Marriage Tattoos

A Marriage Blessing for a Young Man

On this night, a week before your wedding, I am encouraging you to get a tattoo.  In fact, two tattoos.

But first, let me explain.

In the middle of the Bible, we have the wisdom literature—Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.  Each of these books covers a practical topic of everyday life, such as suffering, worship, family and work, the meaning of life, and marriage.  Just think.  Here, within the pages of inspired writings, are God’s very thoughts about things we experience every day.  So, what does He say about marriage?  (I imagine this topic has some interest for you at the present time!)

Admittedly, the Song of Songs is difficult to interpret.  A love song, with many flashbacks and the musical equivalence of montages, this inspired poem is mysterious.  Perhaps the form itself is teaching us about marriage.  Instead of a life lesson learned in the linear fashion of step one, step two, and so forth, marriage is messy, something we learn by experience as we go, with memories of the past and dreams of the future crowding within the turbulent present.  And yet, even with the patchwork structure of this book, there does seem to be a very, very basic timeline of married life.

The middle of the book is the wedding night, with its veiled descriptions of intimacy and its rich imagery of taste and smell.  The section closes at the moment of union with the encouraging words, “Drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers” (Song 5:1).  This line is a blessing on the physical union, the divinely-sanctioned oneness of the newlywed couple.  It shows us how physical intimacy works with God’s blessing.  Literally, it is a blessing of inebriation.  While it is a sin to become drunk with wine, it is wise to lose your mind in the moment of marital union.  A true wonder.  What happens next in the book, however, is what interests us today.

When the honeymoon is over—both physically and metaphorically—the man comes home late one night, all damp and drenched with dew, and asks his wife to open the door.  She refuses with the typical, petty excuses of everyday marriage life, “I have taken off my dress, how can I put it on again?  I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again?” (Song 5:3).  It is as if she said, “Honey, I have a headache, and that headache right now is you.”  He still advances for a bit, but once she relents of her pity party, the man, in typical fashion, is gone!  The couple is no longer clicking, and this progression in the poem from the wedding night seems intentionally linear to me, as if we have here a typical pattern of marriage.

Right now, you and your bride-to-be are in the stage of marriage that veteran counselor Gary Chapman calls euphoria.  Like a Mountain Dew rush, you are running on the rarified fumes of high-octane love.  And this may last for a year or two.  Couples in this stage are very clingy and love to touch each other at any spare moment.  At some point, however, the honeymoon ends, and the Holy Spirit is warning you of a fallout.  No longer clingy, it will even be hard to look the other in the eye.  And it will feel difficult for you, perhaps even hopeless, to know how to repair the ruins.  In this stage of my marriage, my wife strongly resented me as the source of her unhappiness; but she would never tell me, because it would have hurt me.  However, I remember telling myself in those days that I was romancing the stone (a play on words from a movie at the time).  Then, after a decade, I remember feeling the frustration of her irritation with inner blurts in my mind, “Well, just divorce me then!”  Those days were not fun.  Again, what does the word of God say about this post-euphoria fallout?

First, it takes risky initiative to repair the ruins.  While earlier in the book, the woman is unharmed in her dreamy search for her lost man, she now is beat up (cf. Song 3:1-4; 5:7)!  Admittedly, both episodes are dreams, but I see reality portrayed.  It is a challenge to search for an estranged spouse, especially in taking the first step! 

Second, it often takes counsel.  She is helped by the ladies who ask her to describe her man and then offer to her their assistance.  Rather than receiving counsel for divorce, the wife is led to recall what about him she first enjoyed.  In doing so, the original match is struck and the search continues.

Third, once reunited, the couple enjoys even deeper intimacy than before, with both richer details of beauty and fresh plans of being together.  Ironically, studies have shown that marriages with seasoned love often have more satisfying sexual oneness than those in the early years of euphoria.  Marriage love is far more than physical touch and sufficient hormones.  In the words of counselor Larry Crabb, marriage love works best as the sequence of spirit oneness, soul oneness, and then body oneness.  As you and your wife find satisfaction and security in Christ, you will manipulate less and minister more.  You will become true friends and true lovers (cf. Song 5:16).  Such marriages have beautiful body oneness.  But it is gained through the risky reconciliation of post-euphoria fallout.

Here is where the tattoos come in.  At the climax of the book, the wife tells her husband, “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.  For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD” (Song 8:6).  Like “Susie” inked on his shoulder of an old sailor, she too wants to be visible on his arm.  As a seal signifying ownership, she too wants to be proudly displayed as belonging to him.  And I too want you to wear your wife with pride before the watching world.  Be proud of her.  She is yours.  But even more, I want you to wear her on your heart.  It is perhaps significant that she mentions the heart first.  Just as the mouth speaks what fills the heart, so also a man will be outwardly proud of what he inwardly prizes.  Please, please take this message seriously.  Do not just tattoo her on your arm.  Tattoo her on your heart.  Make her the permanent possession of your deepest cherishing.  Obviously, as in the poem itself, we are talking about something much deeper than physical tattoos.  I believe that deep love—love that fights through the fallout—will first impress her deeply into your heart and then express her naturally in your pride.  Do not settle for anything less than such a deep impression and natural expression.

In the effort to fight euphoria, too many preachers and counselors point to the will.  “Love is a decision,” they say.  Or, “Love is obedience.”  And certainly, there is a truth here.  Love will lead to obedience.  “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15; cf. 2 John 6).  Love will lead to patience and kindness and a whole list of virtues, but love itself is something mysteriously deeper.  It treasures and desires and holds onto what we love with natural tenaciousness (cf. Matthew 6:24).  No wonder the wife describes love as stronger than death, an unquenchable fire that can never be bribed or purchased for any price (Song 8:6-7).  Truly priceless!  That is what I want for you.  Do not be satisfied with mere willingness, let alone tolerance.  Strive for love, pursue it; ask for it, and beg it.  When the euphoria evaporates and you are tempted to be either separated or stay irritated, hold onto the hope of a better day.  A renewed, deepened love will tattoo her deeply on your heart and tattoo her proudly on your arm.

One final word.  Ironically, you are already tattooed.  As a believer in Christ, your heart is already tattooed.  It is a promise of the new covenant, which we have in Christ through the gospel, that God Himself will write His law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).  While the Ten Commandments in stone failed to transform a people, the life of Christ in our hearts supplies what the law requires, and the law is summarized in love.  Praise God!  “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7) and you have already received this love.  Love is truly the “flame of the LORD” (Song 8:6) and you are already on fire.  You already possess what you need to love your wife for life.  Therefore, enjoy the euphoria, but know that the marriage tattoos will someday come through the tattoo of love which you already have in Christ.  God bless you much!  Amen.

The Knowledge of Log College

Over eight centuries before Christ, the Lord contended with His people:

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish” (Hosea 4:1-3).

No knowledge of God in the land.  In short, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).

Later on, the Lord declares, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).  It is the knowledge of God that is the essence of eternal life, and the means to “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3; cf. John 17:3).

At Countryside Bible Church, we believe that the knowledge of God is fundamental to our growth in grace, and to our transformation in experience.  To achieve these ends, we aim in the Lord to train leaders who know Him well, and who can articulate His thoughts and ways to dying sinners in need of grace.  Unlike the days of Hosea, when it was said to their detriment “like people, like priest,” we aim to see this pattern work for our benefit, with both leaders and congregation knowing God well.

In order to do this, we have launched an in-house ministerial training program called the Log College.  The name comes from colonial America, when middle-aged minister William Tennent, Sr. trained over twenty men for the ministry in a 400-square-foot log cabin, which his enemies put down as The College.  Many of those men became leaders in the Great Awakening, and laid the gospel foundation for the Presbyterian church in America.  Like Tennent, we too aim to provide the church with solid ministers—men who know God experientially, and preach Him fervently.

At Countryside, we believe it is the responsibility of current ministers to train the next generation of ministers.  In his final letter, the apostle Paul charged Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).  There are four generations here—Paul, Timothy, the faithful men, and the others to be taught.  In looking down road, who knows how far the ripple effect will be in training men here for the ministry.

The program is simple—one year of study amidst ministry followed by one year of ministry internship.  The study involves reading, discussion, prayer, and Bible exposition.  The internship involves observing, helping, doing, and leading ministry under the theological guidance of an experienced mentor.  Currently, we have eight men scheduled to pursue God together this year in the study group.

Please pray for these men, and for their future ministry.  We live in exciting days, but also in days when the knowledge of God is lacking, and the people of God are suffering because of it.  May the Lord grant us to be faithful with the opportunities ahead of us!

Three Factors in Church Hopping

Recently I conversed with a Christian about how to break a pattern of church hopping.  You know the situation.  A couple eagerly joins your church and throws themselves into a variety of ministries and conversations.  Then, after a year or two, they show signs of losing interest and eventually no longer attend.  What are some factors that contribute to this pattern of behavior?  Here are three possibilities.

First, some Christians struggle with issues.  The list is endless.  The style of music, the form of sacraments, the polity of governance, and the strategy of leadership and ministries and sermons are among the weightier matters.  Lesser matters, of course, exist.  We all have them.  According to Paul, the church needs to allow for a diversity of opinion in matters beyond the gospel and the moral law.  A healthy church allows for liberty of conscience, as long as members behave towards God and others in faith and love (Romans 14).  If members, however, hold too tightly to their “own faith” and demand that others comply, the church will soon be fractured.  And if a member seeks a church that matches his growing list of issues, he will quickly move from one church to home church to no church.  He will soon be homeless and helpless—unless, of course, he unfortunately has the charisma and audacity to start his own church with his own conscience guiding pastoral decisions.

In reality, the list of absolutes is quite concentrated around the gospel (Romans 1-11) and the moral law (Romans 12-13).  This list is in keeping with Jesus’ own criteria of identifying true Christians, and by extension, a true church.  First, we must ask: “Do they hold to the words of Jesus as the truth?”  Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).  Those who leave His teachings do not have God (2 John 9).  Second, we must ask: “Do they maintain the fellowship of believers in love?”  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  It is not enough to have the truth, but not love.  The church in Ephesus had departed from its initial love and Jesus threatened to remove them as a church, even though they had rightly tested false apostles and shared in Jesus’ hatred for what the false teachers did (Revelation 2:2-7).  Dead orthodoxy is still dead.  But if truth and love are present, the local church is a viable candidate for our membership, regardless of the particular issues.  We must beware of letting issues drive us from church to church.

Second, some Christians struggle with love.  Due to indwelling sin and imperfect judgment, church members will inevitably hurt each other.  We are like porcupines—as one church sociologist once said—the closer we get to one another, the more we poke each other!  For this reason, the Christian virtues of humility, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary, if we are to maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  True, there are times when an offence must lead to separation—as when a church member or leader interposes himself between us and God and unrepentantly demands that we listen to him (Luke 17:1-4; Matthew 18:15-17)—but such times are fewer than imagined by those who hop from church to church.  If we are easily offended and cannot forget a comment, it will not be long before we find it hard to continue at a church—especially if was caused or said by the leadership.

Related to this problem is the self-serving church member, who chooses a church based on how it meets his needs or the needs of his family.  Certainly, this can be a factor in decision-making—after all, we really do need each other (1 Corinthians 12:21)—but when it becomes The Factor, then the church becomes a means for our personal ends.  Eventually, we find ourselves using others to meet our needs.  Surely something is wrong here.  “Love…does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).  At the very least, we must remember that Christ alone meets our needs.  If He is present, all things are possible.

Finally, some Christians struggle with authority.  This struggle could be due to an abusive pastor in the past or to a legalistic church environment.  As stated earlier, Christ intends for the church to afford liberty of conscience.  Leaders are expressly told not to lord their authority over the faith of members (1 Peter 5:3; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:24).  Each Christian should be fully convinced in his own mind and have his own faith before God (Romans 14:5, 22).  And through their teachings, leaders should facilitate this growth in faith and love.  Any leader, however, who longs to be first among the brothers and who isolates their loyalties to himself should be resisted with a firm conscience.  It is not only acceptable, but advisable to leave a church under such unrepentant leadership (3 John).  And it is certainly understandable why the victims of such a church would have difficulty joining another church.

Whatever the cause of the struggle, each Christian should recognize his personal need for church authority.  We are sheep.  And sheep should have shepherds—literally, pastors.  While a church with truth and love is a true church, we thrive best in a true and ordered church, complete with a plurality of elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1ff; Titus 1:5ff; e.g., Acts 14:21-23).  While it is tempting to think that God’s word alone will keep our souls safe, as if merely preaching the gospel will keep everyone well, we know from the New Testament and from the analogy of God as our Father that the internal word works well with external discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11).  Truly, “the rod and reproof give wisdom” (Proverbs 29:15).  Therefore, we should welcome such authority into our lives.  Symbolically, this welcoming occurs through church membership, which allows for our leaders to know, in particular, for whom they must give an account (Hebrews 13:17).  To be clear, it is not solely the pastors who disciple and discipline the flock.  The ultimate authority under Christ rests in the church as a whole, especially in cases of excommunication, but the elders of a church have genuine authority.  They should be obeyed with appropriate submission (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5).

Issues, love, and authority—three factors that contribute to church hopping.  As a pastor, it breaks my heart to see members leave our church for little reason.  It hurts.  Yes, I recognize that the Church is bigger than a local church, so that in one sense it is healthy for there to be a fluidity between churches, both in members and in leadership.  After all, in the New Testament, we see Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, then in Corinth, then in Ephesus.  We also see Paul sending Titus and Timothy from church to church.  We are not to understand a church covenant to be a marriage covenant, nor are we to expect our pastor to stay for life, long past his effectiveness, as many pastors did in eighteenth-century England to the detriment of their churches.  The later awakenings in America showed the value of mobility.  That said, there should be a good reason for leaving a church.  In keeping with a church covenant, other members are entitled to hear of our reasons for leaving.  Hopefully they will see the validity of the choice; but even if not, the respect given should help to offset any hurt or offence.  They will simply be sad to see us go.  At the very least, we owe this respect to each other in Christ.  Such loyal-love and being-true-to-each-other finds favor both with God and with men (Proverbs 3:3-4).

Spring Branch Academy

“I wish I was their teacher!”  As a youth pastor, I had one hour a week with them.  Teachers had thirty!  Right then, the Lord formed in me the desire for a Christian school.  Now, twenty years later, our church has a Christian high school, Spring Branch Academy, with seventeen students.  This fall marks its tenth year!

Why should you consider a student for this school?  For some, it is a time to grow up, to take some steps towards independence.  For others, it is a time of renewal, a break from the distractions, temptations, and bullying at school.  For all students, it is the opportunity to worship God through academics.  Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them (Psalm 111:2).

Personally, I think the best reason is the pursuit of worship through wisdom in the word.  Consider these wonders:

Creation is digital!  Right now, bursts of light are hitting you in rapid fire, not in a smooth flow of energy.  Inside every cell, your body’s specifications are microscopically encoded in DNA.  How amazing is that!  By divine appointment, both the physical and biological worlds are digital (Psalm 119:91).  Could we have easily understood these things before the digital revolution of pixels and CDs?  And what is God saying to us through this reality?

Medical terms are in Greek!  A hundred years ago, Dr. Plummer of Mayo Clinic urged doctors to obtain a classical education in Latin and Greek.  Why?  They are the languages of science!  For example, the tissue around your bone is called the periosteum, which in Greek is literally “around-bone.”  Similarly, hypodermic is literally “under-skin.”  As Adam named the animals, so have we, but often in Latin and Greek!

Infidelity affects history and culture!  As President Wilson excused his love affair, so he arrogantly handled Europe after World War I, thereby setting the stage for World War II.  Similarly, how far should we trust the sentimentalism of Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion, when the author Charles Dickens later divorced his wife over interests in a young actress?  How much wisdom is found where the fear of God is lacking?

The Incarnation defined personhood!  In articulating that the Son of God was an individual person, separate from His divine and human natures, the early church was able to define personhood independent of function.  In contrast, moderns have reverted to a pagan understanding of personhood as the accumulation of personal traits, such as self-reflection and self-determination.  If these traits are lacking, as in a vegetative state (mark the language!), then do we still have a person with personal rights?  Similarly, the little embryo fresh from fertilization in the lab?  We need to regain the riches of our Christian heritage.

God gave us a Book!  Why not read it for credit?  Starting this year, we are offering middle school students the opportunity to read and study the entire Bible as history and literature.

Do you see my point?  Christian education is more than the absence of things.  It is the pursuit of worship through wisdom in the word.  Please, I invite you to bring to me your questions and let’s explore the options!  As a church, we do not believe that parents must educate their children in a particular way, but we do appreciate options—and Spring Branch Academy is an option that we can offer!  So, come, let’s explore together if this option is a good fit for your student this coming year.

For more information, please contact me, Pastor Bob Snyder, or visit us on the web at sbacademy.us.

Thoughts on Robin Hood

How should we think about Robin Hood’s ethics of robbing from the rich to give to the poor?

On the surface, Robin Hood is robbing the rich.  Stop the sentence right there.

But what if the rich obtained their riches wrongfully, at the hands of the poor?

Surely giving back to the poor what is rightfully theirs would not be wrong.

Good point, but we must also ask whether Robin Hood is authorized to do this act.

But what if those duly authorized are not doing their duty?  Should not someone do something?

But Robin Hood is robbing.  When do two wrongs make a right?

Well, even if Robin Hood is technically robbing, he does not keep the spoils for himself.

He repeatedly gives them away.  Why should we not respect such bravery and generosity?

Biblical Thoughts

I appreciate the sensitivity of students to this issue.  They realize that both the situation and one’s personal perspective color how Robin Hood’s actions appear.  Now, to gain perspective on all aspects of the situation, one must see it through faith.  “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Most of these kinds of stories leave out God—and if there was no God, then perhaps we are left with nothing more than Robin Hood.  However, vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19) and to the ones He has authorized to use it (Romans 13:1-4), i.e. the government.  Ironically, by taking vengeance into his own hands, Robin Hood is robbing God!

Our job—our privilege, by faith—is to learn how to “overcome evil,” i.e. to defeat it, to conquer it, through doing good (like feeding an enemy—Romans 12:20-21).  Interestingly, the memory verse from theology class (Ephesians 4:28) brings all the elements under discussion together: “steal no longer” (no stealing) and “performing with his own hands what is good” (doing good in labor) and “share with one who had need” (giving).  This is exciting!  What will God do to enable us to overcome evil with good?  With God in the picture, Robin Hood could have sought God earnestly for His blessing on more honest work for giving.  And if the government is not bringing judgment on the wicked, then we need to cry out to Him who “performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed,” as in the Exodus (Psalm 103:6).  At any rate, we are warned in Romans 3:1-8 about doing evil that good may come.  Returning evil for evil is not our place (Romans 12:17).

May the Lord bless us all with discernment and with the firm faith of love in Christ!

A Long Essay on Historic Premillennialism

Among Protestants, there have been two significant proposals for how the entire Bible is put together as one story: covenant theology and dispensationalism.  In the first proposal, God saves His elect through a covenant of grace, which has some historical connections to the biblical covenants associated with Abraham and David.  Many covenant theologians also add a covenant of works, which is often associated with Adam and Moses.  In the second proposal, God works differently with man in different time periods called dispensations.  Specifically, God worked directly with Israel during the Old Testament and will again in a future Tribulation and Millennium; but for now, He is working with the church, those who are “in Christ.”  Personally, I am not a dispensationalist per se, but I am very dispensational; and like the dispensationalists, I hold to a premillennial return of Christ, but for different reasons.  Traditionally, this middle road has been called “historic premillennialism.”  How biblical is such a position?

Ironically, both covenant theology and dispensationalism take their shape from a strong desire to keep grace and works separate.  In other words, both proposals are very Protestant in their concern over salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  I, too, am a Protestant in my beliefs about salvation, as I hope this essay will make clear; but I share with some recent scholars a concern that our traditional division of the covenants, into conditional and unconditional covenants, muddies the waters and obscures some aspects of the biblical text (e.g. see Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant).  Significantly, how the biblical covenants fit together is a big part of our understanding of the historic work of Christ, of God’s faithfulness, and of personal salvation.  Given this importance, I ask you for your patience in reading this long essay on a biblical case for historic premillennialism.  Truly, may it edify your soul, whether it convinces you in the end or not!

We will first consider the relationship between Israel and the church; then we will consider how the covenanted promises of land and throne support a belief in the Millennium, when Christ reigns on earth between His second coming and the Eternal State.  The essay closes with a brief look at the book of Revelation.

The Relationship between Israel and the Church

In light of the old Protestant adage of Scripture interpreting Scripture, it is wise to let the clear Scriptures interpret the less clear Scriptures—and there are some (cf. 2 Pt. 3:16).  In general, this means that the didactic portions should interpret the narratives, poetry, and apocalyptic literature.  It also means that the New Testament (NT) should interpret the Old Testament (OT).  Therefore, the best starting point may be Paul’s lengthy discussion about the Jews and the fulfillment of prophecy in Romans 9-11.  Merely the fact that Paul devotes three chapters to this topic in his longest exposition of the gospel shows the importance of prophecy for the sake of the gospel.  It should not be ignored.  So, what does Paul say?

At least three things stand out.  First, the OT covenants and promises still belong to ethnic Jews, those who are descended from Abraham biologically, that is, “according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3-5).  These promises include the “adoptions as sons,” which Christians receive as part of the New Covenant (Rom. 9:15, 23; cf. 2 Cor 3:6; 6:16-7:1; Gal. 4:1-6).  But if adoption, for example, belongs to the ethnic Jews and yet most of them have not received it, should we say that “the word of God has failed” (Rom. 9:6)?  Where is God’s faithfulness?  It is expressly at this point where prophecy impinges on the gospel.  In its essence, the gospel is news about a historical event.  Specifically, the gospel is the good news that God is now fulfilling His promises in the persona and work of His Son Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 1:1-4).  If God breaks any promise, especially one given on oath, then we have no assurance that He will not break other promises, whether to the church as a whole or to us personally.  Prophecy matters for the gospel (cf. 2 Pt. 1:19).

Second, since the days of Abraham himself, God has always differentiated among the biological Jews.  Not every ethnic Jew has been regarded by God as “seed” of Abraham, but only those who are sovereignly chosen and called by God (Rom. 9:6ff).  Paul bases his argument on the God’s word to Abraham, “Through Isaac your seed shall be named,” or “called” (Gen. 21:12; cf. Rom. 12:7).  He then shows that God immediately applied this principle to unborn twins, choosing the younger Jacob and passing by the older Esau, “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Rom. 9:11).  According to Paul, such calling has persisted to the present day (Rom. 9:24).  Among the biological Jews, there were chosen Jews.  Mysteriously, this secret election always correlates perfectly with personal faith, the mark of every son of Abraham (Rom. 4:12; Gal. 3:6-7).  As a result, a non-elect ethnic Jew is still held accountable for his unbelief, especially in light of his higher privileges (cf. Lk. 12:48; Rom. 3:1-3).  Yes, he may be a Jew by blood and by circumcision, but God Himself regards him as “uncirmcumcised of heart” (Jer. 9:25-26; cf. Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-29; Eph. 2:11; Ph. 3:2-3; Col. 2:11).  Therefore, the word of God has not failed because it was never promised individually to each ethnic Jew.  As John the Baptist warned, biology alone saves no Jew (Mt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8).

Third, although not every individual Jew is chosen and called, God has not rejected the Jews as a group, that is, as an ethnicity, as a “people” (Rom. 11:2).  The proof is threefold.  First, there have always been a remnant of believing Jews, both in the days of Elijah and in our day (Rom. 11:1-6).  Second, Paul’s gospel ministry among the Gentiles sought to provoke Jews to faith through jealousy (“Hey, they’re getting what rightfully belongs to my people!”), which may lead to their acceptance again as a group (Rom. 11:11-14; cf. 10:1).  Third, someday “all Israel will be saved,” whenever the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25-26).  If this “fullness” refers to the completion of the Great Commission among all ethnicities, an event which must occur before “the end” (Mt. 24:14; cf. 28:19-20), then the hope expressed here is for a particular ethnicity to be saved, namely, the Jews, the only special ethnicity in God’s sight.  Granted, at this moment, the majority of ethnic Jews are “from the standpoint of the gospel…enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28-29; cf. Dt. 4:37; 7:7-8).  At some point in the future, Jesus will “come” and “remove ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26).  As unbelieving Saul become believing Paul through seeing the risen Savior, so perhaps will each Jew believe, who is privileged to be alive when Jesus returns from heaven.  Through the gracious outpouring of the Spirit, those individual Jews at that moment “will look on [Him] whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son” (Zech. 12:10; cf. Rev. 1:7).  It appears that this acceptance of the Jews en masse precedes the resurrection of the dead (Rom. 11:15).

In Romans 11, Paul uses the analogy of a cultivated olive tree (Rom. 11:16-24).  There is one tree with one root, but many branches.  The branches represent individuals.  Some of the branches naturally belong to the tree.  These are the ethnic Jews.  It is their tree, but many of them have been broken off due to unbelief.  In their place, branches from a wild olive tree have been grafted into the tree.  These are the Gentile believers.  They remain on the tree through faith or they too would be broken off due to unbelief.  All of these believing branches, whether natural or wild, are partakers together of the “rich root of the olive tree” (Rom. 11:17).  This root appears to represent the OT covenants and promises that ethnically belong to the Jewish people.  Based on this analogy, I conclude that there has always been one program of God through history.  It is a Jewish program.  It started with Abraham, as a continuation of Adam through Noah, and it includes all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:15-18; 35:11).

Think of the program in this way.  If we leave the Gentiles out of the picture, we are left with a lot of continuity.  The Jews have always struggled to believe and to receive their promises.  Through an initial covenant with Abraham, God made absolute promises of land and seed; but through another covenant, the Mosaic covenant, God made the actual fulfillment of these promises dependent on the obedience of the sons of Abraham.  The first generation died in the wilderness, then Joshua (literally, “Jesus”) brought the next generation into the land.  After that “Jesus” died (and did not rise again), the Jews lapsed into Canaanite behavior and were in danger of losing their land.  God raised up David and made to him, by covenant, an absolute promise of throne and seed; but again, God made the actual fulfillment dependent on the obedience of the sons of David.  After David died (and did not rise again), the first son lapsed and subsequent sons led the Jews into Canaanite behavior and the loss of their land.  Things looked bleak indeed for the Jews.

At that point, God promised to the house of Israel and the house of Judah—not to every individual Jew, but to the people as a whole—that He would someday inaugurate a new covenant that would bring both a change of heart and a personal relationship with Him, based on a permanent forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:31-34).  This new covenant began with Jesus (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), who is the obedient “son of David” and “son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1).  His death brought permanent forgiveness through payment for transgressions committed under the old covenant (Heb. 9:15); and His life guarantees the permanent safety of all who draw near to God through Him (Heb. 7:22-25).  It is fitting to say “began” because covenant promises reach actuality in stages.  Just as the Jews at Sinai started to enjoy the privileges of the old covenant through the presence of God, although outside the land, so now the Jews who believe in Christ are starting to enjoy the privileges of the Spirit of adoption even though they have not yet enjoyed the adoption itself, the “redemption of the body” (Rom. 8:15, 23).  Someday, all these believing Jews, both from the OT era and the NT era, will inherit all the promises; and through the circumcision of the heart, they will love the Lord Jesus forever and never leave Him (cf. Dt. 30:6; Jer. 24:7; cf. Eph. 3:17; 6:24).

In other words, think of the whole program apart from the Gentiles.  Not every Jew who lived before Christ will rise to receive the land with Abraham or the throne with David; neither will every Jew today.  Each Jew must personally believe (Rom. 4:12).  The promises have always been “through the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:13).  However, if a Jew today believes, he is sealed with the Spirit for the day of redemption and can look forward to reigning with Christ upon His return.  This makes sense.  Instead of regarding this era as a parenthesis, in which God has set aside His program for Israel, I regard it as a delay, like the wilderness era, when a generation failed to receive the promises due to predominant unbelief.

The real mystery is not the delay in the program, but the inclusion of Gentiles among the believing Jews as fellow members of the Jewish household, with all the rights and privileges of any Jew (Eph. 2:11-14, 19; 3:6).  No longer a second-class citizen, every Gentile believer is a “partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree” (Rom. 11:17).  Consequently, which of their privileges—promises, adoption, glory—does a Gentile believer not also receive in Christ, the one obedient Jew?  Indeed, according to Paul, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).  A Gentile believer is reckoned to be a Jew by grace, just as graciously as his faith is reckoned for righteousness (cf. Rom. 2:26; 4:3-12, 22-25).  No wonder, then, that Gentile believers are warned three times by Paul not to be arrogant and high-minded toward the Jews (Rom. 11:18, 20, 25)!  Both as sinners and as Gentiles, such believers are doubly undeserving.

To be clear, this interpretation does not mean that the church replaces Israel.  Yes, there are three groups of people in the world today: the church, the Jews, and the Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32).  The latter two groups are outside the church, because they are two kinds of unbelievers.  Those inside the church are starting to enjoy the promises of the new covenant in Christ.  Some of those inside the church are “natural” branches.  They are Jewish believers.  The remainder inside the church, those are Gentiles, have been graciously grafted in.  They are reckoned as Jews, even though they are not by nature Jewish.  (Incidentally, if the church is not somehow related to the olive tree, then into what exactly are Gentiles grafted?)  Now consider the status of a Jewish believer in the church.  He is not reckoned to be a Jew.  He is aJew.  Like Nathaniel, he is “an Israelite indeed” (Jn. 1:47).  On account of these true Jews within the church today, the church can rightly be said to be Jewish.  Instead of replacing Israel, the church fulfills Israel and calls on all Jews to start enjoying by faith what actually belongs to them.  Just as a wedding does not cancel an engagement, but fulfills it, so also God has not called off the wedding to His people.  The New Covenant has begun, and some Jews are already enjoying some of its benefits.  Someday, all Jews will—those alive at Christ’s return.  In fact, this mass conversion is part of the New Covenant itself (Rom. 11:27).

Again, as Paul looks at the world, he sees two kinds of unbelievers—ethnic Jews and ethnic non-Jews (Gentiles).  He longs for the ethnic Jews to receive their own promises by faith, and one of the ways he seeks to win them is through the salvation of Gentiles provoking them to jealousy (Rom. 10:1; 11:13-14).  His primary calling is to the Gentiles, but he will “magnify” his ministry through this additional, indirect way of winning Jews.  All those Jews who come in to the church are true Jews and members of Christ, the Jew of Jews.  Therefore, according to my understanding of Scripture, the church neither interrupts Israel (dispensationalism) nor replaces Israel (covenant theology); the church is the group of true Jews and reckoned Jews that fulfills Israel in Christ.  Both the seed promises of Genesis and the olive-tree analogy of Romans support this position.  This is Paul’s gospel.

The Promises of Land and Throne

Well, how does this understanding of the gospel compare to dispensationalism?  Traditionally, dispensationalism emphasized that there are two peoples of God—the earthly people, the Jews, and the heavenly people, the church.  Although dispensationalists today would not necessarily use that terminology, it still seems that the hard-and-fast division between the church and Israel is the core doctrine of this system of theology.  Israel and the church are mutually exclusive groups.  As a result, promises made in the Old Testament must apply to one group or the other.  If a promise is given to Israel, it cannot be fulfilled in the church, lest God should prove faithless, which is impossible.  This zeal for the faithfulness of God should be commended—again, such zeal is the burden of Paul in Romans 9—but the interpretation behind it may not be correct, any more than a Dutch Reformed parent clinging to the “promise” of God being the God of their seed through the covenant of baptism.

These assertions about the essence of dispensationalism were recently confirmed in a podcast on “Reformed Dispensationalism” that featured Mike Riccardi and Peter Sammons of Grace Community Church in California.  One of them defined the sine qua non of dispensationalism as follows: “Promises made to ethnic Israel in the Old Testament, as interpreted by faithful grammatical-historical exegesis, will be fulfilled literally and truly to those to whom they were made.  They won’t be spiritually re-interpreted and applied to the church.”  In other words, “Israel gets her promises.  She gets her land.  She gets her kingdom.”  As a result of this hermeneutic, the “unavoidable tenet” of dispensationalism is the Millennium, defined as “God’s plan for geo-political Israel in a thousand-year period in an intermediate kingdom.”  There is a direct link between the dispensationalism and the Millennium.

Here is where it gets interesting.  Without the dispensational distinction between Israel and the church, why would anyone hold to a Millennium?  Many Reformed ministers today are amillennial for that exact reason.  If the church replaces Israel, as Calvin’s exegesis of Romans 11:26 asserts, then there is no need for land and throne to be given to Israel.  The eternal state, with the new heavens and the new earth, can immediately follow the return of Christ.  Nothing remains to be fulfilled.

But what if the Church fulfills Israel?  Is there still room for land and throne promises to be fulfilled on earth before the eternal state arrives?  Admittedly, prophecy is challenging, but here are some suggestions.  I remain open to correction, based on the principle of “comprehending with all the saints” the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18-19).

Regarding land, God promised Abraham the land of Canaan by covenant (Gen. 15:8-21).  Earlier, he had told him to walk throughout the land, because He would give it to him (Gen. 14:17).  Apparently, Abraham believed that he would receive it through resurrection, because he died in faith as a sojourner possessing no more than a cemetery (Gen. 23).  This cemetery, however, proved important, because Jacob insisted on being buried there (Gen. 50:1-14); and Joseph, his son, made the people swear that they would carry his bones back to the land (Gen. 50:25).  These patriarchs expressed their faith in God fulfilling His promise of the land.  Therefore, the land of Canaan is a special land, because it is the land promised by covenant to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Later in the Law, the Lord posed the possibility of an expanded territory beyond the Canaanite nations, one that would include “all the land which He promised to give to your fathers” (Dt. 19:1, 8).  Presumably, this would include all the land from Egypt to the Euphrates (cf. Gen. 15:18).  Could it be that some of this land will be obtained through empire-building, as in the days of David and Solomon, and not through personal habitation?  If so, then there is a vision for an expanding control of land that begins with an inhabited inheritance and stretches out to include a possessed dominion over other nations, thereby combining land and throne promises, even as Abraham is promised a special Seed who will “possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17).

Personally, I think this expansive vision helps to explain why Paul, in the context of discussing Abrahamic promises, declares that Abraham will be “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13).  Indeed, Paul says this promise is to Abraham’s Seed, which probably refers to the singular Seed, who is Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16).  As the Messiah, Jesus Christ must someday “rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8).  Could it be, then, that the promise of a throne in the Davidic Covenant fulfills the promise of land in the Abrahamic Covenant?  If so, then we have some help in explaining why, according to Hebrews, Abraham’s confession of being a sojourner pertains less to the land of Canaan and more to the land as land—in other words, to the earth in contrast to a “heavenly” country (Heb. 13:13-16).  Just as David also called himself a “sojourner” in light of his short days “on the earth” (1 Chr. 29:15; cf. Ps. 39:12), so they all shared this sojourning on earth and look for “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).  Apparently, this is “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-23), prophesied by Isaiah and said to be “our mother” (Gal. 4:26-27; cf. Isa. 54:1).

Therefore, I conclude that Abraham and all those, who by faith are included as his seed, shall rise to inherit the earth, whenever the City of God descends to earth.  The question is: Is this point the Millennium or the Eternal State?

The Millennium

Shifting from the land promises to throne promises puts us in the context of the Messianic reign of Christ.  Certainly, He is at this moment “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).  In accordance with His Great Commission, He has been given “all authority…in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18; cf. Jn. 17:2).  This vision of Christ’s authority fueled the early American revivals and the foreign missions movement.  Those evangelical preachers fully expected the Millennial reign of Christ to occur on earth before the physical return of Jesus at the end of history.  This postmillennial vision assumes that the OT promises of the kingdom can be fulfilled without Jesus physically reigning on earth.  In other words, His session at the right hand of God is sufficient to accomplish these prophecies.  While I used to believe this view, I no longer do for several reasons.

First, the fact that Christ reigns in heaven now does not mean that the church will reign on earth now—or at any time before His physical return.  There is more involved here than a time delay.  According to the gospel, there is pattern of suffering, then glory (Rom. 8:17; cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-12).  In fact, the suffering is even said to produce the glory (2 Cor. 4:17).  Moreover, the gateway between suffering and glory is resurrection.  Just as Christ suffered on earth and then entered His glory through resurrection, so also the church must suffer on earth—even being hated by all nations until the end of the age (Mt. 24:9-14)—and then enter her glory through resurrection and rapture.  Paul makes this sequence necessary and explicit: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50).  Therefore, we should not expect a realized kingdom on earth before glorification.

Granted, the postmillennial view has big faith—something I admire—but it is misplaced.  It believes that the cultures of the world will become Christian through either the preaching of the gospel (like an ongoing revival) or through education (like the “disciplining” of the nations, as some postmillennialists quote the Great Commission).   In the Bible, however, we receive a different kind of earthly victory.  The word will triumph, as the book of Acts shows (6:7; 12:24; 19:20; 28:31; cf. 2 Tim. 2:9), and disciples will be made in all nations, as the book of Revelation shows (5:9; 7:9), but the church herself will live under repeated persecution until the Lord comes.  It is a “must” (Acts 14:22).  Fittingly, this insight came to me through preaching a series of Lenten sermons on the cross (cf. Mt. 26:54).

Second, the kingdom, or reign, that Jesus has now received is a share in His Father’s throne as co-regent in heaven, but it is not yet His own throne.  Jesus told His disciples in the upper room, “Just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk. 22:29-30).  Jesus has received a kingdom now like the one we will receive with Him later, namely, a share in another’s reign.  Both now and later, Jesus will be reigning—there is continuity in the kingdom of God—but the throne is different.  Instead of the Son being at the Father’s right hand in heaven, as He is now (Ps. 110:1; cf. 16:11), the Father will once again be at the Son’s right hand on earth (Ps. 110:5; cf. 16:8; 109:31)—but this time, for victory over His enemies.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus promises, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).  Do you see the two thrones?  Right now, the Son is sharing the Father’s throne.  When He returns to earth, “He will sit on His glorious throne” (Mt. 25:31).  On either throne, both the Father and the Son reign, even as the Davidic throne itself was said to be “the throne of the LORD” (1 Chr. 29:23).  Similarly, when Jesus sits on His throne, we too will reign with Him “upon the earth” (Rev. 5:10; 20:4-6; cf. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:50-57).

Regarding the Millennium itself, the data in the New Testament epistles is admittedly scant, but Paul does differentiate between three moments in the historical “order” of resurrections: “Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:23-24).  Here, then, are three moments in time.  The etymologically-related words in Greek for “after that” (ἔπειτα) and “then” (εἶτα) clearly refer to a sequence in time.  Therefore, the “end” is not at the same moment as the second coming of Christ, which is literally His debut or parousia.  Yes, the time gap between the resurrection of the church and the end might be quite short, as amillennialism would require, but it would seem more natural for the gap to be longer.  Such a gap could allow for a Millennium.  Between the final two moments is the destruction of Christ’s enemies: “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:26).  According to Psalm 110, this destruction begins when Christ comes to earth.  Until that point, He still rules, in gathering a people to Himself, but He is not destroying and abolishing His enemies.  According to Hebrews, He remains seated until the moment arrives for destroying His enemies (Heb. 10:12-13).  The “last enemy” to be destroyed is death (v. 27), which occurs at the end of the Millennium in Revelation 20, when all the dead are finally raised and death itself is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).  Therefore, the Millennium of Revelation can fit nicely into Paul’s timeframe.  According to Hebrews, this vision of a “world to come” is one that “we do not yet see” (Heb. 2:5-8; cf. Ps. 8:6; 1 Cor. 15:27).  Then, when every enemy is abolished, the end arrives, when Christ “hands over the kingdom” to God and is Himself “subjected” to the Father, who subjected all things under Him (1 Cor. 15:24, 28).  If there is no Millennial reign of Christ on His own throne, then what is He handing back to the Father that is not already in “subjection” to Him?  Admittedly, it could be merely His authority, as exercised now from heaven, but I wonder whether His session at the Father’s right hand could already be said to be in “subjection” to God or not.  At any rate, this verse seems to prohibit us from seeing the kingdom promises as somehow fulfilled in the Eternal State.  Whatever the creeds assert about the eternal kingdom of Christ, based on Luke 1:33 and in answer to Marcellus of Ancyra, there is still a change in the form of His reign that must occur at “the end” (1 Cor. 15:24).

The Millennium in the Book of Revelation

Mention has been made to the book of Revelation.  Having considered the clearer texts of Scripture, let us briefly consider the nature of apocalyptic literature: How literal should we take the Millennium in Revelation 20? 

According to the interpretive key provided in Revelation chapter seventeen, the things that John sees represent historical realities such as a king or a city.  Granted, the thing John sees is not how that reality appears in real life—indeed, the seven-horned and seven-eyed Lamb is not a snapshot of Jesus (Rev. 5:6)—but what John sees represents symbolically true aspects of these historical realities, just as the Lamb’s perfect number of horns and eyes represent Jesus’ omnipotence and omniscience in the Spirit.  Significantly, in the symbolism of Jesus, John heard that a lion had overcame, but then he sees a lamb (cf. 5:5, 6).  Both symbols have the same referent: Jesus.  Later in the book, John again hears one thing and sees something else, presumably (again) pointing to the same referent.  This time, John hears that a doubly-complete number of Israelites are sealed (namely, 144,000 = 12 x 12 x 10 x 10), but then he sees “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:4-9).  Again, the symbols appear to have the same referent.  If the view presented earlier in this essay is correct about the church being Israel fulfilled, then there is little trouble in equating these two groups.  In this way, the book of Revelation traces the history of the church symbolically.  Incidentally, an interpretive guide by J. Ramsey Michaels really opened my eyes to how the symbolism worked in the book of Revelation.

Significantly, this same multitude of 144,000 appears later in the book on Mount Zion with the Lamb, but they are all male (Rev. 14:4).  Again, the symbolism points to reality, but it itself is not the historical reality.  The church is composed of males and females.  Similarly, in the sixth seal, the souls beneath the altar are all said to have been “slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9).  Interestingly, according to the Law, the life (literally, “soul”) is said to be in the blood, and the blood was routinely poured out at the base of the altar (Lev. 17:11; cf. 4:7).  Again, the symbol is not the reality.  Not every Christian is physically martyred, even though all Christians must take up their cross (Mark 8:34; cf. Ph. 3:10-11).  As Michaels pointed out, Revelation pictures the church as both male and martyred.  Neither is necessarily true in physical reality, but it is symbolically true.  Therefore, when we come to the Millennium, it is possible to see the resurrection of those martyred as representing the entire church (Rev. 20:4-6), even as the souls beneath the altar were told to “rest for a while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (6:11).  In the vision, these resurrected souls will reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years (20:6).  Perhaps the number “one thousand” is symbolic (1000 = 10 x 10), but it would represent a very long time.

When I translated and preached through the book of Revelation, I was struck by the coincidence of the symbolism with historical reality.  In particular, I was impressed by the repeated references to three-and-a-half years: forty-two months (11:2; 13:5), 1260 days (11:3; 12:6), and “a time and times and half a time” (12:14).  Thinking about it now, if historical geography can be represented symbolically (e.g. 17:9; cf. 17:18), why not chronology?  It is my belief that the book of Revelation presents a historical sequence of events.  It is not a mere collection of visual parables about current reality, much as an amillennial interpretation might be.  Honestly, I did not anticipate this effect; but as a result, I have come to believe firmly in a church age (Rev. 6), a short tribulation (Rev. 7-18), a physical return of Christ (Rev. 19), and a Millennium (Rev. 20).  Once I saw the same pattern in Ezekiel of a resurrection (Ezek. 37:1-14) followed by a Millennium (Ezek. 38-39), I became even more convinced.  The book of Revelation even cites the “God and Magog” of Ezekiel’s prophecy (cf. Ezek. 38:2; 39:1, 6; Rev. 20:8). 

To be sure, I am very fuzzy on what specifically happens in the Millennium.  Given that Christ is the substance that has replaced the shadow of the Law (Col. 2:17), it is hard for me to accept the dispensationalist claims of a Millennial temple and memorial sacrifices.  Why would we revert from the substance to the shadows?  Again, I see the final chapters of Ezekiel, where such claims are often based, as apocalyptic symbolism, not video footage of future reality.  At the very least, the symbolism points to a life centered on worship and flowing from worship.  Perhaps the Millennium will be an amazing time of technological advancement—the so-called “repairing the ruins” (cf. Isa. 58:12).  Just as Noah and his sons emerged from the flood with all the knowledge and skills they had learned in the previous world, so also the glorified church may supply the Millennium with a variety of skills for the glory of God.  In addition, the Millennium could be both a time of spiritual power, when the saints have spiritual bodies and judge the world and even angels (1 Cor. 6:2, 3; 15:42-49), and a time of cosmic warfare, when we witness our God singlehandedly destroy the devil and his host at the end of the Millennium, while we dwell unarmed (cf. Ezek. 38:10).  With this grand finale of cosmic firepower, the Lord will definitively demonstrate to us that we are forever safe.  And to think, we await not just one new age with Christ, but “the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7).  What if this little life now were simply the first chapter in a near-endless story of unfolding glory, in which God will continually show “the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (2:7)!  Truly, the prophets spoke rightly: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9; cf. Eph. 3:20-21).

In the meantime, we should remember that, whether one holds a premillennial an amillennial view of the end, there is little difference for the mission of the church and her expectations.  Both views expect culture to become worse in the end; as a result, neither view promotes a fixation on “winning” the culture for Christ.  This evangelical impulse to win American culture is actually a carryover from the antebellum awakenings and their postmillennial visions of the future.  Yes, God could make the nations Christian in culture, but He has not chosen to do so.  He could also make our bodies live forever, but contrary to some charismatic expectations, He has not always chosen to heal us.  Still, if we have health for a little while, or find temporary healing, it is a good from His hand and we thank Him.  Similarly, there are times when God choses to improve the health of a culture, even though ultimately it will perish in the time of the Beast.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we should still seek the good of our neighbors and the nation, even as the Jews sojourning in Babylon were told to “seek the peace of the city” (Jer. 29:7; cf. Gal. 6:10; 1 Pt. 1:1; 2:11; 3:11; 5:13).  And, of course, their ultimate good is salvation (cf. 1 Pt. 2:12).  Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Please Note: The discussion here about the Millennium is little affected by one’s view of the rapture, whether it occurs at the end of the tribulation or before it.  According to Paul, the rapture is when all believers are instantly changed to be like Christ (1 Cor. 15:50-57; Ph. 3:20-21; 1 Th. 4:16-17; cf. 1 Jn. 3:2).

The Four Horizons of Theology

Theological training in Log College is based on four horizons, which are four historical contexts:

Old Testament (OT)
New Testament (NT)
Church History
Contemporary Culture

The trained minister should be conversant in all four contexts and be able to translate between them.  Terms in one context do not automatically mean the same thing in another context.  The semantic range may differ, such as the NT’s need to supplement “mind” in order to convey the broad meaning of the Hebrew word “heart.”[1]  Sometimes, the term has no one-to-one equivalent at all, such as the Hebrew word hesed (often translated “lovingkindness”).  In addition, OT concepts and institutions are fulfilled in Christ with a fullness that exceeds one-to-one correspondence.  The church, then, enters new cultures, which again changes the exact look of these terms, concepts, and institutions.  Various church traditions begin to use their own theological forms and language, which may not correlate with the Bible’s terminology—or with our own today—and yet their concepts may still be faithful to the inspired Text.  Finally, our own culture has its forms and terminology, which faithful preaching must learn to use, if the gospel is to make sense in our generation.  One theologian called this final translation “theological vision.”[2]  All in all, the four horizons present us with a theological task worthy of the sword of the Spirit and prayer (Eph. 6:17-18)!

To assist the minister in this large task of theological translation, Log College uses three theologies, each of which corresponds to a specific track in the three-year process to potential ordination:

        Biblical Theology – tracing themes of promise and fulfillment in Christ across the Bible’s overall metanarrative

        Historical Theology – tracing the development of doctrine across the church’s overall history

        Systematic Theology – working towards ordination with the categories of theology in a contemporary context

The Bible Track in biblical theology is based on the eight hermeneutical principles that Word Partners uses in their worldwide training: staying on the line, text over framework, genre, asking good questions, traveling instructions (“to them” but “for us”), structure, melody (the main idea and intended response), and biblical theology.[3]

The Theology Track in historical theology is based on the truth that Jesus gave us apostles and prophets, whose inspired writings provide the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20; 3:5), as well as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, who explain that apostolic word to us (Eph. 4:11).  Both groups are gifts.  As a result, we cannot say that we have no need of teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 12:21).  We have been blessed with both a Bible and twenty centuries of teachers.  Therefore, it is our desire at Log College to let a valued teacher have a seat with us at the table for at least one week of discussion.  This discussion will be more challenging than the Bible track, because we cannot simply take a teacher’s word at face value.  Like the Bereans, we must test each teacher against the inerrant word (Acts 17:11).  In a sense, there is only one Teacher in the room—Jesus Christ—and all these others are simply smart kids who often take better notes and catch more details, and we can look over their shoulders.  No matter what tradition they come from, they all belong to us, and we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-23).  This mutuality is part of the beauty of the Evangelical Tradition, which traces its emphasis on speaking the word in the Spirit back to the book of Acts itself.

The Ordination Track in systematic theology is based on a historic creed (often the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689) supplemented with contemporary issues.  The minister in training writes his own statement under each heading and then critically discusses this document with an experienced minister.  The final step is not a diploma, but an ordination council—an oral exam before ordained peers in gospel ministry.  Because the right hand of fellowship must not be given hastily (1 Tim. 5:22), time is allowed for follow-up and possible re-examination.

Because we believe that we grow into a fuller understanding of the love of Christ as we “comprehend with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18), each of our three tracks seeks the Holy Spirit’s leading through prayerful discussion.


[1] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 366-69.

[2] For Richard Lint’s concept of “theological vision,” see the introduction to Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 13-25.

[3] Dig and Discover Hermeneutical Principles: The Core Principles, 3rd, ed. (Palos Heights, IL: WordPartners, 2018).  This booklet can be ordered at https://marketplace.mimeo.com/lrisamples#name=17.

Jesus Christ, the Law of Mankind

One of the interesting traits about God is that He always outgives us.  In Genesis, as Abraham’s faith rises from himself to the world, and from the realm of human possibilities to the God-alone possibilities, God continues to outpace him.  Promises are added or expanded.  New names are given to him and to his wife.  Instead of being the father of a people, he will now be the father of many peoples.  Multiplied, Abraham’s seed will become “as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore” and, in particular, one Seed will “possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17).  With such a subtle shift in pronoun, so common to Hebrew, the Spirit has pointed to the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:1; cf. Gal. 3:16).[1]  In this way, the vision expands into “precious and magnificent promises” (2 Pt. 1:4).

This Seed reappears in David’s covenant.  Now promised an eternal throne and an everlasting Seed to sit on the throne, David enters the temple to worship.  In great humility and awed wonder at the astounding grace of God, David exclaims, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” (2 Sam. 7:18).  And if only David had kept this attitude, he would not have strayed from the line of duty, stayed in Jerusalem, and betrayed his God with Bathsheba.  The greater sin was not done against the woman or her husband, but against God, who tells him, significantly, “It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!” (2 Sam. 12:7-8; cf. Ps. 51:4).  In light of the great grace of God, both past and promised in the future, how foolish and unnecessary is our sin, and how insulting to God (cf. Rom. 1:21)!

In David’s first prayer and better frame of mind, he appears to have had an insight into the larger significance of the covenant.  He exclaims, “This is the law of humanity!” (2 Sam. 7:19).  In an extensive evaluation of this simple Hebrew phrase, one scholar concluded that it referred to the coming Son of David, acting as the king of Israel was always meant to act, namely, as the model citizen, embodying the Torah of the Lord (cf. Dt. 17:14-20; Ps. 40:8).[2]  In other words, the Law of God would no longer be embedded in stone but embodied in the Son.  Moreover, this embodiment of living Torah would be the standard for all of humanity, even as this Son would reign over all the world forever.  In a sense, the Law now becomes, “Learn of Me” (Mt. 11:29).

Huge implications follow from this Davidic insight.  No longer is the written Law of God the only means for giving us the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).  Such knowledge can now come from a close examination of the life of Christ, as in a new mirror (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; Jas. 1:23-25).  Apparently, such a view brought A. W. Pink to a conviction of his sin.  Moreover, Christ Himself becomes the standard for Christians.  In the old question about the third use of the Law, the debate takes a new twist—yes, the righteous requirement of the Law is still the goal (Rom. 8:4), but the means is no longer the embedded Law but the embodied Law (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6).  As we are led by the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, we are filled with the very Spirit of Christ, who is the true fullness of the Law and all that man was ever meant to be.  Surely, this adds fresh possibilities to such phrases as “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, the law that is Christ?) and “you did not learn Christ in this way” (Eph. 4:20).

In addition to Christian living, the universal law of Christ, embodied in His life and given to us now through His Spirit, becomes the standard for education.  Instead of virtue, what the pagans considered to be the model of manhood, we now have Christ, who is set against the elements of this world as seen in philosophy and tradition (Col. 2:8).  As Christian educators, we preach Christ, both as crucified and as Lord (Col. 1:28; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:6).  In Him, we have all the fulness that we need for both salvation and righteous living.  And is He not again both the model and the motive?  Who can sin when our eyes are fixed on Him who is the outpouring of the outgiving love of God?  If God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), then where does God’s Son Himself lead?


[1] According to Jack Collins, when זֶרַע refers to “posterity”, the pronouns are always plural, but when it refers to a specific individual, the singular appears (as reported in Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012], 288).  It is to these authors that I owe the insight regarding our outgiving God and Abraham.  Similarly, in response to Peter’s boast of leaving all, Jesus spoke of receiving “a hundred times as much,” even in this life (Mk. 10:30).

[2] See Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 399-400.

An Open Letter on Music

It was certainly not my desire to delay this long in answering your letter about music.  Please forgive me.  In setting it aside for an easily opportune time, such a time never appeared—but is that not common to all busy individuals?  It simply shows that I did not make your concerns a priority, and for that I apologize.  Perhaps the Lord will show us a gracious and good surprise in this negligent delay.  May it be so!

Regarding your categories, I would like to reduce them to two: Text and Tune.  It is my understanding that there should be “a happy marriage between text and tune,” as one British hymn-writer once said.  In general, what is right conforms to what is true, and what is true corresponds to reality; therefore, the right tune will be one that conforms to the message (and not the other way around), and the true text will be one that corresponds to reality.

In application, this means that the words must be true.  For church music that is offered to God (holy music), the Bible tells us explicitly, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell among you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).  The content must not only be biblical, it must be gospel, that is, centered on Christ (“the word about Christ,” cf. Romans 10:17).  Moreover, the content should be rich in the message of the gospel.  Honestly, I think we strive for that at Countryside Bible Church.  Finally, this text tells us that worship music would fall under the teaching ministry of the church.  Like an echo, the songs sung in public worship often remain with us throughout the week to speak to us when we need it.  Like the water that surrounds sand, songs fill up our inner lives behind and around our thoughts; therefore, it is necessary to make them rich in the word about Christ.

Before moving to the tune, let me add that lyrical content is poetic.  It is more than words.  It has form as well, and form matters.  Of the three typical meters for hymnody, the common meter (8.6.8.6) of “Amazing Grace” is iambic (typical of English poetry) and carries enough measures to sustain a thought without compromising it.  Short meter (6.6.8.6) is more difficult and, as a result, is not found much in hymnals.  Long meter (8.8.8.8) works well with more meditative themes, as does another fairly common meter (11.11.11.11) found in (e.g.) “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”  As with tunes, the meter of the poem has to fit and serve the message of the content.  The Hebrew prophets make their poetry do this, as the quick lines in Nahum 3 show, and so should we!  If the psalm wants to stress order (as in Psalm 2), then make the form orderly.  If the psalm wants to stress disorder, then break the cadence, as in Psalm 82:5.  Do you see?  We do not even know the music of the Hebrews, but we see how they crafted their poetry, and poetry has intrinsic rhythm.  And by the way, the rhythm of a poem is largely determined by the natural rhythm of a language.  When Martin Luther wanted the church service to be spoken in German rather than the Catholic Latin, he realized that new music would need to be written—not just new words.  German, I believe, is more like English, but Latin is typically dactylic, with a HARD-soft-soft cadence instead of the iambic soft-HARD.  Very different!

When it comes to poetic form, our text in Colossians encourages a variety.  That is good, because we have a wide range of themes that we would like to communicate.  The text also encourages the singing of Psalms.  Ironically, some of the Reformed churches most into the regulative principle (only offer to God what He has prescribed) still abide by the original Puritan and Presbyterian principle of singing only metricized Psalms, when the Bible explicitly commands us to also sing hymns and spiritual songs.  (I suppose they assert that these are simply other forms from the biblical Psalter.)  At any rate, I like Isaac Watts approach of not being tied to only singing Psalms, but to sing songs in imitation of David, which to me means striving to have the same breadth and quality of both themes and forms as the Psalms, yet with the same Christ-centeredness, as the Psalms are through and through Messianic.

Now, you will notice that we have not even touched modern music.  There is so much to say with hymns and it is a great place to learn because it typically involves no controversy.  For example, to learn about the happy marriage of text and tune, take the words of the following hymns (all of them are 11.11.11.11) and switch the tunes: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” “Away in a Manger,” and “How Firm a Foundation.”

Do you see how some of them feel ludicrous, such as singing “How Firm a Foundation” to a lullaby (either tune of “Away in a Manger”), and yet some of them feel better (e.g. “My Jesus, I Love Thee” is much more confident with the tune of “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”)?  You can easily do this with Common Meter hymns, because there are so many of them.  In doing so, you will gain a feel of how the tune must serve the text for it to be right.  After all, for most of our hymns, the poem was written without a tune, and then only later did the church grab a tune for it (e.g. we sing Newton’s poem “Faith’s Review and Expectation” to an American hymn and call it by its first words “Amazing Grace”).

At this point, we are ready to discuss the musical question of tune. 

First, it is my contention that there are no instruments that are inherently bad and off-limits, especially the percussion section.  The Psalms exhibit a tendency to use a variety of instruments, including loud, clashing cymbals (Psalm 150).  Now, how that instrument is played may determine whether it is right for this lyrical poem or not, but I am opposed to the de facto rejection of instruments, even pipe organs, despite their lavish and questionable expense.  (That was a big debate in Baptist circles two hundred years ago.)

Second, music itself is a language of spirit.  We know this from both David’s harp (1 Samuel 16) and the request of Elisha (2 Kings 3).  Just as some spiritual frames are dangerous to dwell in and give the devil an opportunity, such as perpetual anger (Ephesians 4:26-27) and perpetual sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7, 11), it would not be wise to have angry or said music lodged in the back of one’s mind playing endlessly and effortlessly.  And one does not need to grab hard rock music for anger, when Beethoven may suffice at times in its overdramatic way.  Now, just as Jesus was angry in the temple and just as we are told to be angry and not sin, there may be use for angry music with a judgment theme, such as the background music in a movie, but I doubt that we would want to craft a hymn with angry music that repeats over and over again.  Does that make sense?

The Bible commands me not only to be renewed in my thoughts but in the spirit of my mind (Ephesians 4:23)—to have the right spirit with the true thoughts.  Therefore, I should select my music with that purpose in mind.  It is no accident that being filled with the Spirit leads to singing with gratitude (Ephesians 5:18-19, which is the parallel text to Colossians 3:16).  And given the psalmist’s desire to bless the Lord at all times (Psalm 34:1), it is hard for me to imagine that ideal being fulfilled by singing about what is false or by singing about what is true with a wrong spirit (i.e. the tune does not fit, serve, or conform to the text).  This ideal does not mean that we must only sing about God directly.  As we discussed, the book of Leviticus shows us three categories—holy, common/clean, and unclean.  Anything clean can be offered to God, even a meal (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-5); therefore, it should not be rejected, but done with an eye to God’s glory in gratitude.  I can sing “Happy Birthday” to my children and a love song to my wife (after all, the Bible has one!) and do it to the glory of God, being filled with gratitude for His gift of family.

Music is a powerful force and a great indicator of the spirit of a man.  As Shakespeare once said:

        The man that hath no music in himself,

        Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,

        Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;

        The motions of his spirits are dull as night,

        And his affections dark as Erebus.

        Let no such man be trusted.  Mark the music.

There are a lot of red herrings in this debate, such as instruments, but there is also a lot of profound reality in how a man’s music reflects and encourages our spirit.  Like too much caffeine and junk food, I have indulged in music at times to pick me up and give me a jolt, rather than simply as an expression or encouragement of an inner worship of God.  Perhaps the choice is poor or even sinful, at the least in having a missed opportunity, but I wonder if the category of foolish would apply better than wicked to some songs that have good words and a peppy beat, but are musically flat and textually plain.  If that is all that I sing, then I am sinfully missing the richness that God wants for His saved community (Colossians 3:16).  Certainly, a church service should avoid such a musical climate.  And personally, I should strive for a better diet.  May the Lord be gracious and merciful to lead us all in His good and right ways!

Your brother in Christ,

Bob Snyder

Additional Note on Syncopation

The question of syncopation should be looked at historically.  From what I have been told, both Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and the tune for the Doxology (the Old Hundredth from Geneva, Switzerland) were originally syncopated, although not in a modern way.  The Doxology’s music comes from a collection of French tunes that Queen Elizabeth disliked as “Genevan Jigs.”  In the later Baroque era (and possibly, then, the early Classical era), hymns like these were smoothed out and rationalized into orderly marches of rhythms.  J. S. Bach himself did this for a lot of German hymns.  Therefore, it would not surprise me if we are dealing with a false dichotomy from the Enlightenment, much like the rationalistic-versus-Romantic polarity.  As with Baconian science, the older fundamentalism may be enamored with the rationalistic form of music.