Rare Lectures from David Chilton: “The Days of Vengeance” (An Exposition of the Book of Revelation)

Rev. David H. ChiltonHere is a real treat.  A series of lectures on the Book of Revelation given by Rev. David Chilton several years before he died.  He died in 1997.  I’m not exactly sure when these were recorded. Probably in the late 1980s.

The series is in eight parts.  In the first part, Chilton introduces the Book of Revelation.  He does it as only David Chilton can.  With his masterful understanding of biblical symbolism and prophetic themes from Genesis through Revelation, coupled with his manic, southern-California style and sense of humor–you haven’t heard a prophecy teacher like this before!

(Examples: Jonah’s prophecy to Nineveh: “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”  Disobedience to God’s commands meant that, of a surety, you were in deep guacamole; the New Jerusalem is NOT a “space station” hovering over planet earth; etc.)

The Revelation of. . . Jesus Christ

The main point Chilton makes in part 1 is this:  the prophecies of the Bible — including those in Revelation — are not pure prediction in the “Jeanne Dixon” sense of the word.  They’re not a display of God’s foretelling prowess. They are covenantal and they are ethical.  They’re God’s judgments pronounced infallibly through His prosecuting attorneys, His prophets. And the main thing that is revealed in the book is, . . . JESUS CHRIST.

Chilton advocates for reading the Book of Revelation as though it were a part of the Bible, and not, as many do, as a separate work of “science fiction.”

Let that sink in.  Read the Book of Revelation as though it were a part of the Bible.

In other words, let all of the rest of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, be your guide to interpreting this last book of the Bible.  Stop decoupling it from the other 65 books!  That is the key to understanding it.  It will help you to avoid the trap of “headline hermeneutics.”

His commentary on Revelation, The Days of Vengeance, is probably the best expository work on that book.  I’ve written about it here.

I love these lectures.  The comedic confidence exuded by Chilton in this series will ensure that you will not fall asleep during his free-wheeling expository, exegetical and rhetorical bull ride.  Let the rodeo begin. Yee-haw!

Enjoy the lectures.

Here is Part One:

For a little bit more info on who David Chilton was, here is an article.

The Book of Revelation and ‘The Days of Vengeance:’ A Fresh Look at David Chilton’s Path-Breaking Commentary

The Days of Vengeance (David Chilton) book coverAccording to my one-year Bible-reading plan, I should have finished reading the book of Revelation sometime around New Year’s Eve.

Well, as luck God’s providence would have it, that didn’t happen.  I am still reading, still making my way through the final chapters.

That’s good.  Because, in doing so, I felt compelled to pull out (and dust off) my hardcover copy of David Chilton’s block-buster magnum opus: his 700-page, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation, The Days of Vengeance.

Holy interpretive maximalism, Batman!

Just kidding.  I will not join the throngs of Reformed — and not-so-Reformed — critics who dismiss the views expressed in this bulky but highly readable tome as springing from the fevered imagination of an otherwise gifted pastor and theological-hermeneutical heavyweight such as Chilton.

I am not worthy to loose the sandal strap — had I been anywhere near his vicinity while he was still alive — of this former missionary kid and Southern California transplant turned likable lightning-rod of biblical, postmillennial eschatology.

Let me say at the outset that this book, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, belongs on every Christian’s book shelf and in every pastor’s library.  Period.

Why?

Because whether you read it or not, whether you agree or disagree with Chilton’s provocative and evocative analysis and invariably consistent interpretive approach to Scripture, you need this book in your midst if for no other reason than to bear witness to the fact that, Yes, Virginia, there is an evangelically uncompromising, conservative, Calvinistic, Bible-believing commentary on the most misunderstood, misinterpreted and scrupulously avoided (by many pastors and commentators) of all the 66 books of the Bible, that ISN’T either amillennial or premillennial!

Chilton pays excruciatingly close attention to every word in the text, seeking to uncover not only what it says, but why it says what it says.

The mark of a good Bible teacher is that he is constantly asking: Why is the story told in this particular way? Why is this particular word or phrase repeated several times? (How many times?) What does this story have in common with other stories? How is it different? Why does the text draw our attention to seemingly unimportant details? How do the minor incidents fit into the argument of the book as a whole? What literary devices (metaphor, satire, drama, comedy, allegory, poetry, etc.) does the author use? Why does the book sometimes depart from a strict chronological account (e.g., placing some stories “out of order”)? How are these stories related to the larger Story that the Bible tells? What does this story tell us about Jesus Christ? What does this story have to do with our salvation? Why did God bother to give us this particular information?

Hard to argue with that.

Like his previous (and equally polarizing) book, Paradise Restored, The Days of Vengeance raises the bar, sets the course and bends the arc of biblical hermeneutics towards an eschatologically optimistic, dominion-oriented, presuppositional and covenantal perspective of Scripture for all future commentaries that might and should be written, not only on the Revelation of St. John the Divine but also on the other sixty-five books of the Holy-Spirit-breathed, self-authenticating text of God’s holy Word!

I, David Chilton, was in Tyler, Texas on the Lord’s Day

If I were to attempt a real, honest-to-goodness, thorough book review of Days of Vengeance, it would probably either turn this into a 5,000-word blog post, or else an interminable series of installments that would drag out like a D. Martin Lloyd Jones sermon series, and seem like I’ve got nothing else to write about!  (I do, really.)  So, I’ll be brief.

After a Foreword by British theologian Gordon J. Wenham, his Author’s Preface, Publisher’s Preface by Gary North and then a lengthy (and highly informative) Introduction, Chilton divides the book into five parts.

Did you get that?  Five parts.  He does this deliberately.  VERY deliberately!

These five parts correspond exactly with the five-part covenant model that Rev. Ray Sutton had discovered shortly before Chilton finished writing the book, which caused him to rejigger the manuscript and complete it a few months later after three and a half years of work.  It fits beautifully with the five-part covenant structure found in Deuteronomy and (as Dr. North discovered) in the Ten Commandments and throughout Scripture.

So, in the final published edition, here is how the book is divided:

  • Part One, the Preamble: Revelation chapter 1.
  • Part Two, Historical Prologue: letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3).
  • Part Three, Ethical Stipulations: the seven seals (Rev. 4-7).
  • Part Four, Covenant Sanctions: the seven trumpets (Rev. 8-14).
  • Part Five, Covenant Succession and Continuity: the seven chalices (Rev. 15-22).

That pretty well constitutes the lion’s share of the contents, obviously.  After this, there is Chilton’s epilogue, “Conclusion: The Lessons of Revelation,” followed by three very helpful appendixes (appendices) which should be read just as earnestly as the rest of the book:

  • Appendix A, “The Levitical Symbolism in Revelation,” by Phillip Carrington
  • Appendix B, “Christian Zionism and Messianic Judaism,” by James B. Jordan
  • Appendix C, “Common Grace, Biblical Eschatology and Common Law,” by Gary North

A bibliography and three separate indexes (indices!) push the book past the 700-page mark when all is said and done.

Something that Chilton makes crystal-clear as far as his methodology is concerned, right up front in the first two pages of his Author’s Preface, he refers to the five “crucial interpretive keys” which he uses to guide his textual exposition throughout the commentary.

They are:

  1. Revelation is the most “Biblical” book in the Bible. (He explains why.)
  2. Revelation has a system of symbolism. (He refers to the “systematic structure” and unique biblical “language” in which it was written.)
  3. Revelation is a prophecy about imminent events. (This places him squarely in the preterist camp of biblical prophecy.)
  4. Revelation is a worship service. (He places great emphasis on the “very considerable liturgical aspects of Revelation.” calling attention to it because “the worship of God is central to everything in life.”)
  5. Revelation is a book about dominion. (It’s “not a book about how terrible the Antichrist is, or how powerful the devil is.”  It is about Christ’s lordship over all things and “our salvation and victory in the New Covenant.”  Amen to that.)

Contrary to popular opinion, Chilton states emphatically that the book of Revelation is NOT an “apocalyptic” book.  It is not intended by God (or John) to be a cryptic and obscure, mysterious, nearly-impossible-to-understand -without-a-dispensationalist-prophecy-professional-to-help-you-understand-it collection of weird, scary symbols and “secret” code words.   No, the symbolism and language that were used by St. John were commonly understood in his day, being “rooted firmly in the Old Testament” — which is why we 20th and 21st-century readers (even evangelical and Reformed) have such a hard time trying to figure it out!

Speaking of scary, Chilton points out that, “though John depicts evil realistically, his book is fundamentally optimistic.”  He contrasts the contemporary apocalyptic literature of the day with the biblical prophetic literature, summing up their stark difference in this way:

The apocalyptists said: The world is coming to an end: Give up! The Biblical prophets said: The world is coming to a beginning: Get to work!

Yes!

It is this unsinkable, unflappable tone of historical optimism and victorious confidence in the triumph of the Gospel and the Christian church prior to the Lord’s returns that permeates all of Chilton’s commentary on Revelation, and is what sets it apart from all the others.

Also, his very illuminating inclusion of excerpts and important historical details from the works of Flavius Josephus (The Jewish War) and Alfred Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) make his case for first-century fulfillment of the majority of the prophecies in Revelation that much more compelling.

So, if you’re looking for a book on the Book of Revelation that will help you truly understand the unfamiliar biblical language and symbolism of it — even though Pastor Joe Morecraft (whom I respect and admire greatly) says DON’T go near Chilton’s book, Paradise Restored, or the interpretive maximalist school of interpretation he adheres to — you can either buy the book (somewhere) as a hardcopy, or else download it FOR FREE in a number of places.

Or, you can download it right here:

The Days of Vengeance

Either way, I think you will be encouraged, edified and instructed quite profitably by reading it.

Surely all those folks on Amazon.com and Goodreads can’t be wrong!

(Reading The Days of Vengeance and taking the time to write this brief review has allowed me to veer from my one-year Bible reading plan for a good reason, leaving me with a clear conscience void of offense towards God and towards men!)

Enjoy the book.  Happy New Year!

30th Anniversary of Gary DeMar, Ray Sutton, David Chilton and a Little Blue Book Called ‘Power for Living’

Power for Living cover

Thirty years ago this month, God used a little book called Power for Living to save me by His grace and deliver me from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of His dear Son Jesus Christ.  In case you didn’t know, Power for Living was a short (130+ page) paperback book that was basically a very long Gospel tract.  It went through six editions and numerous printings throughout the 1980s, 90s and into the early 2000s.  The book was offered free of charge and shipped (for free) to anyone who requested it.  It was first advertised on TV and in print during the late summer/early fall of 1983.  A copy of it showed up in our living room.  (I later learned it was my mom who ordered it.)  I was a college student living at home at the time.  A new semester was just getting under way.  I was busy.  So I ignored it, for a while.  (But only for a while!)

The book was unique.  It was commissioned by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation in 1983 to celebrate the Year of the Bible, which was declared in February of that year by Pres. Ronald Reagan.  The foundation gave away the book for free to anyone who wanted it.  It was advertised and promoted with celebrity endorsements and a marketing campaign that used a powerful and effectual (especially for me) “guess what I’ve got that you haven’t got” approach, to entice folks to order the book.  No purchase necessary!

It worked like a charm, because Power for Living had been written and published and promoted to the American public providentially at a time during my young adult life — 20 years old — when I had abandoned my Roman Catholic faith and upbringing, and been essentially living life as a practical atheist and a heathen — a reasonably honest, clean-living, law-abiding heathen, but still a heathen.  I was totally self-absorbed, angry (at God) and, therefore, miserable.

That book was a GOD-send.

Now, the truly unique thing about it was this.  I mentioned that Power for Living went through six editions plus numerous revisions during its print run.  (It is now out of print.)   The edition we got, which I read, was the very FIRST edition.  And it was the very first (and only) printing of that first edition: Oct. 1983.  One of a kind.  Why?

Power for Living title page

(Click image to enlarge)

Here’s why.  It was published by…  AMERICAN VISION.

Every subsequent edition of the book was published by somebody else, under the auspices of the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation.

What else was special about that first edition?

Three of the authors were:

Gary DeMar

David Chilton

Ray Sutton

Can you say sovereign grace?  Can you say predestination and providence?!

A Reconstructionist triple-header!

Power for Living acknowledgments

(Click image to enlarge)

But there was just one problem.  While that first edition, like all subsequent editions, was evangelistic and Gospel-centered in tone — which was what the folks who commissioned the book wanted — it was Calvinistic.  It was written self-consciously from a Reformed perspective.  It talked extensively about worldview and practical application of the Bible to all of life’s problems and concerns.  It stated emphatically that the Bible addresses every area of life, not just a man’s spiritual and eternal needs.  And it talked about how (and why) a newly-minted Christian could and should adopt a consistent, biblical worldview and mindset for living out the rest of his life in this world, “by faith,” for Christ and for His kingdom.

Evidently, that’s not the kind of Christianity the folks at Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation had in mind to promote.

So, it was back to the drawing board.  Or in this case, back to the keyboard.

The very next month after that first printing and first edition came out, in Nov. 1983, a second edition was quickly put together and published, using a single author, Jamie Buckingham, who completely rewrote the book.   The new version was now decidedly Arminian, reflecting hints of the author’s charismatic theological leanings, with a great deal of first-person, personal (from Jamie) material and story-telling, and with none of the practical, covenantal perspectives or Reformed faith applications described above.  Whereas the first edition elevated Scripture and the sovereignty of God, the second and all later editions elevated personal salvation and individual spiritual fulfillment above all else, and tended to have a more subjective, “man-centered” tone in their writing.

Here is an example of the God-honoring tone of the first edition, from the final page of the last chapter:

Power for Living last page

(Click image to enlarge)

I wrote about the book a couple of years ago for another blog of mine.  You can read that here:

How God Used a Little Book Called ‘Power for Living’ to Save Me 28 Years Ago 

Power for Living went on to be produced and promoted in other languages, in countries such as Germany, Mexico and Japan.   You can read an interesting summary of its story here.  No doubt, during its nearly 20-year run and now-10-years-and-counting post-publication existence (in the world of used books), numerous people around the world have been saved by God’s grace through reading one or more of the various incarnations of the book.   God sovereignly and mysteriously works in people’s hearts and minds however, and through whomever, He will.

All I know is, God, in His marvelous and infinite wisdom, used the very first edition of that unique little book — the one that just so happened to be the ONLY one produced by American Vision and written by Dr. DeMar, Rev. Chilton and Rev. Sutton, among others, to bring me into full fellowship with His Son Jesus and to give me a new heart and mind to love Him and serve Him and trust Him with all things that pertain to life and godliness.

That is why I’m indebted and eternally grateful to Gary DeMar, David Chilton and Ray Sutton, et al, for the very fundamental and indispensable role they played in God’s redemption, rescue and restoration of this lost Roman Catholic boy from Phoenix, who for some 20+ years now has embraced the Reformed Christian faith and the future-oriented, eschatologically hopeful, God’s-law-honoring, unapologetically dominion-oriented and victory-driven, covenantal gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Gary, (Pastor Chilton), and Rev. Sutton.  Just wanted you to know how God used that obscure little ‘Gospel tract’ three decades ago to make a true, biblical Christian out of me.

David Chilton on ‘Piety and Christian Reconstruction’

George WhitefieldWe are clearly on a “David Chilton” kick this month.  So let’s just go with it.

I recently came across another of his fine newsletter issues from The Biblical Educator, published by ICE in the early 80s.  This one, from June 1981, was in response to a letter he received from a pastor who took umbrage at some of the things he said in a book review he had written with regard to the 18th-century Calvinist evangelist George Whitefield.

Chilton took the occasion of this pastor’s letter to clarify–not just for the sake of answering one individual’s concerns, but to convey to a broader audience a more accurate, biblical understanding of the difference between Christian piety and the unscriptural theology of pietism.

This one was worth rescuing from the obscurity of obsolescence. Because the scanned image of the original newsletter is so riddled with errors (primitive 1990’s OCR scanning technology!), it required painstakingly retyping and correcting all of the original content of this particular issue, and reformatting it from top to bottom so as to be able to republish it here.  Very much worth the effort, though!

This article offers marvelous insight into the mind of Pastor Chilton.  He had a knack for addressing what he saw as unbiblical tendencies in someone’s theology, answering them directly and candidly with a unique mixture of warmth, humor, Christian charity, exegetical honesty and frankness, undergirded by his signature brand of biblical scholarship.

(If you want to see a previous example of this, read here: Reconstructionist Blast from the Past: David Chilton on Covenant Theology.)

Be forewarned, this is a VERY long article.  Not for a printed newsletter, mind you–but for an online blog post!   Nonetheless, I encourage you to take the time to read it through.

Here, let me give you just a few tasty nuggets to whet your appetite:

Christian piety, if it means anything at all, is godly living in every aspect of thought and activity.  It is, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, to be “careful of the duties owed by created beings to God…”  Piety, therefore, must be radically distinguished from its counterfeit in pietism–which centers on rapturous emotional experiences and “devotional exercises,” while steadfastly refusing to apply God’s word to God’s world.

And this, on the “centrality of the Gospel”:

Once a man has been converted, what then? The gospel has changed him from death to life: he is now supposed to live.  He must discover God’s standards for his living in every area–in his family, his work, his everyday activity.  Shall we then accuse him of departing from the centrality of the gospel? No! It is the gospel that has made the difference! He is applying God’s standards to his life just because the gospel is central.

 One more, on “salvation and the cultural mandate”:
Reconstructionists should be corrected when they fail to apply the Scriptures to the issues of life. But they cannot be faulted for seeking to apply the Scriptures to the issues in the first place. Dominion under Christ is not a departure from the gospel. It is the point of the gospel. To claim “the centrality of the gospel” must eventually lead to the bold question: “Central to what?”

There, that should be enough of a “trailer” for you!  To enjoy more of Chilton’s pithy style of biblical (and historical) exposition, here is the article in its entirety:

************************************************************

THE BIBLICAL EDUCATOR

“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding” Prov. 1:2

vol. III, No. 6 June 1981

© Institute for Christian Economics, 1981

PIETY AND CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTION

By David H. Chilton

Some time ago, I wrote a review of Arnold Dallimore’s definitive biography of George Whitefield. In the course of the article, I criticized some of Whitefield’s actions and viewpoints (particularly regarding marriage), while also affirming my respect for the tremendous evangelistic labors and achievements of the man. I mentioned that his errors stemmed from his unconscious acceptance of Neoplatonism–the idea that the “spiritual’ (i.e., non-physical, internal) aspect of life is superior to the more physical aspects. There is, of course, a measure of truth in this–regeneration begins on the inside, etc.–but the Neoplatonic perspective implicitly denies the biblical facts that man is a unit, and that God is concerned with the whole of our being and with all of life. Neoplatonism leads to a spiritual contempt for God’s material creation and for the laws God has ordained in such areas as government and economics. Without trying to discredit Whitefield’s ministry, I did draw several observations about the deleterious aspects of his views for the church as a whole.

I was not exactly deluged with mail. A journalistic rule of thumb is that for every person who writes a letter to the editor, there are about a thousand who feel the same way. The letter expressing the feelings of those thousand people came from H. Carl Shank, Assistant Pastor of Grace Church (Vienna, VA). He disagrees with me on certain points, but he is writing as a friend.  His entire letter (in italics) and my response are below. I considered the issue important enough to devote a great deal of space to it, even though its relevance to Christian schools is only indirect. I hope this exchange will encourage other spokesmen for the other thousands to let me know what you all think.

A LETTER TO THE EDITOR

“As a Reformed pastor and Christian school teacher I can readily appreciate your desire for Christian reconstruction by Scriptural reformation.  However, as in most of the issues published by ICE (and affiliates), there has been a dismaying trend toward the downplaying of Christian piety and the ever-present need of the centrality of the gospel message to radically change sinners. Such a trend appeared evident to me in your review of Daltimore’s book.

“I too have certain grievances with the Banner of Truth style of writing, especially in Iain Murray’s historically narrow selectivity of articles for the magazine.  I too favor a thorough re-evaluation of the philosophical presuppositions and tenets under which the puritans and others, like Whitefield, operated.  I too agree that man’s purpose is “godly dominion.” Indeed, biblical salvation is not a catch-phrase for the type of Arminian, decisionistic preaching that wearies me and greatly distresses me.

“However, I am not so certain that rigorous biblical exegesis of the terms kingdom, salvation, covenantal, etc. would yield your thesis, which is shared by all Chalcedon writers. That thesis tells us that salvation is a mere pretext for the important function of man, namely the fulfillment of physical, earthly and civil rule under God over the earth. In other words, salvation according to Chalcedonian tenets seems to be the forerunner and means to the fulfillment of the Genesis cultural mandate.  I certainly hold to the abiding validity of the cultural mandate of Genesis, but “Christ and Him crucified” is in fact the central theme of Scripture and the central need of mankind.  Most definitely I deny a totally “individualistic, internal and immaterial” cast to the salvation theology of the Bible. Yet that aspect is certainly there.  Moreover, people are still brought into the kingdom one by one as God works individual new birth in the internal recesses of a person’s being, post-fall mankind will never return to an Edenic state, at least not on the earth as we know it presently.  Indeed, our home is “in Him” because our inheritance with Christ our Lord is there.  Our concern is eternal life that begins now and will be consummated at Christ’s return.  Our desire should be to Know Christ, as Paul desired to know Him (Phil. 3).

“To criticize Whitefield’s idea of marriage may be to the point, but for him in his God-assigned kingdom work, perhaps a marriage partner on earth would have rivaled an intensity of devotion for God’s glory and for the spread of the gospel that few of us possess today.  You decry Whitefield’s “pietism” or his “mysticism,” calling it Neoplatonism.  Perhaps that is philosophically correct.  However, it seems to me that Whitefield’s desires mirrored exactly the desire Paul expressed: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). No matter how that is exegeted, it always comes up saying in Chalcedonian terms that Paul is a neoplatonist, a mystic, who desires spirituality in terms of transcending our creaturely limitations.  Indeed, Paul knew and taught a theology of serving God in every sphere of life.  But he knew a far deeper theological truth–he was a pilgrim and stranger to this earth.  This terrain was not to be his abiding possession, even if ruled by thoroughly Christian men with thoroughly Scriptural reformation principles.  Paul had learned a lesson on “wilderness theology,” a lesson the Israelites did not learn thoroughly enough.

“This naturally involves us in dealing with the issue of Christian piety.  Piety is not a nasty word. It does not have to assume or imply a theology or life devoid of sophisticated, intellectual and reformational study of creation and the Scriptures.  It does not deny the cultural mandate.  It can be properly taught and profitably exercised.  From my study, it seems that the pursuit of biblical piety was central to the Puritans and to Calvin.  One can scorn their “heavenly language,” but for the most part they knew God through Christ in His word in a way and depth we have yet to discover.  ICE (and its affiliates) talks a lot about Christian reconstruction and Scriptural reformation.  The Puritans and their spiritual sons, like Whitefield, engaged in the business of reconstruciton and reformation through hours of fervent prayer, intense supplication for the souls of eternally dying men.  They preached unflinchingly and faithfully the riches of the gospel and applied it to where people lived, worked and taught.  They knew God–and what reforms society underwent from their century onwards largely came from the seeds sown with the tears (and sometimes sealed with the blood) of our Puritan forefathers.  Can any of you–any of us–lay claim to such infiltration of life as the “pietistical” Puritans and their followers in the faith had?

“Such a challenge can be dismissed, but it really cannot be ignored.  I truly and sincerely hope you re-examine some of the issues mired and implied in your review.  Again, I am thankful for helpful clarification and analyses of issues relating to the kingdom of Christ.

“Yours in His service, H. Carl Shank”

EDITOR’S RESPONSE

I do not have the room to answer every line of Mr. Shank’s argument, but I believe the following will be a substantial response. I have divided his argument into the following areas: (1) the nature of Christian piety; (2) the centrality of the gospel; (3) salvation and its relationship to the cultural mandate; (4) Whitefield’s attitude toward marriage; (5) the question of Paul’s “neoplatonism”; and (6) the piety of the Puritans.  I aimed for his major points, and picked off a few stray minor ones as well; but I made no attempt to untangle every target. I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but if Mr. Shank can do it—I’ve heard of sowing seeds,  but sealing them?–so can I.  (And there goes the first minor point. I’ve tried not to be picky, but I just couldn’t resist that one. The rest of my disagreements are more substantial, so read on.)

CHRISTIAN PIETY

Two questions must be answered on this point: (1) What is the nature of true Christian piety? (2) Does the ICE really “downplay” its importance?

Christian piety, if it means anything at all, is godly living in every aspect of thought and activity.  It is, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, to be “careful of the duties owed by created beings to God…”  Piety, therefore, must be radically distinguished from its counterfeit in pietism–which centers on rapturous emotional experiences and “devotional exercises,” while steadfastly refusing to apply God’s word to God’s world. For example, Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C. were often pietistic, with much seemingly devotional activity going on, but they were in fact godless. The prophets, speaking for God, denounced such false religion, often using strong and offensive language: “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies . . . Take away from Me the noise of your songs…” (Amos 5:21-23); “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, their incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly” (Isa. 1:13). There was nothing wrong with these acts of worship as such, for they had been appointed by God. But while the people were doing all these things, they were also neglecting to obey God’s word in all of life; and this neglect turned all their vaunted piety into blasphemous hypocrisy.

pietistsPietism takes many forms. In our day the most obvious is that which is simply a cowardly retreat in the face of opposition: the pietist is too busy with devotional exercises to get involved in working for God’s glory. There is certainly a proper place for devotional exercises; but, after all, the basic reason for any exercise at all is to enable one to live a healthier and more hard-working life.  The egotistical parlor-athlete whose entire existence is spent flexing and primping in front of gymnasium mirrors is of no use to anyone–for him, “exercise” is a means of avoiding the demands of real life. Jesus did not send the apostles into monasteries, but into the world, with the commission to disciple the nations. Our exercises are to make us strong for service.

Do reconstructionist writers downplay Christian piety? I don’t believe so, and I could quote extensively from Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen et al to document it. But since the occasion which prompted Mr. Shank to write was an article of mine, I will speak for myself. I do heartily believe in prayer, devotions, self-examination, adoration of Jesus Christ, cultivation of Christian graces and attitudes, and so on. I seek to lay a due stress on these things in my sermons. I admit that I don’t stress them in my articles, and there is a reason for this. In a limited space, articles for The Biblical Educator have an overall goal to teach teachers how to teach. Our primary purpose is not to teach teachers how to manage their personal devotions (although an article on this theme might be accepted). The same goes for the other ICE newsletters: they are written to deal with specific issues and problems that faithful Christians must face, after they’re done “exercising.” A fundamental thesis of the Reconstructionists is that piety is not for the prayer closet alone, but for all of life–that prayer-closet piety alone is not piety but pietism. But to say this is not to deny the need for a prayer closet. Piety, if it is genuine, will not be restricted to either internalism or externalism. The godly man will seek to honor God at every point of his existence. No area of life is exempt from our Lord’s demands. Thus, in dealing with these issues, the ICE newsletters are teaching “Christian piety,” for to neglect such matters is impious. The standard of piety is the law of God.

THE CENTRALITY OF THE GOSPEL

The GospelThe gospel of Jesus Christ is central to any genuine program of Christian reconstruction. The preaching of morality–even biblical morality–will not change hearts. Sinners are transformed only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit through the message of the crucified and resurrected Savior. But that is only the beginning. Once a man has been converted, what then? The gospel has changed him from death to life: he is now supposed to live.  He must discover God’s standards for his living in every area–in his family, his work, his everyday activity.

Shall we then accuse him of departing from the centrality of the gospel? No! It is the gospel that has made the difference! He is applying God’s standards to his life just because the gospel is central.

For example: Let’s say you are teaching mathematics in a Christian school, and I interrupt your class with the accusation that you have not presented the plan of salvation-that you are wasting time with long division instead of justification by faith. You will answer: “If my students are going to grow up to be mature, faithful stewards of Jesus Christ, they need to learn how to balance their accounts. It is necessary for them to understand and believe the gospel. But the gospel must bear fruit in their lives. They must become responsible men and women, and that is the goal of my instruction.” And much the same would be said for any of the disciplines in a Christian school. To answer otherwise would be a mandate for closing down the schools altogether, and teaching “the gospel” alone. And even that would last for only one generation, since we will have to quit wasting time in phonics. Our children would grow up unable to read the Bible, and that would be the end of preaching the gospel. So much for its centrality.

The point is that the ICE newsletters are not evangelistic tracts, any more than a biology class is a revival meeting. The gospel is central and foundational to all that we do. But our publications are addressed, for the most part, to Christians engaged in the task of applying God’s standards to God’s world. We believe that the gospel must be integrated into all the disciplines–that the disciplines are, in fact, meaningless without the gospel. But that does not mean that preaching the gospel is a substitute for teaching the disciplines.

SALVATION AND THE CULTURAL MANDATE

I think I know what Mr. Shank has in mind when he says that our thesis holds salvation to be “a mere pretext’’—but a dictionary and a thesaurus would have helped. What he means to say is: Reconstructionists believe that conversion is the first step in the Christian life, and that it leads to the fulfillment of God’s original mandate to have dominion over the earth. And he is absolutely correct. (Especially now that I’ve corrected him. Of course, if he really did mean to say pretext, he’s theologically mistaken. But I prefer to regard it as a semantic error. If I’m wrong, then he’s more wrong than I think he is.)

Adam and Eve were created as.righteous, in the image of God. As such, they were given the task of ruling the creation under God. When they rebelled, they fell from this standing, and the image of God in man became marred, disfigured, twisted and broken. Godly dominion is impossible for all the unregenerate posterity of our first parents. But salvation in Christ changes all this. Justification restores a man to righteousness in the Last Adam. Regeneration makes us a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and remakes us in the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We now have the right standing with God first enjoyed by Adam-one from which there is no danger of falling. In Christ, God has permanently restored man to his original standing; and as the new humanity we are to return to our original task of dominion. Thus, conversion is not the end; it is the means—certainly, the indispensable means–to the end: fulfilling God’s plan for His creation. Conversion is the crucial first step, but that does not change the fact that it is still the first step. The goal has always been godly dominion.

Paradise Restored-PJRThe subject is much too vast to go into here (although I plan to deal with it extensively at another time), but it is extremely significant that the Bible uses a great amount of Edenic imagery to describe salvation: We are called the “new creation”; we are said to be remade in God’s image; we partake in salvation of the tree of life; God promises to return the earth to Eden-like conditions (cf. Isa. 11:1-9; 51:3; Ezek. 36:35); and so on. The point of all this language is to remind us of our calling, and to assure us that we will be able to fulfill it. Reconstructionists are not anti-evangelistic (I’m not, anyway); but we are saying that evangelism is not the goal. To declare that birth is not the goal of life is not to be anti-birth; it simply means that infancy is not the pinnacle of human achievement. Produce all the babies you want–the more, the better. But you had better concern yourself with feeding and training them as well, enabling them to grow into responsible maturity. Christians may not have been consistent in this, but it is–or should be–central to any program of Christian education. We are training our students to be good workers for the kingdom in every sphere of life.

This was one of the great insights of the Reformation: that every lawful activity can and must be pursued for the glory of God. A man may have a calling as a pipefitter as surely as another man may have a calling to preach. God is glorified in any work which develops His earth.  Janitor and statesman, judge and electrician, scientist and kindergarten teacher will alike stand before God at the Last Day to render an account of their service for Him. God does not call a man to be a plumber only in order that he may witness to unregenerates with overflowing toilets. The work, in and of itself, brings glory to God.

What about Paul’s desires “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”? Taken too literally, of course, that means that it’s wrong even to speak of the resurrection! But Paul goes further than that. In the same letter (1 Corinthians), he discusses not only the crucifixion and the resurrection, but also the following: litigation, food, marriage, sex, wages, hair length, division of labor, tongues, hats, the place of women, biology, and care for the poor. He seems to have departed from the simple gospel–and in the very letter which began with his declaration that he would never do so! As we all know, of course, he never abandoned the centrality of the gospel at all. The meaning of his declaration is that the gospel is the presuppositional frame-work through which he examines these other issues. In Christ all things hold together (Col. 1:17), and all things must be seen in relation to Him. He is not arguing for a “know-nothing” Christianity. He is arguing for a know-everything Christianity, and declaring that it is impossible to know anything at all apart from the knowledge of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Our knowledge of Christ is certainly defective if we feel that an attempt to understand all areas of life in terms of Christ’s lordship is somehow a betrayal of the gospel. The gospel, rightly understood, requires such an attempt—and promises us continuous renewal to “true knowledge” according to the image of God (Col. 3:10): thus our attempts will be successful as we submit to Him. Reconstuctionists should be corrected when they fail to apply the Scriptures to the issues of life. But they cannot be faulted for seeking to apply the Scriptures to the issues in the first place. Dominion under Christ is not a departure from the gospel. It is the point of the gospel. To claim “the centrality of the gospel” must eventually lead to the bold question: “Central to what?” It seems odd that those who are trying to answer the question are accused of downplaying the centrality of the gospel!

WHITEFIELD’S ATTITUDE TOWARD MARRIAGE

Werther-coupleThe idea that marriage is, in general, a hindrance to a godly man is unbiblical: “it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2: 18). On the other hand, marriage may be a hindrance in a specific historical situation (the context of Paul’s discussion in I Cor. 7 is “the present distress,” v. 26). I trust we all are agreed so far.

Now, as far as Whitefield is concerned, the issue is simple. If he really felt that his circumstances  required celibacy, he should never have married.  Having married, his biblical duty was then to love his wife, and shut up about what he might have been without her. “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released” (I Cor. 7:27). In other words, choose a wife, or don’t; but don’t complain about your choice.

If, however, you choose not to marry, you can forget about becoming ordained, since having been married is a biblical qualification for the eldership (I Tim. 3:2 Tit. 1:6). If you’re too “spiritual” to be a husband, you’re too “spiritual” to be a church officer as well: God wants experienced household-managers only as His officers (I Tim. 3:4-5, 12). Now don’t get mad at me. I’m not the one who made the rules.

The historical fact is that on several counts (not only marriage), Whitefield was a Neoplatonist. He didn’t get it from the Bible. He got it from his university education in classical humanism (of course, seminary preparation is much different nowadays–it’s still humanism, but the classical variety is a little out of vogue; besides, Aristotle is too difficult for today’s graduate students, and “Christian Marxism” is lots more fun–oops! I mean sociologically relevant). No matter how much it hurts, we should be brave and face the hard, biblical truth: marriage is a blessing.  “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22); and that should be compared to the passage in which Wisdom says,  “He who finds me find life, and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 8:35). True, “a constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike” (Prov. 27:15); the answer is not celibacy, but marrying wisely. And anyway, the “constant dripping” wasn’t coming from Mrs. Whitefield.

WAS PAUL A NEOPLATONIST?

I am in something of a fog at this point (some of you may want to question the last three words of that statement). Mr. Shank admits that my characterization of Whitefield as a Neoplatonist may be “philosophically correct.” Yet he goes on to say that in this Whitefield “mirrored exactly”  Paul’s attitude. In charity, I’ve tried to construe that as another “semantic error,” but I can’t. I’ve examined it from every side, but no matter what I do, it still seems like a genuine error of substance. Let me be absolutely clear: you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, “Whitefield was a Neoplatonist” and “Whitefield agreed with Paul.” They can’t both be true.

Plato

Plato

Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Mr. Shank feels that, “no matter how that is exegeted,” it still means a Neoplatonic, mystical wish to transcend one’s creaturely limitations. Space doesn’t permit a full exegesis of the verse here, but I do think it can be exegeted without making Paul sound like a medieval flagellant. Take that word gain. I don’t think I would be twisting Scripture to insist that our very real “gain” at death (see 2 Cor. 5:8) will not include becoming gods ourselves. Death doesn’t deify. Agreed? Okay, then even after death, regardless of the benefits, we’ll still be creatures, right? Therefore, when Paul spoke of the gain to be received at death, he was not speaking of “transcending his creaturely limitations,” correct? Voila!  You have just read an exegesis which, incredibly enough, did not lead to Neoplatonic conclusions. (I didn’t do it with mirrors. It’s actualIy pretty easy. All you have to do is this: Don‘t start with Plato, and you won’t end up with him,)

In concluding this section, I must comment on Mr. Shank’s statement about “wilderness theology.” I don’t really know what he means by the term (in some circles, that may be a damning admission). But I do know this much: the basic idea in the wilderness was to get through it as soon as possible, and get on with the conquest. God didn’t want His people to stay  there, and their 40-year “wilderness experience was a judgment. It certainly wasn’t anything to be proud of. The Jews dropped dead learning their wilderness theology, and it was their children who learned “Promised-Land Theology.” They left the wilderness to the buzzards and mystics, and moved onto victory. I’m with them.

THE PIETY OF THE PURITANS

I agree (finally) that “the pursuit of biblical piety” was important to the Puritans. Circle the word biblical, and see the section headed “Christian Piety” above for my definitions. Moreover, I know of no reconstructionist writer who has ever scorned their heavenly language. There is nothing essentially wrong with talking about heaven. It is wrong only when it becomes a means of escaping from earth and the duties God has assigned to us here and now. The Puritan longing for heaven was biblical and realistic, and it was balanced with their deep sense of calling. As William Hailer wrote: “Men who have assurance that they are to inherit heaven have a way of presently taking possession of earth” (The Rise of Puritanism, [1938]  1972, p. 162). Their Anglican contemporaries talked about heaven also; but there was a significant difference, according to John F. H. New: “Anglicanism was a religion of aspiration, and Puritanism of perspiration” (Anglican and Puritan: The Basis of Their Opposition, 1558-1640,  1964, p. 104). The Puritans wanted heaven, but they wanted earth, too. They believed that all things were their inheritance in Christ (Rom. 8:32); they believed in an earthly victory for the people of God; and they went ahead and took possession.

Samuel_RutherfordConsider just one example (I could give many)–that of the great Scottish Puritan, Samuel Rutherford. He is known to many Christians through his oft-reprinted Letters (the most recent edition was published last year by Moody Press). Every page of this book reflects his all-encompassing devotion to Jesus Christ and his longing to be eternally in His presence. The intimacy of Rutherford’s expressions is almost embarassing–it’s like reading someone else’s love-notes. But Rutherford was no pietist. He wrote another work called Lex Rex (published last year by Sprinkle Publications)–sort of a 17th-century version of The Institutes of Biblical Law. In his day it was a political blockbuster, and he would certainly have been executed for writing it if he hadn’t died first. Charles II had to content himself with publicly burning the book.

My point is this: Considering the state of the present debate between the Pietists and the Reconstructionists, it seems incredible that the two books were authored by the same man. Many who like the Letters would think Lex Rex too “carnal”  and “worldly”; and (I fear) some who enjoy Rutherford’s politics would disdain to read his more “devotional” works. For my part, I wish the two groups would get together. Rutherford himself does not appear to have realized he was doing anything extraordinary. What looks to us like “two strains” m his thought was really one: all-out devotion to Jesus Christ in every area of life. When it was appropriate, he wrote poetry about his personal relationship to Jesus; and when it was appropriate, he exuberantly blasted royal absolutism and laid down the biblical principles for a just law-order. Do you see a dichotomy or inconsistency in this? I don’t, any more than I see one between Remans 8 and 13. It’s the same man writing in each case. More importantly, it’s the same Lord, who is over all.

Admittedly, reconstructionism can degenerate into an unbiblical externalism, just as the theonomic revival under Ezra became warped and turned into Pharisaism. But it doesn’t have to–and it does only when we forget the principle of Jesus’ lordship over all of life. The Bible commands both personal devotion and cultural transformation according to biblical law. We should heartily abhor any “either-or” mentality about these things. We don’t need to abandon one for the other. True piety must include both. But we must be sure to get our standards for both from Scripture alone. We must not baptize the immoral writings of a gaggle of ancient Greek homosexual “philosophers” in order to find out how to get close to God. That has been one of the most serious errors of the past two millennia of church history, and it is taking centuries for us to get out of it. Some sections of the church haven’t moved a step beyond Aquinas on this point. On the other hand, it may be easy for some of us to react by falling into the opposite error–and, even though I believe Mr. Shank is mistaken regarding certain aspects of both the problem and the solution, I also believe he is sincerely trying to correct us on this point. The Bible-God's Inerrant WordWe do need to warn one another against sin, and nothing is so easy as fleeing from one sin into the clutches of another.  We must reason together on the basis of Scripture, and I invite further comments from interested readers (although I cannot promise to devote this much space to the subject in the near future–we have to get back to the Christian school business). The answer will always be genuinely biblical piety, and the direction will always, and only, be found in God’s inerrant word.

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A New Resource for Studying Reformed Theology and the Works of David Chilton

The Rev. David Harold Chilton Center for Reformed Theology

Hallelujah!

There’s a newly formed organization and a new online resource out now that is dedicated to promoting biblical Reformed theology and the rich pastoral and exegetical legacy of the late Rev. David H. Chilton.

It is aptly named the Rev. David Harold Chilton Center for Reformed Theology.

I wanted to bring it to your attention because this is exactly the kind of online resource we’ve been needing to preserve, promote, build upon and share with succeeding generations the very important foundational and seminal work that Chilton produced before his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 45.

For those of you who are familiar with and appreciate the invaluable contributions Chilton made to the early Christian Reconstruction movement and the furthering of the church’s understanding of historic orthodox biblical theology from a Reformed perspective — and to defending that perspective against anti-biblical encroachments from both “conservative” as well as liberal persuasions — this is a very welcome development!

I am excited about what this will bring to the body of Christ in terms of making the exemplary literary and pastoral fruits of Chilton’s two decades of work more readily available to a much wider audience than ever before.

The website that has been created for this purpose is still in its early stages.  But it is already showing tremendous potential in its use of the technology of the World Wide Web to, in its words, “cultivate the Chiltonian legacy in theology, liturgical arts, eschatology, and economics” and to “make the collections [of his work] accessible” to those in ministry, the academic world and to the general public.

You can visit it here.

All of Chilton’s books will be made available via download.  Audio files will feature many of his recorded sermons and lectures.   Topics will range from baptism to eschatology to worship to economics.  Articles that he wrote for the various publications and periodicals over the years will also be posted.

An example of one his audio sermons and lectures is this one on baptism.

Rev. David H. ChiltonAs I have previously written, Chllton’s legacy is one of an energetic and eminently intelligent biblical expositor and pastor who had a rare gift for taking profound and sometimes controversial theological themes and making them vivid and powerful and at the same time understandable and quite simple to grasp.  He spoke and wrote conversationally with sincerity and clarity rather than academic or rhetorical obscurity.

All of his books and articles reflect that unique ability.   We’ll continue to post occasionally here some of the articles that he wrote for ICE and Dr. Gary North.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of David Chilton’s excellent and very enjoyable, insightful and edifying books like Paradise Restored, The Days of Vengeance, The Great Tribulation or Productive Christians, or listening to his highly instructive audio messages, this is your opportunity to find them all in one place, “under one roof” and at your fingertips, so that you can begin a rather satisfying intellectual and spiritual journey towards biblically sound doctrine and a scripturally solid reassurance that, in Christ Jesus and through the covenant promises of His Gospel, your present and your future as well as the present and future of this world are in very good hands!

I commend the contributors to this project for their commitment to undertaking such a highly desirable and godly educational enterprise.

Thanks to all of you!  (And a special thank you to Mr. Steve Macias.)

A “biblical theology of dominion” and an eschatology of hope and victory — all of which Chilton wrote about eloquently and compellingly — are exactly the kind of legacy and spiritual and temporal inheritance that Christians everywhere need to recapture, rediscover and reclaim, to fully execute the Gospel mandate in America and around the world.  This new work is one more in our arsenal of Spirit-empowered, covenantally sanctioned and scripturally defined tools to do that.

Reconstructionist Blast from the Past: David Chilton on Covenant Theology

David Chilton

As I mention on the Newsletters page of this site, I plan on selecting, from time to time, some really OLD newsletters from the archival catacombs of Gary North’s website where he has all of the original ICE (Institute for Christian Economics) newsletters stored in PDF format in his Free Books section, and reposting them here.

One of those newsletters was called “The Biblical Educator.”  It ran articles written by various authors — including this one by David Chilton, vol. IV, no. 2, February 1982.

Chilton was probably one of the best writers among an all-star cast of theologians, pastors and teachers in the movement at the time.  Even Dr. North remarked how he had to do almost NO editing of Chilton’s work whenever he was preparing a book manuscript for print, as, for example, with Paradise Restored.

He had a style that was easy to read and yet sharp and to the point.  Chilton made absolutely sure he was getting his message across to you, and that you were getting a good, solid grasp of what he was saying without overwhelming you with a lot of seminary-speak!

If you want a taste of his preaching — he was a passionate and engaging speaker who really knew how to boil down biblical theology into understandable, everyday (and entertaining) terms — listen to a sample of it here.

Rare David Chilton Lecture Series on the Book of Revelation  (Thank you, Steve Macias!)

I would be interested in your feedback on whether you find this particular reprint helpful… or not. (If you don’t find it helpful, then you are obviously still in your dispensationalist sins!… Just kidding.)

Even those of us who have been calling ourselves Calvinists and embracing “covenant theology” for a while can stand to benefit from a thoughtful reading of this simple-but-profound, back-to-basics presentation.

Here is the original article, uncut, uncensored, for your edification and spiritual and intellectual enjoyment.

AN OBJECTIVE THEOLOGY OF THE COVENANT

By David Chilton

Many of you will assume that the following article is just another article on infant baptism. But it isn’t. Many more will think it is not relevant to Christian school issues. But it is. So, on second thought, perhaps you’d better sit down and read it.

The Bible teaches us to think of salvation, the family, the church, and all of life in terms of the Covenant. From the beginning in the Garden, man’s relationship to God – which covered every aspect of his existence – was covenantal: that is, salvation was not individualistic (concerned only with the individual believer), but instead involved his entire household. This does not mean, of course, that all members of a believer’s household were regenerate: but we’ll get to that in a few moments.

Consider some examples of covenantal relationships in biblical history: Adam was the Head of the Covenant between God and all mankind; when he rebelled, he and all his descendants were damned (Rem. 5:12, 18). The godly line of Seth is contrasted with the ungodly line of Cain, the high point in each covenantal line being the seventh generation from Adam (Gen. 4:1- 5:24). Then came Noah, with whom God established the Covenant by which his whole household was saved (Gen. 7:18; 9:9). The Covenant with Abraham also involved his household – not merely his children, but his slaves as well (Gen. 17:9-13). As Meredith Kline has conclusively demonstrated in By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968), the biblical idea of Covenant is an authority structure: the Covenant is imposed upon a man and includes all those under his authority — wife, children, slaves, and so on. This aspect of the Covenant is inseparable from the Covenant itself. Thus, when Paul told the Galatians that their conversion placed them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:7, 29), he was telling them that their situation was exactly the same as that of any non-lsraelite in Old Testament times who had become a believer: his initiation into the Covenant brought in his household/authority structure) as well (see Ex. 12:48). If you are in the Covenant, all those under your authority are to be placed into the Covenant structure as well.

Now, some of you are already disagreeing – and I haven’t even gotten to the main point of the article yet. But in order to keep you reading, let me ask you a question: Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Forget the “theonomy” thesis for a moment; just concentrate on the original Ten. Do you believe they’re still valid ? If so, you are required to believe everything I’ve said up to now. For if you believe in the Ten Commandments, you must believe the Second Commandmentr including the part which is rarely quoted: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6). This passage teaches that curse and blessing are covenantally passed from generation to generation. H you believe the Ten Commandments, Covenant theology is inescapable. (And, by the way, if you believe that much, then you must also believe what Deut. 28 says about blessings and curses passing through generations, ultimately affecting whole cultures. And that makes you, in principle, a theonomist. Welcome to the club! Now you know why those who reject theonomy are finding it necessary to dump the Decalogue. There’s no middle ground. )

All this is not just a bit of high-flown theologizing. It has a very definite bearing on our daily conduct. Our attitudes and actions toward one another must be in terms of the Covenant. This means much more than infant baptism alone: our whole life must be lived under Covenant law – and that holds implications which few of us have ever considered. In order to understand them, we must examine what Covenant membership involves.

Covenant Membership

The visible sign of admission into the Covenant is baptism (which has taken the place of circumcision, Cot. 2:11-12). In the Old Testament, all those under covenantal authority were members of the Covenant. Period. This is not to say all Covenant members were regenerate — far from it. In the line of Seth, both Methuselah and Lamech were alive when God announced His Covenant to Noah – yet they seem to have been included in the ungodly world. Lamech died before the flood came, but Methuselah died in the year of the flood, and perhaps in the flood itself. Another example is Ham, who was certainly in the Cove- nant, but who inherited a curse instead of blessing. Ishmael and Esau were children of the Covenant, but to all appearances unregenerate. And many Covenant members throughout Israel’s history were unregenerate as well. I’m not saying any of this is ideal. We would like it to be otherwise. We would like all men to be saved. But I am saying this: Regeneration is not, and never was, the condition of Covenant membership.

If not, what is the condition? Covenantal obedience. Look at it like this. Let’s say an alien desired to join the Covenant in Old Testament times. He and all under his authority would receive the sign of circumcision, and from then on all would be ruled by Covenant law. All would have the right and responsibility to par- take of the Old Testament version of communion (Passover and the other feasts). Can we assume that all members of the household were, subjectively speaking, “converted”? Not at all. Yet all were in the Covenant, with all the responsibilities and privileges that membership entailed.

Take a more extreme example. When Israel captured their enemies in battle, they took them as slaves. According to biblical law, these heathen slaves were immediately circumcised and included in the Covenant, with the right to eat at the feasts. Their defeat in battle and consequent status as slaves under a covenantal authority structure automatically rendered them members of the Covenant. They were requred to put away their false gods and heathen practices, and to worship and obey the true God. Regardless of their personal attitudes, they were – objectively speaking — no longer heathen. They were members of Israel, the people of God. It has always been true, of courser that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom, 9:6); Covenant membership does not guarantee saving faith. But all Covenant members were objectively on the same footing. All partook of communion. All were blessed or cursed by Covenant standards. All were addressed throughout the Old Testament as “my people” – until the time came when Israel’s disobedience re- sulted in the excommunication of the nation as a whole, and the Covenant line began to be filled by the Gentiles, who were grafted into the covenantal tree of life (Rom. 11:17-24).

The essential point to grasp here is that one’s covenantal status — one’s membership in the church, the people of God —is based on objective, not subjective, criteria. There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible for admission to the covenantal meals. If you are in the authority structure, you are (or should be) in the church. Membership is not voluntaristic. In the Bible, if oaths had been sworn over you by your lord husband, parent, or owner), you were a member of the people of God whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, if you didn’t like it — if you rebelled against the Covenant – there was only one way out: being “cut off” from Israel (which, at the very least, meant excommunication).

Perhaps the best way to see what happens when we apply objective theology to practical issues would be to contrast it with the practice of two conflicting schools of thought – Realism and Nominalism.

Realism vs. Nominalism – vs. the Bible

Which is more important — unity or diversity? Should society’s needs come first, or should those of the individual? What is most basic to reality – collectivity or individuality? This issue is known in philosophy as the problem of The One and the Many (see R.J. Rushdoony’s book by that title). Historically, the question has been answered from three different perspectives. Realism (it’s called that in philosophy, for reasons that will become apparent; but Realism is not realistic, really) sees oneness and unity as being basic to all reality. It is the view that names, symbols and rituals are real things, which completely determine the particular things that they define. Nominalism, on the other hand, holds that symbols are just names, not realities. Nominalist see diversity and individuality as being most basic.

But the biblical answer is to be found in Trinitarianism. God is triune, and all reality is structured in terms of Him. A brief definition of the Trinity might be this: One God without division in a plurality of Persons, and three Persons without confusion in a unity of essence. God is not “basically” One, with the individual Persons being derived from the oneness; nor is God “basically” Three, with the unity of the Persons being secondary. God is One, and God is Three. There are not three Gods; there is only one God. Yet each of the Persons is Himself God — and They are distinct, individual Persons. But there is only one God. To put it in more philosophical language, God’s unity (oneness) and diversity (threeness, individuality) are equally ultimate. God is “basically” One and “basically” Three at the same time. And the same goes for all of creation. Both unity and diversity are important – equally important. Neither aspect of reality has priority over the other.

Let’s say a Realist and a Nominalist happen to see my wife kiss me. The Realist will say, “Aha ! A kiss is symbolic of love. That kiss proves Darlene loves him !” But the Nominalist will retort, “Whaddya mean? A kiss is just a kiss, like the song says. Sure, it’s a symbol of love. But it doesn’t mean she really loves him. The question is, what’s the attitude of her heart?” I, however, am a Trinitarian; and when my wife kisses me, I recognize it as a symbol of her love, but I also enjoy it because it’s not a “mere” symbol. It is an act of love, and the two go together. I’m sure you’d like to read more of this hot stuff, but let’s go on to some less romantic issues of the Covenant, and consider how each of these views approaches them.

1. Government. The Realist school, holding that unity is fundamental, maintains an episcopal form of church government – power from the top. The Nominalist, believing that diversity is ultimate, and that each person’s individuality is sacred, favors a congregational pattern in which power is exercised democratically, from below. Realism tends toward totalitarianism; Nominalism tends toward anarchy. The biblical form of government is presbyterian, in which there is a balance of power within a structure of authority.

2. Baptism. Realists believe that ritual washing with water really removes original sin. Nominalist see baptism as “a visible sign of an invisible grace,” in which the important thing is whether the individual has already made a decision. They do not see baptism as a means of grace. To them, it is ultimately a “mere” symbol, and cannot be efficacious. The Bible, in contrast to Realism, does not teach that baptism regenerates; nor does it teach, in contrast to Nominalism, that one must give evidence of regeneration before being baptized. Baptism is a means of grace, and signifies not the subjective experience of the recipient, but the objective imposition of covenantal authority over him.

3. Communion. For the Realist, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are really transformed into the body and blood of Christ, The Nominalist believes communion to be, again, a “mere” symbol of an inward attitude in the individual — and it’s the attitude that’s important. This is why most Nominalist practice open communion, in which anyone can walk in off the street and partake of the sacrament. The radical Nominalist (e.g. the Quakers) dispense with the sacraments altogether. The biblical teaching is that the bread and wine are always only bread and wine; and yet that in the Supper we are having dinner with Jesus, who feeds us with Himself as we eat and drink together.

4. Excommunication. When a Realist church excommunicates you, you’re damned. The decree of those in power effectively consigns you to eternal perdition. Of course, if you’re a Nominalist, you’ll regard the decree as just so many words, and you’ll start attending a Nominalist church down the street. Nominalist churches hardly ever excommunicate anybody – and if they do, the judgment has all the awesome significance implied in not receiving the church newsletter any more; and the excommunicated person gets his name listed on the rolls of another church.. The biblical doctrine is that a lawful sentance of excommunication places a person outside the visible body of Christ, and denies him the opportunity to meet the Lord at His Table. But excommunication does not necessarily mean damnation. It is, in fact, a last-ditch effort to bring the offender back to the faith. The judgment is efficacious (one way or the other); but it does not make a determination of the condemned person’s eternal state. Excommunication has to do with the visible church.

5. Church membership. For a Realist, eternal salvation is guaranteed by membership in the visible church – baptized children are unquestionably regarded as regenerate. For a Nominalist, eternal salvation has little, if anything, to do with church affiliation: everything depends on the individual’s decision to accept Christ — and if he has “decided for Christ,” he is considered a Christian. Church membership is nice, but purely voluntary. Children are unquestionably regarded as unregenerate (except for the Nominalist’s “safety net” – the wholly mythical, unbiblical notion of an “age of accountability,” before which children are not accountable to God for their actions, and are “saved” without being regenerated). The biblical view of church membership is objective and covenantal: All baptized persons (church members) who have not been excommunicated are to be regarded as in the household of God. They must be addressed as members of the Body of Christ, and even “little ones to Him belong.” Communion is to be served to all church members, unless they are under discipline. But communion is to be withheld from those who are not members of a church, regardless of their claims that they have accepted Christ. Unless they belong to Christ visibly, through membership in a real authority structure, there is no objective basis on which to regard them as Christians. Note: i am not saying a non-member is necessarily unregenerate; just that there is no objective evidence that he is. Nor am I saying that communion may be served only to members of my own congregation or denomination; but that communicants must belong to a visible structure somewhere. Communion is thus neither “open” nor “closed,” but restricted.

Theology: Objective and Subjective

All those who are united to a visible church – by which I mean any orthodox, creedally-defined church — are to be regarded as fellow members of the Covenant. Their theological understanding may be woefully limited or defective; nevertheless, by their baptism into the triune Name, they are under the covenantal authority of Christ, and belong to Him. They are to be served communion. They should be required to tithe. In short, all the rights and responsibilities of Covenant membership belong to them. Voting and office-holding, however, are not automatic rights of the Covenant, and may legitimately be restricted to those heads of households who have received sufficient instruction in the faith, and who demonstrate in their lives those characteristics appropriate to the exercise of such respon- sibilities. Our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) must be objective.

Yet this is not to discount the necessity of regeneration and personal faith. Regeneration cannot be visibly perceived (John 3:8), but it is no less real. Preachers must exhort their flocks continually to believe, repent, and obey the demands of the Covenant to which they were sworn. But they must not address their people as “presumptively unregenerate,” for Covenant members are the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. Read the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles — do you ever find them speaking to the church as heathen? Never; not even in I Corinthians, and the congregation in Corinth was really a mess. Church members, even erring ones, are addressed as called saints (the same expression as holy convocation in the Old Testament). They are commanded to live in terms of their covenantal calling, and exhorted to refrain from living after the manner of the heathen (who were always differentiated from them). There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible, because there is no need for it: Baptism is the confirmation into the Covenant. You will never find a distinction in the Bible between “communicant” and “non-communicant” membership, because all Covenant members took communion (except for those who were excommunicated). One obvious objection to all this is that it can result in multitudes of disobedient, rebellious, apparently unconverted people taking communion. And such an objection is completely correct. That will be the result, until the day comes when church officers repent of their lily-livered pussyfooting and get serious about church discipline. The Table can be protected. But it does not need to be protected from children.

One of the chief reasons for the downfall of the Puritan theocracy was its confusion between subjective and objective theology. The Puritans rightly understood that eternal salvation is inseparable from regeneration and faith; but they confused that with requirements for church membership and communion. Thus they devised “tests of saving faith” which members had to pass successfully before being admitted to communion. These tests soon degenerated into demands for a subjective, datable experience of conversion — and such an experience had to conform to specific canons produced by the scholars of New England. If your experience didn’t match the order contrived by the theologians – if you had no memorable “experience” at all —in short, if all you had was a love for God and a desire to serve Him in covenantal union with His people: Sorry, try again next time the session meets.

The result was that thousands of church members became “non-communicants,” thousands more never attempted to join the Covenant, and the Puritan Hope of a Christianized culture went down the drain. Solomon Stoddard’s misguided attempt to salvage the situation was demolished by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards: and for all the good that was done by Edwards, Whitefield and the Tennent family in the Great Awakening, that event marked the end of a hope for a covenantal theocracy in America. Joining the Covenant became entirely relegated to a subjective, “spiritual” (i.e., neoplatonic) realm, completely unconnected to objective Covenant union in a visible church. Authority and discipline went out the window, and so did the possibility of Christian reconstruction. Now, almost 250 years later, true evangelicalism is synonymous with philosophical Nominalism. Subjective theology is the order of the day, and any attempt to return to a biblical worldview looks to most people like heresy. The first time I read Norm Shepherd’s article on “The Covenant Context for Evangelism,” I thought he had abandoned Calvinism. The trouble was that I hadn’t been reading Calvin. I’d been reading Arthur Pink, Gardiner Spring, and the Banner of Truth.

There are many applications we could make of Covenant theology, and I’ve hinted at a few already. But I’m running out of space, so I’ll suggest one more, with specific relevance to Christian schools. If the children in your school belong to Covenant homes, do not treat them as if they need a conversion experience. Instead, speak to them on the basis of the oaths to which they are already bound. They are in the Covenant, they are members of Israel, the Body and Bride of Christ. They are not little angels, but they’re not little pagans either. They have been sworn to Jesus Christ as His own. Objectively, they are His children; subjectively, they must live as His children.

(For further reading on the issues raised here, see Shepherd’s article, mentioned above, in The New Testament Student and Theology, ed. by John H. Skilton [Presbyterian and Reformed, 19761; Jim Jordan’s “God’s Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism” [Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. Vll, No. 2]; Jordan’s “Theses on Paedo-Communion,” available from Geneva Divinity School; Edmund Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea [Cornell University Press, 1963]; and Terrill Elniff’s The Guise of Every Graceless Heart [ROSS House, 1961. )

The Reconstruction of the Church

Reconstruction of the Church book cover

Looking for a good book on how to reform the church?  Here’s one to start with.  This is a 28-year old volume published (1985) by the old Geneva Ministries of Tyler, Texas, called The Reconstruction of the Church, part of a series called Christianity and Civilization. It was edited by James B. Jordan.

It is a symposium that was held on this topic, the fruits of which are this series of essays written by some of the leading figures in the early years of the Christian Reconstruction movement, dealing with the theme of the Church and its mission and role within the context of society and the modern culture.

The essays are provocative, illuminating, and really do represent the broad range of opinion that has always characterized the movement–no monolithic band of biblical ideologues, this bunch!

James B. Jordan, Peter J. Leithart, Gary North, Ray Sutton, David Chilton and George Grant all contributed along with other lesser known reconstructionists, Lewis Bulkeley, James Michael Peters, Marion Luther McFarland and Jim West.

If you’re familiar with the work of most of these men, you know what gifted writers, teachers and thinkers they are.  And each of the chapters in this book is its own self-contained monograph on its respective topic.  Great reading!

The book is divided into four sections:

PART I: THE CHURCH IN DISARRAY

PART II:RECONSTRUCTING CHURCH GOVERNMENT

PART III: RECONSTRUCTING WORSHIP

PART IV: RECONSTRUCTING MISSION

The essays all have intriguing titles like, “Church Music in Chaos,” “Clothing and Calling,” Culture, “Contextualization and the Kingdom of God.”   Some are historical: “Revivalism and American Protestantism,” “The Church in an Age of Democracy.”  Some are theological/expositional: “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”  And some are a whimsical allegory driving home a larger, powerful point: “Conversations with Nathan.”

The shared conviction of what this collection represents is best summed up in Jordan’s introduction, where he says that there are three principles (“pedagogies”) that need to be at the heart of any real reformation, beginning with the Church: true government (discipline/boundaries), true worship (sacramental liturgy/ritual) and true teaching (doctrine/instruction).

The perspective of the organizers of this symposium is that the reconstruction of the Church requires the reestablishment of all three of these pedagogies… When these things are recovered by the Church, since judgment begins at the house of God, they will also be recovered by society at large. The Church is the nursery of the Kingdom, and there can be no reformation in state, school, or family, until there is reformation in the Church.

Man’s problems are indeed religious, but religion is not just theology, and man’s problem is not just bad theology. Religion is also the discipline of ritual and the restraining virtue of court-enforced boundaries. There must be recovery in all three areas, or there will be recovery in none.

Nothing in this book is pietistic, contemplative or introspective.  All of the essays are powerfully written, practical and forthright, with an appropriate mixture of humor with intense, relentless candor about the graveness and importunity of the subject at hand: the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world to the unconverted and the lost, and the faithful advancement of God’s kingdom and God’s principles implemented in time and in history on earth.

In Part I, James B. Jordan addresses what he calls “the present mess” that he sees in the American Protestant church, with its “anti-ecclesiastical piety.”  Lewis E. Bulkeley talks about church renewal biblically applied to ailing congregations.  Peter J. Leithart discusses how revivalism, despite its positive impact, has undermined our biblical conception of the Church.

Part II is on church government.  Ray R. Sutton defines it and talks about its role in handling church schisms.  Gary North argues for preserving the integrity of the church through “two-tiered” membership.  Jim West talks about the role of excommunication as a curative tool for preserving the health of the ecclesiastical body.

Part III covers worship.  David Chilton crafts a witty and fictitious dialogue between himself and his young son, exposing the liturgical shortcomings and infelicities that he finds in a typical, contemporary American evangelical church service.  Ray R. Sutton discusses formality and informality in worship, and defends the argument for clerical garb as a biblically and historically warranted expression of the minister’s calling.  Gary North draws the theological-biblical parallel between the Lord’s Supper and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  James B. Jordan addresses what he terms “the abominable state of music in the church.”  And James M. Peters explores architecture, imagery and symbolism as it relates to liturgy and worship.

In Part IV, on the outward focus of the mission of the Church, George Grant defines biblical charity and what that should look like in the surrounding culture.  And, finally, Marion Luther McFarland posits a biblical-covenantal approach to transforming culture, “liberating” it through the Gospel and sound doctrine taught and applied, as opposed to the standard, theologically liberal way of “contextualizing” Christianity to fit its native, indigenous setting.

There’s something for everyone here–as long as “everyone” is interested in reconstructing and reforming the Church to the glory of God and in accordance with the Scriptures and historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity!

You can download and read this excellent book by clicking here.