Is the Pope the Head of the Church?


Last Saturday I had the privilege of doing a debate on this subject, moderated by Agustin Astacio, with William Albrecht, a Roman Catholic apologist from an organisation called the Catholic Legate.  To be honest I wasn’t all that keen to do it.  I have no time for anti-Catholic polemic and the debate topic seemed almost nonsensical.  Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, end of.   I wasn’t sure I would have much more to say.

I don’t believe the Pope is the anti-Christ, although there have been popes who are anti-Christian (as there have been Protestant leaders), and I havn’t looked at this subject for a long time.  But I did a bit of research and I enjoyed the novel experience of listening to an intelligent, well-educated, sincere Catholic apologist defend the indefensible.   At times it was exasperating and a bit nit-picking…and I suspect you can hear my frustration occasionally.  If you want to listen to the whole debate you can get it here.  I’m not a big fan of the formal debate format because it too often leads to point scoring and prefer a conversation (I’m so post-modern!), but it was informative to hear William’s point of view.


The Catholic catechism teaches: “The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”  (1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church).    As we say in Scotland, no way Hose!   It is a ridiculous claim, at best biblically and historically untenable, at worst blasphemous and wide open to abuse.

I would make the following observations – which do not claim to be an exhaustive case – just observations of an interested observer!

  1. Even if ‘on this rock I will build my church’ refers to Peter and not his confession of Christ (I think it refers to both), it does not necessarily and logically follow that there is an apostolic succession.

2) It is clear from the New Testament that the pillars of the early church were James, Peter and John (Galatians 2:9) and Paul.  There is no indication in the New Testament at all of Peter as holding a papal office.   In order to defend this scripturally Catholic apologists have to engage in eisegesis rather than exegesis.  They read back from their doctrine of the Pope into scripture, rather than taking the doctrine from Scripture.  So for example William got really hung up about Acts 15 and the Council in Jerusalem where it says in v.7 that Peter stood up and addressed the council.  William read this as meaning that they were debating until Peter stood up and spoke and then the debate was over because he was the Pope.  But the text does not say that, nor hint at it, and it cannot be worked out by ‘good and necessary consequence’.    After Peter stood up and spoke, Paul and Barnabas and probably others spoke in the council, and then James delivered the authoritative pronouncement v.19 “It is my judgement therefore..”  If this text proves that anyone was Pope, it was James!

3) If Peter was Pope why do his two letters (1 and 2 Peter) and his gospel (Mark) not refer to that?  Instead he declares himself to be a ‘fellow elder’.   In his letters it is clear that he regards leadership, even in the local church, as being plural not hierarchical.  That is a basic principle of New Testament ecclesiology.

4) The infallibility of the Pope is an absurd doctrine, again easily demonstrated as false by Scripture.   Again in Galatians 2 we find Paul correcting and rebuking Peter in front of all the leaders because he was ‘not acting in line with the truth of the gospel’ (Galatians 2:14).   So the ‘Pope’ got it wrong?   Or does infallibility mean something else?  In reality the doctrine was only formalised in the latter half of the 19th Century (although taught by some Catholics before then) and as it is formulated it is largely useless.  As Pope Benedict stated “The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know”.    In reality the Pope is only as infallible as me!   That is not an arrogant claim – because I am only infallible as I teach the infallible Word of God, same for the Pope.  Anything he teaches that is not in Scripture, or is contrary to Scripture, is to be ignored.  In the same way as anything I teach that is not in Scripture or is contrary to Scripture is to be ignored.

5) 1 Clement – In this latter respect William seemed quite fixated on the first letter of Clement, an important document from the first half of the second century, supposed to be from Clement, the pastor (bishop?) of the church in Rome.  To Catholics he is known as Pope Clement 1 – although there is no evidence that he took that title or was known by it in his lifetime.   In it he urges the church to recognise the apostolic authority of their leaders.  William took this as meaning that he was saying he was the pope, which is a classic case of putting two and two together and making fifty!   Again without wanting to sound arrogant I would make exactly the same claim as a minister of the Word – I hope I don’t preach my own opinions, I teach the Word of God, and do so with the authority given me by that Word.  I don’t need a Pope to tell me the doctrine when I have the Word.    This is not to say that church tradition, councils, scholarly opinion are irrelevant, but they are always subservient to the ultimate authority of the Word.

6) I love the early Church Fathers.  I read them every day and benefit enormously from them.   But I also love the fact that I have the freedom to disagree with them and I am not bound by trying to square the circles that sometimes they make.  I do not judge the Scriptures by the Church Fathers, I judge the Fathers by the Scriptures.

7) From a historical point of view it is clear that the primacy of the Roman Bishop was something that came about because of the political situation and was not firmly established until after the conversion of Constantine.  Thus the titles given to the Pope often have more to do with the Roman Imperial system than they do with the New Testament Church. “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church’ for example is an imperial title which the Roman Bishops took to themselves.  They are the Pontifex Maximus – the greatest Pontiff.   That really does not sit well with the humility of ‘let no man call you father’, does it?!

8) The more I read about this the more I realise that the Papal office has historically  (and even today) been as much a political as a religious one, and that that connection has done a great deal of harm.   The actions of the papacy in the Dark and Middle Ages has brought great disgrace on the church and shame on the Gospel.  I found it fascinating that William was prepared to defend the Crusades, ordered by the Pope. Even today the Pope is a Head of State, the Vatican.    The equating of the Gospel with a particular politics has never worked well.  Civil and Ecclesiastical power mixed together are a potent and dangerous mix.

9) William was unable to face up to the consequences of the Pope being head of the Church.  If that were true then those of us who do not recognise his headship are anathema and cannot really be considered Christians, followers of Christ, because we are refusing to follow his representative, the ‘vicar’ of Christ – The one in the place of Christ. I know that modern Catholics don’t believe or practice that, but it is the logical outworking of the doctrine of Papal headship.

10) A two-headed Church?  Finally William began rightly by pointing out that Jesus is head of the Church.  That should have been the debate over.  We were agreed.  But then he added that the Pope was head too, albeit a lesser one.   To me this leads to the obvious conclusion – a two-headed body is a deformed body.   There can be only one head.  Christ is ‘the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour” (Ephesians 6:23 b).

I want to say to my Catholic friends – please don’t take offence at the above.  I have a great deal of love and affection for many in the Catholic church and agree with much of its teaching.  But I’m sorry brothers and sisters, on this one the Catholic church has made a major error.  We follow Jesus not the Pope…and yes I know that you would say that you follow Jesus and because of that you acknowledge the Pope as head of the church, but that just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sorry.   You are of course still welcome in St Peters…and to discuss any of this with me. Feel free to correct your errant brother!

And to my anti-Catholic friends who call me a Papist loving anti-Reformer.  You are half right.  I am a Papist loving Reformer.   Of course I love Catholics.  And I learn a great deal from Catholic theology and find a great deal in common with Catholic social teaching and regard Catholics who believe in and follow Christ as my Christian brothers and sisters.  And I will even quote a Pope when I find what he says to be biblical and helpful.  Just as I am not bound to accept everything that the Church Fathers say as authoritative, neither am I bound to declare every Pope evil or everything they say heretical!   Get over it.  Lets fight heresy whereever we find it – whether in Protestant or Catholic churches – but especially in our own hearts and minds.

If you want a simple but excellent primer on this subject then I would highly recommend Leonardo De Chirico’s excellent wee book published by Christian Focus – A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Papacy.  





  1. Oh who cares what a Catholic thinks about the pope being the head of the church. You are right in using the word nonsensical. It’s nonsense to argue with a Catholic about that. It would have been nonsense to argue with Muhammed Ali when he was alive about him being the greatest or with most Americans about the USA being the greatest country in the world.

    We all know power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    I get that you see a need to go after certain things just as Elijah did to the prophets of Baal, Jesus did to pharisees an Paul did to circumcising Jewish Christians. But there is also that thing about not getting involved in arguments that only result in qnarrels. Is it any surprise that you experienced frustration?

    The eye is the lamp of the body. If the only light it sees is darkness, then it is very dark indeed.

    1. Adam,

      To answer your question;

      1) Catholics care about the Pope being the head of the church. Any Christian should care. Christ cares.

      2) By definition all arguments involve quarrels. Any opinion you express will involve someone disagreeing with it. Does that mean you should never express an opinion? It would kind of limit your posts on here!

      3) Your latter sentence is a misquotation and completely irrelevant. Who is seeing only darkness? If you don’t see the darkness when it does exist are you really seeing anything at all?

  2. How come the gospel is not definitional to what it means to be a Christian?
    The way you believe one is justified is anathematised by Rome, and the way Rome believes one is justified is anathematised by the Bible (Gal. 1:8-9).

  3. Thanks David. Was just about to post, “Have you seen Leonardo’s little book?” – and then I finished reading the article!

  4. The establishment of the office was done to distinguish the Bishopric of Rome not so much because it was the seat of secular power but rather to shore up its power after the seat of secular power moved east to Constantinople. Bishoprics couldn’t help but be leant a degree of significance related to the city they were associated with and as Rome was threatened with slow decline the eastern Bishoprics (Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople etc.) grew in influence. This lead to competing claims or origin stories to establish primacy and the eventual conflation of Rome with Peter. What I never really got was the conflation of Rome and Peter when the only time of significance they crossed paths was really the time of Peters death.

    The first pope to make the claim ‘head of the church’ in any real way I think was Leo the Great. I say this given his (unfulfilled) desire that councils should be moved from the Chalcedon to Rome, conflating Rome with Peter as reasons for headship, his overall manoeuvring in and around the church councils of the time and the decline of the western roman empire. The decline of the western empire created space for the roman church to begin to step in and fill the political/social void in across western Europe and beyond the reach of Constantinople. Its difficult to say what he ‘should’ have done during his time but this shouldn’t stop us from pointing where the man’s statements and behaviour exceeded that defined by scripture, particularly in relation to the other bishoprics in existence at the time and claims related to his office.

  5. “There are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus the King of the church, whose subject James the sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member”.

    I would imagine Andrew Melville’s words to James VI (who quite took to the Anglican view of the King as head of the Church) would apply equally (mutatis mutandis) to the Pope. He is Head of Vatican State and a member of the Church (subject to his status in Christ the King).

  6. My dear catholic friends – For there is only 1 mediator between God and man – The man Christ Jesus.
    If I went through my whole life and had never heard of the pope, never heard of Rome or The vatican, never encountered the pope, nor his or any catholic teachings, yet I had heard and responded to the gospel ?
    Would there be any consequence to my not ever hearing about or obeying or listening to the pope or Rome ?
    Of course not – All that matters is did I repent and trust in Christ. Nothing to do with Rome and the Vatican or the Pope.
    Seems a no brainer to me.

  7. Not once have we seen the words “man of sin” or “son of perdition” in this post. It’s really annoying when your deep seated, ultramontane prejudices are starved of confirmation.

    Anyway, I don’t know any Catholic worthy of the name who would say that the Pope is head of the Church. So none taken. As for the papacy as a divinely inspired method of government, I’m with H. Belloc:

    “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

    1. “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”
      Dear Cardinal with all due respect have you heard of these that have lasted more than a fortnight – freemasons, Mormonism, Jehovah wittnesses, Yezidi’s, satanists, I could list plenty more for you if you wish.

      I don’t know if you read my post above yours however I suggest you would.

      Also perhaps read a book called Far from Rome near to God – It is a book filled with 50 testimonies of priests who found their way out of the labyrinth of Roman Catholic Theology into faith in Jesus Christ.

  8. 1 Debate v Conversation? Well, you could talk about that all day. But it is significant and to be applauded that it took place at all, notwithstanding that the it was billed as an adversarial bout. Compare and contrast the debacle with Scott McKenna and the CoS and with Destiny Church and Creflo Dollar (who if they were aware, didn’t deign to respond).

    2 The topic puts the cart before the horse. If we simply and correctly and biblically define the church as the body of Christ, only Christ could be head of His body.

    3 The Pope as “Vicar of Christ” David opines that it is at best untenable, at worst blasphemous. I think you’ve pull your punches here, compared with your “debates” with the CoS and its teaching, and Stephen Green and Destiny/Creflo Dollar.

    Vicarious liability: by standing in our place Christ Jesus was vicariously liable for us as substitute, in effect our “Vicar.” No human being could be vicariously liable for Christ, take the place of Christ in our salvation.

    An example from common law is an Employer’s liability for their employees: an employer is liable for acts and omissions of their employees, vicariously so. Is it not blasphemous to say that the Pope is liable for Christ? Or is there more to being Christ’s vicar?

    Does the Pope stand in Christ’s place, usurping Him, with teaching on purgatory, praying for the dead, praying to dead saints, indulgences, the determination of who is or isn’t a Saint.? Is that false teaching that would draw David’s ire if it were to come from a Free Church or CoS minister?

    To add to Christ’s work is to diminish, devalue, reduce Him, to make Him a mere exemplar.

    Against that, isn’t there is adherence to the Apostles Creed, to the triune God in the Catholic Church ?

    Is not the teaching of infallibility, blasphemous?

    Is there a tendency for the Missal to replace or have authority over the Bible? But the same could be said for protestant catechisms and confessions of faith, in some quarters.

    Without any intention to be patronising, I can understand David being conflicted and ambivalent about engaging in the debate at all, as there would seem to be more commonality in many important areas with the Catholic Church, the virgin birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (seemingly denied or an embarrassment to the CoS) and how it is worked out in life (particularly, gender, sexuality, marriage, abortion, social action, education) if not in death and it’s consequence.

    Why was the debate held at all? What did the organisers and participants hope to achieve? (I’ve not listened to it, only read David’s blog.) Were there any points of agreement, any persuasion from the starting positions?

    4 I have Catholic friends and family and gone to confirmation, marriage, communion (non participant), funeral services, benefitted from writings from a marvellous commentary of John by Raymond E Brown, from Thomas Merton (before he veers off into Eastern mysticism), from GK Chesterton, from Brennan Manning, author of”Abba’s Child” and “Ragamuffin Gospel”, from Henri Nouwen. And, of course, Luther.

    5 A Catholic friend was converted on an Alpha Course, the course then being supported by a local Bishop. No doubt there will be readers of David’s blog who will call that course blasphemous.
    The Lord was pleased to permit me to witness at a death bed conversion of a man who hugged me in joy as I read from Luke the “death bed conversion” of criminal cross at the side of Christ and spoke about the Good News of Jesus and forgiveness and salvation only through the Cross of Christ. He died in peace. I didn’t know until the funeral that he’d been a lapsed, non-practicing Catholic. I do not know the views any of them have/had on the Pope, but I do know the significance of the place “works ” have in any salvation they may hope achieve.

    6 I also appreciate the contributions on this blog from Mike17 (but note that he’s not made any comments on David’s articles on Hell and Revelation).

    6 But what I really don’t get is that I can not recall any Catholic describe themselves as Christian, but as Catholic. Maybe, I’m not listening carefully. And they seem resistant to attending a Protestant service.

  9. Just a few points as there are too many to comment on the mall.
    Did Clement write the Letter to the Corinthians? Well Jerome certainly thought so. In his book, On Illustrious Men, he wrote: “Clement, of whom the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says With Clement and others of my fellow-workers whose names are written in the book of life,the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus and the third Anacletus, although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle. He wrote, on the part of the church of Rome, an especially valuable Letter to the church of the Corinthians…”

    Is there a tendency for the Missal to replace or have authority over the Bible?
    There’s certainly no tendency for the Missal to have authority over the Bible. In the days when the Mass was in Latin, many people took a Missal to church to follow the Mass in English. Nowadays very few people take a Missal to church. Many (most?) churches have cards or sheets with the words of the Mass. It should be noted, incidentally, that most of what’s in the Missal is actually readings from the Bible! The old Latin Mass started with Psalm 42 and ended with Chapter one of St John’s Gospel. Unfortunately they were both removed from the new Mass introduced in 1970 but it still has masses (!) of Scripture in it. Far more, I gather, than most Protestants hear on a Sunday.
    Catholics not describing themselves as Christians. Yes, I think that that is generally true in a sense but it does not mean that we don’t think of ourselves as Christians.
    Not willing to attend Protestant services. Well, yes, we go to Mass. Why should we go to a Protestant service? I once worked in a Lutheran establishment in Germany. On a Sunday morning I attended the Lutheran service (in German!) and went to Mass in the evening. My last two experiences of Protestant services were not the most helpful. In one, a baptism, the minister announced that she did not believe in the doctrine of original sin. In the other, also a baptism, I left as soon as the baptism was over as I knew that the minister did not hold with any Christian doctrines. He just talks about ‘love’ and ‘community’.
    P.S. Many thanks for your comment, Geoff.

  10. This reminded me of an occasion, many years ago when, as a student at what had recently become “The Faculty of Divinity of the University of Glasgow” (rather than “Trinity College”!), I sat in a classroom to listen to the first ever Roman priest lecture to a bunch of (mostly) CoS ministerial candidates. As a born-again, Northern Irish, Presbyterian, I “knew” that I was going to disagree with everything this “papist” said. I was wrong! I commented afterwards, to more than a view of my fellow-students, that I agreed more with what this priest had said than I did with many of the pronouncements of most of my lecturers!

    I also claim that I am a Catholic, and do berate the Church of Rome for having claimed the term for itself. Indeed, it could be argued that the expression “Roman Catholic” is completely oxymoronic!

    A(nother) well-produced article from the pen of DAR!

    1. CB

      I remember Bill Wallace when he wen to Trinity College that he wouldn’t be sitting on the fence. It was full up already with lecturers.

      1. A good man, was (and is!) Bill. I was a member of St George’s-Tron, under George B Duncan, when Bill was Assistant Minister and, as one of the divinity students, I got to know him well. I recall him being asked, at the last minute, to bring an epilogue at something that was happening up at the Halls in Bath Street. He turned to me (!) to ask what he should say. I reminded him that he was the assistant min, I a mere div stud! “You’re right.” was the response – as he stood there and made some notes that started with a reference to an old Glasgow ditty about Duke Street Jail! The epilogue seemed to go down well!

  11. Dear Carmelo

    Apologies for the delay. Work commitments and I’ve now typed this out twice only to delete without sending. I miss letters.

    I did indeed read your post and have some thoughts on it set out below..

    Sorry you didn’t find Mr Belloc as funny as I did. I think the point is that the longevity of the Catholic Church far exceeds those institutions you’ve listed (and just about every other institution you care to think of) and, like Belloc, I’m confident that when the Mormons, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses et al have gone the way of the followers of Mithras, the Albigensians, Antinomians, Branch Davidians and others, the Church shall endure. All as promised by Christ in Matthew 16. All despite quite of few of its leaders being rogues and villains, as Mr Belloc cleverly points out..

    I’ve not read “Far From Rome” but will add it to my reading list. I must confess that my early reading of Protestant apologetics was not fruitful. “50 Years in the Church of Rome” and the “The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk”, didn’t have the intellectual rigour of John Henry Newman’s “Apologia Pro Vita Sua.”

    However, I can recommend “Crossing the Tiber” by Stephen Ray and “Home Sweet Rome” by Scott Hahn, both evangelicals who, like Newman, have swum in the opposite direction. Newman’s Apologia is a wonderful piece of literature but Ray and Hahn are a little more accessible to the modern audience.

    As to your post. Again, I don’t think that there is a Catholic worthy of the name who does not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is a pre-requisite to his or her salvation. I’m afraid that faith alone appears to be contradicted in the letter of Saint James (James 2.14-26 – faith without works is dead). Matthew 25 (the Last Judgement) and Matthew 7:21 (“not everyone who says Lord, Lord…”) are also problematic to those who adopt sola fide. So it really is a bit more complicated than your post would suggest.

    So, who is right and who is wrong? I suspect we can trade bible verses until the cows come home. What if we scour all of scripture and still can’t agree? The answer over the last 500 years has been the fracturing of Christianity into almost as many denominations as there are interpretations.

    Now, like you, Catholics believe the bible to be the revealed word of God. No really, we do. But why do we have gospels from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but not from Philip or Peter? Why Paul’s letter to the Corinthians but not to the Laodocians? You are not going to like the answer. Jesus Christ didn’t leave us with the New Testament in a neatly typed King James manuscript. He left a teaching Church (Matthew 16 again). That Church, the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3-15), had the authority to define what was and what was not Sacred Scripture.

    Now, if you rely on the teaching authority of Church to determine the really big questions like what is or is not the Word of God, why would you not submit to its authority on questions of interpretation of scripture?

    I’ve honestly not had a satisfactory answer to that question from my reformed friends (and, David, there are a couple of “wee frees” unlucky enough to count themselves in that group). And now I suspect I’m in for a world of trouble…

    1. You are confusing two separate issues. We believe that the church recognise the writings of the apostles because they were inspired and unique. This does not give the church the right to reinterpret those writings or to add to them. The Scriptures testify to their own sacredness. They are not sacred because the church says so. They are sacred because the Spirit inspired them. For the church to claim an equal authority to the Scriptures, is for the church to go against those very scriptures.

  12. Thanks David. Love the blog and your work in keeping Christ in the public square.

    I shouldn’t have taken Carmelo’s bait but in for a penny…

    I understand why you think I am confusing two separate issues but the basis of one’s belief in the inspiration of the Bible directly affects how one goes about interpreting it.

    I agree that the Scriptures are sacred because the Spirit inspired them. I accept that position because, like Saint Augustine, the authority of the Catholic Church moves me so to do. You say you know it because “Scripture testifies to its own sacredness.” I have heard that argument before and, without meaning to be disrespectful, no, it doesn’t.

    Other than Saint John (expressly in Revelation), none of the New Testament writers make any claim of inspiration or sacredness.
    And even if every book of the New Testament did make that claim, the book of Mormon, the Koran and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy all testify to their own sacredness. We also agree that the provenance of those books is not the same as the Bible so a claim/testimony of sacredness is irrelevant.

    At this point any argument with reformed friends tends to flip into vocabulary like “feeling” and “inspiration” (in the other sense of the word) and “convicted” (in the non-judicial sense of the word) in that individual readers are moved by the Spirit to accept their KJV or Douay-Rheims. And so you would have it that Christians of all stripes, colours and practice have (by and large) through the centuries “recognised” and ended up in the same place with regard to the canon of the New Testament?

    History just phoned to say that the councils of Hippo and Carthage in the 4th Century and (after the Reformation horse had bolted) the council of Trent beg to differ. A teaching Church definitively determined which works were inspired and which were not. The reformers of the 16th century were perfectly happy to accept that teaching (for the New Testament at least) and all the other stuff we don’t debate (the deity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, etc.). You don’t like this answer because sola scriptura falls at the first hurdle.

    Newman again on why the two points are linked:

    “If the revelations and lessons in Scripture are addressed to us personally and practically, the presence among us of a formal judge and standing expositor of its words is imperative. It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so unsystematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times and places should be given to us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation. How are private readers satisfactorily to distinguish what is didactic and what is historical, what is fact and what is vision, what is allegorical and what is literal? Such is our natural anticipation, and it is only too exactly justified in the events of the last three [now five] centuries, in the many countries where private judgment on the text of Scripture has prevailed. The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility.”


  13. CM

    Two main points:

    1 James: This refers back to the covenants God made with Abram, particularly the covenant promise he” cut” in Genesis 15. It was unilateral, unconditional, a promise to be performed by God alone. Abram took no part in it. In Christ Jesus, God died to fulfil His promise to bless Abraham and his descendants.

    Throughout the OT their were conditional an unconditional covenants, which came to a head, a crescendo in Christ Jesus birth in Matthew’s gospel.

    So are the covenants conditional or unconditional? The answer is, Yes. The were fulfilled by God and by man (the last Adam), in God the Son, Jesus the Messiah.

    Works, in James, is evidence of salvation, not means of salvation. We are saved from good works for good works. Our justification is not based on our sanctification.

    I can not do anything to merit or earn or contribute to my salvation, not one jot or tittle. Even faith is a gift. We take no part in the unilateral, unconditional new covenant “cut” by Christ on the cross.

    Even more astonishing not only did Christ become sin (mine and yours) he became a curse (pronounced on me by God for my disobedience -sin) that I might become the righteousness of God – the divine exchange: my sin His, His righteousness mine . In a nutshell, Christ lived the perfect life I should live and died the death I deserved.

    It is further astonishing that there can be a disobedience of obedience as the elder son demonstrated in the parable and it kept him from the feast.

    So is this a “legal fiction”? Certainly not. It is in union with Christ, that I’ve obeyed, have died and been raised with Him.

    2 One of my first points was that the title of the debate put the cart before the horse,
    What is church?

    What follows is abstracted from Edmund Clowney tracing from the OT and the doctrine of the church. There is so much David may not post this comment and there is so much more from Clowney (50 pages).

    It is originally from Beginning with Moses web site, but it doesn’t seem to be there anymore.

    Remember Peter: ” The Apostle Peter, writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, calls them ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood , a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ (1 Pet. 2:9). To be sure, they were once ‘not a people’, but now they are ‘the people of God’ (v. 10). The language that described the calling of Israel in the Old Testament Peter applies to the New Testament people of God.”

    “We must begin with the teaching of the Bible, and return to the Bible again and again to deepen and renew our understanding. Theology is reflective; we do understand God’s revelation better as the context of our own experience widens and varies our perspective. But the church rests upon the foundation of apostolic teaching. The authoritative words of the inspired witnesses chosen and endued of the Spirit communicate to us the full and final revelation of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:39-42; Heb. 2:2-4; Rev. 22:18, 19). The doctrine of the church is not the most fundamental doctrine of Scripture. J.C. Hoekendijk may be right in saying, ‘In history a keen ecclesiological interest has, almost without exception, been a sign of spiritual decadence…’ [3] At the Third World Conference on Faith and Order held in Lund in 1952 the conferees acknowledged: ‘In our work we have been led to the conviction that it is of decisive importance for the advance of ecumenical work that the doctrine of the church be treated in close relation both to the doctrine of Christ and to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit’. [4]

    Indeed, the doctrine of the church is not only closely related to the doctrine of the Trinity, it flows from it. The promise of God’s covenant is, ‘I will… be your God, and you will be my people’ (Lev. 26:12; 2 Cor. 6:16). God’s people are his own possession, those whom he h as formed for himself that they might set forth his praise (Is. 43:21). The focus of Scripture is on the living God, of whom, through whom, and unto whom are all things, not least the people he has redeemed and claimed as his own.

    It is not surprising, therefore, that the Biblical doctrine of the church is directly related to God’s revelation of himself. As we trace the history of redemption recorded in the Word of God, we find that the church comes into view as the people of God, the disciples of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Yet these views of the redeemed do not simply succeed one another; far less do they exclude one another. The Apostle Peter, writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, calls them ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood , a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ (1 Pet. 2:9). To be sure, they were once ‘not a people’, but now they are ‘the people of God’ (v. 10). The language that described the calling of Israel in the Old Testament Peter applies to the New Testament people of God. On the other hand, Christ is central for the Old Testament as well as for the New, and Paul, reflecting on the experience of Israel in the wilderness, affirms that ‘the Rock that followed them was Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:4). That same leading of Israel through the desert is ascribed by the prophet Isaiah to the Holy Spirit (Is. 63:914).

    To gain the richness of biblical revelation, we do well to trace the unfolding of the theme of the church through the history of God’s saving work. In doing so we a re instructed by the transformations of that theme as well as by the underlying unity of the purpose and work of God. To focus our consideration, we may reflect on the calling of the church. The church is called to God, called to be his people. By that relation to God the being of the church is defined. The church is also called, by that very relation, to a bond of life together. It ministers not only to God, but also to those who make up its company. The church is also called in the midst of the world. Its ministry is therefore threefold: it ministers to God in worship, to the saints in nurture, and to the world in witness.

    In systematic theology the doctrine of the church is often presented under the rubrics of the Nicene Creed: the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Yet these attributes of the church flow from the more fundamental teaching of the Bible regarding the nature of the church as it is related to the Lord himself. Ecclesiology is part of theology. We gain the clearest light on the issues that the church now faces when we reflect on the calling of the church by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian approach to the doctrine of the church may then be structured in relation to its calling to minister in worship, nurture, and witness.


    A. God’s Worshipping Assembly

    Matthew’s Gospel reports the words of blessing that Jesus spoke to Simon Peter in response to Peter’s apostolic con fession. Jesus then said, ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ (Mt. 16:18). Matthew uses the common term for ‘church’ in the New Testament, the term ekklçsia. It was once the habit of critics to question the authenticity of Matthew’s report. Jesus spoke of the kingdom, and knew nothing of the church, they said. [5] Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there has been a belated acceptance of the genuineness of the saying. The scrolls are full of the concept of the community, understood as the congregation of the saints awaiting the coming of the Lord. Further, the thought of the congregation being established upon the confession of the truth is also prominent in the Dead Sea writings. [6] So is the figure of the rock, and of the building established upon it. [7] The parallels between the language of the Dead Sea sectaries and the words of Jesus do not, however, indicate that Jesus was dependent upon the Essenes. The background to both is the Old Testament.

    The Church as God’s Dwelling

    The picture at Sinai of the people of God as a worshipping assembly is heightened by God’s provision of the tabernacle. God not only met with the people as they were assembled before him. He also came to dwell among them. In the wilderness where they lived in tents, God’s house would be a tent, too. When they entered the land and had fixed dwellings, God would put his name in a place, and sanctify the temple of Solomon as his dwelling. The figure of the tabernacle made the presence of God more immediate and permanent.

    The immanence of God’s presence with his people is a continuing theme in the Pentateuch. The Lord who walked in the garden of Eden to talk with Adam and Eve continues to address the patriarchs in the land to which he called them. The altars that they built witnessed to the presence of the Lord. This is particularly dramatic in the case of Jacob at Bethel, where God descends the stairway of Jacob’s dream to repeat the sure promises of the covenant to the exiled patriarch. (Genesis 28:13 should be translated, ‘And, behold, the LORD stood over him…’ See Genesis 35:13, where the same preposition is used, ‘Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him’.) In the morning Jacob marvel s at the presence of God: ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it…. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’ (Gn. 28:16, 17).

    How important for the people of God is the dwelling of God among them? Moses gives an eloquent answer in a time of crisis before the tabernacle was built in the wilderness. While he was in the heights of Mount Sinai receiving the law of God and the plans for the tabernacle, Israel at the foot of the mountain committed idolatry before the golden calf. When Moses came down from the mountain and was confronted with the sin of the people, God proposed another plan for his relation to Israel (Ex. 33:1-3). God was too holy and the people too sinful for God to dwell among them. His presence was too great a threat. Surely, as the Holy One, he must consume them in a moment to remove their iniquity from his presence. God proposed, therefore, that the tabernacle not be built. God would not dwell in the midst. He would go before Israel in the angel of his presence, drive out the Canaanites from the land, and give them the inheritance he had promised. But instead of living among them, he would meet with Moses in a tent set up outside the camp (Ex. 33:7-11). The elaborate plans for the tabernacle would not be necessary, since God would not have his dwelling among the people.

    The reaction of Moses to that alternate plan shows how crucial the dwelling of God in the midst of Israel really is. Moses was distraught with grief. He mourned, and Israel mourned with him. Moses cried, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here!’ (Ex. 33:15). God’s presence among the people was the whole point of the exodus deliverance and of the inheritance of the land. Significantly, Moses prayed for God to reveal his glory. What Moses asked was the very blessing that the alternate plan would have removed: the immediate presence of the living God and the vision of his glory. God did appear to Moses, and proclaimed his covenantal Name (Ex. 33:17-34:7). Although Moses was permitted to see only God’s back, he did see the glory of the Lord. His request was granted. God did make his dwelling among Israel, and Moses could pray that God’s presence in the midst would bring not swift judgment, but the forgiveness of sins. He could pray, too, that God would not simply give the people their inheritance in Canaan, but that he would take the people as his inheritance, claiming them as his own (Ex. 34:9).

    Moses’ prayer was answered and th e tabernacle was built. It symbolized both the threat of God’s dwelling in the midst of Israel and the grace by which God’s immediate presence was possible. The tabernacle was a dwelling in which the presence of God was both screened off and revealed. The curtains of the holy of holies, of the holy place, and of the tabernacle enclosure screened off the Holy One from the camp of sinful Israel. The curtains insulated, as it were, the holy presence of God. But the plan of the tabernacle also symbolized a way into the holiest place, an avenue to the throne of God. After the blood of atonement had been shed at the sacrificial altar, the priest could wash at the laver, enter the holy place, and present the prayers of the people. Once each year, on the day of atonement, the high priest could enter even the holy of holies to sprinkle the ark of the covenant with blood.

    Christ the True Temple

    The New Testament presents the fulfilment of this symbolism in Jesus Christ. He is Priest, Sacrifice, and Temple. ‘Destroy this temple’, he said, ‘and in three days I will raise it up’ (Jn. 2:19). The temple that he spoke of was his own body. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn. 1:14). The outward picture of God’s dwelling among his people becomes a reality in the incarnation. [11] Further, since God is present in Christ, and Christ is present among his people, they, too, become a dwelling for God. Christ, who promises to prepare a dwelling place for his disciples, promises also that both he and the Father will come and take up their dwelling with the disciple that loves him (Jn. 14:2,23). Both the individual believer and the church are spoken of as the temple of God because of the presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 2:13-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16).

    The coming of the Holy Spirit fulfils the promise of the Father and makes actual the presence of God. The spiritual relationship portrayed by the temple figure includes permanence as well as intense immediacy. The epiphany of Pentecost was not a passing phenomenon, but the advent of the Spirit, no less central for the understanding of the church than the advent of the Son. Through the finished work of Christ the hour came when neither Mount Gerizim nor Jerusalem were holy places any longer (Jn. 4:21). In his words to the Samaritan woman, Jesus does not deny the legitimacy of the temple at Jerusalem. Salvation, he says, is of the Jews. Nor does Jesus simply state that because God is a Spirit, he cannot be worshipped at a holy place. Jesus cleansed the temple, called it his Father’s house, and violently affirmed its sanctity. What changed everything was the fulfilment of the temple symbolism in Jesus himself. Worship in truth could begin. It would be ‘true’ worship in the sense of being real, unobscured by the shadows of symbolism, as the Jerusalem temple worship had been. The coming hour of which Jesus spoke was the hour of his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. True worship is not temple-less: it is worship at the true Temple, the One raised up on the third day. Because the reality has come, the symbols are fulfilled. Worship is now spiritual – in the Holy Spirit (the living water promised by Jesus). Worship is now true – in Jesus Christ the Truth (Jn. 14:6).

    B. God’s Chosen People

    1. The Election of Israel

    The church, then, is both the assembly of God and the dwelling of God. God leads his people from the convocation at Sinai to the land of their inheritance, where God will dwell in the midst of them. In addition to these great figures, God speaks directly about the people as his own. The covenantal affirmation ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people’ makes explicit this relation. The prayer of Moses, ‘Take us for your inheritance’, is inspired by the Lord who claims Israel for himself. ‘The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession’ (Dt. 7:6). God purposes to make his people ‘in praise, fame and honour high above all the nations he has made’ (Dt. 26:19).

    God’s election of Israel follows upon his election of the patriarchs. It is God who calls Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees; it is God who chooses Isaac, not Ishmael, and Jacob, not Esau (cf. Rom. 9:11-13). Yet God’s choosing was not only an expression of his purpose of blessing toward his elect. God promised not only to bless Abraham, but to make him a blessing. In him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gn. 12:3). The table of the nations in Genesis 10 prepares for the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. So, too, Israel is called to be a light to the nations: ‘May God be gracious to us and bless us… that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations’ (Ps. 67:1, 2).

    It would be a serious mistake, however, to deny the status of Israel in order to affirm the mission of Israel. Israel is called first to fellowship with God, to be his treasure people; and only as that people does Israel witness to the nations, that they, too, might be drawn into the worship of the true and living God. God does not choose Israel just in order to use Israel. Certainly Israel is not chosen for its utility. ‘The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you
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    were more numerous than other peoples, for you were fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers…’ (Dt. 7:7, 8).

    Election in Love

    Here is the language of love: ‘The LORD set his love upon you, because… the LORD loves you’! The Lord pours out his love for his people in rich language. Israel is God’s son (Ex. 4:23; Ho. 1:10; 11:1-3; Is. 45:9-11), God’s bride (Ho. 1 -3; Is. 50:1; Ezk. 23). God’s consummation joy over Israel will be like the joy of a husband over a bride (Zp. 3:17). Israel is God’s vineyard (Je. 12:7-9), the apple of his eye (Dt. 32:10). They are a people near to him (Ps. 148:14), borne on his shoulders (Dt. 33:12), engraved on the palms of his hands (Is. 49:16).

    Yet God’s delight in Israel is of his sovereign good pleas ure, the ‘favour of him who dwelt in the burning bush’ (Dt. 33:16). God’s people are chosen, not choice (bachir, not bachur).

    Sadly, the chosen people prove themselves unworthy of God’s favour. God’s judgment is immeasurably more severe because of the privilege that Israel despised and forfeited. The adulterous wife will be stoned (Ezk. 16:40); the rebellious son will be cast out (Ho. 11:1, 8; 12:14; 13:1); the pleasant vineyard will be laid waste (Is. 5:5, 6); the planted vine will be uprooted and burned (Ezk. 19:10-14; Ps. 80:12-16). Redemptive history in the Old Testament is full of the realization of these dire predictions. The temple itself, where Israel had worshiped idols, is destroyed by the armies of Babylon. The people are carried into exile. Ezekiel sees the hopelessness of the exiled nation in his vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezk. 37).

    Grace in Judgment

    Yet that same vision is the Lord’s message of hope. ‘Son of man, can these bones live’? Well does the prophet answer, ‘O Lord Jehovah, you know’. God’s promises will not be void, his purposes will not be frustrated.

    Two great principles are given to the prophets: first, the destruction is not total. God has preserved for himself a remnant. Even if the remnant is as hopeless as dry bones in a valley, or as the scraps remaining from a lion’s kill (Am. 3:12), a remnant nevertheless it is. The second principle is that of renewal. To the dry bones life will be given. If the glory of Israel is like a cedar that has been felled by the axe of Gentile powers, nevertheless a stump is left in the ground. God promises that the stump will send forth a shoot; that shoot will be an ensign to which the nations will be gathered (Is. 10:33-11:5).

    The remnant will be the faithful people of God, the true Israel. By God’s renewing grace, their hearts will be circumcised. They will know the Lord. God will make with them a new covenant (Je. 31:31-34). Paul explains this theology of the prophets. As the doctrine of the remnant shows, there is an election within the election of Israel. ‘For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’ (Rom. 9:6). The true and spiritual seed are the heirs of the prom ise. Further,
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    the new Shoot that grows from the felled cedar is the Messiah. He is God’s servant Israel, in whom God will be glorified (Is. 49:3). In him the mission of Israel will be fulfilled and the status of Israel will be established in a way that surpasses all imagining. Not only will he restore the remnant of Israel, he will also be a light to the Gentiles, ‘that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Is. 49:6). The prophets describe the ingathering of the preserved of the nations along with the remnant of Israel (Je. 48:47; 49:6,39; Is. 66:19-21). Paul explains how Christ fulfils the ministry of the circumcision: ‘For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy…’ (Rom. 15:8).

    Jesus Christ indeed comes to gather the remnant, the ‘little flock’ of God’s good pleasure who are given the kingdom (Lk. 12:32). But Jesus is more than the Sent of the Father. He is the Son of the Father. He is the Vine as well as the Shepherd, and he brings salvation in himself. The people of God are claimed at last by God himself, coming in the person of his Son. He claims them by joining them to himself as their Lord and their life. Both the status and the mission of the people of God are therefore now defined in Christ. In his Sonship they are made sons of God; as the Father has sent him into the world, so Christ has sent them into the world (Jn. 17:18).

    C. God’s New Nation

    1. The Bond of God’s Covenant

    The tie that binds God’s people to their Lord binds them also to one another. The bond of Israel’s nationhood was not ethnic but religious. It was the covenant at Sinai that forged Israel into unique nationhood. Strangers and sojourners could be admitted to the assembly and people of God. They could gain an inheritance in Israel (Ex. 12:47-49; 23:9). On the other hand, to reject God’s covenant was to be disinherited from Israel. Not only did God judge covenant-breakers with death; the Levites were commanded to execute God’s judgment upon their brethren (Ex. 32:26, 27). If a son in Israel blasphemed the name of God, his own father was to denounce him (Dt. 13:6-11). For apostasy a whole generation could perish in the wilderness, and all Israel be driven into exile. The promise of the prophet Hosea recognizes the justice of God’s disinheriting judgment. Those who once were the people of God have become Lo-ammi, ‘no people’ (Ho. 1:9). If they are again to be called Ammi, ‘my people’, it can be only by the mercy of divine re-adoption, not by the claim of ethnic nationhood. For that reason, Paul can appeal to Hosea’s language to defend the inclusion of Gentiles among the people of God (Rom. 9:24-26). All were disinherited by sin; all were Lo-ammi. But by the grace of God in Christ, those who were no people have been made the people of God.

    2. The Church of the New Covenant

    In Christ the New Testament church is the new and true Israel, one with the Old Testament saints in the spiritual ethnicity that defines the people of God in all ages. When Peter calls the Gentiles of Asia Minor the diaspora (1 Pet. 1:1), he is viewing them as the true people of God scattered in the world.

    The Apostle Paul in the same way claims that Gentiles are made members of the people of God. Writing to Gentiles as the ‘uncircumcision’, Paul says, ‘At that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world’ (Eph. 2:12). Note the parallels from which the Apostle argues. To be separate from Christ is to be outside the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to God’s covenant. But Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition that preserved the distinctiveness of the circumcised.

    What, then, is the situation of those who are no longer separate from Christ? ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ’ (Eph. 2:13). Christ has brought them within the community from which they were once excluded by the wall of separation. In Christ they have the same access to the Father as do all the true people of God. They are no more strangers from God’s covenant promises; they are his covenant people. They are no more aliens from the commonwealth of Israel; instead, they have been made fellow-citizens with the saints of that commonwealth (Eph. 2:19).

    Indeed, if the Apostle to the Gentiles had not taught this, the circumcision controversy described in the New Testament would never have taken place. Paul’s Judaizing antagonists would have had no objection to Paul’s organizing a church that was quite distinct from Israel. The rabbis were already making provision for the ‘God -fearers’ who had attached them selves to the synagogues but who did not wish to be circumcised or to become Jews. If Paul had merely been organizing such devout Gentiles, there would have been no objection from the zealous Jews. But what infuriated even many Jewish Christians was that Paul was claiming to bring Gentiles into the covenant, into the number of the people of God, without circumcising them. It is notable that Paul never dropped or lowered his high claim in order to meet Judaizing objections. He never said: ‘Of course I am not circumcising these Gentiles. I am not adding them to Israel, but to the church. They are therefore being baptized into a proselyte status, but not added to the covenant people’. [12]

    Instead, Paul said the exact opposite: ‘For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh’ (Phil. 3:3). Paul could say nothing else, because of his glorying in Christ Jesus. If Jesus is the true circumcision, the heir of all the promises of God, and if we by faith are united to Jesus, then in Christ we are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).

    3. The Church as a People: Spiritual Ethnics

    The new Israel of God is not less a nation because it is spiritually constituted. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who rejected him, ‘The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit’ (Mt. 21:43). Like Israel, the New Testament church is a theocracy, subject in all things to the word of the Lord. But unlike Israel of old, God’s people are
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    no longer to bear the sword to bring God’s judgments on the heathen, nor to defend a territorial inheritance in the earth. Jesus commanded Peter to put away his sword, and declared to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place’ (Jn. 18:36).

    To this church Christ gives, not a sword, but the keys of the kingdom. The authority so sanctioned is not less, but greater than the power that the state exercises with the sword. Not temporal, but eternal judgments are pronounced in the name of Christ. Those who are judged by Christ’s word on earth are judged by that same word in heaven. On the other h and, penitent sinners who are welcomed in his name have heaven opened to them (Mt. 16:19; 18:18-20; Jn. 20:22, 23). It is because the church invokes eternal rather than temporal judgment that the sword cannot be its instrument. The day of judgment has not come, but the longsuffering grace of God is revealed. Although the sentence of the church is so solemn, it is not final. Church discipline is to be exercised with a view to the reclamation of the offender, as well as for the vindication of the name of Christ, and the holiness of his church (1 Cor. 5:5).

    5. The Fellowship of the Covenant

    The church, then, is a ‘new nation under God’, and the bonds that unite it are God-given. Clearly, God did not bring Israel out of Egypt to give them the opportunity to become acquainted with one another so that the social graces could flourish. He brought them to himself, and claimed them as his sons and daughters, so that their relation to one another might be grounded in their relation to him. Hittite treaties of the period required that vassals of the same suzerain refrain from hostilities against one another. [15] Certainly the servants of the Lord, joined in covenant with him, must live at peace with each other. But the God-centered character of covenantal religion required much more. Because God was the Father of Israel, the people were also a family, a ‘fatherdom’ (Eph. 3:14, 15). The electing love of God made Israel his people. They, in return, must not only love the Lord their God with heart and soul, they must also love their neighbour as themselves (Lv. 19:18). They are not free to enslave their brothers or sisters; they must not hate them in their heart (Lv. 25:35, 55; Dt. 15:12; Je. 34:8-22; Lv. 19:17). The underlying motive for that respect and affection was the joy of sharing together in the redeeming power and love of God. The Psalmist put it eloquently: ‘I am a friend to all who fear you’ (Ps . 119:63).

    The Israelites were neighbours geographically because of their shared possession of the land of promise. Each man had his inheritance within the bounds of the tribal allotment, and the whole land was an inheritance received from the Lord. To belong to the people of God is to have a share in the inheritance (Dt. 10:9; 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1). The New Testament concept of ‘fellowship’ ( koinonia) contains this same thought of sharing, of having in common the blessing, the inheritance given by God. God himself is the inheritance of Israel, the portion of his people (Ps. 16:5; 73:26: 119:57; 142:5: La. 3:24).

    The prophets denounced the sin of Israel in the breach of love within the family of God’s people. Those who oppress the widow and the orphan or defraud their neighbours are not merely guilty of anti-social conduct. They have broken God’s covenant. No one who hates his neighbour in his heart can rightly love God. The theme that John expounds in his First Epistle is firmly grounded in the Old Testament teaching regarding God’s covenant with his chosen people.

    Fellowship and Separation

    There is another side to the coin. The bond that joins Israel to the Lord and to one another also separates them from the nations. The people of God are not to be numbered with the nations (Nu. 23:9). They are distinct religiously, for they are to serve the Lord, and no other God. He is their God, and they are his own possession, his inheritance, although all the earth is his (Ex. 19:5). They are also to be distinct morally. They must not practise the abominations of the heathen nations around them (Lv. 18:24-30). That ethical separation is symbolized in the ceremonial distinctiveness of Israel. The motif of cleanness and its opposite enforces the separation. Sources of uncleanness are not only forbidden foods, dead bodies, certain skin diseases, and bodily emissions, but also marital alliance with Gentiles (Ex. 34:12-17; 1 Ki. 11:2). The geographical separation of Israel gave practical support to the concept of Israel’s distinctiveness.

    In the New Testament the spiritual separation of the new people of God is heightened as the geographical and ceremonial forms of separation are fulfilled and transcended. No longer are the people of God to be barred from certain foods. In the cleansing of Christ’s atonement, the ceremonial pictures are realized (Acts 10:9-16, 28; 1 Cor. 8:8; 10:23-27; 7:14). The removal of the dietary restrictions, and of the ceremonial sanctions that separated Jews from Gentiles – even more than the termination of the geographical distinctiveness of the new Israel – opened the door for the mission to the Gentiles. This was the evident effect of Peter’s vision on the house-top in Joppa. He was freed to associate with the Gentile soldier Cornelius, to be a guest at his table, and also to baptize him into the membership of the church (Acts 10).

    Yet the separation of the New Israel remains, and is intensified. Paul does not hesitate to use the language of separation from uncleanness in quoting from the Old Testament. ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty’ (2 Cor. 6:17-18). The religious and moral separation of Israel now has a new depth. All defilement of flesh and spirit is to be cleansed away as the Christian church perfects holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). The quest for holiness among the New Israel is both individual and corporate. Not only must each Christian pursue holiness: the church must grow together in the image of Christ, and must exclude from its fellowship those who are heretics or impenitent sinners (Rom. 16:17f.; 1 Cor. 5:9-13). Paul was concerned not only to present every man perfect in Christ (Col. 1:8), but also to present the whole church ‘as a pure virgin to Christ’ (2 Cor. 11:2). Christ sought a renewal of love from the church at Ephesus, but he commended them for exposing and bringing to trial false apostles. Other churches are warned of the danger of tolerating the Nicolaitan heresy (Rev. 2:2, 14, 20).

    The overflowing love and grace of God radically renew the community of the covenant. The church that has been purchased with Christ’s blood cannot ask ‘Who is my neighbour?’ with a view to limiting the circle of those to whom the love of compassion must be shown. Yet the love that reaches out in Christ’s name to the lost does not deny the reality of lostness. It calls men to enter the fellowship where the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, but the bond of that love can be forged only in union with Christ.

  14. Geoff Graham says, “Works, in James, is evidence of salvation, not means of salvation. We are saved from good works for good works. Our justification is not based on our sanctification.” But let us look at the actual words:
    “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” I think the words of James are plain enough. It is why Luther called the Epistle of James an epistle of straw. In fact, initially, he wanted it removed from the Bible altogether.

  15. Thanks Mike,

    This is indeed the nub of the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, that has echoed down the centuries.- the place of works in salvation. And perhaps the “elephant in the room” in this whole post. It is therefore with some trepidation that I make the following points as many, far more qualified, have addressed this topic at length and in detail.

    I I’ve not mentioned Luther and was responding to CM comments on James, so let us look at scripture without Luther. Please bear with me.

    2 The letter of James has to be placed in the light of the whole revelation of God, and the history of redemption, from Genesis to Revelation, including the Gospels.

    3 James (likely, the brother of Jesus) was steeped in old covenantal scriptures and has to be read in that light. And the scripture you quote has to be read in the context of the whole letter, and it’s main purpose(s)’

    4 The main purpose was to distinguish true faith from false counterfeit faith, in trials of various kinds, and the testing of faith, steadfastness in the faith leading to completeness, or maturity. (James 1: 2-4) So it was about faith and the life of faith, a changed life as a result of faith, asking in faith(1:5,6), steadfastness (in faith) in trials, standing the test to receive God’s promised crown. It is a test of faith and a promise to those who love Him. (James 1:12-16) So “Blessed is the man..” of tested faith (James 1:12)

    5 It is a life that is different from the old nature (Chpt 1:22) which now has the implanted word of God to produce righteousness of God (1:19) as opposed to the old nature of filthiness and rampant wickedness of the old nature (1:21) evidenced by anger, manner of speaking, showing favouritism between rich and poor and rejected, widows and orphans. It is everything that is the opposite of keeping unstained from the world (1:27) and the very opposite of “loving your neighbour as yourself” (2:8) All of this shows there has been no change that faith produces, a righteousness that results works of love.

    6 Into this mix James moves to 2 : 14 “What good is it my brothers if some says he has faith but do not have works? Can that faith save him?”
    What good is doing nothing, just empty words, patronising if not followed-up by action (food and clothes being the example) This again is evidence of not loving your neighbour, of showing favouritism. It is evidence of dead faith, of the old nature of no living, no active faith. (2:17)

    7 James then goes on to demonstrate from scripture the life changing faith of Abram, a change of nature, by reference to two big events in Abrams life. (Abram who had been called by God out of Ur of the Chaldees, out of pagan worship – not by deeds or through merit.)

    This is the relevant scripture , which you’ve partially quoted: James 2:
    21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
    22 You see that faith was ACTIVE along with his works, and faith was completed by his works:
    23 and scripture was fulfilled that says “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.
    24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” ESV

    This is contrasted with the “mere” belief in the Judaic shema “that God is One (James 2:19) because even the demons believe that.

    Abraham’s first event , in time, was Genesis Chapter 15. James (2:23) quotes Genesis 15: 6 “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” -and he was called a friend of God”. God then went on to confirm he would do as he said, “cutting” a covenant with Abram. (see my comment to CM above). So the righteousness of belief comes first.

    The second in time, 7 chapters later, was Abraham offering up Isaac on the altar (Genesis chpt 22) and James (2:22,23) said that was an active fulfilment of the scripture Genesis 15:6.


    8The letter starts from faith and ends with faith, prayers of faith (James 5:13-19)

    9 I repeat the other points made to CM in response to his comment on James which you’ve not sought to address.

    Yours in Christ Jesus

  16. Ps Mike.

    As fits in with James letter. I meant to say this:

    Araham’s faith was living and active, at a time of testing with Isaac, a time of testing his faith, as was Rahab’s in testing times.

  17. I must respectfully disagree with the arguments David Robertson makes here.

    For starters, regarding the interpretations of Scripture, it was Catholic Church which wrote the New Testament and compiled the Holy Bible. Therefore, it is the Catholic (and only the Catholic) interpretation of the Bible which counts.

    (NB – by ‘Catholic Church” here, I refer to the very tangible, continuous and ancient organisation which has is HQ in Vatican City, not the modern vague notion of an ethereal organisation which somehow includes anyone who would refer to themselves as Christian, regardless of what they might believe).

    Protestants, of course, all have their own widely varying interpretations of the Bible and these only appeared some 1,600 years after the life of Christ and the creation of the Bible. Equally, they have an incomplete version of the Bible, having chosen to remove some parts after some 1,600 years of continuity.

    Papal infallibility is not an absurd doctrine. Even on a basic level, it is hardly absurd that the leader of an organisation dictates the terms / teachings / whatever of the organisation. If a leader cannot dictate teachings, then what we have is protestantism – i.e. a range of competing opinions, built on shifting sands.

    Infallibility does not refer to everything a Pope says and does. It only applies when he is solemnly defining a doctrine and is specifically intending to do so infallibly. It doesn’t mean he is perfect in every way, or could tell us what the lottery numbers will be.

    The example David gives above does not meet the very clear definition of what is infallible. And that a Pope might act in a way which is contrary to the Gospel is hardly something new. There have been several very poor Popes. I would argue that the current Pope (Francis) is poor; he clearly has a very worldly mindset, he likes to confuse the very clear teachings of Christ (in the name of a false mercy) and he likes cameras and microphones far more than is healthy, especially when reminding us (again) of his great humility. But, we get the standard of Popes which we deserve.

    Even the Orthodox Christians (schismatic Catholics) see clearly what the Petrine Office represents. When being persecuted by the rise of the Communists, Orthodox Bishops wrote to the Pope for help referring to him as “The Father of all Christianity” which of course he is, as was for many centuries recognised by everyone, everywhere (prior to the Orthodox schism and the later Protestant revolt).

    Jesus promised us His Church would last forever. And while the Catholic Church is at a real low point in its history,(which happens occasionally), it remains a coherent and continuous organisation (and in the coming decades will recover itself – just as it has following the various crises of the past. There are already signs of this).

    In contrast, mainstream Protestantism (of most or all types) is now in its twilight years, having gradually repudiated essentially everything Christ taught us. They will pass into history, having lasted barely one quarter of the time for which the Catholic Church has already stood.

    Look at the Church of Scotland and its various offshoots – it took a majority Christian nation, with a solid Christian tradition of close to 1,500 years, and within 500-odd years has efficiently turned it into a majority irreligious nation where faith of any kind is increasingly unwelcome.

    We should bear these contrasting fortunes, and social effects, when considering which model of the Church is the correct one. Is its hardly surprisingly that the correct one is the one which Jesus gave us Himself.

  18. Thanks David for yet another enlightening article. However you fail to mention an important group of believers, perhaps implying that we don’t exist. I mean those who for scriptural reasons believe the Catholic Church is not Christian but who at the same time have a heart for reaching our Catholic acquaintances with the gospel.
    How can the Catholic Church (as distinct from individual members) be labelled ‘Christian’ when they recognise their head as one who takes the place of Christ? Or offer indulgences as a contribution to the work of salvation? Or even suggest that our good works can in any way merit forgiveness.
    You do not appear to regard all Popes as anti-Christian. This seems odd to me as each one has, to my knowledge, had the arrogance to consider himself a joint head with Christ, displacing him from his rightful position. And I have yet to hear or see a Pope respond as Peter did when onlookers knelt down before him in homage.
    Sadly – and as in the case of LGBT lifestyles – some Christians take the view that if you firmly hold that such folk are totally in error you are a bigot.
    The truth is of course that the Bible which condemns homosexuality and Catholicism is the same Bible that commands believers to love those involved – and to demonstrate it.
    Many thanks again.

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