Tuesday, November 07, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (6)

Postmillennialist Doug Wilson on God’s purposes:

“Future catholicity is set before us in the New Testament (Eph. 4:12-13), and anyone who kicks at that is kicking against God’s revealed purposes for the history of the church. Peter [Leithart] and I agree on the eventual reunion of all believers. It is just that Peter thinks it should have happened by now, and my best guess is that we are looking at another couple thousand years, right on schedule.”

Future catholicity. The eventual reunion of all believers.

Really? Is THAT what the apostle had in mind?

The passage Doug is referring to is a familiar one, in which Paul tells us why spiritual gifts were given:
“... to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Doug thinks a couple thousand more years should do it, and we’ll all be there, unified and equally knowledgeable, mature and Christlike — all at the SAME time, in this world.

Uh ... in the immortal words of one of my Brit relatives, “Pull the other one!”

I can be as optimistic as the next guy, really. (Okay, probably not.) But I do not think for a second that the apostle ever contemplated heaven on earth without Jesus Christ on David’s throne.

Now admittedly Paul is telling us that producing Christian maturity is one of the Holy Spirit’s most important missions in this world, and that he is accomplishing this by means of the gifts he has given. That is his job, and he is superb at making it happen. But it is laid out for us as a process; and further, a process that, if reached in this life at all, is reached by only a few, and only after many years of walking with God. The evidence for that is plain: the very same apostle speaks of believers who will be saved, “but only as through fire”. Such a person is evidently not complete in his knowledge of God or his imitation of Christ, but it is abundantly evident that his earthly maturation process is a done deal. There is no more time left on the cosmic clock.

Ergo, some people don’t make the grade. Not being mean here, just real. Better to be saved than lost, regardless of whether we rate an A+ in unity or knowledge.

In any growing church, some believers will always be just starting down the road, while others will be mid-journey and still others will be on the home stretch. Unless at some point the churches cease to make new converts, it is impossible that all believers at any given moment in time could ever achieve unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, or have simultaneously reached Christian maturity. And in the highly unlikely event the witness of the church were to end prior to the return of the Lord, believers that have ceased to testify to the grace of God and bring others along in the faith have by definition abandoned the mission and could not remotely be described as mature.

Rather than prophesying the unattainable, I suspect what Paul is saying here is no more complicated than that: (1) the Holy Spirit is working; (2) he’s working through the gifts he has given; (3) the goal of giving the gifts is to produce spiritual maturity and unity; (4) the Spirit works in the life of every single believer to bring him or her as close to that goal as is possible before he or she goes to be with the Lord, or before the Lord comes for the bunch of us in one go; and (5) his work is not complete until this is finally accomplished, whether here or, finally, in eternity.

But nothing about the wording of the verse itself demands we take it to be promoting the concept of simultaneous universal maturity or, as Doug puts it, “future catholicity”. It is a statement about how the Holy Spirit does his work in the heart of every believer, not about the history of the church.

Moreover, when we are speaking of eternal beings, simultaneous universal maturity is entirely unnecessary.

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