Certainty of the Word of God - The Incarnation

How is it possible that rebellious hearts that are opposed to God, predisposed to reject God and his word, hardened so as to not submit to his authority, how is it possible that spiritual life might spring forth in the form of a soft heart that believes and obeys God?  The line that the angel told Mary is the same line that he tells each of us in response to this question, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  Nothing is impossible with God. 

How might we be convinced of the truth of God’s word?  How might we have faith that these words are the very words of God?  If you have opened God’s word and read it, if you have heard it read and preached to you, and you have believed it, if you have received it with faith as the very word of God delivered to you, concerning God’s character and your sin and His means of redeeming you through Jesus Christ, then you have had a supernatural experience.  The Holy Spirit has given you spiritual eyes of faith.  It is impossible with man to conceive of this reality.  It is impossible for man on his own to have faith.  It is impossible for man to be born again.  It is impossible to please God on your own.  It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man to earn his way into heaven.  But what is impossible with man is possible with God. 

Hebrews 1:2-4 “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

You and I probably won’t see any angels spontaneously appearing by our night stands giving us confirmation that God has spoken to us.  That’s ok, because we’ve got something better.  God himself put on flesh, and this is why we know with absolute confidence that God has spoken to us.  And if you believe this, then God’s Spirit has rested in your heart to give you this faith.  And with this certainty we echo Mary’s words, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Profanity, Vulgarity and the Christian Mouth

Before we meet for our November 25 ABF, I thought it would be helpful to address some of the issues we were discussing with regard to the Third Commandment (taking the name of the Lord “in vain”).  First, the “take-away” from Nov 11 was not that Christians are simply free to use profanity as they choose.  Of course we are never to literally “take His name in vain” by name.  That is clearly a violation, properly defined.  Profanity is more or less equivalent to vulgarity, sometimes called “gutter language” or “dirty words.”  The Third Commandment does not directly address this kind of language. Does it address it indirectly?  I am a little hesitant (though John Frame argues it does cover such language),  At any rate, I don’t need the Commandment to get to vulgar language.  I can go to Ephesians 5: 4 and 4: 29. 

Ephesians 5: 4:

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (ESV)

The words “filthiness” and “foolish talk” and “crude joking” appear broad enough to cover vulgarity.  These are eliminated to make room for thanksgiving—a more appropriate public expression of who we are in Christ (not that we should even be thinking these words in our minds, ideally).  I suppose one way to think about it is:  Why would you want to express such words when you can thank the Lord for His goodness and mercy and love. 

Ephesians 4: 29:

“Let no unwholesome [rotten] word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (NASB)

This verse as well seems to be broad enough to cover profanity.  “Unwholesome” would seem to describe that kind of language pretty well.  Couple that with its replacement—words good for edification and words that give grace—and I think the case is fairly clear for believers, even without the Third Commandment. 

A third verse that is relevant to this issue, Colossians 3: 8:

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (ESV, emphasis added)

This verse appears to clinch the case against profanity.  The translation from the Greek conveys the original contextual meaning perfectly and the term conveys a sense that overlaps considerably with the idea of profanity.  Putting all three verses together, there is a very strong case to be made that for Christians, profanity should be avoided.

Do these verses apply to non-believers? And is it possible for a Christian to use profanity in some defined context that makes it acceptable, if not ideal?  Ephesians 5: 4 and 4: 29 do not cover non-believers.  Nor are they literally taking of God’s name (which we as believers bear in a particular way) in vain.  No matter how distressed one might be by vulgar language, in the interest of the Christian witness, we might want to think twice about “calling” someone on its use in most—but not all-situations.  I make exceptions for children and I make a general exception in settings that call for decorum and civility.  Those exceptions would even cover non-believers, but for different reasons than for believers.  In addition, I would think we would want to elevate the level of discourse in general in society.  However, in some cases, if a non-Christians utters vulgar word, I am not inclined to censure him.  Our encounter may or may not become an opportunity for the gospel. If the subject of the vulgarity arises, all well and good.  It could lead us to a fruitful conversation.

As to believers, the question is, is the use of profanity/vulgarity a sin in any and every context?  A straightforward interpretation of the relevant verses would forbid the use of what is defined as profanity. But then we face the question: What constitutes profanity?  Is it societally and in some cases contextually defined?  Can we separate the original meaning or sense of a word from its later metamorphosis?  If a society as a whole had changed the sense of a word(s), would that make a difference?  So for example, if the original meaning attached to the word has been lost and the current usage is not in the context of vulgar speech, is it permissible?  Is it possible that the entire population would have lost the original sense?  If not, offense could still be taken, and the word would be deemed profane.

In the end also, we need to bear in mind not only the negative aspect of prohibitions, but the positive element.  Our “substitute” for profanity is “not nothing.”  It is talk that edifies, that glorifies God, that is wise and gracious.  When we are occupied with right thinking and in speaking edifying words, we will not have profane words in our minds or on our lips as often or at all. 

College Student Ministry Opportunity

Anyone attending Grace Covenant Church lately has probably noticed the multiple rows filled with “Gen Z’s.”  God has blessed GCC with an unprecedented influx of college students for the Fall 2018 school year. These students have expressed an appreciation for GCC’s expository preaching, the worship, and the fellowship of believers who are anxious to speak into their lives in a deeper way.

The elders recognize that the number of students visiting this year is one we have not seen in the history of GCC.  According to Pastor Joel, “It’s a stewardship opportunity that cannot be overlooked.” The elders have already reached out to these students by starting a weekly bible study on campus, providing transportation to the Sunday worship service, and hosting college lunches and discussion groups targeted towards the students.  

Why is this ministry important?  Ultimately the desire is to integrate college students into the life of the church.  Pastor Joel notes this can sometimes be difficult since their particular situation naturally leads them away from this goal.  “Often college students don’t see a need for the church because there are so many ‘spiritual activities’ on campus. But these activities are not a substitute for the bible’s emphasis on long-term relationships with a wide range of ages and types of people within the Body of Christ.”

Some might question the need to devote resources towards a group that already has access to daily chapel services and classes that teach theology and biblical literacy.  But Pastor Joel challenges the congregation to expand their thinking. “We are concerned with handing down our faith to the next generation. Typically there is a gap in churches of college students and single twenty-somethings.  They often don’t put their involvement in a local church as a top priority. While these young believers often return when they are married or start their families, it is our desire to fill the gap during the time church involvement is not as common.  They are our next group of leaders.” Joel goes on to comment that most of these students won’t be staying in the Dayton area and won’t be part of our church long term. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be investing in them. Their time at GCC allows us to teach our biblical ecclesiology.  They will be able to carry our ministry mindset wherever they go in the world furthering the Great Commission.”

According to Pastor Joel, there are many ways members can also serve these students.

The elders encourage people to make an effort to introduce themselves to the students after Sunday School or the worship service.  Invite the students over for lunch or out to eat with your family. Assist the Clauson’s by bringing some food and attending one of the regular college lunches hosted in their Xenia home.  Offer to help with practical needs a student might have such as a ride to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment. Think in terms of integrating them into your family activities and outings, but don’t be hurt if they refuse.  College students are often over-committed and short on time. It might take some special efforts to become involved. Care packages with homemade baked goods and a note of encouragement around finals week can have a huge impact.

The goal of these small steps is an eventual discipleship relationship.  Offering your time to provide accountability and prayer as these young people navigate a new stage of life can be an important part of their spiritual growth.  

The Disciple Groups are also encouraged to become involved.  The elders will be inviting regularly attending college students to sign up as part of a program that partners the DG’s with the students.  DG’s will commit to praying for their assigned students and reaching out to them in practical ways. Even though the students may not be able to attend the weekly meetings, DG members should think of ways to connect with the students each month.

Pastor Joel reminds us that one thing everyone can do is pray as he encourages the students to attend the Intro to Grace class and eventually become formal members of our church body. May their fellowship in our midst reap lasting rewards to the Kingdom of God.

Worship: Why We Do What We Do, Part 2

This is the next in a series of articles exploring the scriptural roots of the various parts of our Sunday morning worship service. The aim is to increase our knowledge of why we do the things we do with a view to increasing both personal and corporate intimacy in worship. Jesus calls us to worship in Spirit and truth and we hope this aids in the keeping of this command. Last month we considered the Call to Worship and the role it plays in our public gathering for worship. This month we are focusing on the Corporate Call to Confession.

Corporate Confession of Sin

1 John 1:9 is a familiar verse for many of us. I remember memorizing this wonderful truth very early in my Christian life.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Confession of sin is at the heart of our relationship with God. Without recognizing and confessing our sins there can be no forgiveness. Just before verse 9 John makes a bold and necessary statement about the consequences of not confessing our sin in verse 8 when he declares:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Scripture also speaks to believers who need to be reminded of the importance of consistent confession of sin.

Following the affair with Bathsheba David needed to be confronted by the Prophet Nathan regarding confession of the sin. We read his words in Psalm 51:1-4:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

The results of a failure to consistently confess our sin is given in Psalm 32:3, 4:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

David doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe in verse 5 what follows when we finally ‘come to our senses’ by the grace of God:

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

With these and the many other passages in Scripture that detail the necessity of confession of sin, it’s easy to see why we include this as part of our worship service. But is there a scriptural support to include confession of sin in public worship?

There are many examples of corporate confession in the Old Testament. One of the more notable occurrences is recorded for us in Ezra 10. Following the Exile the Israelites had married foreign women and thus had disobeyed the Lord. Ezra called them to confess and repent which they did. We read this in Ezra 10:1 that the people wept bitterly over their sin as they gathered as a congregation in front of the Temple. Verse 2 continues:

Then Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: "We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.

Many churches today have set aside the Corporate Confession of Sin for various reasons yet this aspect of public worship has deep and longstanding roots in church history.

One writer describes the benefit of Corporate Confession this way:

For most it makes the time of worship more authentic and joyful for it strikes a blow against self-righteousness and humbles us before God as we say what we know to be true of ourselves and the only Lord who saves us. It reminds us that we are not better than others and that it is only grace (an alien righteousness) which makes us what we are. God remembers, in the covenant in Christ's blood, not to treat us as our sins deserve. In it we pray for personal sin, for the sins of our local church, our local community, our nation and world.

Corporate Confession alone would only bring despair if not followed by the reminder of the Assurance of Pardon, they go hand in hand for the elect. See 1 John 1:9 above.

Here is a sample Corporate prayer of Confession:

Almighty God, we acknowledge and confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; we have not loved you with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. Deepen within us our sorrow for the wrong we have done, and the good we have left undone. Lord, you are full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy; there is always forgiveness with you! Restore to us the joy of your salvation; bind up that which is broken, give light to our minds, strength to our wills, and rest to our souls. Speak to each of us, and let your word abide with us until it has wrought in us your holy will. Amen.

Worship: Why We Do What We Do, Part 1

Over the next several months we will be presenting a series of articles exploring the scriptural roots of the various parts of our Sunday morning worship service. The aim is to increase our knowledge of why we do the things we do with a view to increasing both personal and corporate intimacy in worship. Jesus calls us to worship in Spirit and truth and we hope this aids in the keeping of this command.

The Call to Worship

The Call to Worship has its roots in the Garden of Eden and yet stretches clear through to eternity.

The first man Adam daily (regularly) communed with God in a relationship untainted by sin. This regular personal connection to God was broken by sin yet God was still found calling Adam to Himself. (Gen 3:8, 9) Because of the presence of sin in the world the grace of God is needed in a special way to both equip and enable us to respond to God’s call to worship Him. The Psalmist David understood the role of the shepherd of God’s people in calling them to worship. In Psalm 34:11 he calls out to God’s people saying:

Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

We must note that this call is for God’s elect (34:9) as David makes clear later in the same Psalm when he states:

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

As with any of the parts of our corporate worship, the call is connected to the regular ongoing aspect of our relationship with God. In fact, as we saw above, it assumes there is a relationship in the first place. If there is a relationship with God, worship is the primary focus and ongoing activity of our lives. The call to worship then is not a call to start worshipping in that moment but more of a call to prepare for corporate worship. The uniqueness of the saints gathering to worship is addressed in many passages of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

The Song of Ascents (Degrees) in the Book of Psalms are a series of Psalms written to call the saints to worship. Psalm 120-134 were sung by worshippers as they made their way ‘up’ to Jerusalem to attend the 3 great feasts commanded in the Bible. The final (and shortest) Psalm of Ascent, 134, is a specific call to specific servants in the temple:

A Song of Ascents. Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD! May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

We must not think the call to worship is never evangelistic. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus appears to be calling all who are weary saying:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

The rest here is the rest of worsip which is inseparable with service as is clear in one of the most well known calls to worship, Romans 12:1, 2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is the heart of the call to worship rightfully broadened to include all aspects of our activity and behavior in our relationship to God. We must never think the call to worship is limited to the 1.5 hours we are together on Sunday mornings. This consideration will not be difficult if we continually look forward to and are reminded of the eternal aspect of our worship as proclaimed in Revelation 22:17-21:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Bereans at the Gate

Engaging today’s political economy with truth and reason

Bereans at the Gate is a group of five Cedarville University professors who have come together to think about and articulate a Christian view of politics and economics, as well as broader cultural issues that affect Christians.  We formed our group about four years ago, beginning with a blog and expanding to speaking engagements in churches and then a weekly taping of four of us discussing current issues. Our goal is to help believers (and non-believers) to think about political, economic and cultural issues from a gospel perspective, with Scripture, properly interpreted, brought to bear on those discussions.  You can read our blog at bereans@thegate.com or bereansatthegate.com Our taped VLOG is on that site. We will be at GCC November 4th at 6 PM.

FAQ - Member-Only Ministry and Children

Why does GCC limit serving in formal church ministry to members only, and how does this limitation affect unbaptized children of members?

We received this question this week and thought its answer would be beneficial to the whole body, so we’re writing the response here.  This is obviously two questions but answering the first helps us to answer the second.  The context might help frame this question.  How might we consider whether an unbaptized child of a church member could volunteer to serve the body in something like watching kids at a parent’s night out (coming up on November 16th, btw), or helping out in the nursery, or providing a helping hand with the newly formed special needs ministry?  The first thing to say is that we’re glad that parents want their children involved in ministry and as a church we want to facilitate the service of all members of the body to one another.  Of course, everyone is taken on a case by case situation, so no hard fast rules can ever replace true discipleship. 

First, we need some distinctions.  We are claiming that there is a marked difference between formal and informal ministry in the church.  Informal ministry happens all the time and is often spontaneous and we have no desire to manage or mitigate those activities.  Informal service would be what any person could partake in, whether we had any confidence in their standing before Jesus.  Examples of this service would be acts of kindness, like holding the door for someone or helping set up chairs after a fellowship meal.  There is no need to formalize such a ministry.  But there is a need to have some ministry that is recognized as partaking on behalf of the church, and this is what we would call formal ministry.

As we’ve already stated, we’ve limited serving in a formal ministry to those who are members.  What would we say to an adult who moved to the area and started attending our church?  Could they just jump in and help out in formal church ministries, like the music ministry or the greeter ministry?  We hope you can see why that would be problematic.  When someone joins our church in membership we are acknowledging their profession of faith and their obedience to Christ to self-sacrificially exercise their spiritual gifts.  And every time someone serves in a church ministry they are operating out of that public declaration.  Subsequently, as someone comes under church discipline one of the first steps is that they are removed from church ministries.  All service is done from a context of discipleship. 

All service is done from a context of discipleship.

So, what about unbaptized children of members?  They too are in a context of discipleship, but until they are baptized, that context is limited to the spiritual headship in the home.  We are thrilled that children would desire to serve the body of Christ, but we are convinced that their first act of obedience to Christ ought to be the public profession of their faith in baptism.  This is how Christians are recognized as a part of the family of God and the context from which all other acts of service flow.  The more important question is, “Why aren’t they baptized?” and then the next question is, “Is the reason they are not baptized also a sufficient reason for not participating in formal church ministry?”  Ministry must be connected to membership. 

So, in what way can unbaptized children of members grow in their experiential understanding of ministry?  Isn’t there some way in which they can participate?  Or do we cordon them off, prohibiting them from service until they are ready to go public with their faith?  Of course not, and of course there is a way they can participate.  Until a child is baptized, their discipleship is within the context of the headship of the home.  Their parents may oversee any participation in the body.  This means that a child could participate in our upcoming Christmas musical (December 8-9 for shameless plug #2), or they could volunteer in the nursery under the supervision of their parents.  In fact, their parents can even explicitly delegate another member of the congregation to mentor their children and oversee their participation in church activities.  For the teenager helping with parent’s night out, if they are not a baptized member, we wouldn’t have them be independently responsible for any of the activities, while a baptized member would potentially be given some responsibility.  When someone is baptized the elder’s take on a role of spiritual headship in their lives, but until then a child remains under her parent’s discipline. 

In conclusion, we would have you meditate on the responsibility of spiritual headship found in 1 Peter 5:1-3,

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 

The Great Shepherd will return one day holding elders accountable for their oversight of a specific group of people.  The way God has given to us to know whether someone is our responsibility is that they are a baptized member of our church.  We are praying with you about the best time to introduce a bit of independence in your child’s discipleship through a formal connection to the body of Christ. 

As always, thank you for your questions and let’s continue to dive into these issues with the grace and unity known only in the people of God.

Wine Options

I’m grateful for the fact that our church has been discussing recently the possibility of having wine during the Lord’s Supper.  As most of you know, Pastor Bill preached a sermon about the topic on September 30th and one of the applications in that sermon was the proposal our elders have made to serve both wine and grape juice during communion.  Of course, we won’t implement that decision until we have thoroughly talked about this change with the congregation. While this is a serious issue it is not urgent, and so you can be assured that no changes will be made immediately.

I’m also grateful for the nature of the discussion we have been having.  Several people have contacted their elders and shared their thoughts with them about the biblical principles behind the decisions we make.  We are grateful that many people desire to be faithful to God and his word as we love each other. For those of you who have expressed your opinions and questions in writing an email or directly with an elder, thank you!  Here’s a non-exhaustive summary of some of your questions:

  1. Does having two options for what we drink create a picture of disunity?

  2. What is the occasion for this change?  Why now?

  3. Is not the creation of discomfort in a brother causing them to stumble?  Isn’t this flaunting a Christian liberty in the presence of a weaker brother?

  4. Isn’t any fruit of the vine a sufficient picture of what God is teaching us?  Why is the presence of alcohol in wine important?

  5. Wasn’t the wine in the Bible different than our wine today?

  6. Doesn’t the presence of alcohol introduce a slippery slope, making provision for what might become a problem later?  Where do we draw the line?

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to address all of your concerns in this short note.  For now, I just have one thing for us to think about. In subsequent correspondence with you all, we’ll address more of these questions, Lord willing.

Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:9 “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

I encourage you to read these verses in the greater context of the whole letter to the Galatians, which challenges us to walk in the Spirit and not to walk by the righteousness that comes from works of the law.   

There are really only three options when it comes to the inclusion of wine in the Lord’s Supper: serve wine only, serve grape juice only, or serve them both.  In each of these positions, Christians can in good conscience base their decisions on biblically derived principles by which they seek to faithfully worship God and love one another.  This most fundamentally is a matter of freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, we are rarely purely motivated and are often unaware of the culturally derived motivations for our actions.

One of the main reasons that the elders have decided that it is necessary for us to engage in this conversation is because we are convinced that serving both wine and grape juice is a move toward greater unity in the body.  And the reason for that is that the most divisive of these three options is the position which seeks to only serve grape juice. Now, there are more reasons than this for wanting to serve wine in communion, but this one point against only serving grape juice is worthy of our consideration now.  The historical origins of grape juice are found in a departure from Sola Scripture with the legalism of prohibition. Again, it is not necessarily wrong for any one Christian to have the conviction that they should abstain from alcohol, but it is wrong that we would force others to not have alcohol too.  The Bible does forbid drunkenness, but it certainly allows for the use of substances that could produce drunkenness. We must be warned against intoxication, but the intoxication that we are truly warned against in scripture is not of a substance but of the teaching of the Pharisees. And what are the Pharisees most known for but the adding of rules upon rules where scripture gives freedom.  We are on very dangerous grounds when we call something a curse which God has called a blessing.

The intoxication that we are truly warned against in scripture is not of a substance but of the teaching of the Pharisees.
— Pastor Joel

Like I said before, this is simply an argument against using grape juice only, the more convincing arguments are the ones for the use of wine as an expression of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.  We desire to promote the gospel, not a new law. We are richly blessed in Jesus Christ, and it is important that we express our joy over the freedom that we have in Christ.

United together with you in Christ,

Pastor Joel

Book Review: Political Church

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule – by Jonathan Leeman


Political Church is probably not a book that most of you will pick up and read, partly because it deals with politics and that subject is so abused in our day that no one really wants to talk about it anymore, and also partly because it talks about the doctrine of ecclesiology and many people think that impractical and relegated for seminary classes.  But the fact that there is confusion and obscurity on these topics makes this book exactly what we need to pay attention to, because who the church is and how we engage our world around us are vitally relevant for all Christians to be thinking about today.

Christians have long been deficient in their fundamental conception of both politics and the church.  Jonathan Leeman has two main goals in this book: first, to replace the map of politics and religion that many Christians have been using with a more biblical one and second, to explain where the local church fits into that redrawn map.  He says, “Christ’s political rule may be “not of this world,” meaning it has its source or origin not in the world but in heaven (Jn 18:36). And his rule unites all Christians everywhere invisibly. But this universal rule is visibly and institutionally manifest in history through the proclamation of the gospel and the binding and loosing activity of the local church, the two activities that constitute an otherwise unincorporated group of Christians as a particular church.”

The best aspect of this book is its thorough wrestling with God’s word.  The primary picture used in this book is that the church is like an embassy of Christ’s rule.  And that’s quite appropriate language given 2 Corinthians 5:20, telling us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”  The meat of this book would be unexpected for many and that is Leeman’s slow and careful walk through scripture. But in doing so he allows scripture to reframe our conversation on religion and politics and the work of the church.

We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
— 2 Corinthians 5:20

With six chapters entitled “What is politics?”, “What is an Institution?”, “The Politics of Creation”, “The Politics of the Fall”, “The Politics of the New Covenant”, and “The Politics of the Kingdom,” Leeman shows how the unfolding covenants that man has with God form and combine better political and institutional conceptualities.  While these chapters may appear simple on the surface they are brimming with heated debates over issues like the role of the church to the government and the nature of God’s covenants with man. What makes the church such a radically different institution than anything else in the world is its politics of forgiveness and the authority given to it in Christ’s commission to interpret scripture and exercise the binding and loosening of the kingdom, marking off not only what God’s word is but also who God’s people are.  Ultimately, Christians do not belong to the kingdoms of this world, we belong to the eternal reign of Christ. And the unity of the church is now the light for the gospel, the hope of the nations.

I encourage you to read this book, it has much for us to discuss as Christians, especially the truth of God’s word which transforms our thinking.  May we as a church not back down on our public duty to proclaim the gospel to all nations and boldly gather together as a people distinct from this world.