Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 2002
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Chapter 4 – The Historical Maturing of the Church
Lesson 196 – Church History – The Middle Ages
04 Apr 2002
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
The best place to capture the idea is Galatians 1 and Galatians 1:8 because what Galatians l:8 says is that “though we or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Now look what he says, “we or an angel,” so he’s saying that if he changed his mind about what the gospel was don’t listen to me. I don’t know why I visualize this, I always visualize this in terms of concrete; you mix it up and it sets, and once it sets you don’t change it. So once the Scripture is set, then it’s hardened up, it’s there, you can’t go back and change it. Other verses that you might want to remember, because in verse 8 you see the argument is logical continuity; it has to be logically consistent. Remember the other two references for this is Deuteronomy 13 and Deuteronomy 18 because those are the laws of evidence in the Old Testament that did the same thing, the theological continuity.
That was one thing that the Holy Spirit did in those early centuries. The second thing the Holy Spirit worked with the church was affirming the doctrine of God in two areas: the Trinity and Christology, the doctrine of Jesus Christ, who is Jesus Christ? We flippantly sometimes refer to these doctrines, forgetting that it took 500 years of debate before this thing got locked up. That doesn’t mean that heresy prevailed, but it does mean that there were very vigorous challenges to both of these doctrines. So serious were these challenges that the church felt they had to call councils with pastors coming from all over the Mediterranean to sit down and beat this out, what is it that we believe? What is the content, what is the truth, what is the apostolic teaching here? It wasn’t some quickie thing in a smoke-filled room. That the impression you get, for example, when somebody from some cult comes knocking on your door and they pass out this literature and the literature says well, the church got infiltrated with Greek philosophy and all the rest of it, like the church was so stupid they didn’t understand this.
Nobody creates doctrines of the Trinity because they’ve got nothing else to do. The doctrine of the Trinity came about as a synthesis of all the Scripture text. We covered these two doctrines last year in Part V so that’s why the notes refer back to those notes. If you remember on the doctrine of Christ, we had a chart on the nature of Jesus Christ and the debate that occurred. We said that the proof of the deity of Christ was along several lines of thought. Here are those lines of thought. Here is how the church arrived at a sense of the deity of Christ. It wasn’t just because there are one or two verses that they couldn’t explain other than explaining that Jesus was God. There was a logical development here. The first thing, if you go back and read what was going on in those centuries, the line of reasoning to show the deity of Christ was that when passages of the Old Testament that refer to Jehovah, that those passages those passages that refer to Jehovah would be quoted and moved over and deposited, as it were, on Jesus. So what we call that line of evidence is that they are “Christ for Jehovah substitutions”.
So one of the lines of logic was, we call this “Christ for Yahweh substitutions.” That means that you take texts like Psalm 69, texts in Isaiah, texts throughout the Old Testament and you have Jews who are monotheists arguing that you can substitute Christ for Jehovah in those texts. That implicitly acknowledges the deity of Jesus. So that was one line of evidence that they use. I listed, on a chart, examples of this argument. Here they are: Joel 2:28–32 is one of those passages—that’s the one that Peter quotes on Pentecost. Jehovah is giving the Spirit in Joel. Peter quotes it as Jesus is giving the Spirit in Acts 2. Another one is Numbers 21:5–6 and in that passage it’s talking about the rebellious people, etc. and they tested Jehovah. In 1 Corinthians 10:9 that’s applied to Jesus. Psalm 68:18, that’s a really good easy to see one, where Jehovah ascends and then He gives gifts to men, takes gifts, etc. That’s in Ephesians 4 applied to Jesus. Isaiah 45:23, that verse describes Jehovah as an object of oaths; it’s applied to Jesus in Philippians 2:9–11. We could give more verses but you get the idea. There’s a consistent “Christ for Jehovah” substitution going on in the New Testament. Now how do you explain that? That was one powerful line of evidence.
The second line of evidence that was used in those debates on Christology was that Christ did things that only God was reputed to be able to do. So, “Christ for God in actions.” In particular, we often would think of the calming of the Sea of Galilee, etc. which was one, Jehovah sits on the flood and He controls the waters and the storms and the seas and then Jesus gets out on the Sea of Galilee and says “Be quiet,” and all of a sudden the momentum and energy in the atmosphere just dissipates, instantly dissipates. So how did He pull that one off? I mean, call David Copperfield, how do you do that? That’s a case where Jesus did a work.
But the most powerful argument isn’t works of omnipotence. The most powerful argument for “Christ for God in actions” is Jesus said I forgive you of sins. That is a powerful argument. Nowhere—nowhere—could a priest say that. A priest would say God has forgiven you the sins. Why couldn’t a priest say I forgive you the sins? Who was able to forgive? The one against whom the sin was committed. So if Jesus says I forgive you of your sins, then it implies that the sins must be against Him and He must be the author of the Law. That’s the power of that line of argument, that Jesus claims to forgive sin.
You have at least five passages in the New Testament, three definitely, maybe five, that explicitly claim the deity of Jesus. The first one we all know, John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It wasn’t a God, “the Word was God.” It’s an anarthrous noun but it’s used of God. The second verse in the New Testament that explicitly declares the deity of Jesus is Titus 2:13, “God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” That’s the second one. The third one is 1 John 5:20 where Jesus is explicitly called God. In addition to this argument you have those verses.
So the problem is that the New Testament was claiming deity for Jesus, but the New Testament also presented Jesus as humanity. He was tired, He slept, He was hungry, He died on the cross, so the critics at this point in church history, here’s what they were doing and it’s never been the same; the argument has not changed. That’s one of the beauties of studying church history, because the arguments don’t change; the same argument comes up again and again. If you master it from reading in church history you say oh, that’s that argument, it comes up again. What they were doing is, you have the evidences for the deity of Jesus and you have the evidences for the humanity of Jesus. Both of these are in the New Testament. What the critics were doing is they were looking at the verses for the humanity of Jesus and said well, He can’t be both, He has to be one or the other, it makes more sense to think of Jesus as a man, so we’ll take this as our primary datum and what we’ll do is we’ll kind of get greasy and mooch around on the other verses. That’s basically the argument, it’s always done. The critics who assault the deity of Jesus will always take you to passages that show His humanity. And you can say well so, that’s what we’re saying, Jesus is man, Jesus is human but He’s also God. Well that doesn’t make sense. Well if God became flesh it does make sense.
There was a church council that clarified this; it’s called Chalcedon. It was in the 6th century and that is called, the theologians have a term for that, the Chalcedonian Christology. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants agree to Chalcedonian Christology and there’s no debate about this. The people who have a little bit different thing, they got irritated because the West was doing this, the Eastern block, the so-called Orthodox Church, they got a little irritated because of linguistic reasons and political reasons. But they’re not outright denying it, it’s just that they kind of had heartburn about this conference. So that’s Chalcedonian Christology; that finished off Christ and understanding who He was.
Coming back to that early period of the church, the foundational period, that period clarified these two things. You’ll notice there’s a sequence built into this. This is the beauty of how the Holy Spirit teaches. You can’t get to here without affirming here. You can’t be drawing conclusions about revelation of God’s character unless you have the revelation to begin with. So you always start with the authority of Scripture. It’s revelation that’s authority.
Before we go any further, I want to comment, observe this and watch it carefully. Orthodoxy and true Bible doctrine always affirms the primacy of the authority of revelation, not reason … not reason! These people, when they debated this, they didn’t have their devotions out of Aristotle. The point is that it’s not that Christianity is illogical, but when you get into things like the Trinity and Christology, your logic machine is like a calculator or a computer. We all need calculators; we all need computers; we all need logic. The problem is it’s what you feed it. If you feed it garbage in and garbage comes out. There’s nothing wrong with logic. When we say reason is not our authority, it’s not that we’re denying logic; it’s rather that the computing machine needs content. For example, when we say God is three but God is one—that would be a logical contradiction if the threeness of God were talking about the same thing as the oneness of God. What the threeness is talking about and what the oneness is talking about is very difficult to comprehend if not impossible. We just affirm that the Scripture teaches there’s something that’s three-like about God, and there’s something that’s one about God. And the something, the something is the depth of revelation and the content of revelation.
That’s an example of what we mean by logic. There’s no illogic to this; it would only be illogical if we said the threeness and the oneness apply to the same thing and we’re not saying that. Nobody said that; nowhere in the councils did they ever say that. The same with Christology. How can Jesus both be God and be man? But the data says that’s what He is. How do you put it together? The Chalcedon people put it together “undiminished deity, true humanity, (two things) united in one person without confusion forever.” One person so you’ve got two in one. How do you deal with that? It’s very hard to deal with that. But if somebody comes up to you and says you know, you Christians, you’ve got such illogical things here, you can throw out things … if you happen to deal with someone with a science background, how can light be a wave and a particle? And yet all modern physics assert that wave is both a wave and a particle. It has characteristics of a particle and it has characteristics of a wave. Now you tell me, did you ever see a wave-ical? There’s no such thing. So here we are, we have heavy revelation that loads up the logic machine. But it’s not denying the logic machine is there. What’s happening in this first four or five centuries is that guys are thinking very hard. This is tough stuff and for somebody to come up to you with a little hasty backhand and say oh, that sounds silly. It’s funny that 500 years of serious thought was committed to that. Did these people have nothing else to do for five centuries but to think about this? I suspect that the guys who thought this out for five centuries had a lot more on the ball than the modern critic that just backhands it with sarcasm.
Now we want to move on in church history to the next period. Keep in mind we’re going real fast through church history, and we’re not doing justice to lots of it. But that’s not my objective here; all I’m trying to illustrate is that the Holy Spirit has been working down through the corridors of time in the Church Age.
We now come to a period of time called the Middle Ages. The Holy Spirit was busy in the Middle Ages. If you want an anchor, the Middle Ages started with Augustine, after the collapse of the Roman Empire the Vandals, the Visigoths, etc. and terminate this … I’m going to extend the Middle Ages for the sake of our class, because we only want three sections of church history; we’ll include the Reformation as the end part of this, so from Augustine to Luther; from Augustine to Calvin. What was the Holy Spirit doing in this period of time? If you look at the notes, page 92, you’ll see that we’re talking about the theme during the Middle Ages, all during this period of time, was not so much the nature of God or the authority of Scripture, it was what did Jesus do? What was that mysterious work that He did on the Cross? So the theme here we would say is the redemption, or the work of Christ.
Next week we’re going to deal with the benefits, or how shall I say this, the personal reception of the work of Christ. So really we’re looking at redemption in two parts. Both of these have come in for a lot of discussion and debate and when you study the Bible, you need to understand about these issues, just broadly, so when you get into a passage of Scripture, just remember you’re not the first Christian to see this text. A lot of people have seen it before you have, and a lot of people have debated it before you have and the Holy Spirit has worked with a lot of people before you came along or I came along, and we might benefit from this and the questions they’ve asked the text and the answers they thought they got from the text. It helps.
It also helps to know these doctrines for another reason. Church history is a spiritual laboratory where you can do experiments. Here are the experiments you can do in the laboratory of church history. You can do “what ifs?” What if I believe this, where does it lead me? Church history is an excellent forum for “what if” experiments. What if I deny the full humanity of Jesus? Where does that lead me? That’s Docetism, and where it leads you is there’s no atonement. What if I don’t hold to the full deity of Christ? Then you don’t have any revelation, you’ve ruined the revelation that’s in the person of Jesus, and knowing Jesus means not that you know God, that means you know somebody else, a half-God, half-man creature or something but if salvation is knowing God, then knowing Jesus if Jesus isn’t God you are not saved. Those are the kinds of arguments. If Scripture isn’t our authority then reason and imagination have to be authority; there has to be some authority. What authority are you going to use. So you can do these “what ifs” scenarios.
Now we’re going to look at the work of Christ and we covered this when we dealt with Part V because we had the birth of Christ, the life of Christ, the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. We went over the work of Christ back then, so I’m really reviewing for you a lot of Part V. On the bottom of page 92 I want to give you a sample of what the early church fathers said when they refer to the work of Christ. Here is a second or third century guy and just from reading him you see they were not asking profound questions about the work of Christ, they just accepted it. They were asking profound questions about gee, where’s the Canon, what book is apostolic, what book isn’t apostolic, how do we talk about Jesus and the Trinity, this and that and so forth. But when it came to the work of Christ they just sort of accepted it like we would and moved on.
You can’t read this statement on page 92 and not sense that this is a godly person who rejoices in the work of Jesus. I just throw that out to you to show that the early church was thankful for the work of Christ and they were cognizant of the work of Christ. Notice the reading: “O the sweet exchange,” notice the word “exchange,” some people say oh well it’s only the fundamentalists that thought of the vicarious atonement of Christ. Excuse me! What do you see there? “O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous!” This was never developed much, it wasn’t debated a lot, but gosh, you can’t read that statement and not believe there’s an orthodox guy, that’s really solid theology there. It was just never followed up or argued about or debated.
On page 93 you see “Purpose and Results of the Cross.” There’s one key theologian in church history, and you want to know his name. There are a lot of key theologians but in this discussion one of the key guys was a man by the name of Anselm, AD 1033–1109. Anselm wrote a book, Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man). That is considered to be one of the greatest books the world has ever seen. Of course we wouldn’t dare have it in the public school system for fear of the ACLU, but it actually part of one of the great works of history, and truly literate people are concerned with these great books. The tragedy is that I don’t think you can go to Amazon.com and buy Cur Deus Homo, maybe you can, I don’t know, I haven’t checked. Why the God-Man is a basic text treating the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you ever get a chance to look at it, I’ve read sections of it, I confess I’ve never read the whole thing; it’s neat to read somebody like that centuries away from you. You sense that gosh, you know there were other believers living in other centuries and you know we’re brothers in Christ. It kind of helps your faith to realize that these guys are on the same sheet of music that we are.
Anselm insisted on a satisfaction view of the atonement. So we want to spend time understanding this issue of the work of Christ. You’ll see before we’re done tonight that in evangelicalism today we’re drifting away from this. There’s a very serious inroad of non-Anselmic teaching of the cross of Jesus in our own evangelical circles. Let’s look at this work.
To understand the work of Christ on the cross, what did we say is the basic idea that you have to have straight in your head? You have to have straight in your head the idea of justice. If you don’t have the concept of justice you’ll never be able to understand the work of Jesus Christ. To get the true idea of justice, where do you go? You have to go to the Old Testament. The Old Testament gives you the idea of what justice is all about and the view of justice that you get in the Old Testament is one of restitution. It tends to be restitutionary, that if something is wrong, something has been broken, damaged, it has to be repaired, it has to be dealt with. God demands that it be dealt with; it’s not the human court that’s doing this, it’s God that’s doing this. God demands that this be done. Why does God demand that something be restored or restituted? Why does He do that? That’s one of the great issues in church history. Anselm tried to answer, why does God require these things? There were several other theologians in the Middle Ages that did this.
But here’s the debate that they argue. To us it seems a little archaic, but I always kind of like to listen to these guys because it always deepens my appreciation for Scripture to read through what these guys debated. Here are two views that they had about this justice issue. Some said that God demands it because it’s His character to demand it. In other words, the nature of God requires this. Others said that God demands it because He loves us and His expression of love is righteous acts, so the justice here so to speak is the result of God’s activity, but it doesn’t come directly out of His nature; it’s just because He requires it. In other words, the argument here was that God … let me put this in a clear practical way; let’s look at it this way. If God’s nature is just and it’s His nature that requires satisfaction, or restitution, then Jesus Christ on the cross is the only possible way of salvation, EVER, there is no other possibility, even God Himself cannot come up with another way of salvation apart from the cross of Christ because only the cross of Christ fits His nature.
Those who argued the other way said well, Jesus is the only way of salvation, but had God wanted to He could have designed another plan of salvation; men could have theoretically been saved in some other way as long as God approved the other say. They call that the freedom, God was free to design whatever salvation package He wanted to design. They granted and fully accepted that the cross was the only way. The debate was whether the cross was the only possibility, was the only possible plan of salvation conceivable. This is pretty interesting thinking because it’s contingent on the nature and character of God. Of course, as you might guess, history has come down subsequently and affirmed this view, that the cross of Jesus Christ emanates from the nature of God, that God’s nature is to be just, and therefore His nature demands that He do certain things.
The danger of the other view is that this view leads to other things. For example, people can say gee, can God ever degree that a square be a circle? Could God ever declare that destruction of life is okay? Could God do this? Could God do that? Could God do something else? God is free to do whatever He wants to do so what this results in if you take it to a broad conclusion is that God has an arbitrary character, or an arbitrary nature; He does whatever He does. That turns God into some sort of a cosmic bully, that He has no character of Himself, it’s whatever He wants to do He does. That’s not the revelation we have of God. Think of how many passages in the Psalms you read, O God … and they worship God because of His nature. So that view fell away and this view was left, that the cross of Jesus is the only way of salvation because it is the only satisfaction of the very nature of God Himself. You cannot be saved any other way; there is no other thing but blood atonement, period! Even God Himself, as it were, cannot save in any other way than this way.
I want to pause here for just a little application. If you grasp what we’re saying here, this is the answer to all religion. By the Middle Ages the Holy Spirit had raised the conscious level of the church enough that the church should have recognized when it went up against Islam, which it was getting… remember, look at the dates here, AD 1000, Anselm is at AD 1000, you have Thomas Aquinas also writing at this period and who was Thomas Aquinas writing against all the time but the Muslims. That’s interesting because at the same time in history when we’re debating another religion that’s threatening the existence of Christianity, what should be the topic but how can men be saved? And what is behind that topic but the nature of God’s character? Thus you see why it is that in early church history it was important that centuries before that Trinity and Christology were clarified, because if the Trinity and Christology are not clarified, then when you get into debates about the work of God, whether it’s contingent on His nature or not, you’d be sliding all over the place if you hadn’t first understood who God is. You can’t understand the work of God until you understand who He is. There’s a consistency to that and that’s the way the Holy Spirit administered His teaching throughout the centuries.
Unfortunately, and remember we’ve looked at the book of Acts and how have we learned from the book of Acts that God works with the church? Bam, that’s how He works with the church, because the church stayed in Jerusalem, wouldn’t leave Jerusalem even though He said you shall be witnesses unto the whole world. How did the church get out of Jerusalem? They were booted out. Why? Because of persecution. So it is in doctrinal development, the church never moved unless a heresy comes along to attack. And here’s the man who was the heretic. His name was Peter Abelard and by the way, I think if you look at page 94 you’ll see him mentioned. Notice the dates; Peter Abelard came on the same time as Anselm. This guy, if you look at that paragraph, I want you to pause and we’re going to go slowly through this paragraph because I really want you to understand what Abelard did here, because this has come up 1001 times since Abelard, it’s coming up today in our own evangelical circles. It comes up in a lot of so-called Christian circles, again and again and again and again; it’s like we don’t know this ever happened in church history.
“Against this Anselmic Satisfaction Theory, came the attack of Peter Abelard who sought to explain the work of Christ by His Moral Influence Theory. He argued that the Satisfaction Theory made God into an ogre, demeaned His love, and obliterated the freeness of God to forgive mankind (i.e., that if God could only forgive on the basis of penal substitutionary atonement, then He truly wasn’t free but bound by His nature).” See what they’re trying to do? Make God’s nature elastic, you know, God doesn’t just have to deal with this cross thing, He could have done it besides this blood atonement way, there are other ways. See how modern this sounds. You can’t deal with a non-Christian religion without going back to this. So Abelard … these guys are smart, this isn’t some guy that’s an idiot, he’s thought this through, and for Peter Abelard, his argument was that this is so judgmental, every time you guys talk about the work of Christ on the cross you’re always talking about justice; I want to get away from justice, I want to deal with God’s love. So they bifurcated God’s love and His justice, and they emphasized and came down solidly on God as a loving God.
“He argued that humanity’s problem wasn’t sin before a holy God but lack of love and selfishness. The purpose of the Cross,” and here’s the key sentence, watch this sentence, “The purpose of the cross, therefore,” for Peter Abelard, “was to demonstrate love and selflessness. It generates,” now watch this, here’s salvation starting to come in, watch what you’ve done now, we’ve moved away from justice and we’ve worked with love. By the way, this is what’s so subtle about Abelard. Isn’t it true that the cross is a demonstration of love and selflessness? It sure is: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” but there’s something greasy going on here.
We want to do a little exercise; I want you to follow with me in the remaining part of this class because this is how Satan hits us. He’ll take a truth that’s really half true and then he greases the sled and kind of gets us off the road. You know, we slide off the road this way or we slide off the road that way; you can’t stay on the road. So what he did, he picked up a true thing, that the cross does demonstrate God’s love, but what he did in so doing that was that he shoved justice aside and isolated the attribute of love and emphasized love, love, love, love, and then he said well how does the cross save you? Well if it’s a demonstration of love, and it’s an act of love, it solicits your response. So to Abelard salvation is an emotional response to a message of love.
He says, “It generates a human emotional response in order to change human behavior.” That’s how it saves, the cross becomes an inspiration to a selfless life and that changes our behavior and we are saved. That’s Abelardian. “This Abelardian Moral Influence Theory has recurred again and again since the Middle Ages throughout Unitarianism, liberalism, and even in evangelical revivalism.” It’s easy to slip into because there is a truth here. The cross does show God’s love, but I want you to follow the next paragraph.
By the way, there’s a footnote on page 94, that italicized sentence, the Abelardian Moral Influence Theory, go down to the footnote: “Early in the Protestant Reformation a few teachers, such as Faustus Socinus,” that’s a name that if you read church history you’ll see that come up, Socinianism, or the Socinians, “left the authority of sc to embrace the authority of Reason.” By the way, there’s an illustration; what has to happen to go to false doctrine? You have to give up the authority of Scripture. It’s repeat, it’s again and again the same thing. “They rejected the Trinity and the Chalcedonian Christology which led logically to a denial of the Anselmic atonement.” Now he’s rejected the authority of Scripture, he’s rejected the Trinity, he’s rejected Chalcedonian Christology, so guess what that does to his doctrine of the atonement. Now that starts to slide. And it “led logically to a denial of the Anselmic atonement. Socinus wrote,” now here’s a quote; here’s a quote from this guy, watch what he’s saying. “If we could get rid of this justice …that fiction of Christ’s satisfaction would be thoroughly exposed and would vanish.” Socinus knew what was going on here. He said we’ve got to get rid of that justice, get that out of the picture and then we can do away with the satisfaction theory of the cross, and then we can get to God’s love, such a wonderful thing, it just woos my heart. “Note here how heresy starts at the beginning of the church’s doctrinal development,” it recapitulates it. The last sentence of the footnote: “The Socinian heresy was adopted in the early 1700s by the founders of Unitarianism in America.”
So Socinianism became an American Unitarianism and Unitarianism destroyed the heart and the guts of Colonial Christianity. Unitarianism was the death note; Unitarianism in New England totally wiped out the Puritans. The Puritan influence ended when Unitarianism took over the churches in New England. That was the end of it; New England hasn’t been right since. So you have this whole idea, it goes on century after century after century and I think you can recognize some of it that you hear in our Christian songs, in a lot of preaching today.
Now careful here, we’re not denying that the cross shows God’s love. But why is it that the cross does show God’s love? Turn to John 12:32; there is Scripture to support what looks like an Abelardian view of the atonement. What does it say? Jesus said “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” but if you look in the paragraph, the last one on page 94 and follow that sentence, “However, this moral influence exists only because the work is primarily judicial.” In other words, if there wasn’t an issue of God’s justice, and there wasn’t a need of blood atonement, isn’t the cross a little excessively bloody and brutal? Isn’t there other ways that God could show His love to us than having His own Son nailed to a cross just for a show? Is the Cross just a show? Do you see what it does to the Cross? It becomes a joke. If the cross is merely an issue of God’s attribute of love, it’s a pretty bloody love message, unless there is a justice issue and God is showing us His love by solving the judicial issue.
To see that and how that comes together, turn to Romans 3, that classic passage. The Reformers all went here, to Romans 3, and this verse is where the justice and the grace of God come together. Keep in mind Abelard wanted to separate the two. The Unitarians wanted to separate the two. The liberals want to separate the two. But Paul combines the two and he does so precisely because of the cross in Romans 3:26. In Romans 3:26, here’s talking about the Cross as a demonstration, but what is the demonstration of? Paul elsewhere says yes the cross is a demonstration, for while we were yet sinners Christ died; God manifested His love toward us. Paul knows about the love, but in verse 26 he’s not talking about love per se, he’s says it’s a demonstration of His what? “…of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just,” there’s His nature, “that He might be just and” yet at the same time He may also justify the sinner; there’s the act of love. [“that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”] But you don’t split love away from justice.
So the fight in this period of time, in the Middle Ages, the primary debate was going on about what did Christ’s work on the cross do? We want to summarize some of this and where these ideas lead. Remember I said church history is a “what if” laboratory. You can always go to church history and ask yourself, I would like to see what happens when we believe this way. Then you watch ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Oh, that’s where that theology leads. What happens if we believe that way, and then you watch what happens as a result of believing that way? That’s what we mean by a “what if” laboratory.
So what happens if we are Abelardians? Where does that lead us? If the Cross is a message of God’s love and its purpose is to evoke an emotion of thankfulness and a feeling that we want to pay Him back, we are ashamed of our selfishness when we see the selflessness of Jesus on the cross, etc. What that has done is it has moved the issue so that the central issue is now no longer justice at the level of God, God’s character, the issue now is a psychological state on the level of man. It’s a man-centered thing. The cross gets its justification only by what it does for them. Gee, it wins men to a loving sense, or a sense they want to repay God, or they want to behave better, etc. It’s primarily a man-centered thing. It’s primarily a psychological thing; it’s what goes on inside man’s heart that is the issue.
Are we denying that salvation affects man psychologically? No, of course it affects man psychologically, but the point is that you cannot eliminate the justice, this is the primary reason for the cross, and secondarily yes, it has psychological impacts, but it has psychological impacts only because first it has resolved the issue, the fundamental issue of my relationship with God. In the next hundred years we’re going to be face to face with God, and I’m sorry but I don’t think He’s going to be impressed if we come with Sigmund Freud. [blank spot]
You have to be serious about what’s going on here. Men have to start asking the question, what are you going to do when you stand face to face with God? What kind of answer are you going to give? Oh, gee God, I’m sorry about my feelings. I don’t think He’s going to be impressed because of our feelings. He’s going to deal with our nature and our acts. What did you do with this? You violated My nature, and I gave you salvation, and what did you do with My Son? The issue isn’t here, the issue is here, it’s God, not man. So the Middle Ages was a time when the deal was let’s deal with the objective nature of the cross, not just the subjective; that will come, but it’s got to be objective.
The Abelardian influence was not killed off in the Middle Ages. That has gone on and like the other things that we’ve talked about, you can diagram the church history, we’ve had the authority of Scripture, we’ve had the doctrine of the Trinity, we’ve had the doctrine of Jesus Christ, and now we’re talking about the work on the cross. These were settled; we checked them off in that they came to be settled in open public debate. That does not mean that there are not attempts out here to deny these. There are always going to be attacks against each of these points, but as church history went on in time, these things had their day of discussion. So when somebody starts talking to you about the Trinity, that’s old. That’s been debated. There’s no argument that somebody is going to bring up that wasn’t handled back before AD 600. There are no new arguments here. So it’s old news, and when somebody tries to tell you, like the liberal pastors, who will talk all about the cross of Jesus and weep tears about the cross of Jesus Christ, and have no more meaning in their words than Abelard did, it’s old news.
What this does, it takes the burden of trying to say oh well, that’s just you fundies that believe that. Yeah, we fundies believe it, the Middle Ages believed it, the first 600 years of the church believed it, what streak of church history believed what you believe? It puts it in a little different light and it shields you from having to be the guy or the gal that, you know, you’re contending for the faith and it’s just your opinion. No it’s not your opinion; this was open forum debate, all of these. Next time we’re going to deal with what the Reformation dealt with, because here’s a problem and here’s how this thing wasn’t finished with Anselm. The problem came, after we agree that the justice of God is the center of focus and not the psychology of man, the church then had the question of does the grace of God coming through that cross save from all sin right now, or does it only save my past sins, and the sins that I yet commit aren’t yet forgiven, the cross hasn’t been applied to those yet.
This left open a door that came to be powerfully expressed in Roman Catholicism through the doctrine of the sacraments, that the merit of Christ, there was no debate that whatever merit existed came through Christ on the Cross, that wasn’t a debate between Protestants and Catholics. Both Protestants and Catholics agree to that. But what was a debate was how much of that merit comes down, how much of that merit is appropriated, and on what basis does that merit come to you and to me? Does it come instantly? Does it come through a baptism of an infant, through the sacrament of baptism? The Roman Catholic Church holds that baptism washes the past sins of the infant to the point of the baptism, and then from there on it’s the merit of mass, it’s participation in the sacraments, etc. that bring down the merit of the Cross, the merit of the Cross, the merit of the Cross, the merit of the Cross, and hopefully the merit of the Cross will be applied enough so that you’ll eventually be saved.
Or, as Luther and Calvin said, and this was a bombshell, this was a nuclear bomb. If you contrast this you see the power of what happened in the Reformation. Calvin and Luther argued that the merits of Jesus don’t dribble down; the merits of Jesus are solely deposited to your account at the point of salvation, period! Jesus Christ’s cross saved from past sin, present sin and future sin. Oh said the church, you can’t teach that, you can’t teach that, if you teach that people will go out and lead licentious lives. The repercussion of that came back on the Protestants and the Protestants said gee, maybe we shouldn’t teach that, so they started to hedge. So you had a backlash, it’s called the Council of Trent where the Catholics got together and they attacked Luther, they attacked Calvin, they attacked the Protestants, you people have unleashed, you have made sinful men immune to the threat of God’s justice, people can’t live the Christian life unless they’re threatened with a wrathful just God, you Protestants have immunized men against that, and you watch, your ranks will be filled up with the licentious people who could care less because you’ve told them they’ve completely been saved. You can see where this is headed.
That created a whole second issue, and that’s the issue we’re going to talk about next week with the Protestant Reformation. So these are all things that the Holy Spirit has led the church through and you can see that the Scriptures I teach and the Scriptures you read, as we read these Scriptures understand these great debates that went on over these texts. These texts were not just sitting on a shelf. There was active intelligent sustained public argument over these points.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question is what words do we use for atonement? There really isn’t a synonym for atonement that is commonly used. The words that are used to describe the cross are three. There’s redemption, there’s propitiation and there’s reconciliation. Each of those three words focuses on the effect of the finished work of Christ. For example, redemption is a picture, it’s an economic picture, it means to buy something and it refers to the sense that we were indebted to God, we were slaves, we were indebted to God, and we were bought. We were purchased off the slave market. I think of the little Chinese girl, they didn’t buy her; she is a discard because in China to have a daughter is … you know, so they have hundreds and hundreds of these kids, throw aways, and that girl was redeemed. I was saying doesn’t it give you as a daddy in this case, he holds this little baby that really is a throw away, but that baby is God’s image, so they hold her and they look at her and they bought her in the sense that she’s been redeemed. That’s the sense of redemption.
Question asked; Clough replies: When you use the word “redemption” you’re using the idea that the atonement pays a debt that you could not pay. We couldn’t pay because the penalty … the wages of sin is death. We don’t have any money to facilitate our redemption, so redemption has a money idea in mind. It really does—it’s a money idea, an economic idea.
The second word that is often used to describe the work of Christ is propitiation, a big long word, but propitiation focuses straight on to God’s character, that His character has been violated judicially, and it requires a satisfaction. Probably of those three words the closest word to atonement is the word propitiation.
A third word is reconciliation, and that’s a little different. It’s still talking about the Cross, it’s still talking about the benefits of the Cross, but reconciliation has to do with a ruptured relationship. God is angry at us, we’re angry at Him, so we are reconciled, and that reconciliation is a result of the atonement. So those three words are ideas that deal with the atonement, the effect of the atonement. And notice all of them, all three of them, redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation don’t focus on psychology; they’re all focused on something that’s objective and external to us. That’s the thing to understand about what’s going on. There’s a big fight that went on here for centuries.
Question asked: Clough replies: All of these deal with atonement, it’s just that they have slightly different flavors of how you approach it, one from the standpoint of reconciliation, ruptured relationship between God and man, another one, propitiation before the holy God, and the third one redemption is a payment has to be made here. So all of those words are genuine words, and there are other words, expiation is another one that is used in the New Testament, but they all focus in on the same thing, trying to describe the manifold work of Christ on the Cross. And in the final analysis we don’t know all that went on at the cross. If you think about it, if you were there taking a video camera of the crucifixion, for several hours your film would be blank, you couldn’t have seen, the camera could not have penetrated, even if you were only 200 feet away from the cross that film would have been blank. And what was going on when that was going on we don’t know, there was just a horrifying darkness that surrounded the cross when this transaction was being done. Maybe God in His grace put it all in darkness so we wouldn’t have to see it. But something happened, and just a real darkness came across.
Question asked: Clough replies: You have to kind of be careful in that you preserve for God His freedom to express His nature in different ways, but it’s always His nature. He is bounded. He couldn’t make square circles—that’s a facetious way of saying it—but He couldn’t create an immoral history, a totally immoral history because that would be against His nature, so in that sense God was constrained by His nature. Now what the little pundits do with that, they love to pick on that one because then they oh, ha-ha, ha-ha, that means that God isn’t free, He isn’t all powerful because He can’t do everything. Do you see what they’re saying? Their argument is that if God isn’t free to do anything, then He’s not free, and He’s not omnipotent. Well that’s a fallacious argument unless He is characterless. And there’s a name for that kind of belief. The idea that theologians have a name for that; whenever people argue that God should be free to do anything He wants, or He’s not omnipotent, it’s called voluntarism, from the word volunteer; voluntarism meaning His will, He has a sovereign will but there’s no character to it, it’s just arbitrary. And that’s not the teaching of Scripture.
Question asked; is there an attribute that says that God is free, would there be any particular attribute that would establish that. Clough replies: Sovereignty expresses His choice to choose, but the choice is a choice of a being with character, with nature. This is fundamentally something … this all sounds theoretical when you get into it, but if you sit there and churn for a little bit you’ll see that this is related to our everyday Christian life, because how often when bad things happen is the temptation to think that God really isn’t good here. You know, I’ve got a problem with Him, and see the temptation coming in, because what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to attack His character. Where does that come from? Who was the one in the Garden that was trying to run down God’s character? It’s always the same person behind this thing.
Sin always does that, sin always, if you trace it back, every temptation we have, the temptation to do this, the temptation to do that, or the temptation to do something else, is a solicitation to change our theology. I’ve just recently seen that and I’m still mulling that over, but where I first became explicitly aware of that was entreating Genesis 3, and when Adam and Eve fled to hide in the bushes and I’ve thought about Genesis 3 for years and years and years because there’s so much to that story, it’s so simple but gosh, there’s such depth to it. Think about Adam and Eve fleeing to hide from God; now they did that right after the fall happened, after they ate. In order to try to get inside Adam and Eve’s head, what the heck is going on with this couple, they’re hiding from God. When they fled from Him they must have thought that it would be successful or they wouldn’t have tried it, otherwise, if they hadn’t thought that they really could hide from God, they would have stayed there, you know, hands up, I surrender. But the fact of the matter is they wanted to avoid Him so they hid from Him. But if you pause and get away from it and you say wait a minute, if I’m hiding from God, I’ve denied His omnipresence. I’ve already begun, in my sin; my sin nature is so powerful that it reconstructs God after an image it wants.
And that’s the heart, sin is inherently idolatrous, that’s what idolatry is, it’s reengineering our operating program so that it gets out of whack with what God really is like. All sin solicits a theological shift and that’s a good illustration of the Garden. Adam and Eve began the reconstruction of theology within minutes of the fall. And that was a temptation, think of it, with Jesus and Satan. Why was Jesus always firing back the Scriptures? When Satan would say come on, you can make that stone into bread. Jesus said you don’t want to tempt God; that’s an answer that goes back to His whole mission, but ultimately Jesus could have argued with Satan this way, this way, this way, but what He did He skipped all the way up here, because Satan is brilliant. I mean, Jesus and Satan didn’t have to go through a step by step proof, both of them are standing there face to face, as absolute stunning geniuses, so on the chess board they don’t have to play piece after piece, they just skip all the pieces. So Christ, when He answers Satan He says you don’t tempt God because what Satan was doing he was soliciting Jesus to change His theology, and Jesus said you’re not going to get me to change My theology, get out of here.
So it was a profound opposition to temptation. And I think that is an insight that is useful to break bad habits because when we have these entrenched sin patterns that are just like oppressing formidable tracks it helps if you can ask the Lord to illuminate what is the false belief that keeps empowering this sin. Sin is empowered by a falsehood somewhere, and our sin natures, what does Jeremiah say about the human heart? It’s deceitful, it’s desperately wicked. So we have to pray that God will illuminate our heart. That doesn’t mean to go to psychotherapy at $50.00 every thirty minutes or something, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit has to work to illuminate what is going on, somewhere I’ve bought into a false picture of God in some part of His character. And it keeps coming up and keeps coming up and keeps coming up and it comes up so fast I’m almost unconscious of it. So that’s the dilemma.
And what’s interesting, if you look at the temptations of Jesus, when He was tempted, He interfered with that high speed boom, in other words Satan tried to pull a fast one on Him and Jesus was faster. I always think of that as happening within a split second. Satan thought he was going to pull one in there in a split second and Jesus was faster, He caught it, caught the ball.
Question asked: Clough replies: This gets back to some medication… the issue here is that we have both body and soul, and the body, the brain is a physical thing and sometimes can be affected, and sometimes you need (quote) “medicine,” (end quote) but other times medicine is actually a hindrance. A good example of this, a real good example of this thing is… not that this applies in every case, but I throw it out as an example because everybody knows about it and it’s easy to think about. Remember the story on the cross, when Jesus is suffering. Now talk about a need for a little morphine, frankly Jesus was in need of some morphine right at that point, I would have liked some if I was in that situation. So there was a case where they tried to give Him medicine. Remember early on they reached up and they tried to give Him medicine and what did He say? He stopped it. Then if you notice after the work was done on the cross He accepted it. Because during the battle of the atonement, whatever it was, He could not afford to be drugged, even though the pain level must have been awesome, somehow He had to maintain His consciousness. He had to fight through this spiritual battle and He couldn’t do it under the influence of some drug. So to me what that says is that there’s a time for medicine and there’s a time not for it.
And if there’s a spiritual conflict going on, I think this is one reason why fasting exists. Fasting is not… I mean it’s great for your health sometimes to fast, but that’s not why the Scriptures are talking about fasting. I think one of the things about fasting is that in the ancient world particularly getting food was a big issue. I mean it wasn’t just put it in the microwave and nuke it for five seconds. You had to prepare, it was a long procedure. Remember the stories of Abraham, hey Sarah, go kill it and dress it and so on and five hours later we’ll have supper. So it was a long drawn out procedure, but when these guys had a spiritual battle they could not be distracted by medicine, by preparation, by work; it demanded concentration. And I think that’s the heart of why fasting. It’s not that something meritorious in giving up coffee or something for two hours. It’s deeper than that, it’s getting rid of all the distractions so you can sit and meditate and understand and pray. You can’t do that in the middle of Grand Central Station, with the confusion.
So that’s where I think medicine plays a role, rather doesn’t play a role. So it’s that balance, I think, that you have to have. We’ve had people that have had damage, physiological anatomical damage to their brains, and they refused to take medicine that was controlling that damage, and they got into serious trouble because they wouldn’t take their medicine in that case. But then I think we Americans, frankly …, it’s interesting, you hear about the drug war and we’re always worried about drugs, but if you think about watching more than one or two hours of television, inevitably within one or two hours what’s advertised? A pill of something, you’ve got to have a pill to do something. Well you know, what is the problem here? We are the most drugged society, we’re going to take a pill and get real, take a pill and do this, take a pill and grow taller or something, take a pill and get hair, it’s all this instant thing. I think it’s a cultural thing. Then we wonder why, for example, a teenager will go out and say well, geez, why don’t I just take a pill to feel better.
We bring it right up to the door and then gee, I wonder why we’ve got a drug problem. Because our culture tends to bias people in that direction. And if you think back further, why do you want pills to get real? For the same reason you want alcohol to get real, or anything else to get real. It’s because subtlety what that all is is a form of anesthesia, it’s anesthetizing, actually anesthetizing a Holy Spirit generated pain because if people are out of kilter with God they’re going to experience pain, they’re going to experience emptiness. What drove me to the Cross of Jesus Christ was I was blessed like crazy, I didn’t come to Christ in adversity, but I came to Christ because what the Holy Spirit used in my life was a sense of emptiness. I attained in high school every goal I wanted to. I walked out with a scholarship, I walked out with honors, I walked out with this and that, and I can remember the day that I walked out, I went back and forth so many times for the award ceremony in the Senior class that the girl I was dating at the time says for crying out loud, why don’t we just stop the whole thing and just you do it. The point was that after I did that I went away from that thinking is this all there is? Is this it? This is it? Because what I thought would happen didn’t happen. I thought there would be a fulfillment in those things. And that fulfillment never happened. That raised the big questions, what the heck is going on here, why do I feel this sense of emptiness?
That’s one form of pain, it’s an existential pain. Other people have different forms of that pain. But what we do for it. We’ve got to get rid of the pain, all pain is bad, so we’ve got to get rid of it, so get a pill, get a drink, do something, anything to get rid of the pain. Well how do we know the pain isn’t somebody calling us? Saying, hello, hello, I’m bringing pain into your life because I’m trying to get your attention, attention here. So our answer to His call is I don’t want to hear it, it hurts. So there again that’s this anesthetic approach to drugs, and I think that’s one reason we have a drug problem. It’s nothing more than a spiritual anesthetic. Life is boredom, I’m bored because I have no purpose in my life, or I screwed up my life and I can’t bear the guilt, and I have no way to handle it, so I’m going to drown that out, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to do something else, but I’m going to drown out the pain. And my thing is wine, my thing is vodka, my thing is marijuana, my thing is the hard drugs, whatever it is. Everybody has a choice, as one church historian used to say every man has a right to go to hell in his own way. We all have choice. But the issue ultimately is is what we are anesthetizing a God-given call?
Our time is up.