Liturgy: What does it mean? (part 2)


In my last post, I defined what liturgy is: is the office of one person taken on the behalf of a larger group. A politician is a liturgist insofar as he represents the public. Jesus Christ himself is a liturgist, because he, becoming like we are in all things save sin, represents us in his worship before the Father. He is a chosen high priest who offers himself on behalf of the many. He is the Son of God who makes us sons of God by becoming like us in all things. Therefore, liturgy is not first about the worship service, but rather about Jesus Christ. It is he who is chief liturgist.

In this post, I’d like to examine how the meaning of liturgy makes its way into the church’s own liturgy. How do the two interconnect? I would like to explain this by way of an important Christian doctrine: union with Christ.

The Westminster Confession, chapter 26.1, says this:

All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory

Technically, this section is about the communion that saints have with one another. But the foundation of the communion of the saints is what the confession calls fellowship with Christ. Notice the words: by the Spirit, and by faith, we have fellowship with Christ in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. In other words, Christians share in all that is his by being united to Christ. The is the Christian doctrine of union with Christ. It is a mystery, but by the Spirit, Christians are truly and vitally united to Christ.

Calvin called this the mystical union. Here’s how he explains it:

“Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with Him in the gifts with which He has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate Him outside ourselves from afar in order that His righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body– in short, because He deigns to make us one with Him.” (Institutes, 3.11.10)

Calvin’s emphasis here is that Christians do not receive the grace of salvation outside of Christ. Rather, we receive the grace of salvation because we are engrafted into his body, and therefore share in his gifts.

In other words, Christians are Christians because they are mapped onto Christ and his story. We share in him, and thus, share in his sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. We don’t contemplate the cross from afar: we participate in it! Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, we have died and we live in Him (Rom 6). We don’t understand the resurrection from below. No, Paul again tells us that we are seated with Christ now in the heavenly places (Colossians 3). Christ’s story becomes our story. This is Christianity.

But what does this have to do with liturgy? What does it have to do with the church service itself?

The answer is this: Jesus is the chief liturgist. He did all he did in our stead, on our behalf. However, we participate in his liturgy because we are grafted into him. Recall Louis Weil’s insight:

Christ’s life and death is in fact the one liturgy; and Christians whose lives are “in Christ”, formed and shaped in his likeness, constitute a liturgy also. It would be even better to say that they constitute a working out and a making present “in all times and in all places” of the one liturgy (Liturgy for the Living, 14-15)

In other words, Jesus’ liturgy is something we make our own. And each Lord’s day, the liturgy we practice is meant to show forth, mirror, dare we say, it makes present Christ’s own liturgy each Lord’s day. Put another way, the church’s liturgy is a mysterious participation in Christ’s own.

This helps us to understand why we structure each church service. There is a logic to it, an order. It is the order of Christ’s liturgy; of his incarnation, death, and resurrection. Here’s how we order the liturgy at our church:

  1. A call to worship with songs of response
  2. A confession of sin with songs of response
  3. A confession of faith with sermon
  4. The Lord’s Supper
  5. Benediction

This simple order narrates the gospel, and therefore enables us to map out our own union with Christ in his death and resurrection. How so? Allow me to give a very simple overview:

The call to worship is God’s own call (not ours) to his people to give him the service and worship he so deserves. A very common call to worship utilizes Psalms, like Psalm 95:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!For the LORD is a great God,and a great King above all gods.

Notice the logic: because God is a God above all other (so called) gods, sing to him; give him praise. This is the call to lift up a service to God because of his worthiness. We then sing songs that exalt God’s supremacy.

The next movement is the confession of sin. During this point, the congregation recognizes their failure to do what God has called them to do. We have not given him the worship he so deserves.

However, this is followed by the assurance of pardon. And this is where the liturgy of Christ comes in: we haven’t given worship, but Jesus has; and as the chief liturgist, he stands in our stead. And we are called to now, in Jesus’ name, by the Spirit’s power, offer up worthy worship. This assurance of pardon is followed by songs which extol Jesus’ liturgy in his cross and resurrection. Suffice to say, this is a pivotal moment in the service! It enables us to make present the death and resurrection of Christ, and our own participation in it. We are dead in sin, but now in Christ we are forgiven and made alive!

After this, the congregation confesses their faith together. This confession is the gospel narrated; historically it is common to recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. These creeds are simply narrated gospels: the Father created, the Son redeemed, the Spirit makes new. This confession reminds us of who we now are: new creatures in Christ.

Finally, we hear the word of Christ spoken to us, and then feast on Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Now that we are dead to sin and alive to God, Jesus speaks to us, and welcomes us to his table, where he feeds us with nothing else then himself. During this simple sermon spoken and meal given, our union with Christ is strengthened, and we are enabled to live out the new life in Christ. Finally, we are sent out with a blessing to be Christ to the world.

The liturgy narrates and invites us to participate in the liturgy of Christ. It invites us into a new heavenly reality, to be one with Jesus Christ!

In the next post, I intend to speak on ritual and habit, and the importance it plays in sanctification.

Liturgy: What does it mean? (edit)

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Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father

I had written a post on liturgy about a year ago, but after thinking and reading, I’d like to write a short edit of that post.

Liturgy is often associated with the church’s worship service. In particular, with ritualized or corporate actions. Take for instance, if a church does a confession of sin together, this is “liturgy”. Or, some think of liturgy in terms of the structure of the worship service. Within the church I work, the service is structure around several movements: a call to worship, songs of response, a confession of sin, songs of response, and finally a confession of faith follow by the sermon.

These are all fine things to think about. However, the word liturgy doesn’t immediately touch on any of these things! This is what my edit post has to do with.

The word “liturgy” is a transliteration from the Greek word leitourgía. This word is a combination of two Greek words: laos, and ergos. Laos means “people”, while ergos means “work”.

The word ergos is used many times in the NT, mostly by Paul. It is used mostly within the context of salvation in the book of Romans and Galatians. So for instance, Paul says in Romans 3:20, man is not saved by “works of the law”, or ergon nomos. Laos is also used many times in the NT. And it is almost exclusively used to designate the people of God. So, for instance, Matthew 1:21 tells us that Jesus came to save his “people from their sins”.

Logically, then, it would seem that leitourgía as a combination word would mean the work that God’s people do. But this isn’t true! As I said in my last post, leitourgía is used within the context of politics. As Louis Weil says,

Public works in ancient Greece were regularly undertaken by private citizens, apparently in pace of an orderly and effective system of taxation. For example, to build a bridge for a public road across a stream on one’s private property would constitute a liturgy. Military service at one’s own expense would be a liturgy… Liturgy is work for the people (Liturgy for Living, 13)

Notice some important things here: within the Roman context, a liturgist was a private citizen who worked for the good of the rest of the people. In other words, it was not the entire company of people; it was rather one person who worked on their behalf. A liturgist was a public representative.

Maxwell Johnson says just this in his book Praying and Believing in Early Christianity:

[Liturgy] is [originally] a secular Greek term for public work done not by but on behalf of the people by another person or group appointed to that task, a term equivalent to those public officials in countries such as England designated as “ministers”. (p xi)

This of course resembles America’s politics: one person is voted to be a public personality; someone who works on behalf of the people for their good. A politician is therefore (ideally at least) a liturgist.

When we put this in the NT context of worship and people of God, the liturgist is not the entire company of the church, but rather one who is chosen from the people to offer worship in their stead. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is in fact this liturgist. Hebrews 8:1-2 tells us that Jesus is a great high priest, who has risen and sat at the right hand of God, and is now “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man”. This word “minister” means literally liturgist. Jesus is a liturgist in the true tent of the Lord, ministering to him on our behalf, in our stead.

What this all amounts to is the reality that Jesus, through his incarnation, became one of us, so that, being appointed as chief worshipper, he may offer to God true worship on our behalf.

I want to get more into this in a follow up post, but what this means for Sunday morning worship is what JB Torrance says in his excellent book Worship and the Triune God of Grace:

Whatever else worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.

This is the “wonderful exchange” by which Christ takes what is ours (our broken lives and unworthy prayers), sanctifies them, offers them without spot or wrinkle to the Father (p 15)

Torrance speaks of the wonderful exchange: Jesus takes what is our and offers them on our behalf to the Father in true worship. And during worship, we do nothing more (certainly not less!) then say “amen” to this true worship. This means that all true worship is a participation in Christ’s worship. It is a hiding behind and in the once for all liturgy of Jesus himself. We offer nothing else than that.

Louis Weil tells us this much:

Christ’s life and death is in fact the one liturgy; and Christians whose lives are “in Christ”, formed and shaped in his likeness, constitute a liturgy also. It would be even better to say that they constitute a working out and a making present “in all times and in all places” of the one liturgy… Christian service of worship is a representation or making present of the life and death of Christ. In worship, we appropriate Christ’s liturgy as our own. (Liturgy of the Living, pp 14-15)

In a follow up post, I want to talk about why we so often associate the structured parts of worship with “liturgy”.

The short answer is that these structured parts map out, mirror, rehearse, the once for all liturgy of Jesus Christ. As people in Christ, we enact and participate in Christ through the liturgy. 

Vision for RMPC Worship Ministry (Part 1)

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The vision of Rincon Mountain Presbyterian Church’s worship ministry is to lead God’s people, as a team, in the corporate discipline of the worship of God. 

Notice these key words:

Worship as leadership. (right now)

Worship as team (second post)

Worship as a discipline. (third post)

Worship as corporate. (fourth post)

Worship as leadership:

First, we will focus on worship as leadership. What does it mean to lead in worship? It means (at least) two important things:

First, (and shortly) it means that worship is not a show.

 Very often, contemporary worship is either accused of being or perceived as being a “show”, or a spectator sport. The band performs while the congregation observes. This is entirely problematic. Worship is something that all Christians are called to, and in fact, the entire body is called to participate in.

This means is that the worship service is not about the people on stage performing, and the people in the chairs observing.

It is about the people “on stage” leading “the congregation” in the worship of God.

Both are doing the same work. Both are worshipping. And, this means the worship service is as much the peoples’ work as it is the pastors’/ministers work. Strictly speaking, the “audience” (which is not the right term, because God is at work in worship as well!) is God himself, and the congregation is “the band”.

This means the worship service is as much the peoples’ work as it is the pastors’ work. The worship team is simply the leadership of the worshipping congregation. This means the band is filled with “spiritual leaders”!

Second point: if the worship team is involved is spiritual leadership, this implies we are actually leading people somewhere.

We are leading people into a practice; an experience; an end goal: into fellowship with the Triune God. Jesus said to his disciples, when they asked where he was going, “come and see”. He didn’t say, “go and see”; He was on his way to the Father, and he told the disciples: “come [with me to the Father] and you will see”. When he ascended, he led his people to, as Paul says, his “right hand”. Spiritual leadership is saying the same: come with me and see the glory of God. John says in his first epistle,

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 1:3)

Notice the order: that which we have seen, we now proclaim to you, so that you too may see it too! Jesus leads us to the Father through his death and resurrection, and spiritual leaders in turn, lead people to Jesus, who is the presence of the Father.

Therefore, worship leadership involves creating and cultivating and culture of worship. It means leading people into the excellencies of Jesus who is the face of the Father.

Of course, strictly speaking, the worship team cannot create worship within the congregants’ hearts: that responsibility the Holy Spirit’s; he alone is able to produce worship. However, the worship ministry can lead in creating an atmosphere that best assists the people in their worship. And, part of that leadership involves having a of worship on our own part. If we aren’t worshipping, we certainly cannot expect others to worship!

However, another part of that leadership is maintaining a standard of musical excellence that best glorifies God and displays the beauty of his goodness.

Put another way, spiritual leadership involves setting a high standard for the worship service, because that best glorifies God and leads God’s people to worship him.

Now, I realize at first read that sounds shallow: isn’t worship about the heart of the worshipper, and not the quality of the music? According the Bible, the answer to that is no! Notice Psalm 33:3:

Sing a new song to the Lord, play skillfully before Him, and shout for joy.

Notice how this verse holds together joyful singing and skillful playing. God is pleased both with skillful playing and joyful shouting. He is, in fact glorified by beautiful playing.

God makes this point in the Old Testament while giving instruction to the priests on how to build the tabernacle and vestmests. Notice the adjectives such as “skilled”, “able”, etc, that God says about the builders:

 (Exodus 31) The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.” 

Notice just from this passage that God cares about ability, skill, and even more, about the appearance of what he plans to build. He is particular about the quality of each element in the tabernacle, from the utensils to the lampstand. God takes joy in beauty!

Another way to think about excellence in music is to think about God’s own excellence, and how God’s excellence in turn deserves excellent worship. Psalm 150 makes this striking connection:

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his excellent greatness! (therefore)

Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

 I inserted the “therefore”, but I think the Psalmist implies this connection: because God is excellent, therefore let us praise him with excellent music: with strings, tambourines, loud cymbals etc.

 In other words, we are, however feebly, making an attempt to say something God’s beauty with the beauty of our music.

Excellent music makes a statement about God himself: he is worthy of excellent music because he himself is supremely excellent!

God loves it when our guitars are well tuned, when our voices are beautiful, when each person knows his or her part, because it makes a statement about his worthiness.

A take home:

What all of this leads to is my encouragement to see yourself as a spiritual leader. You aren’t a filler. You aren’t simply a musician or a singer. You’re an (small “a”) apostle (a “sent one”) who seeks to show people what you have seen and heard. You have seen the risen Lord, and now you have been sent by Christ to lead people into his presence so that they might know the Father and have fellowship with the Triune God.

Second, I want to encourage you to practice at least a 2-3 hours each week. Take an evening to get on Planning Center and acclimate yourself with each song. Listen to the audio tracks (or the Multitracks) and listen in for your part. In addition, to assist us in this, we may begin midweek practices in the Fall. Make sure you know your part so that each week we can strive for excellence and thereby point to the excellencies of Christ!

The next post will examine the worship ministry as a team.

A Theology of Baptism


What is baptism? What does baptism do? Who should be baptized, and why? Below is a short summary that answers these questions.

Starting with the Foundation: Who saves?

Baptism is a great and holy gift from God, and here at Trinity we love to baptize! Nevertheless, it is important to stress first and foremost that it is Christ who saves.

Article XI of the 39 Articles says,

“It is only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings”.

In other words, it is not by the things that we do that we are saved. God saves graciously through Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism is not something that we do to earn salvation. It is not our action for an ungracious God. Instead, as we shall see, baptism is a gracious work of God on our behalf. Salvation is solely of Christ’s merit. He is the one who has earned it on our behalf.

How does he save?

Having said that, God delivers this salvation purchased by Christ through different appointed means. You might think of it like a delivery system. God has various ways of getting what Christ has done 2,000 years ago into our hands.  The Reformed confessions commonly call this delivery system God’s “means of grace”. Notice what the Westminster Smaller Catechism says about God’s means of grace:

“The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” (WSC, Q88)

So God “communicates to us the benefits of redemption” through means of grace. One very common means of grace is preaching. Many times, people will say: “I was saved when I heard the gospel on one Sunday morning”. They are not saying that the preacher saved them. Rather, it was God who saved through the preacher’s sermon, mouth, lungs, etc.

The same goes with the sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist). The 39 articles say this about the sacraments:

“Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us” (XXV)

Notice the wording: not only “badges”, but “effectual signs of grace…by which he doth work invisibly in us”. So then, sacraments are actions through which God acts to save. The problem is that very often people understand sacraments to be something that they do for God. It is a badge that we wear. It is some action we perform to profess our faith or please God. Not so, the articles state: they are divine actions whereby God accomplishes salvation.

In fact, Paul says this very thing in several of his letters. In Titus 3:5, Paul says, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”. This “washing of regeneration” is a reference to Christian baptism. Paul also says in Romans 6:4 that we were buried with Christ in baptism. Through baptism, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, in the fruits of his saving work.

The 39 Articles say that for those who receive baptism rightly, that as “by an instrument, they…are grafted into the Church” (XXVII). So then, baptism delivers the goods of Christ’s salvation.

Baptism does not automatically save

All that being said, it is important to emphasize that baptism is not a “one-and-done” event. It does not automatically save. The Reformers knew this important fact: baptism must make its way into the personal faith and life of the recipient. In fact, if we do not receive our baptism by faith, it has no effect. To put it another way, baptism isn’t a magic ritual. Baptism must be, as the 39 Articles say, “rightly received”. By this, the Articles mean to say that sacraments do not work apart from the faith of the individual. People are not objects to simply be worked on. People are humans with wills and hearts that must receive and believe God’s gracious gift given in baptism.

This is especially relevant for infants admitted to baptism. Infants who are baptized ought afterward to be raised in the church, taught, and nurtured to mature faith. They should be raised within the embrace of God’s people. If a child is baptized in the church, and never sets foot in the church again, there is simply no reason to believe that on the basis of their baptism alone, they are saved.

Here is how Martin Luther explains baptism in his Small Catechism:

“[Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever”. Luther borrows this wording from Romans 6: we are drowned in baptism, and raise as new creatures. Therefore, each day we should live as if our old man is dead, and we are new.” (4.3)

Baptism’s effect on our lives should span the entirety of our lives. It should work it’s way into daily repentance and obedience to Christ. If it doesn’t make its way into daily living, the baptism has not had its effect.

This is why Christians throughout history stressed to such a great degree the difference between the outward element of water, and the inward reality of being cleansed by the Holy Spirit. It’s easy for water to be poured on the head. It’s supernatural for the water to make its way to our hearts. Baptism must be believed and received; claimed in faith by the recipient. Otherwise it has no effect.

Consequently this is why many of the Reformation confessions speak of baptism having its effect later in life as the child believes and receives the graces offered in baptism. The Westminster Confession states,

“The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.” (WCF 28.6)

Notice the wording: baptism’s efficacy is not “tied to the moment” of its administration, but according to God’s “appointed time”. What the confession means to say is that baptism’s saving efficacy is not bound to the moment the water hits someone’s head. Water doesn’t have that sort of power! Rather, baptism has its effect through God’s Spirit, who confers the graces of baptism when he pleases. Baptism, properly, does not look back (OK, I’ve been baptized) but forward to God’s continued work to establish faith and holiness in the recipient.

Why infants?

After reading this, one might ask: if baptism doesn’t automatically save — if it must be received and believed — why baptize infants? Why not wait for them to make a decision for Christ, and subsequently baptize? A first thing to note is that Anglicans do not exclusively baptize infants. We also baptize adults believers too! Anglicans have always been keen to the reality that the church exists to make disciples, and this includes adults as well as children. Nevertheless, it is important to consider: why baptize infants? If infants cannot make a commitment to Christ, why not just wait until they are of age to do so?

The reality is, God has always embraced the children of believers into his fold. It is not simply a New Testament practice, but also a practice found in the Old Testament! In fact, during every era in history, God has graciously included believers and their children into his saving graces. But where do we find this in the scriptures?

Let’s look briefly at Peter’s sermon the Jewish leaders in Acts 2. Toward the end of his sermon, the Jewish leaders ask what they must do to be saved. Peter responds by saying,

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (v. 38-39).

Peter commands the Jewish people to repent and be baptized, and promises that through this baptism, they will receive the Holy Spirit. What is important for us to note, however, is that this promise is not simply for the believing adults. It is, as Peter says, “for you and for your children”. This presumes that the children of these new believers were admitted to baptism, and that the same promises given to their parents were given to them. In other words, children of believers were included along with their parents into God’s gracious embrace.

Another important thing to note in this passage is that when Peter says, “this promise is to you and your children”, he is quoting from the Old Testament. In Genesis 17, God says the exact same thing to Abraham. However, the context is not baptism but circumcision. Circumcision, not baptism, was the initiatory sacrament in the Old Testament. If someone desired to become part of God’s people, they had to be circumcised. However, circumcision wasn’t simply given to adult converts. Rather, as God commanded, it was given to every male adult and his children. In fact, every male child was commanded to be circumcised at the eighth day. What that meant for the Jews was that it was commonplace for children to be included in God’s people.

Peter quotes Genesis 17 in his sermon to signify that now that Christ has come, there is a new initiatory sacrament, baptism; and this sacrament is given to adult believers, and also their children, just as it was in the Old Testament.

What all of this means is that God included the children of believers in the old covenant, and he does the same in the new! Children are graciously received by God and included in Christ’s covenant people.

Simultaneously Righteous and Sinner: What does it mean?


One of the slogans that came out of the Reformation was the Latin phrase “simul iustus et peccator”. Iustus means just or righteous, and peccator means sinner. Translated then, the phrase means “the righteous person is at the same time a sinner”.

What does this phrase mean? Robert Jenson, in his book Lutheran Slogans, offers the problem of interpreting this phrase:

There is a problem of interpretation: what is it which is supposed to have “at once” a predicate, iustus, and its contradictory, peccator? At first glance there seem to be only two possibilities: it is either the righteous person who is also a sinful person, or it is each act of the person that is at once righteous and sinful (p 71)

In other words, to what does this simul refer? Does it refer to the person as person? Or to his acts as such? Is the Christian a mixture of sinfulness and righteousness? This is certainly a common Reformation interpretation when viewed in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. If righteousness is imputed rather than imparted, then a Christian viewed as righteous while still being sinful. This option produces what Jenson calls a platitude. “When the devote parish secretary falls into backbiting the organist, she does not merely thereby cease to be a righteous person” (p 71). Well, yes, we can agree. But I would also add that this also leads to an overly extrinsic understanding of salvation. Does God merely “cover” our unrighteousness, and not change us? Polemics against this type of construal have called it a legal fiction: God judges us as good when in reality we aren’t. That, I believe is problematic.

Jenson offers the second option, that the simul refers to the actions of the Christian. Every action a Christian does, even righteous, is “stained” with sin. It is mixed. This leads, Jenson says, to “moral nihilism”: “surely the justified must sometimes do a good thing” (p 72).  But very often Christians, in the name of “humility”, will not recognize any good they have done. But we know that Christians are enabled to do good!

Jenson offers another interpretation of this phrase:

In Luther’s own theology, the preferred framework for discussion of such matters is a dualism of “the old man” and “the new man”. The old man is drowned in the waters of baptism and the new man is born of them; baptism makes a definitive before and after. Yet the old man must thereafter “daily be drowned and put to death”; he has not simply gone away but again and again intrudes into the present from the past. This by no accident reminds us of Paul’s ability at once to speak of himself and all believers as dead to sin, and nevertheless, in the first person and the present tense, to lament the sin which inhabits him and cry for delivery “from this deathly body”.

Having regard to both Luther and Paul, I suggest that simul iustus et peccator is properly a slogan for the eschatological situation of believers.

Jenson means to say that in baptism, the old sinful man is killed, and the new man comes forth out of the waters. This is properly an eschatological reality: we have already died and risen with Christ in baptism. And thus we are a new man. And yet, the old man can swim, as it were. He comes to bother us from our past, and thus, Luther says that daily we must put him back into the waters and drown him.

Gerhard Forde has spoken of the simul as two total states:

Luther’s view of justification can be understood only as a complete break with the attempt to view it as a “movement” according to a given standard or law, either natural or revealed… [For Luther, justification] does not come either at the beginning or end of a “movement.” Rather, it establishes an entirely new situation…

Luther proposes a thinking ad modum scripturae in which the divine imputation is the creative reality which, by the fact of the imputation, unmasks the reality and totality of sin at the same time.

(A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, Kindle loc 2552-2554, 2571-73)

Forde introduces the concept of divine imputation being a creative reality: God declares us righteous for Christ’s sake, and in so doing, creates new creatures. He does his word to us. For Luther, Forde et al, justification not a process of improvement. Rather, it is the death of the old man, and the resurrection of the new. There is no movement from unholiness to holiness as such. Rather, God by his baptismal-word effects in us death and resurrection. And in so doing, he kills the old man, and raises up the new. Forde continues:

If one persists in thinking in terms of a process, the simul iustus et peccator will of course turn to poison, perhaps at best a false comfort for lazy sinners. It becomes merely the word that no matter how hard we try, we have to settle for the fact that we will never completely make it because we are, after all, simul iustus et peccator. (Kindle Loc 2580-2581)

For Forde, this totally misunderstands the issue. The phrase means that in justification God does away with the old man as total sinner, and brings the new man as totally righteous out of the waters of baptism. There is a total break between the two. There isn’t some strange mixture. And thus, as Jenson says, “The peccator I still am after baptism is precisely my ‘old man’, my pre-baptismal self, reaching from that past needing to be thrust back again and again” (Lutheran Slogans, 74).

And this is why Luther conceived of sanctification as a return to baptism. What do we do there? We put the old man back where he belongs, and live out our baptismal identity. There is of course improvement, but as Jenson says elsewhere,

Sanctification is the continual return to baptism, from the errors and forgettings and perhaps plain unbelief or crime into which life after baptism will lead us. Baptism is always there as a fact in my past… And if indeed I do become more sanctified as time goes on,… this will be because such fresh starts come closer together and are each time more drastic (A Large Catechism, p 55)


“God takes time in his time for us” – A Theology of Time


Russian Orthodox Icon, “Creation of the World”

I’ve owned Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theologies for quite some time now, and have just gotten into them! I am currently reading his second volume, which is a fascinating survey of God’s works. Volume 1 is about God in himself, volume 2 is God as he relates and works outside of himself.

In his third section, Jenson considers God’s relationship to space and time. For Jenson, God’s triune nature, time and space, and creation are not competitive concepts. God, in Jenson’s mind, is not to be considered separate from creation and vice versa. Instead, creation is something included in God’s being. God makes “room” in himself for creation to live.

However, much of Western theology considers creation as necessarily separated from God. There is God in his eternity, and then there is creation in its time and space. They are related of course, but nevertheless separate. Jenson takes issue with just this construal. He traces this concept of God and time back to Augustine:

For Augustine, Jenson says, God’s eternity is conceived as his bare presence. To be present is to be eternally there. Thus Augustine conceived of God as an ever-present being, ontologically unchanging and completely realized.

But what is time then, if eternity is presence? For Augustine, time is the passing of presence to non-presence. “Past or future things, according to Augustine, have no being as they are past or future, but only insofar as they are somehow present.” (kindle loc 393). What this means for Augustine is that time is less of a thing, and more of an absence. If eternity is presence, time-past or future is non-presence. “Thus throughout his discussion Augustine is pressed to the verge of answering ‘What is time?’ with a flatly Neoplatonic ‘Nothingness'”. (loc 405) Of course there is a past, and there is a future. But how can we conceive of it? Augustine answers with the concept of memory. Past and future are present in terms of our presence stretching back or forward. Thus, eternity is presence, and time is the passing of presence.

For Jenson, however, this is problematic not simply because it verges on making nothingness out of history, but because of what it does to God’s being. God, in Augustine’s mind, is sheer ontological presence. He is considered in Augustine’s mind as one infinite Being. Humanity, on the other hand, is the passing of being into non-being. Thus the world and God are at odds.

Jenson proceeds by first saying, “God is not sheer presence” (loc 459). For Jenson, it is a category error to consider God ontologically. God is not the eternity of presence. Rather, God must always be considered within his trinitarian relations. God is a “life among persons” (ibid). God is a life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And therefore, say Jenson, “creation’s temporality is not awkwardly related to God’s eternity, and its sequentiality imposes no strain on its participation in being” (ibid). The world’s being temporal and God’s being eternal are not at odds if God is understood in terms of relationship.

But how so?

Jenson gives a long but helpful answer:

The life of God is constituted in a structure of relations whose referents are narrative. This narrative structure is enabled by a difference between whence and whither, which on cannot finally refrain from calling past and future, and which is identical with the distinction between the Father and the Spirit. This difference is not measurable; nothing is God recedes into the past or approaches from the future. But the difference is also absolute: there are whence and whither in God that are not like right and left or up and down, that do not reverse with the point of view. Since now we find that which we know as time is located within and enabled by this structure, the last inhibition is surely removed. It indeed better suits the gospel’s God to speak of “God’s time” and “created time”, taking “time” as an analogous concept, than to think of God as not having time and then resort to such circumlocutions as Barth’s “sheer duration”.

God takes time in his time for us. That is his act of creation. (loc 464)

This is a fascinating passage. God is a narrative event of Father, Son and Spirit. Yet this is certainly not measurable within our conceptions of time. There is not past in God or future. And yet, there is a narrative of relations. There is the Father and Son and Spirit who relate as a family of love. Thus, it would be better in Jenson’s mind to understand creation as an event in which God includes us within these “eternal” relations. In his act of creation, God makes space for his creatures.

To take another metaphor, God is a great exchange or conversation. Creation is thus the expansion of this triune conversation to include things that are not God. Jenson says this in his A Large Catechism:

The [God] creates something new, means that he expands the field of his conversation: he refers, e.g., to an earth, and how could God lie? Indeed, God as the triune God is in himself a great Conversation. That he creates, means that the Father, Son an Spirit among themselves mention others than themselves: they speak together of, e.g., the great sea beasts, and so there are the great sea beasts, god converses the world into being (loc 394)

This is a conception of time and space as participatory. We participate in God’s very life through his expansion of his triune relations. This is of course not to say that we become “part of God”. And yet, we subsist in him. We find our very existence within him.

This, I think, is a better construal of time and history.



Connecting Incarnation and Atonement


Icon of the incarnation

Andrew Purves, in his work, Exploring Christology and Atonement, says something very enlightening about the work of Christ: “Atonement is not so much a work of Christ apart from who he is, but rather Christ himself as work” (p 35).

What does this statement mean? He means to say that much of the western construals of the saving work of Christ are abstracted from who he is as incarnate God. Or to put another way, too many atonement theories disconnect Christ’s work from his identity. John McLoed Campbell says about the atonement: “The faith of the atonement presupposes the faith of the incarnation” (p 35). In other words, the theology of God’s incarnation cannot be detached from God’s work for us in his death and resurrection. The incarnation must inform what we believe about the work of the cross.

However, this is often not the case. Many theories of the atonement could and in fact do do away with the incarnation and still remain intact. The incarnation is an add on, an accidental necessity, not inherently necessary. Purves notes that many understand the atoning work of Christ as something “external to his person” (p 37). He quotes TF Torrance who calls this an “instrumental” view of the work of Christ. Christ took on human flesh, not because it was absolutely necessary, but to use as an instrument. He took our flesh in order to make payment, or to satisfy justice. However, he could have atoned in some other way.

Purves continues:

Such a view [of the atonement] need not but will likely tend toward a perspective on the atonement in which God needs to be propitiated in order to be gracious toward us. In such a view the love and forgiveness of God may be seen as the effects of the atonement. Further, an instrumental perspective on the atonement as an external work of Christ, as something that he does rather than having its ground in who he is, implies a corresponding view of our relation to Christ that is developed in terms of an external arrangement. In the scholastic Protestant tradition this is conventionally developed in terms of an imputed righteousness, in which, while we are and remain sinner, God, for Christ’s sake, regards otherwise… (p 37)

Put another way, Christ became man to give something externalized to God: Christ becomes man and gives God an externalized obedience, and God receives that on behalf of the sinner who, despite God’s forgiveness, remains a sinner. This type of atonement theory does not really need the incarnation. Christ became man so that as a man he could offer a receipt of obedience and payment; but he could have made atonement as the divine Son without his humanity.

Purves is right in noting that this view becomes very common in the scholastic Protestant tradition. For instance, in the Heidelberg catechism, it is asked, why did God become man? The answer:

He must be a true man
because the justice of God requires
that the same human nature which has sinned
should pay for sin.
He must be a righteous man
because one who himself is a sinner
cannot pay for others (Q 16)
Notice, why did God become man? There is nothing necessary in this incarnation except that as man Christ can now pay a price for sin. This is a legal reality located outside of the inner logic of the incarnation. It presumes that perhaps Christ could have paid for sin without becoming fully man.


But now, if we are to connect the incarnation to the atonement, as Purves says, what new theological situation do we find ourselves in?

On the other hand, it is precisely the union of the incarnation and the atonement that excludes the view of the atonement is reducible to a forensic transaction as fulfilling of a legal contract, or to Christ propitiatingly bearing the cost construed as divinely meted punishment… [Rather], an ontological rather than an instrumental connection must be made between the Christ who makes atonement and the atonement that he makes. Or, in a different set of images, we look for an organic and personal rather than a mechanical and legal connection between Christ and his atonement and ourselves (p 37-38)

If the incarnation is an ontological, metaphysical reality, then the atonement itself must be posited from within the humanity of Christ, rather than legally outside of Christ. It must be seen organically, rather than extrinsically.

Purves explains the atonement in terms of a “magnificent exchange”. This is a term that began with the early fathers, but was also received and used both by Calvin and Luther. The magnificent exchange grounds the atonement in God’s work of the incarnation. A key text used by all the fathers was 2 Corinthians 6:9:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Purves explains how the fathers and early reformers understood this verse:

Christ exchanged his place with our place in an atoning reversal of our status, making an atoning exchange. Christ puts himself in our place so that in him we might be put in his place. This is the meaning of reconciliation, which is an act effected on the basis of exchange (p 104)

In other words, the incarnation relates to atonement by way of an exchange of places. This isn’t a legal exchange: it’s an actual exchange. Christ became what we are so that we might become what he is. Purves continues:

The magnificent exchange must be set in the context of the whole movement of Christ in his descent and ascent… From this we see that the magnificent exchange is not at its core something that Christ does; rather, it is the working out of who he is in his history in our flesh. Christ is the magnificent exchange as God’s gracious saving movement toward us. In himself Christ is the word/act of God to us, and he is the responding and acceptable filial human movement toward God (106)

This is a great passage. Purves rightly says that in himself Christ is God condescended to us in our fallenness and sin, and in our humanity Christ is the perfect filial response of man to God. Thus there is atonement in his own person. God and man are united in this one divine Person.

Thus we can see: the incarnation is itself atonement. God the Son unites himself to us, and in a downward/upward movement makes God and man at one. As Purves says: Christ does who he is!