Confession on the Church, the Body of Christ

This was a very good exercise for me. If you’re a Christian, take a minute to write down what you believe the Church is.
What is important to say? What can be left out? What absolutely MUST be said? Does your definition match up with mine? Let me know if it doesn’t! Let’s talk about it and find out where we fit in the bigger picture.

Confession:

I believe…

the Church is composed of those who have been redeemed by grace through faith in relationship with God. The Church serves God in their dedication and loyalty to Jesus Christ in all things. (Romans 5; Ephesians 2; Hebrews 10-11)

Under the New Covenant, the dispensation of grace, this group is defined as all who publicly profess faith in Christ, uphold the testimony concerning Christ in the New Testament, and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 16:13-19, 26:56; Mark 8:27-29; John 5:39; Acts 17:2, 15:6-11; Romans 9-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Peter 3:15-18)

The Church is the Body of Christ. As the parts of a body work with unity under the head, so the Church operates with Christ as its head. (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-16)

The Church is the living temple of God. Through Christ and the Holy Spirit the Church embodies God’s presence upon creation. (John 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16)

The Church, wherever it is present, stands as a testimony of Christ’s rule and power over all things by subverting the evil powers and the fallenness of all those who seek to dominate creation in rebellion against God. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Ephesians 1:15-23, 6:10-20; Colossians 2:6-15)

The Church is most clearly recognized by its preaching of the Gospel, obedience to Scripture in accordance with truth and love, and worship of God in Trinity. (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 4:8; John 4:24; Acts 19:23-27, 24:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; Philippians 3:3; 1 John 3:18; 2 John 1:4-11)

Only God knows who ultimately belongs to his Church, but through a biblical process of loving and truth seeking, Christians are able to discern those who stand against God and his Church. Those whose actions and beliefs are in accordance with the Gospel, obedience to Scripture, and worship of God in Trinity may be declared of the Church. This is to maintain the unity and good work of the Church. (Matthew 18:15-35; John 10:1-18; Titus 1:10-16; Hebrews 10:26-31)

I believe… 

the work of the Church is holistically centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and impacts all of creation as Christians constantly surrender their lives to Christ’s lordship. (Romans 15:1-7; 1 Corinthians 2, 4:1, 7:22, 11:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5, 10:7; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 2:6-7)

The critical work of the Church is surrendering everything to Christ. (Romans 8:12-30; 1 Corinthians 3:23; Galatians 4-5; Philippians 2:1-11)

Surrender results in obedience to Scripture and the conformation of every pattern of life to the truth of biblical standards. (Galatians 4-5)

Acts of obedience to Scripture are most clearly Baptism, the Eucharist, and the good works of faith. (Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:26; Ephesians 2:8-10; Colossians 3:1-17)

I believe…

Baptism is the act of publicly confessing Christ, in Trinity, in a symbolic action of dying to oneself in order to be raised in new life with Christ. It is achieved by the willing participation in the sacramental symbol of Baptism. The mode of Baptism may alter as long as the covenant reality it symbolizes is fully realized. (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:4; Galatians 3:25-27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21)

True Baptism occurs only once, just as the reality of birth occurs only once. Only those who fully understand what it is and means should participate in it. It is not necessary for full participation in the Church but it is a natural part of that participation. (1 Corinthians 1:14-17; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:25-29)

I believe…

the Eucharist is a meal initiated by members of the Church, in local churches, in obedient memory to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The drink and food, elements notwithstanding, symbolize Christ’s blood spilt and his flesh destroyed in order to redeem mankind from its sin against God. It is the celebration of the defeat of sin and death, and yet, a solemn memory of the price paid, like a victory feast after a war. (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:20-34)

The Eucharist meal is physical representation of the invitation for all mankind to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. For Christians, it is a means to serve one another in the unity of our shared faith by enjoying a meal together despite social status, age, and power. For non-Christians, it is a testimony of the Church to Jesus Christ and an invitation to accept him as Lord. Thus, non-Christians may partake in the Eucharist and witness the glory and power of God present in the Body of Christ at the dinner table of any local church. (1 Corinthians 11:20-34)

I believe…

the Church is governed by God through Christ and the Holy Spirit in accordance with properly exegeted Scripture. Christ and the Holy Spirit have given leaders from among the Church to guide the Body of Christ in obedience, resulting in the good work of the Church. (Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 12:28; Ephesians 4:11, 5:23)

These leaders are defined by two roles: Elders and Deacons. (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9)

Ideally, both positions should be appointed through a process beginning with an Elder board interview, then a waiting period of prayer and contemplation, a commendation to the congregation for a vote, and, if their number exceeds that of available positions, a random selection from the remaining candidates. (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:2, 3:7, 3:10; Titus 1:6-7)

Ideally, both positions should have clearly defined means of accountability, exit procedures, and maximum term limits. (1 Timothy 3:2, 3:6-7; Titus 1:10-16)

Elders serve the Church through teaching, preaching, and spiritual guidance to maturity in the faith. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4)

Elders must be Christians who: are sexually pure- married or not-, good parents, long standing members of the faith, above biblical reproach, free from sin, hospitable, gentle, free from addiction, self-controlled, respected in the Church and out, and able to teach and defend sound Christian doctrine. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)

Deacons serve the Church by managing the practical business details required for Church functions and efforts. (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13)

Deacons must be Christians who: are truthful, dignified, free of addiction, lovers of honest gain, long standing in the faith, tested for competency and purity, sexually pure- married or not-, good parents, and of good personal financial history. (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13)

Doxology: Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Bible has a lot to say about the end times. Christians have said even more, making a real mess out of it. Most avoid the topic altogether- and there is wisdom in holding loose opinions here! Lot’s of the debates don’t really matter in any practical way, but I do believe in having a logically coherent eschatological system.

Before I loose anyone in my crazy words and convoluted logic, I ask that you at least give my confession a read. Find a single point that you don’t agree with and latch onto it. Ask me about it, push me, force me to work through it. Everyone has something to bring to the table, if they’re willing to listen themselves.

_____

Confession on Biblical Eschatology

Information:

This confession is an Amillennial view in a non-denominational church assuming an Advanced level Sunday class for future leaders. The goal is to clearly define everything of importance, plus a few extra non-critical points to stimulate further development.

Importance of Eschatology:

Three reasons why a biblically coherent eschatological perspective is important:

1) End-times oriented passages are given to us in the Scriptures.

2) The confusion surrounding eschatology breaks down good Christian fellowship, fosters poor doctrine, and impedes the good work of the Church, (2 Peter 3:3-4).

3) The goals of the Christian faith are realized in the future, thus having immediate impact on the patterns of Christian life and practice (2 Peter 3:11-14).

Confession:

I believe the millennium is the current age of the Church in which Jesus has defeated all evil and initiated his kingdom, his reign over all things in New Creation. This victory is not fully realized until Christ returns to bring judgment against all things which resist his lordship. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:20-23; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 20:6)

The Church is the faithful New Creation community embodying and testifying Jesus’ reign until his return. (2 Corinthians 5:10-21; Ephesians 2:4-10, 4:22-24)

I believe death is the separation of the soul from the body in which the soul departs to be with God and the body turns back to dust. (Genesis 3:19; Job 17:13-16; Psalm 30:9, 73:24; Luke 23:43; Acts 7:59-60; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:1)

The souls of God’s people enjoy joyous relationship with Jesus in Heaven, but they long to re-unite with their bodies. (Luke 23:43; John 11:1-44; Revelation 6:10)

The souls of the unsaved are in Sheol and will also be re-united with their bodies. (Daniel 12:2; Isaiah 26:19, 38:18; Psalm 115:17-18)

All souls will be re-united with their bodies in order to face God’s judgment. This judgment will determine their eternal future state. (Luke 20:35-38; John 5:29, 11:25-26; Romans 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:42; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5; Hebrews 9:27)

I believe Jesus will return to Earth, making his reign a reality for all peoples and powers. (Matthew 24:30, 25:31-46, 26:64; Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7, 22:7, 20)

The second coming will occur at an unknowable future time. (Matthew 24:36-51; 2 Peter 3:10)

The second coming will bring the full presence of God’s kingdom to Earth by purging the old heaven and earth of sin. God will remake them into the New Heaven and Earth, without evil or the taint of evil. (Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Peter 3:10, 13; Revelation 21:1)

The second coming will usher in an eternal age of perfection between God and mankind. (Isaiah 65:19, 24; Revelation 21:3)

I believe God will consummate his judgment upon all at the return of Jesus. (Matthew 24:45-51; Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1; Jude 14-15)

Mankind will be judged for their deeds: God’s people will be saved by grace through faith and then rewarded according to what they deserve. The unrepentant and haters of God will be put forever in hell. (Matthew 13:41-42; 16:27, 25:14-46; Romans 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 11:18, 20:12)

Fallen angels, spirits, and powers will also be bound eternally in hell. (Matthew 25:41; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 20:7-10)

I believe Hell is the ultimate and eternal destination for unrepentant sinners and evil beings. (Psalm 11:6, 21:8-9; Malachi 4:1; Matthew 23:33, 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Hebrews 10:26; Jude 7; Revelation 20:10-15)

Hell is an eternal place of torment because it is: punishment for rebellion against God, total separation from God, and chosen by its occupants in their rejection of God. (Mark 9:43-48; Philippians 3:18-19; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Hebrews 3:7-12; 1 Peter 2:4)

I believe the New Heaven and Earth are the ultimate and eternal destination for God’s people, redeemed by the grace of God through faith in Christ. (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4)

The Old Heaven and Earth will be purged by fire in order to make way for the New. (Psalm 102:25; Isaiah 51:6, 65:17, 66:22; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:7-13)

Any promises and covenants God made with Israel will be either fulfilled by Jesus or reconstituted through Jesus to fit the Church as the true seed of Abraham in New Creation. (Genesis 12:2-3; Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44; Romans 2:28-29, 4:1-13, 9:4-8, 11:25-32; Galatians 3, 6:15-16; Ephesians 2:11-22)

The occupants of the New Heaven and Earth will enjoy life uninhibited by sin and fallenness. Culture will develop richly and eternally, God will always be present with mankind, there will be no death or pain, sin will be impossible, and the grace of God will overwhelm the imaginations of all to God’s glory. (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 20:35-38; Romans 8:18-22; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; Revelation 21:1-7)

This is a paper I wrote for my Systematic Theology class on the topic of ‘forgiveness.’ I removed some parts for the sake of this being a blog post and not a book. I interact quite a bit with the book ‘Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds‘ by Chris Brauns. It’s a good book, more than I give it credit for in my paper. That author knows way more about forgiveness than I currently do, but I think I give him a fair treatment nonetheless. I also cite ‘Evil and the Justice of God‘ by N.T. Wright because it is apparently impossible for me to write a paper without citing Wright…

I hope the essence of my logic is clear, but if it’s not please feel free to comment and question.

The Problem With Forgiveness

Forgiveness is almost as difficult to define as it is to do! It swirls with emotions, dabbles in various doctrines, elicits different reactions to a single situation, and seems to fly in the face of justice. Forgiveness tries to repair broken relationships like all the kings men and soldiers try to piece together Humpty-Dumpty. To those on the outside, it seems calm and tranquil- simple even! But for those who dare to attempt it, the turmoil is mind boggling. The pain can run very deep, and forgiveness often seems unattainable. Issues of repentance, justice, and interpersonal-relationships create a quagmire of problems. The goal of my paper will be to share a biblical view of forgiveness which resolves most of this turmoil. I will do so by defining ‘biblical forgiveness,’ applying that definition to an example from my own life (removed from blog post), and stating how my definition relates to other important Christian doctrines (removed from blog post). Throughout the paper I will reference ‘Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds’ by Chris Brauns, a thorough work with more in it on forgiveness than I could possibly ever address in one paper.

‘Biblical Forgiveness,’ A Definition

‘Biblical forgiveness’ is not the same as a simple dictionary definition of forgiveness. It attempts to reconcile all the language used of forgiveness in the Bible and to state the parameters of what they all share in common. Brauns has a very helpful appendix on the biblical words used for ‘forgiveness’ on pages 213-218. His approach to defining forgiveness is how I began myself, by piecing together the biblical material and finding the essential elements which come to bear in a finalized definition. Thus, I define biblical forgiveness as the outworking of a Christ-like disposition of gracious, merciful, and unselfish love by the offended toward the one(s) who violated a biblical principle against them, in order to restore a God-honoring relationship. This will result in the offended naming and shaming the evil done to them, working through the consequences of that evil in order to restore a proper relationship, and not allowing the evil to determine the kind of person they will become.[1] Biblical forgiveness is the predisposition and resulting actions of the offended Christian to their offender. It is something Christians must embody and then live out when they have been wronged in a biblically definable way, for it is the embodiment of Christ in their lives.[2]

Brauns defines forgiveness as “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”[3] There are certainly areas of overlap between our definitions, but also areas of disagreement. To work both areas out, I will first address how we agree and then review my essential problems with Brauns’ definition.

The absolute best thing Brauns does in his book is lay the foundation of Christian forgiveness in God’s forgiveness. He does so very clearly in chapters two and three, it is the ‘key principle’ in defining biblical forgiveness.[4] God forgives us graciously but not freely, God’s forgiveness is conditional, it is a commitment, it begins and works toward reconciliation, and it does not free the forgiven from all consequences.[5] On pages 121-125 Brauns works through Matthew 6:14-15, 7:1-2, and 18:23-25 to show how Christians absolutely and without question must forgive because of the massive debt God forgave of them. Since he derives these principles, which I do not entirely agree with, from how God forgives mankind in Scripture, our method of defining forgiveness is the same.

In chapter five, Brauns also develops a point with which I agree full heartedly, that is: biblical forgiveness is more than a feeling. A chart on page 65 lays out the differences between therapeutic forgiveness and Brauns view. There are specifically two points I agree with here: a biblical standard must have been broken for forgiveness to even be an option and forgiveness is a commitment to pardon the offender. Forgiveness cannot be done when the offended makes it all about themselves. It is about the offended person and how they relate to their offender. Brauns and I will disagree on how that goes down, but for now we agree that therapeutic forgiveness is a cheap knock-off of biblical forgiveness in that it is entirely self-motivated and thus self-defeating by denying the relational dimension of forgiveness.

There are other key aspects of biblical forgiveness Brauns covers, for which I must applaud him. On page 79 he discusses the importance of humbleness as an attitude of the heart. A humble Christian is able to nip conflict in the bud, or seek resolution quickly after conflicts occur. Forgiveness only happens when the offended has a humble heart. Pride is the enemy of humbleness, and thus also forgiveness. Pride will blind the offended, making it impossible to see past having been wronged. They become so inwardly focused they cannot think of anything but themselves, and forgiveness is far from the mind. Vengeance, however, readily lends itself to fill the space.[6] This is one of the reasons why the love of others is so critical to my definition of biblical forgiveness; it banishes the possibility of pride.

The most enlightening portion of Brauns book, I thought, was chapter eight and his six steps in identifying if an offense should be pursued or if it should be dropped. In my definition, this is the starting point for how Christians outwork their Christ-like disposition. The six steps are all inwardly focused, to ensure the offended’s positions are biblically sound: their position before God, their attitude toward their offender, and their perception of the situation. The steps are: ensuring there is not an offense the offender must first repent of, working through the problem to establish the offended was in fact wronged according to a biblical standard, establishing how important the offense really was, establishing if the offense is a pattern of behavior by the offender, seeking wise and confidential advice from one or two others, and, lastly, learning the offender’s current life situation. These things will form the way in which forgiveness should be manifested, either by dropping the offense all together, tempering the confrontation by various degrees, or flat out confronting the offender.

Another well thought out piece of forgiveness by Brauns, which I found very helpful, was on the topic of bitterness- the battle for the mind. Resisting bitterness as people of forgiveness is very important in both of our definitions. For Brauns bitterness deteriorates the commitment to forgive key to his definition. For me, it deteriorates the disposition of gracious, merciful, and unselfish love. In both examples bitterness has a negative impact on the mind and actions of the offended toward their offender.

Although I found Brauns’ definition useful, and the outworking of his definition to be both insightful and packed with biblically based advice, I developed my own definition to correct some of the errors I perceived. Actually, there is only one disagreement worth addressing, but it manifests itself in various ways. Brauns states that forgiveness is conditional upon the repentance of the offender.[7] The offended person should not forgive their offender if their offender refuses to repent. The offended must offer forgiveness, but they need not actually forgive. This is so important to Brauns that he makes it a critical part of his definition of forgiveness: “to pardon graciously those who repent.”[8] He derives this belief from his understanding of how God forgives, which is based on his understanding of salvation, justification, and propitiation. He argues those who do not repent of their sins against God are damned because they are unforgiven by God. Christ’s work of the cross did not appease God’s wrath, they do not stand justified before God, and they are not saved. God graciously offers forgiveness to such people, but does not forgive them until they repent. By saying this, Brauns makes forgiveness dependent on the actions of the offender, the sinner. However, forgiveness cannot be shackled in such a manner! To do so reduces God’s glory by making a God-honoring relationship impossible in unrepentant situations. Ultimately, it belittles God’s power. Hell becomes a place God is forced to put people against his own will. God gets what he wants, and what he wants is a relationship that brings him glory with every single person he ever created, even those in hell. He does so by forgiving us all regardless of repentance on our part. Although repentance is the best response to being forgiven, it is not the only response which glorifies him. Forgiveness is the totally under control of the offended and it always results in the glory of God.

For Brauns, forgiveness will and must result in repentance, thus making repentance the goal of forgiveness. For me, forgiveness will and must result in the restoration of a God-honoring relationship. Repentance is the best possible option but not a necessary one. The question I must grapple with is ‘Does God send people he forgave to hell?’ I posit that condemnation to hell is the only God-honoring relationship possible between God and his unrelentingly unrepentant offenders. Only the Holy Spirit can convict the hearts of the unrepentant to repentance, thus pulling them out from their downward spiral into hell.[9] For Christians, this means we should treat the unrepentant as non-believers, as Matthew 18:25-27 concludes. This is a God-honoring relationship between believers and their unrepentant offenders. The Christian relates to the unrepentant offender by pitying them, sharing the Gospel with them, not giving up hope, and praying that the Spirit would soften their hardened hearts.[10] In doing so, Christians embody forgiveness by offering forgiveness. When they embody Christ’s forgiveness in such a manner they are a people of forgiveness through and through. They truly have forgiven those who offended them and God is glorified.

Justification and propitiation are parts of the offer of forgiveness. As I define it, to offer forgiveness is to forgive. To be offered forgiveness is to be forgiven. It is up to the offender to accept their status as one forgiven and allow the restorative work of forgiveness to benefit them. Forgiving is not conditional on the part of the offended, they must do it and it will always be to their benefit. For that same forgiveness to also benefit the offender, they must repent. Thus repentance is conditional for the offender in order for them to benefit from being forgiven. Repentance is conditional, not forgiveness. This is the heart of my disagreement with Brauns.

God forgives all mankind through Jesus Christ his Son by covering the offenses of mankind against him through Jesus’s death and resurrection.[11] Mankind is justified before God through Christ as a condition of that forgiveness. In denying the reality of being justified, denying the reality of forgiveness Christ has inaugurated for all mankind, God distances the unrepentant from himself, and they from him, and thus maintain a God-honoring relationship between them, despite unrepentance. The ultimate end of such a relationship is hell. It is not the desirable end for those God has forgiven, but it is where God wants them, and they want themselves. The unrepentant before God fail to realize the reality that they are forgiven in Christ. Justification means nothing to them; they are not saved because they did not repent.[12]

As I define forgiveness, God through Christ worked out his disposition of gracious, merciful, and unselfish love toward all mankind in order to restore a God-honoring relationship with us all. God named and shamed the evil done to him, working through the consequences of our sin, ultimately on the cross but also as a father disciplines a beloved child.[13] God did not allow our sin against him to change him by belittling his love, power, or ultimate glory. This is how Christians must also forgive their offenders.

Conclusions

I am indebted to Chris Brauns for guiding me to a better understanding of what biblical forgiveness. I had not realized how muddied my own thoughts were on the subject, and in wrestling through his work I believe I have developed a better definition of biblical forgiveness than both him and I began with. My definition of biblical forgiveness is the outworking of a Christ-like disposition of gracious, merciful, and unselfish love by the offended toward the one(s) who violated a biblical principle against them, in order to restore a God-honoring relationship. This definition clears away the confusion surrounding forgiveness and answers many of the hard questions. I demonstrated this by comparing and contrasting it with Brauns’ definition in Unpacking Forgiveness, demonstrating it in a personal story (removed from blog), and by integrating it with other doctrines of Christian theology (removed from blog). Christ forgave all mankind by dying on the cross and desires their repentance so that they may benefit from God’s gracious love. May Christians have the same attitude toward their enemies, embodying the teaching of 1 Peter 3:9 and Romans 12:14-21 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…”


[1] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2006), 152.

[2] Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 155.

[3] Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds (Crossway Books: Wheaton, 2008), 55.

[4] Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 44.

[5] Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 45-49.

[6] Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 81-83.

[7] Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 47, 57, 141-152.

[8] Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 51, 55.

[9] 1 Corinthians 6:11.

[10] Matthew 18:15-17, understanding ‘Gentile and tax collector’ through passages such as Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 5:27-32.

[11] Romans 5:9, 6:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.

[12] Romans 10:10.

[13] Hebrews 12:5-11.

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