Bible, Church, Theology

The Pleroma of the Son

Introduction

Sin unleashed nothingness into the world. The Edenic world was brim-filled and overflowing with the goodness, righteousness, and joy of God actuated by creation’s mediator, God’s only Son. The creation account speaks of “filling” the earth and its “abundance.” God-ness drenched everything (though, of course, not in a pantheistic sense). Sin introduced cosmic rebellion. One rarely recognized blight of this rebellion is nihilism: life is meaningless because the universe is meaningless. “The demonic is essentially meaninglessness,”[1] and when Satan offered Eve the knowledge of good and evil, he was promising the contra-creational ability to create her own meaning. To create one’s own meaning presupposes an absence of meaning. “Eve, you can get behind God’s universe of meaning to a void in which you can create your own conceptual universe.” To be as god is to drain (in one’s own mind) God’s meaning-full universe to fill it with your own.

A fascinating NT word is pleroma, usually translated “fullness.” Its meaning is actually hard to reduce to one word. It denotes abundance, leaving no unoccupied space (as in a ship). There is no available room to compete with that which fills it. Pleroma is a pivotal biblical word that describes the person and work of the Son.

The Pleroma of the Trinity

The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2:9, “For in Him [Jesus Christ] dwells all the pleroma of the Godhead bodily.” This is an extraordinary claim. The entire fullness (pleroma) of Father, Son, and Spirit indwells the incarnate Son. This is not some sort of Christic Unitarianism, that God is only one person whose name is Jesus. God is one being in three persons. No, it means all that the Father and Spirit are is revealed in Jesus Christ. When you see his agony on the Cross, his fulmination against the Pharisees, his forgiveness of an adulterous woman, his joy, his weariness, his anger — you’re seeing also the Father and the Spirit. Jesus Christ is full of the Trinity.

Some Christians seem to have the idea that there is one God, and that Father, Son and Spirit are the three “parts” or expression of that one God. But that’s heresy. One reason we know this from the Bible is that all three fully dwell in the very body of the Son. Everything we need to know about God we could know by knowing Jesus Christ, which also means people could know much more about God after his Son’s incarnation. The Father and Spirit are equally persons, and equally God, but Jesus also bears them in his very body, since he is “the express image of His [God’s] person” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is stamped everywhere as God, even — perhaps especially — in his humanity. Jesus images God to man and to the rest of creation.

This means that being right with Jesus is being right with God — and that being wrong with Jesus is being wrong with God. Muslims and Hindus and orthodox ( = heterodox) Jews don’t love and serve the true God because the true God is in Jesus alone. It means we can’t “get behind” Jesus to get to the true God. “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ”:[2] “He who has seen Me [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). It means that to seek after God with all our heart is to seek after Jesus.

Jesus is the pleroma of God.

The Pleroma of the Church

But not just the pleroma of God. The church is the community of the redeemed, called out of the sinful world to be God’s peculiar treasure. But the church is more. As the body of Christ, it is the earthly receptacle of his pleroma, his fulness:

And He [the Father] put all things under His [Jesus’] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the pleroma of Him who fills (pleroo) all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23)

Christ saturates his church, both in its Sunday liturgical cultic[3] expression as well as its weekday non-liturgical kingdom expression.[4] By all outward appearance, the church is often feeble, sinful, failing. In its Lord’s Day celebration, it looks much like any other gathering of people dedicated to some specific purpose. In its weekday kingdom life, it might look like just another “special interest group.” But appearances deceive. The church is not a merely human community. It’s equally a divine community. The church is the fulness of Jesus Christ. The post-ascension church, by the Spirit, is the presence of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17a).

What in this world is God doing? He’s extending his kingdom in his Son Jesus Christ. But the church is the pleroma of the Son. Our Lord doesn’t fill just our individual bodies. He fills a community, his church. And he fills his church in a way he doesn’t fill us as individuals. So, if you want to be filled by Jesus Christ, you can’t experience this filling all by yourself. You need the corporate fulness of the people of God. The church is full of Jesus. 

The Pleroma of the Cosmos

But Jesus’ fulness isn’t limited to the church.  Paul declares in Colossians 1:15–19 that the pleroma of the universe, all things created, both in the church and beyond the church, is Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ pervades the universe. This didn’t start at his incarnation. It started at creation. This is why Paul writes in the same place that all things consist, or “hang together,” in him. The stars, the sun, the planets, gravity, the tides, cause and effect, morality  — all cosmic regularity is maintained by Jesus Christ. We sometimes talk about the sovereignty of God in his eternal decrees, but it’s even more relevant to talk about the pleroma of Jesus that is God’s sovereignty. Jesus is perpetually accomplishing God’s plan for the world.

For this reason, although we should be both heartbroken and angered by today’s sociopolitical chaos — Washington’s partisan bomb-lobbing, the LGBTQ++ genital mutilation agenda, and increasing talk of cultural civil war, we need not be anxious over any of it. This created order is sustained by Jesus Christ. Just as the earthly Jesus permitted storms on the lake in which his boat was rowing but rebuked the waves, so he won’t allow Satanic opposition to tip over into the destruction of creation.

This is God’s good world, which is to say, it’s Christ’s good world. He’s its pleroma. There’s no vacuum or recess or “white space.” He fills every inch of it.


[1] Allan D. Galloway, The Cosmic Christ (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), 243.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, “The Atonement. The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order,” Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 230.

[3] Organized, formal, public, corporate worship.

[4] Hendrik Hart, “The Institutional Church In Biblical Perspective,” International Reformed Bulletin, 49/50 [1972], 15–21.

Standard
Church, Culture

The Character of Christ’s Kingdom

He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. (Is. 42:2, 3)

A principal theme of the Old Testament prophets relating to Messiah’s glorious kingdom is the manner in which it was to contrast with merely human kingdoms. The kingdoms of man arrive with and feature great pomp, pride, and power, crushing all who dare oppose them. They constitute visible manifestations of man’s glory, and are usually attended by an arrogance toward both God and man.

Alternatively, Christ’s kingdom was predicted to arrive in humility, far from the centers of human power (Mic. 5:2). When we examine the gospel accounts of Christ’s birth, life, and death, we discover that the Old Testament prophecies were infallibly fulfilled: Christ was born in poverty and humility, attended not by royal heralds but humble shepherds. The kings of the earth did not hail him; the principal ruler in Israel at the time tried to murder him. Our Lord was reared by a humble, God-fearing family in relative obscurity. His adult teaching and healing ministry, while attended by thousands, did not bear the character of earthly royalty. His ignominious and cruel death in punishment as a common criminal was the most humiliating execution known in the ancient world.

Truly, if we consider his life on earth, the kingdom of Christ bears little resemblance to human kingdoms.

There is a good reason for this. The kingdom of Christ is not chiefly a political kingdom. Nationalist Jews at Christ’s first Advent expected that this Man who claimed to be King and Messiah would fulfill the old covenant Scriptures which prophesied that God’s Chosen would break the yoke of Israel’s Gentile oppressors (Jer. 23:5-9; Ez. 34:24-31; Mic. 5:5,6). In this assumption they were absolutely correct. They were grossly mistaken, however, in their assumption of the manner in which Messiah would do this. They presumed—like the dispensationalists of the modern era—that Christ’s is a cataclysmically induced, centrally enforced political kingdom. They somehow missed those old covenant Scriptures which foretold that the Messiah-King would accomplish his will through regenerative, humble, non-coercive means (Is. 15:14, 15; 42:1-7; 52:13-53:12; Zech. 9:9). Christ indeed will crush his opponents (Ps. 2); but he will not crush them in the manner of a merely human king.

The principal amillennial error is in holding that Christ’s kingdom is limited to the Christian family, church, or the intermediate or eternal state. It does not recognize all the promises of the Messianic kingdom which pertain to the Godly Golden Age of the entire earth, including politics and the state (e.g., Ps. 2; 22:27; 47:2, 3, 7; 72; Is. 2:2-4; 11:1-10; 42:1-4; 65:17-25; Mic. 4:1-5).

A central error of all dispensationalists, most premillennialists, and even some postmillennialists, on the other hand, is in supposing that Christ’s kingdom is a fundamentally political phenomenon. The first two foresee Christ returning physically to earth accompanied by the deceased saints with, as it were, guns firing and eyes blazing, intent on mowing down the Antichrist and his wicked disciples in cold blood. Some mistaken postmillennialists, though, trip into a similar error. They seem to think that if Christians can just capture state power they will be poised to usher in an intensified millennium by imposing Biblical law, punishing God’s enemies, and creating a Christian state. While their sincerity may be impeccable, their agenda is unthinkable.

The earthy Kingdom of Christ begins in the hearts of regenerate man (Lk. 17:21; Col. 1:13). Under the power of the Holy Spirit, as the Christian reorders his life, family and all other areas he influences in terms of the Christian Faith and Biblical law, God gradually rolls back evil and its effects in all of human life and society. Politics is one such—but never the chief—area. It is a fatal flaw of those suckled on the heresy of the ultimacy of political solutions to suppose that Christ’s kingdom will progress mainly by means of politics. It will not. It will advance mainly by the operation of the Spirit in the lives of increasingly sanctified, law-keeping Christians who practice their Faith in family, work, school, church, and all areas of their lives.

Fathers inculcate the orthodox Christian Faith into their families. Pastors lead their flock into greater obedience. Educators instruct their pupils in terms of a comprehensive Christian life-system. Churches revive the diaconate and care for the sick, the needy, the widow, the orphan. Christian doctors practice the godly craft of natural (sometimes, perhaps, supernatural) healing by following God’s law and the products of God’s common grace. Entrepreneurs create wealth by starting new businesses that benefit others. And on and on in all spheres.

Make no mistake: politics (like medicine, the arts, the media, technology, economics, etc.) is a legitimate area of principled Christian action. To surrender politics, or any other legitimate sphere of Christian activity, to the Devil and his disciples is an evil tack. But establishment of an explicitly Christian state will be the effect of broadly based Christian faithfulness beginning with the regenerated individual and family and reformed church. It will not be the effect of electing a few Christian politicians (though they are needed), nor even a Christian President (as beneficial as such an election would be). Elect a Christian President and Congress in November, 2024, and appoint an all-Christian Judiciary, and the nation’s most vexing moral problems would not evaporate. It is as Christ’s kingdom progresses among men—by means of Christ’s gospel and individual submission and obedience to the law-word of God—that politics and the state will enjoy Christian redemption.

Christ’s kingdom is less externally spectacular than earthly kingdoms, just as his birth was less externally spectacular than merely human kings’ births. But the small mustard seed and pinch of leaven of Christ’s kingdom (Mt. 13:31-33) will not fail ultimately to dwarf other kingdoms in its profound efficacy in the earth.

Christ’s is a quietly and unobtrusively advancing kingdom.

But it cannot fail.

Standard
Church, Theological Method

The Bible Is Complementarian, But Don’t Monkey Around With the Trinity

A majority of complementarian evangelical scholars sympathetic to the eternal economic subordination of the Son (EES) returned to the orthodox position in 2016. (EES = though each member of the Trinity is equal in being [one nature or “ousia”], the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in function. There are still a few pushback hangers-on to this potentially fatal theological error.

Let me state this clearly. The Father, Son and Spirit are eternally equal in power and glory and authority in every way. The Father has no more eternal authority than the Son or Spirit.

During the economy of redemption (beginning with his incarnation), the Son willingly subordinated himself to the Father’s will. This is called “economic” because it pertains only to a particular task at particular time. It is not an eternal reality in the Trinity. The Trinity can exist, and ordinarily does exist, without it. Had man never fallen, there would never have been the economic subordination of the Son.

The divine relation between the members of the Trinity is not patterned on human relations. The human son has a beginning. The divine Son did not. The human son submits to the authority of the father. The divine Son does not eternally submit to the authority of the Father, because, being equal in being, they have equal authority.

Please note this. Despite all protests, if you believe in the EES, even if you state that the Father and Son are equal in being, you’re talking nonsense — and embracing subordinationism. To be equal in being means the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally authoritative, and not subordinate one to the other.

Those who champion EES to buttress the subordination of the wife to her husband are just as wrong as the egalitarians who hold that man and woman are equal in relation since the members of the Trinity are equal in relation.

The error of both is in assuming that the ontological Trinity is a pattern for human relationships. But there is nothing in creation that corresponds to the ontological Trinity. To say that there is undermines the Creator-creature distinction and is potentially catastrophic.

The Bible teaches what we nowadays call complementarianism. But don’t monkey around with the orthodox Trinity in order to support that view.

Standard
Church, Culture, Uncategorized

Thoughts on Self-Respecting Manhood and the Use of Public Language, by Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is Pastor of Lifespring Church, Crosby, Minnesota

I Corinthians 16:13….”act like men”.

There is something which has struck me over the past couple of years, as it relates to men in our culture. That is, the jettisoning of manly self-respect in what is said and what is not said public-ally. I think, by both common grace and saving grace (as a Christian has received), there is a distinction in the language of manhood on how we see ourselves and the world around us. There are things which are unmanly, necessarily including both the tone and content of our speech.

Over the past generation, through the unrelenting assault upon men, the result has been an increasing men who seem to be willing to public ally emasculate themselves in their talk. There seems to be a void of self-respect as related to being a man, in our dress but also, particular to this post, in our language. For example, here are some types of statements and tones I have noticed that my conscience recoils against and will not allow me to mimic or pass on in any way.

  1. I cannot give public “COVID” safety lectures (as written by the safety czars) beyond the basic reiteration of “use common sense.” I cannot lie nor repeat manipulative narratives regarding love or safety.
  2. I cannot make generalizations based upon a person’s ethnicity.
  3. I cannot use straw-men to gain authority, particularly when clarity is called for.
  4. I cannot make general public apologies according the law and language of the culture.
  5. I cannot use therapeutic language of “brokenness” “Lament,” “trauma,” or “toxic masculinity” to describe problems and solutions
  6. I cannot, as a pastor (and as a man) virtue signal via using the language of “weeping” or “lament” or “mourning” about general cultural situations in which I am not directly involved.
  7. I cannot use and will not sing effeminate, breathy songs in public worship.

Call me a product of toxic masculinity. There is woke-type of language which I, fundamentally, as a man, recoil against and cannot participate in, and when I see other men (particularly pastors) doing these things public ally, it screams as phony, insincere, and deceitful. Conversely, I have noticed that when a man turns to Christ Jesus and begins to willingly and consciously take real responsibility, facing his fears, his language changes to simple, clear, bold, nuanced; in summation: Manly.

Standard
Church, Holy Spirit, Theology, Uncategorized

Prayer Changes Things, and Prayer Changed Me

A short autobiographical message on the power of prayer to change a life.

Listen here.


Also:

One striking difference between our Christian forebears and us is their repeated emphasis on prayer and our comparative de-emphasis of it. They prayed frequently and fervently. We pray infrequently and languidly. They called prayer meetings. We call staff meetings. They had revival and reformation. We have apathy and apostasy. A leading reason for these distinctions is that they were inclined to believe what God said about prayer. We are often less confident in God’s word when it comes to his promises about prayer. A blunter way to say this is: we commit the sin of unbelief. Prayer changes things. When we pray, we are asking God to change things. And when he answers our prayer, he does change things. This brings us to a most telling fact that we don’t often consider: if we are perfectly willing to accept the way things are as God’s unchangeable will, we will never be people of prayer.

Get the ebook here.


Standard
Church, Theology

Allegiant Baptism

Introduction

Few topics generate more theological debate with less  productivity than baptism. I observed recently a reignition on social media of the baptist-paedobaptist dispute; and as nearly always, it included unnecessary heat and very little light. I’ve been on both sides of that debate in my life, and I’ve rarely seen a different, more gracious and successful, conclusion. I’m convinced this issue won’t be solved entirely by appeal to specific biblical texts, because the theological and interpretive assumptions one brings to the texts will influence how he understands them. I’m not suggesting that extensive discussion of the baptist-paedobaptist disagreements is unwarranted, only that public debate might not be the best way to arrive at a defensible conclusion.

Allegiant Faith

But a crucial point on which all Christians should agree is that baptism is (among other things) a visible, public declaration of allegiance to Jesus Christ. The reason this is necessary is simple: the Gospel necessitates allegiance to our Lord, and baptism is the initial public testimony to the reception of the Gospel. We speak of salvation by faith alone, but this is equivalent to salvation by allegiance alone, because faith at root is allegiance.[1] Faith in the Bible is a wholehearted, surrendering trust to Jesus Christ. It’s not identical to belief, when defined as intellectual assent. The devils believe and tremble (Jas. 2:19). A criterion for baptism is “[i]f you believe with all your heart” (Ac. 8:37) i.e., cast yourself on Jesus Christ in full submission.

We are baptized into the name of Jesus or the names of the members of the Trinity. This doesn’t require the administrator’s language “I baptize you in the name of….” Rather it means “under the authority of.” This is why in the great commission, baptism is identified as a chief step in discipling the nations. Similarly in Galatians 3:27 Paul writes:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

At baptism we are identified with Jesus Christ and his people and his kingdom. To be baptized into the Lord’s name is to be baptized into his/their authority. We swear allegiance.     

God takes the initiative in baptism just as he does in salvation. But also just as in salvation, man is not inert. Salvation by grace doesn’t mean salvation without obligation. When we trust Christ, we transfer allegiance to a new king (Col. 1:13), but at baptism, we swear this allegiance publicly. This is true whether one affirms infant baptism or adult baptism. The covenant representative pledges allegiance for the infant, and the adult pledges allegiance for himself.

Allegiant Ordeal

Another fact lends weight to this allegiance. Meredith Kline draws attention to 1 Peter 3:20–22, where Christian baptism is likened to the Noahic flood.[2] The floodwaters were the world’s judgment, which Noah and his family escaped only by God’s graceful provision. They went through the waters of divine judgment because they cast faith in ( = were allegiant to) God (Heb. 11:7). The waters of baptism signify not just cleansing, but cleansing by judgment. We are baptized into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3). He bore God’s judgment for us. The condition for God’s deliverance, according to Hebrews, was faith, an act of allegiance.

Baptism, therefore, implies an oath of allegiance, and often it is required of the convert at its administration, such as: “Have you trusted Christ, and do you purpose to follow him all the days of your life?” That this latter provision is heard less and less at today’s baptisms shows the increasing antinomianism (anti-allegiance) of our churches.

Allegiant Visibility

Christians who deny baptismal regeneration (the idea that water baptism spiritually regenerates) wonder at those numerous biblical texts like Acts 22:16 (“Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’”) that tie baptism inextricably to cleansing from sin. While other texts are incompatible with baptismal regeneration (notably those that make repentance a condition for baptism), a principal truth to grasp is that baptism is the visible component of invisible regeneration. That’s the intimate connection.

Paul writes in Romans 6:4 —

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

We might have thought that Paul would mention justification, or adoption, or regeneration as the path by which we’re raised to walk in obedience, but his accent is on visibility. Just as Christ was raised from the dead visibly from a tomb, so we are raised from sin visibly at our baptism.

Many of us have baptismal certificates. None of us has a born-again certificate. This isn’t because baptism is more important than the new birth, but because baptism is a datable, documentable, visible reality to which one (and others) can point. Allegiance to Jesus Christ begins in the heart but never ends there.

The postmodern world is high on inflamed hearts and low on sustained obedience. This is a fruit of 19th century Romanticism, which for the first time in human history replaced objective standards with subjective intentions as the criteria for valid choices[3] (“Darling, I don’t agree with the terrorists, but at least I can admire their well-intentioned hearts”). Christian baptism is an inherent repudiation of any attempt to reduce the Faith to our hearts. Baptism says, “I am now a child of the King, a follower of the Lamb, and you may judge my profession by my visible adherence to the King and Lamb’s Word.”

Conclusion

A leading reason for the futility of today’s church is its severance of allegiance from the Gospel. Christ died, it is thought, to take away our sins and give us hope and assure our eternal bliss with him. Correspondingly baptism is treated as a celebration of a saved sinner or a new church member. It is these, for sure.

But the meaning of baptism is at once more glorious and more severe. Glorious, because it signals a lifelong covenant devotion to Jesus Christ as risen Lord, and severe, because it’s a self-maledictory oath calling down new covenant curses if we turn our back on him (Heb. 10:29).

As a covenant, baptism is bilateral. God has a part, and we have a part. God’s part in the covenant is always more important and always comes first. At baptism he visibly pledges his love and care and protection, the blanketing blessings of his Lordship.

In response, we pledge our faith and fidelity (allegiance), acknowledging the never-ending claims of his Lordship. He tattoos us with his loving mark of ownership, and we bear that mark our entire lives.

Christianity is a serious faith that demands serious allegiance. Baptism is the vestibular, visible testimony to that allegiance.



[1] Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 77–100.

[2] Meredith G. Kline, “Oath and Ordeal Signs (Second Article),” Westminster Theological Journal 28, 1965–1966, 3.

[3] Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999).

Standard
Apostasy, Bible, Church, Culture, Theology

New Book — Defend the Faith: Christian Warfare for Our Time

The Christian life is a battle, and battles presuppose enemies. The chief enemy of Christians is Satan (and demonic spirits aligned with him [Eph. 6:12]), but a leading strategy in thwarting God’s earthly kingdom is his enlisting humans to assist him. This diabolical strategy started in Eden.

The Bible assumes that the true Faith will constantly be under attack in the sinful world and in the church. This doesn’t mean that we should invent enemies when there are none. There are enemies aplenty already.

Get the e-book here.

Standard