I won’t go through all the links, but if you’ve traipsed through the blogosphere in recent weeks you may have noticed a series of volleys involving Carl Trueman, Darryl Hart, and Bill Evans (among others) on the subject of transformationalism. It’s an important discussion and one that has taken place before.

Case in point: I found James Bannerman’s chapter “The Church in Its Relation to the World”–in volume one of The Church of Christ (1868)–to be some of the sanest and wisest 13 pages I’ve read anywhere on the subject.

Bannerman begins by putting our subject in the proper context. The work of the church in relation to the world has everything to do with the work of Christ in relation to the world. This work Bannerman understands to be “His purpose of grace;” that is, “the work of conversion and sanctification and preparation for heaven” (81). No longer on earth, Christ has left behind “a twofold agency” to which he has entrusted this task.

First of all, Christ has supplied us with his Spirit to carry forward the “work of spiritual recovery and redemption among men, which He Himself, when on earth, had only begun” (82).

Second, Christ has left us the Church, with its work of Word and sacrament, to be “another instrument in the hand of Christ for carrying forward and accomplishing His purpose of grace on earth” (82).

In short, the work of Christ on earth was one of recovery and redemption, and to continue this work after his ascension into heaven, Christ left behind the Spirit and the Church.

The Mission of the Church

Setting up the question as he does, you have some idea where Bannerman is heading with this discussion. But he does not settle for vague implication of this or that truth. He gets more specific and asks the exact question which seems to bedevil so many Christians today: “What, then I ask, is the mission of the church, and its office in relation to the world?” (83). Great question, no? We would do well to pay attention to Bannerman’s three responses.

“In the first place, the Christian Church, in reference to the world in which it is found, is designed and fitted to be a witness for Christ, and not a substitute for Christ” (83). The church, Bannerman argues, is a visible and outward witness joining with and confirming the internal and invisible work of the Spirit. The preaching of the church proclaim aloud the divine truth of Christ and the ordinance (or sacraments) of the church a public testimony for Christ. In word and sacrament, the church is, along with the Spirit, “the standing and perpetual witness on the earth on behalf of a Saviour” (84).

Importantly, Bannerman insists that the church is “fitted to be a witness,” but is “neither designed nor adapted to be a substitute for Christ” (84, emphasis in original).  Christ is in heaven, no longer present on earth; we are not meant to be a substitute for him in his absence. In fact–evangelical proponents of incarnational ministry notwithstanding–it is Catholic ecclessiology which reckons the church to be a permanent incarnation of Christ. Bannerman is adamant that the church is forever pointing upward to Christ in heaven, not embodying his presence on earth. We are ambassadors, not substitutes.

“In the second place, the Christian Church in the world is an outward ordinance of God, fitted and designed to be the instrument of the Spirit, but not the substitute for the Spirit” (87). Recall that the Spirit and the Church are the twofold agency of Christ on earth. It has pleased God, Bannerman maintains, to conjoin outward ordinances with internal effect, visible organization with invisible influence, ordinary means with supernatural grace. The church is, in a special way, the residence of the Holy Spirit, and through the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments the Spirit’s work is carried out.

The church, then, is fitted to be the instrument of the Spirit, but is not a substitute of the Spirit (89). In the Catholic system grace is dispensed through the sacraments ex opere operato (“by the working that is worked”) regardless of personal faith. The church acts as a kind of substitute for the Spirit, the power and efficacy of spiritual recovery residing not in the Spirit but in the ordinances of the church. Strangely enough, the Roman system is not all that different from the extreme pragmatists and Finneyites in evangelical circles who expect the Spirit to work so long as we push the right button and pull the right levers.

“In the third place, the Christian Church in the world is fitted and designed to serve as a means for effecting the communion of Christians with each other–not to be a substitute for the communion of Christians with their Saviour” (91). One of the great ends to be accomplished by the church, Bannerman argues, is the union of disciples into one fellowship. Instead of an individual Christianity, the church gives us a social Christianity. We care for each other, pray for each other, exhort one another, love one another, and by all manner of privileges enjoy a fellowship the world cannot enjoy and does not understand.

So once again, the church is fitted as a means of communion among Christians, but not as a substitute for communion with Christ. We are not joined to the church so that we may be joined to Christ. Rather, we are joined to Christ; and therefore, we ought to be joined to one another in the church. The church does not, and cannot,”stand to the sinner in place of Christ” (92). We have direct and immediate union with Christ through his Spirit.

Summing Up

Some Christians in discussing the relationship between the church and the world have little patience or careful ecclesiology like Bannerman offers. But it is essential for understanding our relationship to culture and what exactly your local church should or shouldn’t be concerned to accomplish. If Bannerman is right, Christ’s ministry in the world was to save sinners, bring them into fellowship with another, and see them safely through to their heavenly home. This does not describe everything he ever did, but I believe it is a fair summary of Christ’s relationship to the world. God sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

And if the Spirit and the church exist as the twofold agency of Christ, left by our Lord to continue the work he began, then it stands to reason that the church’s relation to the world would be similar to Christ’s, provided we understand that we can never replace Christ. The church is no substitute for Christ, or the Spirit, or for immediate union with Christ. Rather, our role as the church–in relation to the world–is to bear witness to the saving power of Christ, to exercise the appointed means whereby the Spirit redeems and sanctifies, and to join in one body for mutual fellowship and support those who have been joined to Christ.

Does this mean Christians should be indifferent to suffering in the world? Or pursue irrelevance in their neighborhoods and in their workplaces? No and no. But I dare assert that Bannerman’s doctrine of the church makes more eminent sense, and is more plainly biblical, than contemporary notions whereby the church is called upon to be something it cannot be and do something it cannot do.

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45 thoughts on “Once More On Church, Culture, and Transformationalism”

  1. Thabiti says:

    Kevin,

    I loved this brief summary of Bannerman’s view of the church. Very concise and helpful.

    I think you get to the nub of the matter in your concluding paragraph. What relation does the spirituality of the church have to the church’s witness in the world? Some say it robs the church of its proper witness in the world while others say it delimits and defines that witness.

    But I suspect Bannerman’s view is shaped, at least to some small degree, by his particular context. I’m thinking specifically of the relationship between church and state in Bannerman’s place and day. Any thoughts on how church-state relations might contribute to Bannerman’s emphasis on the spirituality of the church? I’ve often asked that question of myself, but I’ve never chased an answer or seen anyone who knows Bannerman well reflect on this question.

    Grateful for you,
    T-

  2. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Great question, Thabiti. The very next chapter in Bannerman is on the church in relation to the state. Maybe I should write up a post on that chapter sometime. In the meantime, here’s a brief post on the subject from awhile back.

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/12/thinking-through-church-and-state/

    Thanks friend.

  3. P Duggan says:

    Does Bannerman discuss Acts 9:4? Jesus doesn’t ask Saul “Why persecutest thou my witnesses”

    Why does the church have a Spiritually gifted office of deacon if ‘word and sacrament’ is the only way the Spirits work is carried out? Is mercy not the Spirit’s work?

    Does Bannerman reflect at all on the old testament call for the People of God to “seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

    Does the church not have a call to do that? How does it not? Because only Christ can do that in heaven? because if it did we’d be substitutes for the Spirit? I can’t see how.

  4. David B says:

    wow. amazing points. really good stuff.

  5. Rochelle says:

    I wonder have you ever considered or read anything about Two-Kingdom Theology? Dr David VanDrunen and Meredith Kleine have written extensively on this. Very insightful stuff and agreeable with Bannerman. Good post Rev DeYoung!

  6. LWesterlund says:

    Thank you for writing on this subject. Many good points here on a dominant issue of our times. But I am puzzled at the separation of the Holy Spirit and the church, seeing them as a “twofold agency”. What is the true church except all those in whom the Spirit resides, given as promised to those who have experienced a birth from above? All that is accomplished on earth by Christ’s body is through the power of Christ’s Spirit. Without this, there is no eternal fruit, whatever good a human institution may do.

  7. Daniel says:

    This post is very telling and helpful. Thank you Reverend DeYoung.

    I find this quote interesting, “The work of the church in relation to the world has everything to do with the work of Christ in relation to the world,” since high church traditions, specifically Roman Catholics, have the model arguments and theories for natural law and political theory. Is this difference possibly connected to how sacramental traditions view nature and God?

    I was fascinated by the excerpts that were included in this post.

    Excerpt 1 justifies its position with a theory about the divinity of Christ’s nature; specifically, that because of His human nature he cannot be present in any other place but heaven. I understand that this is very probably the most divisive issue between the Reformed tradition and high church traditions, specifically Lutherans. However, I still must say that the Church is very much the Body of Christ. We are His and He is ours. What Christ has to offer to His children, He does through His children (i.e. the Office of the Ministry). The Church is Christ to the world we are much more than just a fan club pointing up to heaven.

    I was not entirely sure what distinctions were being made with excerpt 2 until the sacraments were drawn into the picture. I don’t think the RCC would say the sacraments are a substitute of the spirit. But then again they do not, nor do Lutherans, EO, or some Anglicans, view the sacraments as exclusively associated with sanctification. Also, the RCC understanding of ex opere operato is that the sacraments are made efficacious by the work of God and not the works and merits of the priests who are presenting them. I might add, that St. Thomas, the esteemed “Doctor of the Church” says “The nature of the gift is dependent on the nature of the recipient” which, in this case, means that the sacraments can ONLY be grasped by faith. Faith, then, does not make the sacraments irrelevant but emphasizes our need for them since our faith in Christ looks to Him for our spiritual nourishment and our faith in Christ believes Him when He says that He gives us His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

    Excerpt 3 seems to ignore key teaching from God’s Word (not to mention church fathers). I think a lot of the reason why excerpt 3 is asserted is because of implications from excerpt 1. Since the Church cannot be Christ to the world, then there is no purpose in being part of the Church except by accident after meeting Christ. The problem though, is that Christ is only accessed through the Church (Romans 10:14-15, John 20:21-23, Acts 8:14-17). I suppose that view that the Church is accidental to a relationship with Christ is only possible in the Reformed soteriological system though. Contrast that with soteriological positions that acknowledge Christ as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” whose sacrifice is then particularly applied to His children through the Word and Sacraments in the Church.

    Now granted, I haven’t read the whole work by Bannerman and I may be mischaracterizing his position. I do appreciate this post which seems to have laid out his position in a concise manner. Also, I am eager to see if Reverend DeYoung will be blogging on that next chapter.

    Thank you for letting me post!
    Daniel

  8. @ Daniel –
    I would greatly urge reading Bannerman, particularly because he’s addressing the issues you’re raising. The section Pastor DeYoung used is in the middle of a larger discussion about the difference between the invisible and visible church and the practical effects of holding to the Reformed position (i.e. the primacy of the invisible but with the visible being formed upon the inward and spiritual one and maintained in the world for its benefit.)

    @ LWesterlund –
    You raise the very issue that Bannerman is careful to address under the category of “Independents” – these are those who repudiate the idea of the visible Church as sustaining a real, although external, relation to Christ, which is composed of those who profess to be his people (some of whom are only professors. Independents, Bannerman argues, desire only a “pure communion of the saints.”

  9. Bannerman is very helpful here but he also will have many limitations. Not to be a wet blanket, but given Bannerman’s background of social and cultural privilege in Scotland, there are many applications of the church that would never have come to mind for him to address. As such, Bannerman is useful as far as he goes but he is going to miss a lot of applications of the church in a world that, say, would differ if we were to read these reflections from orthodox theologians coming out of contexts of poverty and oppression in Africa or Latin America. It shouldn’t be too surprising that he writes as he does given what Scottish culture was like in the 19th-century. I wonder, though, how he might reflect on the role of the church in today’s Scotland. Interesting discussion. I’d caution against missing that face that his social location had no effect on the application and development of his doctrine. It’s a limitation we all have. This is why we’re always reforming I suppose.

  10. Dean P says:

    I would wonder whether Bannerman and Abraham Kuyper would be on the same page on this or not. Probably not. Of course that might be something that can be traced back to the differences between the Scottish Presbyterians and the Continental Reformers of that time period.

  11. LWesterlund says:

    @ Jeffrey Brannen
    Yes, that is a familiar charge since the days of Zwingli and the Anabaptists. I find more Biblical support for a “pure communion” than for “the visible church” but I am theologically in the minority on this blog, so I’ll go quietly. Thank you for responding.

  12. Justin M. says:

    Anthony Bradley says: “Bannerman is very helpful here but he also will have many limitations. Not to be a wet blanket, but given Bannerman’s background of social and cultural privilege in Scotland, there are many applications of the church that would never have come to mind for him to address”

    It’s amazing how Dr. Bradley can take anything, and subvert it to the tune of his one stringed banjo of social and cultural privilege.

    I wonder how many people in 3rd world countries throw wet blankets on everything Americans write due to our social and cultural privileges.

  13. Joshua S. says:

    I have lived in the Middle East for the better part of the past ten years and social and cultural privilege do make a serious impact on perspective. What’s interesting is that Western Christians who are culturally used to having power don’t know what to do when they come to the Middle East and the church has, for centuries, been a minority and has not had power.

    Vinoth Ramachandra, a Sri Lankan lay theologian and the Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students takes privilege as seriously as Dr. Bradley and is even critical of the Gospel Coalition in his blog post here (http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/reformed-amnesia/):

    “A group of North American pastors calling themselves The Gospel Coalition of International Outreach is engaged in what they call “a mission of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church”. They state on their website: “We are partnering with translators, publishers, and missions networks to provide new access to biblical resources, in digital and physical formats. Our goal is to strengthen thousands of congregations by helping to equip the pastors and elders who are called to shepherd them.”
    Sounds loving, until one asks: who decides who is theologically famished and who is not? who selects what “resources” to send the famished? who decides what constitutes “equipping” and who should be doing it? The answer is always the same. A small group of white, well-to-do American or British males. We have experienced such paternalistic, colonial “mission” before- others deciding what is the “Good News” for us, what is “sound doctrine”, which authors to read and whom to avoid, etc. They have exported their theological blind-spots and sectarian rivalries, reproducing carbon-copies of themselves in the global South rather than nurturing real leaders. The learning and theological traffic is all one-way.”

  14. Jason Brown says:

    In response to Joshua S’s comment above I would add that one of the most helpful and convicting things I have heard is from Barry Henning who reminds his congregation regularly that: “The rich need the poor just as much as the poor need the rich”. I think the poor have so much to offer to the theological conversation that we just do not have (impoverished) in America. I agree with Ramachandra.

  15. Jason Brown says:

    Also, I humbly and respectfully submit that perhaps Dr. Bradley’s “one-stringed banjo” is something that we should quietly consider. Over and over and over…

  16. Tim T. says:

    @Justin M.

    Whether or not your assessment of Dr. Bradley is correct, you did not do anything to address the content of his post. Nor does turning his comment on it’s head help that matter. Could you offer what you think would be helpful response to Bradley that takes in consideration how the Church should think about its role with reference to those people/nations who are not as privileged?

  17. Lou G. says:

    In keeping with Dr. Bradley’s astute observation regarding Bannerman’s context, wherein he writes, “It shouldn’t be too surprising that he writes as he does given what Scottish culture was like in the 19th-century.”
    I also think it is worth mentioning that many of the traditionally reformed writers and teachers who are still in Scotland and who are highly critical of American church planters and mission-minded pastors ought to take a step back and evaluate their current context where the fields are white for harvest and their workers are very few. Since Scotland is considered a ripe mission field these days, it’s not too far of a stretch to connect the dots between the church’s aversion toward culture and transformation in that country and the volumes and volumes of those outside the church, among several generations, who have absolutely no firsthand experience of the Gospel or the Word of God.

  18. Lou G. says:

    In his summary, Kevin writes: “Some Christians in discussing the relationship between the church and the world have little patience or careful ecclesiology like Bannerman offers. But it is essential for understanding our relationship to culture and what exactly your local church should or shouldn’t be concerned to accomplish.”

    I don’t think he is being fair in the assertion. Without elaborating on who he speaking of when saying “some christians”, this statement doesn’t accomplish very much.
    The original online dialog began with a post from Dr. Trueman who named Tim Keller as the kind of transformationalist with whom he disagrees. And yet, Tim Keller is an ordained minister in the PCA, at a presbyterian church that has many ordained elders and deacons who follow the Book of Church order. I might also add that Dr. Keller also taught for a number of years at Westminster TS in Philadelphia where Dr. Trueman now works. So, from where I stand, pastors like Bill Evans and Tim Keller clearly do not typify Kevin’s “Some Christians” characterization of not holding to sound ecclesiology.

    Furthermore, Kevin’s assertion that “it is essential for understanding our relationship to culture and what exactly your local church should or shouldn’t be concerned to accomplish” is still not entirely clear. Ecclesiology can help us understand what we do, who we are and what our mission is as the gathered body, “called out” from the world when we congregate. But ecclessiology has little to say about what we we do and what our mission is when we disburse as pilgrims in the world, in our various callings outside of the Church proper. Some church bodies will have a combined vocational expertise that may create opportunities that allow members to meet particular needs in there local communities that they are uniquely gifted for and specially called to serve. Proper ecclessiology may inform those members as to their particular giftedness or in regard to the special communion that they share in this regard, but what the actual work will look like outside the formal church meeting is a different matter. Furthermore, ecclessiology does not directly speak to how church members will live and serve in their other spheres of vocation, such as in their family lives, in there workplaces or in the town halls of their city meeting places.

    What I’m getting at is that while mission, culture, and transformation must begin with a sound ecclessiological foundation, there are many other elements of Biblical theology that need to be considered and applied before we are actually speaking directly to the issues at hand.

  19. Ian Thompson says:

    Whilst James Bannerman would not necessarily be born of huge privilege (being the son of the manse) he did live in a largely monochromatic world. Bannerman was one who fought for Church-State separation if that’s any help.

  20. Godith says:

    What I appreciate about N.T.Wright (to pick a prominent example) is that he goes to the Scriptures, Old and New, to establish his points, not some pious writer or other. Ultimately what Bannerman, Owen, or Trueman say about anything is not decisive. So while you’ve helped those of us who haven’t read those 13 pages you really haven’t brought a Biblical argument forward. But I thank you for what you have done.

  21. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    I’m tired of this…

    Look, on one level, I get where pastor DeYoung is coming from. There is a deep psychological and spiritual issue with the church trying to be Jesus, to save people, to rescue them. This leads to all kinds of codependency, pride, entitlement, etc. And for ministers, this is a mighty temptation. People treat us like we have magical powers to rescue them. People want to make us into idols. People want to make the church into an idol. And when we don’t find our identity in Christ, we want to be idols. That way is a spiritual dead end.

    So it seems like Pastor DeYoung has a deep pastoral concern to prevent people from falling into that foolishness. These are all good things. One of the pastoral gifts of Reformed theology is taking away the anxiety of “these people are all going to hell, because I don’t have the courage to preach to them.” That anxiety comes from trying to be the Savior. It’s God who saves, he just happens to use us.

    But that doesn’t excuse screening out the non spiritual aspects of the mission of the church. Pastoral concerns doesn’t give us an excuse to teach bad theology to prevent certain temptations.

    And this is bad theology that marginalizes the witness of the scriptures.

    So let’s go to some of the basics:

    1) Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Yes Jesus turned the word Kingdom inside out, but he surely did not make it mean something it did not mean. Kingdoms are totalizing, including politics, religion, culture, economics, families, and individuals. God’s saving reign is supposed to affect every area of life, it touches all areas of life. You can redefine Kingdom so that it doesn’t mean Kingdom anymore, but that only puts you in company with the gnostics.

    I’m going to be a hater, and I’m going to throw the gauntlet down here: If your theology is correct, then Jesus Christ was stupid for using the terminology of Kingdom, because he really didn’t mean kingdom in any way useful. He should have used other terminology.

    2) Jesus chose to die near the feast of the passover and used it to point all the rich symbolism of the Exodus to the cross. That’s because for Jews, the Exodus is salvation. And the Exodus was a total salvation: political, economic, social, and spiritual. And Jesus chose passover to explain his death. Of course Christ’s salvation was more than the Exodus, but it cannot be anything less.

    So here’s my other hater gauntlet: If your theology is right, and Christ’s ministry to the world was only to save sinners and had no political, economic, and social dimensions, then Jesus picked the wrong holiday to die on. Jesus should have died on the day of atonement. That would fit quite well into this theology.

    Regardless of how many sermons compare the death of Christ to the Day of Atonement, and how helpful that can be, Jesus wanted us to understand his death, his salvation, through the Exodus.

    3) Jesus rose from the dead bodily. It’s partially because bodies matter. The physical creation matters. God cares about it. It’s part of the mission. Feeding people matters. It’s part of the saving mission of the church. That’s why Jesus cooked his disciples breakfast after he rose from the dead.

    4) This has been mentioned in an earlier comment and unanswered. Jesus didn’t ask Saul: “Why have you been persecuting my witnesses?” He asked Saul: “Why are you persecuting me?” I think that matters. Put that and the Eucharist together and you get Paul’s doctrine of the body of Christ. It’s not a mere metaphor. Yes Jesus is bodily ascended to the right hand of the Father. But somehow, we are still his body. We’re like the DNA evidence of him and his work left behind, bearing witness to what happened.

    5) If this theology is true, why did Paul care so much about the poor? In letter after letter, he keeps yammering away about this collection for the poor. He opposed Peter to his face, not for bad theology, but for not eating with Christian gentiles. He is angriest at the Corinthians when they humiliate the poor in the Eucharist. Maybe those things are all crucial parts of the mission and evangelism and discipleship.

    Brother, I have laid great accusations against your theology. But perhaps I am wrong. Lord knows I can be! Lord knows I can be swept up in the fashions of my culture that may distort the gospel. But why did Jesus pick “Kingdom”? Why did Jesus pick passover? Why did Jesus cook breakfast? Why did Jesus say “me?” Why did Paul care so much about the poor as if it were part of his very mission?

    All of those things seem to point to far more robust mission that you’ve acknowledged.

  22. @ Jonathan Hunnicutt –
    How do you understand Jesus’ statement in John 19:36?

    Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

    It would seem that Jesus himself defined “kingdom” in a way that doesn’t directly mean political or economic in a way that parallels exactly an earthly kingdom.

  23. Edit – John 18:36. My apologies.

  24. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    I think the key phrase is “My kingdom is not FROM this world.” Jesus’ Kingdom is from Heaven, coming down to earth. Hence the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom is coming from heaven to the earth.

    I’d also point out that Jesus quickly clarifies the difference between Kingdoms from the world, and His own Kingdom: “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say: “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have a political, economic, and cultural mission. But it’s not so they don’t.” Nope. Jesus explains that his Kingdom not being from this world means that his servants don’t run around physically fighting and killing people.

    Notice that this is exactly the kind of redefinition of kingdom where it makes sense that Jesus would still use the word kingdom, but tweak it. It’s almost like a high hollywood concept pitch: “Aliens will be like Jaws, but on a spaceship.” “13 going on 30 will be like Big, but for girls.” (I got those analogies from Made to Stick.) So Jesus is saying something like: “God’s Kingdom is like regular kingdoms, but no killing people.”

    Now obviously, there’s more differences between the Kingdoms than the mere absence of violence, but despite all those differences, “Kingdom” is still the basic concept that Jesus starts with. But perhaps we should assume similarity until Jesus tells us otherwise.

    Of course, it’s hard to imagine a Kingdom without violence. But failure of imagination never justifies sinfulness. A drug addict can’t imagine life without his drug, but that doesn’t make it right.

    In fact, that’s why Jesus did a bunch of stuff other than preaching about the Kingdom. Jesus enacted the Kingdom. Jesus showed what the Kingdom looked like by healing, eating with sinners, exorcisms, feeding people, forgiving sins, commanding people to give to the poor. It helps people imagine it. The social, political, economic stuff is all part the mission of God’s Kingdom, because when we see the church acting in these ways, it becomes easier to imagine the Kingdom.

    Pastor DeYoung’s and similar theology seems to say: “We’re going to assume that God’s Kingdom is completely unlike earthly Kingdoms until proven otherwise. And we’ll use John 18:36 as our proof text.” Again, then why even use Kingdom in the first place? I think we should assume similarity until Jesus explains the difference.

    It’s like we should take the word “Kingdom” literally. Of course, I’m sure I’ll be called a hippie liberal for critiquing the “not of this world” theology, and I’ll be told that I’m not reading the bible literally. I’d just like to point out the irony that I’m the one arguing for a more literal understanding of the word Kingdom.

    And as my last parting shot, John, the author of the gospel of John was the pastor to Polycarp. So Polycarp sat under John’s teaching about Jesus and the Kingdom and what kind of Kingdom Jesus had. When asked to renounce the kingship of Jesus at the end of his life for the Kingship of Caesar, Polycarp doesn’t say: “Hold on there proconsul. Jesus isn’t a King like Caesar is, that was just a metaphor. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.” Polycarp said: “86 years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How could I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

  25. Lou G. says:

    Jeffrey and Jonathan,
    Couldn’t it also be an issue of theology and mission as related to the church gathered, versus the church scattered/dispersed?
    As the collective gathered church, we are instructed by ecclessiology as to how to organize and what to do, ie, adminstration of the means of grace-sacraments, preaching of the Word, etc… In a sense, the worship service is a foreshadowing of the coming Kingdom, as described in Revelation that we get to taste and share in communion with other believers. An awesome priveledge, to be sure.

    However, once we disperse into “the world”, it seems that we are at that point called to be salt and light, to be ambassadors, to love and to serve in ways that exemplify the Kingdom to those outside of the church both in the purity of our walk and in the compassionate service to the poor, the widow, the orphan, and as pilgrim members of the societies to which we belong.

    We are not monks or anchorites.

    Any thoughts?

  26. LWesterlund says:

    These comments on Kevin’s blog concerning “tranformationalism”, as they have become a discussion of “the kingdom” seem to take on an either/or posture. It is not either/or. It is a matter of priority. We read both James and Romans. If we love our brother, we can not stand there clothed and well-fed, proclaiming the Gospel to a naked, starving man. But because this life is a vapor, a blip, our greatest concern will be for his soul and whether he will spend eternity with God. And this concern includes the well-dressed, well-placed members of our society. God calls each of us to our post in the battle.

  27. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    Lou G.,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think what you are saying is that the church gathered and the church scattered have two different functions. The implication being that Pastor DeYoung and Jeffrey are talking about the function of the church gathered, and I’m talking about the function of the church scattered, so perhaps we are talking past each other. Did I get that right?

    If so, talking past each other has certainly happened before. It would be kind of nice if it were happening here too.

    But I don’t think that’s what Pastor DeYoung is arguing for. In an earlier post Pastor DeYoung complained that the scriptures never say that the church is “sent.” Well duh. Ekklesia literally means something like gathering or meeting. You can’t send a meeting, just like you can’t square a circle. In the NT, especially the early parts, ekklesia just means meeting, so that the scattered believers would not have been considered a church since they weren’t meeting at that moment. Later it began to mean more than just meeting, to describe the people of God whether gathered or scattered. And that’s when you start getting phrases like “the apostolic church” meaning not just that this church is holding to the truth preached and taught by the apostles, but also that this church is “sent” since that’s what an apostle is a “sent one.”

    I agree with you that the gathering of the church and the scattering of the church will look quite different. To your comment, I’d add that the gathering and the scattering must be connected. Kingdom work that is disconnected from the worship of the King will not be as effective and will not have lasting influence. I know that some social justice types completely ignore discipleship and evangelism and worship. They usually burn out after a few years, because all mission needs to flow from King Jesus and our praise and gratitude need to return to him for our own spiritual health, because he made us that way.

    I’d also add that part of worship isn’t just foreshadowing but practice for the Kingdom. James K. A. Smith has written a lot about this.

  28. Lou G. says:

    Thanks Jonathan! These are great thoughts. I was looking at it as Eclesia meaning “called out” ones and Dispersia as the scattered body. I like your attention to the “apostolic church” as the Church sent. Definitely agree with you about kingdom work flowing from worship-that’s what it’s all about. I also see the church gathered as a place of discipleship that builds up disciples to go out and become disciple-makers. And since we’re not platonists or gnostics, cultural engagement is required, in many forms.

    The key is our openness and availability to be used by God to do His will in His world. Like Gene Veith wrote in his book on vocation – the Lord can bring manna down from the sky to feed the people, but today He chooses to use bakers, truck drivers, grocers, mamas and waitresses to give us our physical daily bread. We can participate in His work to His glory, or we can obstinently sit on the sidelines bemoaning the state of wretched humanity and huddle up in our comfortable cacoons. Not me. I like to spread my wings and walk in the deeds that God has prepared in advance for me – by His grace, through faith and to His glory.

    Funny you should mention James KA Smith. I was just reading his interview with Richard Mouw, part 2. Fascinating stuff about this topic and others.

  29. Jack Miller says:

    The 2K issue is not primarily about the individual believer can do, but what the church has been instituted to do. Always wise to take into consideration those who are more learned in these matters than we..

    Berkof, Systematic Theology

    IV. The Power of the Church
    A. THE SOURCE OF CHURCH POWER.

    … He Himself spoke of the Church as founded so firmly upon a rock that the gates of hell cannot prevail against her, Matt. 16:18; and on the same occasion — the very first on which He made mention of the Church — He also promised to endow her with power, when He said unto Peter: “I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” Matt. 16:19. It is quite evident that the terms ‘Church’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ are used interchangeably here. Keys are an emblem of power (cf. Isa. 22:15-22), and in the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven Peter receives power to bind and to loose, which in this connection would seem to mean, to determine what is forbidden and what is permitted in the sphere of the Church.32 And the judgment he passes — in this case not on persons, but on actions — will be sanctioned in heaven. Peter receives this power as the representative of the apostles, and these are the nucleus and foundation of the Church in their capacity as teachers of the Church. The Church of all ages is bound by their word, John 17:20; I John 1:3…

    B. THE NATURE OF THIS POWER.
    1. A SPIRITUAL POWER. When the power of the Church is called a spiritual power, this does not mean that it is altogether internal and invisible, since Christ rules both body and soul, His Word and sacraments address the whole man, and the ministry of the diaconate even has special references to physical needs. It is a spiritual power, because it is given by the Spirit of God, Acts 20:28, can only be exercised in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, John 20:22,23; I Cor. 5:4, pertains exclusively to believers, I Cor. 5:12, and can only be exercised in a moral and spiritual way, II Cor. 10:4.34 The State represents the government of God over the outward and temporal estate of man, while the Church represents His government of man’s inward and spiritual estate. The former aims at assuring its subjects of the possession and enjoyment of their external and civil rights, and is often constrained to exercise coercive power over against human violence. The latter is founded in opposition to an evil spirit and for the purpose of delivering men from spiritual bondage by imparting to them the knowledge of the truth, by cultivating in them spiritual graces, and by leading them to a life of obedience to the divine precepts. Since the power of the Church is exclusively spiritual, it does not resort to force. Christ intimated on more than one occasion that the administration of His Kingdom on earth involved a spiritual and not a civil power, Luke 12:13 ff.; Matt. 20:25-28; John 18:36,37. The Church of Rome loses sight of this great fact, when it insists on the possession of temporal power and is bent on bringing the entire life of the people under its sway.
    2. A MINISTERIAL POWER. It is abundantly evident from Scripture that the power of the Church is no independent and sovereign power, Matt. 20:25,26; 23:8,10; II Cor. 10:4,5; I Pet. 5:3, but a diakonia leitourgia, a ministerial power, Acts 4:29,30; 20:24; Rom. 1:1, derived from Christ and subordinate to His sovereign authority over the Church, Matt. 28:18. It must be exercised in harmony with the Word of God and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, through both of which Christ governs His Church, and in the name of Christ Himself as the King of the Church, Rom. 10:14,15; Eph. 5:23; I Cor. 5:4. Yet it is a very real and comprehensive power, consisting in the administration of the Word and the sacraments, Matt. 28:19, the determination of what is and what is not permitted in the Kingdom of God, Matt. 16:19, the forgiving and retaining of sin, John 20:23, and the exercise of discipline in the Church, Matt. 16:18; 18:17; I Cor. 5:4; Tit. 3:10; Heb. 12:15-17.

  30. Lou G. says:

    Jack, first, the post wasn’t about 2k, but thanks for driving by bringing up that theological distinction. I’m not sure Kevin will appreciate being used to prop up the R2K crowd, but that’s his concern.
    As far as referencing “more leared men than us”, you obviously haven’t been following the comments here. You are not the first to quote or refer to a serious theologian.

  31. Jack Miller says:

    Lou, first, let me say that it was probably lazy of me to post such a long quote (especially without comment) since only certain parts were what I wanted highlighted. So, my apologies for the appearance of a “drive-by.”

    As far as this post of Kevin’s not being about the two kingdom’s of God (his redemptive kingdom-the church, and the kingdom of this world) I have to disagree. Kevin is addressing how the church, as well as Christians, relates to the world.

    As to your gratuitous “R2K” label that you throw out. Are you claiming Berkof is espousing a radical theology concerning the church and its role in this world?

    My words were “more learned than we” which includes myself. As a laymen I find that I, more often than not, have little to add beyond the ‘learned words’ of so many others, past and present.

    Lastly, I think Berkof’s quote supports Kevin’s point in his summary:

    And if the Spirit and the church exist as the twofold agency of Christ, left by our Lord to continue the work he began, then it stands to reason that the church’s relation to the world would be similar to Christ’s, provided we understand that we can never replace Christ. The church is no substitute for Christ, or the Spirit, or for immediate union with Christ. Rather, our role as the church–in relation to the world–is to bear witness to the saving power of Christ, to exercise the appointed means whereby the Spirit redeems and sanctifies, and to join in one body for mutual fellowship and support those who have been joined to Christ.

    peace…

  32. p duggan says:

    Jack Miller:

    Is there any reason, on Berkhoffs defintions, for the church to have a diaconate? Is it sacramental? Is it the office of the word? No.

    But it is empowered by the Spirit.

    I think Berkhoff needs a 3rd section “A Deaconal Power” where he explains how the INSTITUTIONAL church is there “for the life of the world”. But maybe he thinks otherwise. The worse for him.

    Is there anything in berkhoff that would mitigate against the institutional church being opposed to legal segregation of African Americans? How about their right to vote? If not why not?

  33. Jack Miller says:

    Paul, are you suggesting that the church has no legitimate function outside of the preaching of the word and baptism/the supper?

    But it is empowered by the Spirit.

    Unto what purpose? That seems to be the question and the topic of the post.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with you last question. That legal apartheid is an evil, goes without saying. And in light of “love your neighbor as yourself” it would seem apparent that the church should bring that command of Christ’s to bear on the consciences of its people as how to justly treat others. We’re even enjoined to “love our enemies.”

  34. p Duggan says:

    I’m suggesting that Berhkhoff (and you) say that the the church has only a Spiritual power to preach the word and administer the sacraments. That’s the only 2 things the the quote you brought forward cover.

    “it is a very real and comprehensive power, consisting in the administration of the Word and the sacraments, Matt. 28:19, the determination of what is and what is not permitted in the Kingdom of God, Matt. 16:19, the forgiving and retaining of sin, John 20:23, and the exercise of discipline in the Church,”

    Where is the power to do any deaconing?

    Why is that? If that’s not what you and Berkhof believe, why does he not manage to put the deaconate somewhere in the churches power. How did this blind spot come about for Berkhof?

  35. Jack Miller says:

    Paul, maybe you should go read Berkof. The short section I quoted addresses, only in part, the source and nature of the Church’s power, not its different types of ministries or functions. Berkof addresses the ministry of benevolence as well as shepherding and church discipline later on. I think it’s odd you are building a case on what I believe (or Berkof) based on a couple paragraphs I quote out of almost 900 pages of his systematic. You seem to be looking for an opponent. If so, please look somewhere else.

  36. P Duggan says:

    ok. I’ll try to check it out. Before I get to it can you tell me under which natural church power does the ministry of benevolence fall?

    1. Word and the sacraments.
    2. the determination of what is and what is not permitted in the Kingdom of God.
    3. the forgiving and retaining of sin.
    4. and the exercise of discipline in the Church.

    1, 2, 3 or 4?

  37. P Duggan says:

    I see Berkhof (avilable online!) calls for a “potestas or ministerium misericordiae.”

    So that’s good. I guess his omission of this power in the list is unintentional. I’m glad to see that the institutional church in his conception has a power to show mercy.

  38. Jack Miller says:

    I see Berkhof (avilable online!) calls for a “potestas or ministerium misericordiae.”

    :)

  39. Adam K says:

    Dr. Bradley wrote: “Not to be a wet blanket, but given Bannerman’s background of social and cultural privilege in Scotland, there are many applications of the church that would never have come to mind for him to address.”

    I wonder if Dr. Bradley is aware of the many valiant efforts of Bannerman’s Free Church colleague Rev. James Begg in campaigning for affordable housing, the end of pew rents, and many other measures to aid poor working families in Scotland. If you travel to Scotland today, you can even see a housing development named for Begg, who stands as a great champion of sound theology and social justice, yet all within the confines of Bannerman’s balanced, Biblical ecclesiology. Hence (unless I’m missing something), Bannerman was quite conscious of the church’s relationship to social justice when he wrote these words.

    I would respectfully encourage Dr. Bradley (if he has not already) to peruse James Campbell’s book on Begg’s life: “Trembling for the Ark of God”, recently published by the Scottish Reformation Society.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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