promise found in Genesis 16:18? John Calvin in his works does not even comment on how much land Abraham’s descendants would receive but he comments the covenant in this specific text is essentially a shadow of the sacraments of the church. John Gill, another prominent theologian mentioned in his commentary that the River Euphrates was the boundary line during the rule of King David. However, there has never been a time in history where Abraham, nor Abraham’s descendants have received land by the Nile River in Egypt. The Covenant theologian, based upon a predominant “ecclesiastical” hermeneutic at the most replaces the promises given to Israel to the church, or at the least supersedes the promises of God that are given to Israel to the church.

By contrast, the dispensational view, consistently observing Israel in the plain normal sense, would recognize that these things mentioned above (land, king, and spiritual renewal) are given directly to this nation whom God has promised these things to. If God fails to give these things to those whom He has addressed, or if He exclusively transfers these promises to another group of people in effect this would diminish His very glory.  In short, the method a person uses to read the Bible (i.e., hermeneutic) is how one is going to explain the Scriptures.

The critique that dispensational thought employs an Israelological grid to explain the Scriptures is false. The system of dispensationalism has at its very core a doxological focus. It must be noted that Israel does figure prominently in the Old Testament and even the New Testament Scriptures. However, this is due to the promises God gave to them as a nation, and these promises are directly associated with His glory. 

There is no denying God’s redemptive work for mankind. Both Covenant and Dispensational systems acknowledge this. Both systems also recognize the glory of God as the ultimate end. How God’s glory is understood in relation to human history is determined on the method that is employed by each system. For the Covenant theologian due to the hermeneutic they use they observe the glory of God primarily in the salvific act of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. For the dispensationalist, the glory of God is observed in all His works, and this includes not only the salvation of those who are part of the church but God fulfilling the future promises to the people who will receive them, which is Israel.

Yet there are those who subscribe to Covenant theology that believe dispensationalists juxtapose Israel and the church. In the next article, this author will demonstrate from the Book of Ephesians that this is not the case.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

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The Lord’s Supper, The New Covenant, and Its importance to National Israel

The Lord’s Supper, The New Covenant, and Its importance to National Israel

The Lord’s Supper is celebrated in churches all across the world. Although there are many variations of how this practice is celebrated in each fellowship (e.g., every week vs. once a month. Grape juice vs. wine, etc.) there is no doubt that believers are convinced this is an important practice in the body of Christ.

However, when it comes to this particular practice believers in Christ must not forget the importance of the New Covenant and its intimate connection to national Israel.

Paul writing to the saints in Corinth mentioned the New Covenant within the Lord’s Supper in his epistle:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

1 Cor. 11:23-26 NASB

Paul, writing to the saints in Corinth recalled the evening that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot when Jesus took the unleavened bread, gave thanksgiving, and broke it (which is customary at a Passover feast), and said the bread was His body, pointing to the reality that His body was to be broken for them. Paul then recalled the cup (this particular cup in the Jewish tradition is known as the cup of redemption in the Passover feast, which comes after the meal) in which Jesus says this cup is the new covenant in His blood. As often as they drank of this cup they were to remember the blood that was shed concerning Jesus death.  

This Supper is extremely important not just for the body of Christ, but for national Israel and the new covenant. Jeremiah in his book mentioned the details of the new covenant God will establish

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB

There are several details to note concerning this particular covenant in this passage. This new covenant will be made specifically with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (i.e., national Israel as a whole) (v. 31; 33). This covenant will not be like the Old Covenant  (i.e., the Law of Moses) recalling the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and their rebellion (v. 32). God would personally write His law on the hearts of the house of Israel and Judah (v. 33). No one will have to teach them and God will forgive their iniquity (v. 34). The reason the blood of Christ is intimately linked to the new covenant mentioned in the Lord’s supper is that the death of Christ is the means by which the new covenant will be a reality for national Israel in the future. The death of Christ assures that national Israel will receive all of the blessings the new covenant listed above.

How does this relate to the body Christ and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper since the church is not national Israel? Paul wrote as often they (i.e., the saints of Corinth) ate the bread and drank the cup they were proclaiming the Lord’s death until He came (v. 26). When a believer participated in the Lord’s Supper they were proclaiming the Lord’s death, that is the means by which national Israel, and the church, is forgiven.

Second, the Lord’s Supper relates to the church is that it underscores the grace of God.  The new covenant mentioned was historically written around the time when Israel was rebellious to God (Jer. 31:32). They did not earn or deserve God’s favor and blessing. Yet it is God, despite their unfaithfulness who promises national Israel that He will complete these things for them (in fact, God uses “I will” seven times in Jer. 31:31-34). The death of Christ no one has earned, or deserves, but has been given due to God’s grace, which is discussed by Jeremiah and highlighted in the Lord’s supper.

Furthermore, when the previous temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans it may have been very easy to be convinced that the God was finished with national Israel. Especially after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD), there were many theologians and Christians that believed the church replaced national Israel. One such example is Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) who wrote the following:

“And when Scripture says, ‘I am the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, who have made known Israel your King,’ will you not understand that truly Christ is the everlasting King? For you are aware that Jacob the son of Isaac was never a king. And therefore Scripture again, explaining to us, says what king is meant by Jacob and Israel: ‘Jacob is my Servant, I will uphold Him; and Israel is mine Elect, my soul shall receive Him. I have given Him my Spirit; and He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, and His voice shall not be heard without. The bruised reed He shall not break, and the smoking flax He shall not quench, until He shall bring forth judgment to victory. He shall shine, and shall not be broken, until He set judgment on the earth. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust.’ Then is it Jacob the patriarch in whom the Gentiles and yourselves shall trust? or is it not Christ? As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race…”

Justin Martyr, Chapter CXXXVX. Retrieved from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.cxxxv.html. emphasis mine.

Even when the Israelites were scattered throughout the world the Lord’s Supper was to be a reminder that God would remember and fulfill His promises found in this covenant to national Israel. 

Third, it is a comfort to the believers knowing that as the Lord will fulfill His promises to Israel He will fulfill His promise to the body of Christ. Paul emphasized this when He wrote to the saints in Corinth, when partaking of the Lord’s supper, they proclaim His death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).  This underscores the Blessed Appearing of the Lord Jesus and the gathering of all the saints in Christ to take them to the Father’s house (c.f., Jn. 14:1-4; Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Once the gathering of the Church Age saints has occurred, God will commence with fulfilling His promises to physical Israel. The new covenant, connected to the death of Christ, reminds the body of Christ as God has been faithful to physical Israel, He will be faithful to the body of Christ also.

The Lord’s supper is a wonderful practice that God has given to His saints. It points the believer to the death of Christ, reminding the saints of the grace that has been given to them, and how they are saved. It underscores the certainty of the new covenant promises given to national Israel and how God has not abandoned them, but that their deliverance from this present evil age as a nation is near. Furthermore, it gives the church age saints comfort, knowing as God has been (and continues to be) faithful to Israel, He will also be faithful to the church age saints. 

Let us as believers continue to remember and proclaim the death of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s supper. By doing this we are remembering the past and how God has given us His Son for our redemption, but we are also looking forward to the future, not just our deliverance, but the ultimate deliverance of physical Israel, because we understand by this God is most glorified. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

Thanksgiving Day and The Christian Attitude

Thanksgiving Day and The Christian Attitude

Christmas time is a holiday celebrated throughout the world as many Christians reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ and what this birth has meant for the world at large. However, there is another important holiday that may have a tendency to be overlooked by many and this is the holiday of Thanksgiving.

The history of Thanksgiving is not just a uniquely American holiday but in terms of the Christian faith is extremely significant. The previous concept of a day of Thanksgiving comes from George Washington, the first president of the United States, who had issued a proclamation for a day of “Thanksgiving and prayer” for all fellowships and denominations on January 1, 1795, in light of the victory of the American Revolution. A portion of George Washington’s proclamation is stated in the following paragraph:

…I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the Great Ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation.

George Washington. Proclamation 6—Day of Public Thanksgiving. Retrived from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65500.

George Washington’s motive for this proclamation was to seek the Lord, thank Him for all of the blessings that He provided, and to keep the citizens from a proud heart, as noted below:

I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…for the prosperous course of our affairs, public and private; and at the same time humbly and fervently to beseech the kind Author of these blessings graciously to prolong them to us; to imprint on our hearts a deep and solemn sense of our obligations to Him for them; to teach us rightly to estimate their immense value; to preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity, and from hazarding the advantages we enjoy by delusive pursuits; to dispose us to merit the continuance of His favors by not abusing them; by our gratitude for them, and by a correspondent conduct as citizens and men…

George Washington. Proclamation 6—Day of Public Thanksgiving. Retrived from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65500.

A day of Thanksgiving, for George Washington had in mind a day set aside for the saints to pray, reflect, and ponder the goodness of God and His benefits to the citizens of a young nation. The same idea was echoed by James Madison, the fourth president of the United States when he writes:

It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assemblies unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.

James Madison. Proclamation 20-Recommending a Public Day of Thanksgiving For Peace. Retrieved from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65984.

The proclamations of both George Washington and James Madison (and even Abraham Lincoln in his proclamation set aside the last day in November as officially Thanksgiving Day) highlights a very important characteristic of the saint, and this is the attitude of thanksgiving.

There are many verses in the Scriptures that discuss the saints and their thanksgiving to the Lord. If the Israelites wanted to offer a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” to the Lord they would do so by a peace offering (Lev. 7:11-14). This specific offering was to honor God and how He was the source of their provision and sustenance. There were those in Israel who were charged with singing songs of thanksgiving to the Lord (Lev. 22:29; Neh. 12:7). A person who played a musical instrument was to offer thanksgiving to the Lord (Ps. 33:2). Additionally, the Psalms are replete with the psalmist offering praises of thanksgiving to God for His works (c.f., Ps. 6:5; 9:1; 18:49; 26:7; 30:4, 12; 42:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 107:1, 22; 116:27; 136:1-26; 147:27). 

In the New Testament, there are many verses that speak to the attitude of thanksgiving in light of the Christian’s attitude. Paul often addressed the saints by personally giving thanks to God in his letters (c. f., Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2;). Paul also instructed the saints to be thankful to God and His works (Col. 3:5, 3:17; Eph. 5:4, 5:17-20). A believer can give thanksgiving, not just by praying but singing to the Lord (Col. 3:16-17). It is observed for the Christian to be thankful in every circumstance, good and bad, is also within the will of God (1 Thess. 5:17-18). The author of Hebrews mentions when a believer gives God thanksgiving they are giving a sacrifice of praise to Him, expressing their gratitude to God and His benefits (Heb. 13:5). In other words, thankfulness for the Christian is not just reserved for one day out of the year, but it is to be an essential quality of the believer’s life.

By contrast, the unbeliever refuses to honor the Lord as God and does not give thanks to Him and the things He has done. As Paul addressing the believers in Rome stated below:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Rom. 1:18-22 NASB emphasis mine

This is the reason both George Washington and James Madison proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to churches in the establishment of this nation: to remember the Lord and all of His benefits. They understood that without the providence and goodness of God, this nation would have not been successful and would not endure. They also understood that it would keep the hearts of those who sought Him humble, knowing that all things that are given to men are given because of the hand of God. The modern history of why Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday is far divorced from the origins of the proclamations of Washington, Madison, and LincolnHowever, the eternal word of God still to this day instructs every believer to give thanks to Him, irrespective of the events and the day. For the believer in Christ, every day is literally “Thanksgiving Day.”

As believers in Christ who are looking forward to Thanksgiving Day let us reflect and give thanks to the Lord for all of the things that He has done and has given to us, not just for the turkey and stuffing with all of the side dishes on the table. In addition, let us continue to give thanks to Him beyond this particular day. For by doing this we are completing the very will of God for us and giving honor and glory to Him. 

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

Reclaiming A Historical Behavioral Science: How The Reformation Laid The Groundwork For A Biblical Psychology

Reclaiming A Historical Behavioral Science: How The Reformation Laid The Groundwork For A Biblical Psychology

There have been many believers, in modern times that have been apprehensive when it comes to the study of psychology.  This has been with good reason since there have been theories and models have been antithetical and hostile to the teachings of sacred Scripture. One such person is Sigmund Freud, the creator of the psychoanalytic theory, who believed that religion (specifically Christianity) was just an invention of the mind to deal with the guilt that human beings experience.

There are many believers that state that the field of psychology has found its origins in Sigmund Freud. After detailing what a chaplain said regarding how “the religious approach” was no good in a mental health institution, one such person wrote the following sentence:

How has [this rejection of a religious approach] come about? What is its base? The answer lies in the fundamentals of Freudian theory and therapy.

Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 10.

This author even goes on to say that Sigmund Freud is the chief propagator for the justification of sinful behavior in modern times:

Freud has not made people irresponsible; but he has provided a philosophical and psudeoscientific rationale for irresponsible people to use to justify themselves. Freud is a cause of the ills in modern society only as a complicating factor and not a basic cause of those ills. The ultimate cause is sin

Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 17.

There is no doubt that Sigmund Freud and his ideas found in the psychoanalytic model have run against a biblical worldview. There are some who teach because Freud had a significant impact on this discipline that the origin of psychology began with him, and that a Christian who is serious about counseling should not engage with the field or study of psychology.  However, what those who state this fail to observe is that the field of psychology may actually find its roots, not in Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic theory, but in the Protestant Reformation under a man by the name of Philip Melancthon.

October 31st, 1517 marked the start of the Reformation when Martin Luther took the 95 Theses, a treatise on some of the works of indulgences that were among the Roman Catholic Church, and nailed it on the door of the Wittenberg church in Germany. This act was the foundation for returning back to the Scriptures alone for life, doctrine, and practice rather than church tradition or ecclesiastical authority.  It was a year later (1518) when Philip Melanchthon held the position of Chairman of Greek at the University of Wittenberg and became acquainted with Martin Luther. From this point Philip Melanchthon worked alongside Martin Luther and became extremely influential in the Reformation as an author comments below:

A valuable ally, who later supplemented Luther’s bold courage with his gentle reasonableness, came to Wittenberg as a professor of Greek in 1518. At the age ot twenty-one Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was already well trained in the classical languages an Hebrew. While Luther became the great prophetic voice of the Reformation, Melanchthon became its theologian. 

Cairns., E. (1967). Christianity through the centruies. Zondervan. Grand Rapids. p. 315. 

Philip Melanchthon believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. He was a defender of sola Scriptura, rejecting the ecclesiastical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, the Magisterium, and canon law. Philip Melanchthon was also a major proponent of what became known as the Augsburg Confession, which was (and still is) the official creed of the Lutheran church.

Philip Melanchthon also desired to conform disciplines to the teaching of the Scriptures. He commented on the topic of psychology in his writings known as Loci Communes (1521), and Commentaruis de anima (1540) with each book having been revised many times. In his forward Commentaruis de anima (1553) Melanchthon wrote in the foreword to his book as follows, “…eam partem doctrinae, quae de anima agit” (i.e., “the part of the physical doctrine that deals with the soul.”) (cited by Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G, 1999). Historically Philip Melanchthon did not see psychology as a stand-alone discipline but as a discipline that was under the umbrella of philosophy, which an author notes below:

According to Melanchthon philosophy includes three branches: 1) artes dicendi (dialectics and rhetoric), 2) physiologia, which contains for example physics, psychology, and mathematics, and, 3) praecepta de civilibus moribus (ethics). Melanchthon assigned psychology to physiology-the scientific branch of philosophy. That is why he saw his treatise upon the soul as a part of a conception of physics.

Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.7

Philip Melanchthon rejected the ideas and the notions of a philosophy that did not have God at the center. He believed that God was the Creator of all things, was the Source of all truth, and that the Scriptures undergirded the basis for scientific rationale in the modern era. The ideas outlined in his books were taught in universities around Europe for over 150 years. His legacy left an impact not just in the area of theology, but also in the field of psychology found in philosophy.

However, despite the significant contributions to this field of study, and his central focus of sola scriptura, there was a limitation concerning his view. Even though he promoted the instruction of sola scriptura he looked to the philosophers of Aristotle to build and established his psychology:

Melanchthon structured the field of psychology following Aristotle, who differentiated between the soul of plants, animals, and humans.

Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.8

In his attempt to build a God-centered approach to psychology he took most of his influence from a philosopher, not from sacred Scripture. It is clear through his works Loci Communes, and Commentaruis de anima he attempted to build and establish a cohesive approach that was God-glorifying. However, even though he was pursuing to harmonize the study of the soul with theology, due to his philosophical approach, he was inconsistent.

This is a brief study observing the life of Philip Melanchthon and his observation in the field of psychology, however, one thing is clear: Psychology, as a discipline, does not find its origin in Sigmund Freud or the Psychoanalytic theory. Philip Melanchthon who played a significant role in the Reformation sought to observe the discipline of philosophy and all of its “branches,” such as psychology, from a theological worldview desiring to establish the discipline in its proper place. Yet he failed in this endeavor due to the fact his psychology built on a theological/philosophical perspective, not from a Biblical perspective. Nevertheless, psychology (or pyschologia as he called it) has a history within the Protestant Reformation, and he sought to observe God’s truth in all areas and subjects of life.

There should be a healthy caution when approaching this discipline of psychology in light of its theories and concepts. As Christians who are pursuing the truth let us not be afraid of the discipline itself. In fact, let us take the passion of Martin Luther, and Philip Melanchthon in desiring to stay true to the Scriptures and continue the reformation not just in the area theology, but also in the field of psychology. The Reformation was established on challenging and reforming the ecclesiastical ideas and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church back to Scripture alone, and believers in Christ should do the same with the ideas and concepts found in psychology.

Let us take up the challenge and continue the rich legacy of the Protestant Reformation, not to throw away the field of psychology, but to reform it, and continue to reform it in accordance with the Scriptures, all for the glory of God. Amen.

Semper Reformanda!!

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Five)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Five)

In the last article a fourth sola of the Reformation, sola Scriptura (scripture alone) and how this influences a biblical counselor was observed. The biblical counselor, using God’s word, works with the believing counselee equipping them for good works. In addition, the biblical counselor works alongside the unbelieving counselee using the universal truth of God’s word looking for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ to them. Lastly, the counselor, holding to sola Scriptura, strives to explain and apply the truth of the Scriptures to the counselee’s problem accurately, using a consistent literal-grammatical and historical method when serving their counselees.

The last and final sola promoted by the Reformers was soli deo Gloria (i.e., glory to God alone). This last sola expresses the acknowledgment of who God truly is in how He has revealed Himself to mankind in His word. In addition, the glory of God also has everything to do with His works within the world. Martin Luther, in many of his writings, emphasized the glory of God in Christ Jesus and His perfect work on the cross for the salvation of man from eternal damnation. John (Jean) Calvin described the glory of God not just being found in the salvation of man, but in all of the works of God under heaven.

When it comes to the saint and the glory of God this is the reason the Christian lives and breathes. Paul mentions this reality of the glory of God to the saints who resided at Corinth:

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Cor. 10:31 NASB

In the immediate context surrounding this verse, Paul is giving some counsel concerning eating meat sacrificed to idols in the city of Corinth. Paul explains that if the saint purchased meat sacrificed to idols that they should eat it, understanding that idols (i.e., false gods) do not exist (v. 26). Furthermore, Paul informs the churches of Corinth that if an unbeliever invites them over for dinner not to ask questions about the food, but to eat freely, strengthening the reality that all things belong to the Lord (v. 27). However, if an unbeliever informs them that the meat was sacrificed to idols that they should not eat the mean, not for the sake of the believer’s conscience but for the conscience of the unbeliever (vs. 28-30).

Paul then wrote that whatever the saints in Corinth do, let it be to the glory of God (v. 31). Paul stated that all of the Corthinian saints’  intentional actions; even actions that were of human necessity (e.g., eating, drinking) were to be completed in a manner that acknowledged God in His proper place. No action or work for the saint was outside of the reality of God’s glory.

God’s glory is the central goal of the biblical counselor, not just for how they serve their counselees, but it is the goal for the counselees who come for guidance and direction. The main objective for the biblical counselor is to work alongside a counselee with God’s word so that the counselee observes the glory of God in every area of their life. For example, if a counselee comes to a biblical counselor because they are struggling with a specific active sin (e.g., uncontrolled anger), the biblical counselor knows that the counselee has a very hard time glorifying God with this particular behavior. The biblical counselor would work with a believing counselee, from the Scriptures,  in turning away from their sin of uncontrolled anger and turning to a more self-controlled response, because their uncontrolled anger does not glorify God (Tit. 2:11-12).

The biblical counselor may work with parents in learning how to train their child(ren). As a result, the parents are instructed on how to glorify God in training their children in His word (Eph. 6:3). Consequently, the child(ren) due to the training of the parents may glorify God by obeying their parents in a consistent manner (Eph. 6:1-2). In short, the biblical counselor works with the counselee to be intentional about glorifying God more than they did when they came into the office to receive counseling.

This sola is connected with all of the other solas of the Reformation. A counselee who is coming to resolve a matter may work with a biblical counselor to get refocused on the promises of God (sola fidae). The counselee is reminded that he is saved and sanctified by grace, and begins to ponder how this grace from God would instruct the counselee out of their current problem (sola gratia). The counselee is then reminded that it is due to Christ and His perfect work for the counselee, pointing that counselee back to the source of the believer’s faith (solus Christus). The counselee, along with the biblical counselor, examines the Scriptures taking into consideration context, language, and grammar so that there is proper explanation and application of the text for the counselee (sola scriptura). At the end of the counseling time, the counselee would have a plan of how to address their situation in a manner that acknowledges God (soli Deo gloria). 

How about the biblical counselor who works with an unbeliever?  The unbeliever does not have faith in promises that God has revealed so there is no way this counselee can glorify God. However, this does not mean that the biblical counselor working with the unbeliever cannot glorify God. If the unbeliever refuses to accept the truth of God’s word from the biblical counselor God is still glorified, not in the unbeliever’s conduct, but in the biblical counselor’s intentional actions to take into consideration the eternal, and the temporal problem of the unbelieving counselee, and pointing the counselee to the universal truth of God (c.f. Tit. 3:3; Col. 4:5-6).

Soli Deo gloria is the fifth and final sola of the Reformation. It is the sola that acknowledges God in His due place by thought, word, and deed. It is the sola which all of the other solas highlight. It is also the sola that guides the biblical counselor in everything the biblical counselor says and does in their counseling office. It is also the major motive of the biblical counselor concerning their counselees. All of the work and guidance that the biblical counselor does is to assist the counselee to glorify God more than when they walked in to be counseled.  Even with an unbelieving counselee, the biblical counselor still glorifies God due to the purposeful, and caring intentions the biblical counselor has for the unbelieving counselee.

The Reformation has such a great legacy and biblical counselors holding to these solas as they counsel others, share in this rich and glorious history. May this continue to be as biblical counselors by grace, through faith, in Christ, by the Scriptures serve their counselees all to the glory of God. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Four)

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part Four)

In the previous article solus Christus (i.e., Christ alone), one of the solas of the Reformation, was explained in light of the work of the biblical counselor. A biblical counselor, operates from solus Christus with the believing counselee, pointing them to the active and perfect finished work of Christ for the counselee. A biblical counselor also works from solus Christus with an unbelieving counselee, assisting them gently and being considerate of all of the problems they have, looking for an opportunity to give them the truth of the good news of Christ for them.

Now we turn our attention to a fourth sola of the Reformation and this is sola scriptura (Scripture alone). Sola scriptura is defined as the biblical teaching that the Bible is the absolute authority for life and worship, which is found by highlighting four aspects: God’s word is authoritative because the word comes from God Himself. God’s word is sufficient for knowing the will of God and what He desires from mankind. Scripture is clear to teach and instruct the saint, and the Scripture is self-explanatory meaning that unclear passages in God’s word are to be understood, not from theological opinion or ecclesiastical explanation, but in light of other clear passages in God’s word. Paul in his letter to Timothy underscores this truth:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Tim. 3:16 NASB

Sola scriptura was seminal during the Reformation for making the case for justification of the believer by grace through faith in Christ alone for salvation. This sola was in contrast to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church that believed Scripture, church tradition, and the Magisterium were authoritative over the body of Christ. However, the teaching of  Sola scriptura is also important in the process of the sanctification of the believer. Paul mentions this in the proceeding verse to Timothy below:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:16-17 NASB

This sola is important for biblical counselors because the Scriptures are the source by which the counselor assists the counselees in persevering in their progressive sanctification. In fact, this is the reason why the Scriptures are important for a believer because they are connected to the saint’s overall conduct and actions toward God and man.

One of the biblical counselor’s objectives in working with counselees, using God’s word, is guiding them to be equipped to do good works for their neighbor. For instance, for a biblical counselor working with a believing counselee in terms of active sins, they confront the counselee for the purpose of restoration. In effect, the one who is confronted would be admonished to perform good works, which would be to deny their ungodly behavior and act in a sensible and righteous manner (Tit. 2:11-13).  If a biblical counselor is working with a believing counselee who has suffered a loss or an extreme tragedy, the biblical counselor works in comforting the counselee with Scripture, offering them hope so that they may have the strength to continue to do good works (c.f., 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Jas. 1:2-12). If a biblical counselor is dealing with a presenting problem that is outside of the biblical counselor’s scope (such as evaluating an intellectual disability), it is a good work for a biblical counselor to provide a proper referral to the believing counselee so that the counselee can perform a good work to those in their family that have the intellectual disability (c.f. Eph. 2:8-10). All of this work the biblical counselor does with God’s word to assist the counselee in their progressive sanctification.

What about the biblical counselor serving the unbelieving counselee? Even though the works of the unbeliever is unrighteous in the sight of God (Rom. 1:18; 3:23), this does not mean that a biblical counselor’s works are in vain. In fact, the mere willingness of the biblical counselor to serve the person who is an unbelieving counselee is, in fact, a good work for the counselee. The biblical counselor understands due to the sola Scriptura, they are to be gentle and peaceable to unbelieving counselees, as they would their believing counselees (Tit. 3:2).

In addition, the biblical counselor, as I mentioned in the previous article, shows consideration for the cares and concerns of the unbeliever’s troubles, just like the believer’s troubles (c.f. Tit. 3:2). The biblical counselor in conjunction with the Scriptures uses their words carefully, with wisdom, attempting to respond to the believing counselee with grace and truth (c.f. Col. 4:5-6).  Furthermore, the biblical counselor, when working with an unbeliever, uses the universal truth of God’s word (e.g., the Proverbs of Solomon) to address their current problems also looking for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ Jesus, because God desires the unbelieving counselee to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

Sola Scriptura also has behind it the idea that a person, fellowship, etc is not to read and explain the Scriptures from the perspective of a religious tradition or perspective. Since the word of God is important to be equipped for good works it is also important to make sure that a biblical counselor explains the Scriptures appropriately. This is why reading the Scriptures consistently in their plain sense, taking into consideration grammar, language, and context is necessary. Moreover, making proper distinctions in the Scriptures is significant to understanding, and explaining, the Scriptures accurately. To misinterpret the sacred Scriptures may lead not only to an improper teaching of the Scriptures but to a misapplication and an improper practice for the counselee.

Sola scriptura (scripture alone) is the doctrine that instructs saints that due to God revealing Himself by special revelation with His word,  it is this particular revelation that He has provided for the Christian that is the ultimate authority for life and practice. However, sola Scriptura is also important for the believer’s progressive sanctification as the word of God alone equips the believer for every good work.  This also includes a biblical counselors observation of the text. A biblical counselor should be careful not to read their traditions into the text, but interpret the Scriptures from a consistent literal-grammatical and historical approach, knowing that a proper explanation leads to a proper application of the text. 

As a biblical counselor continue to trust in sola scriptura (i.e., God’s word alone) for your counselees. By doing this the biblical counselor will be guiding the counselee knowing God’s word equips the believing counselee for good works and leads the unbelieving counselee to the Source of all truth. By doing this you will be honoring and acknowledging God who has given mankind the Scriptures alone to know Him and serve one another.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

The Reformation and Biblical Counseling (Part One)

The 500th year of the Reformation is quickly approaching and Protestants all over the world are reflecting on this significant time in history. It was on October 31st, 1517 where an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther took what became known as his 95 Theses nailing it to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany. This one document sparked a doctrinal revival that sought to return the church back to the fundamentals of the biblical faith all over the Western world. Over time, through many other Reformers like Jean Calvin and Urich Zwingli (who even knew Martin Luther), they penned the ideas of what became known as the five solae, which are as follows: sola fidae, sola gratia, sola Scriptura, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria.  These solas and their respective emphases sought to highlight the following points:

  • One is declared justified (i.e., “not guilty”) before God, by faith alone, and not by faith and works.
  • That Scripture alone is the final authority for life, instruction, and practice, and not by Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Magisterium.
  • That one can go to God themselves and has no need for an earthly mediator (i.e., the priesthood of the believer).

Historically, this had everything to do with how a person is justified before God and how one is saved from eternal damnation. These solas, which are at the very heart of biblical truth, are also the very focus for the biblical counselor who assists their counselees. How do they relate to Biblical counseling? Let us observe one for this particular article: Sola fidae.

Sola fidae is the Latin phrase for “faith alone.”  This sola (as mentioned above) states that one is declared just before God by faith and not by any personal merits of the individual. Paul writing to the Roman saints draws attention to this truth:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

Romans 4:1-5 NASB emphasis mine

The writer of Hebrews also highlights this truth of sola fidae in the epistle to the Hebrew believers:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him

Hebrews 11:1-6 NASB emphasis mine

However, this begs the question: What does faith mean? The author of Hebrews tells us that it is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). However, what are these things that those who have faith hope for? How does this relate to our work as biblical counselors?

When it comes to faith a Christian does not just have faith in God, but a believer also has faith in what He has said to the saint. If you recall in verse in Romans chapter four, it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Abraham believed the promises God concerning making Abraham a great nation (Gen. 12:2), and that his descendants would be blessed (Gen. 17:7), and that the nations through him would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 17:4-5). These were promises that God gave to Abraham and Abraham believed them. This faith in God’s promises underscored Abraham’s (and many of the other Old Testament saints) deeds, not because they were attempting to earn God’s righteousness, but because they had already received His righteousness by believing in what He told them (cf. Jas 2:14-26). 

This is also found in chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews. After the author spends a great deal of time telling the reader about the saints of old and some of the things they accomplished, and endured, because of their faith the author of Hebrews writes:

…And all these [saints], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:39-40 NASB

A believer in Christ has faith that Jesus Christ was sent by God, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and was raised three days after he was crucified. The saint also believes that God the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, guaranteeing they will be glorified when Christ appears (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14). These specific promises, and many other promises found in His word, are what Christians believe (i.e., have faith in) because God has revealed these promises in His sacred word.

When a biblical counselor is confronting a counselee about their sinful behavior they do so pointing them back to the promises of God for the church, and the example Christ set for believers (Heb. 12:1-3). When counselees are grieving the loss of a saint in death, the biblical counselor points the counselee back to the promise that they will be reunited with the saint who passed when Christ appears to gather His church age saints (1 Thess. 4:13-18). If the biblical counselor has the privilege of working with a person who does not believe in the promises of God (i.e., an outsider), then because of the assurance in the promises of God the biblical counselor believes, they are to assist this person with grace and truth in their words (cf. Col. 4:5-6).

Sola fidae, one of the cries of the Reformation, is at the heart of biblical counseling pointing the counselee, and the biblical counselor, back to the promises that God has given the saints in Christ as He has revealed them in His word. The biblical counselor helps the counselee to fix their gaze back on these promises to give correction, encouragement, comfort, and strength to the believer in difficult times. In addition, sola fidae becomes the motivator for the biblical counselor to serve unbelievers well in their speech and actions, being able to respond to them in a graceful and peaceful manner.

Let us as biblical counselors continue to set our gaze to God and the promises He has freely given to us. For by this we are declared righteous by God, and it is this quality that drives us to serve both believers and unbelievers with excellence.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.