More often than not, we identify Presbyterianism as a form of church government. But recently, it occurred to me that a preacher’s exercise of looking at good commentaries after he has done his own firsthand exegesis is also an exercise in Presbyterianism. It is a golden mean between exegetical Independency and Episcopacy. Exegetical Independency says ‘no’ to the fruits of other men’s labors and an unequivocal ‘yes’ to one’s own. It is idosyncratic, and in too many instances just plain idiotic. On the other extreme, there is exegetical Episcopacy. It makes too much of the gifts of some, becoming slavishly subservient to them. The preacher who rushes to the commentaries before digesting God’s Word himself buries his talent in a napkin and exalts others to a lordly status – even over Scripture. As in church government, so in exegesis. Presbyterianism is the golden mean.
Archive for June, 2011
“What a union is that which exists between two believers, who have in common the same hope, the same desire, the same mode of living, the same service of the Lord; like brother and sister, united both in spirit and in flesh, they kneel down together; they pray and fast together; they teach, exhort, and support each other with gentleness; they go together to the house of God, to the table of the Lord; they share one another’s troubles, persecutions, and pleasures; they conceal nothing from each other; they do not avoid one another; they visit the sick and succour the needy; the singing of psalms and hymns is heard among them; they rival each other in singing with the heart to their God. Christ is pleased to see and hear these things; he sends down his peace upon them. Where two or three are thus met he is with them; and where he is the Evil One can not come.”
– Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 A.D.)
Our hyper-individualized society possesses a very low sense of corporate solidarity. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes. Every man isolates himself, tears apart what God has joined together, challenging, “and who is my neighbor?” Or, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Tragically, this thinking bleeds over into the mentality of the Church. We have become conformed to this individualistic world, not transformed by the renewing of our mind. Shame on us!
When, however, we begin thinking corporately – and for that matter, inter-generationally (should I say, consistently covenantal?) – we will find ourselves doing much more than confessing our own individual sins. For starters, we will confess the sin of individualism. But what is more, we will sense the guilt that we bear as members of families, states, and nations. We will sense a shared guilt by our association with the compromised Visible Church. And we will certainly feel, in addition to our own sins, the shared sins of our forbears.
Observe this principle in Leviticus 26:40, 42, “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me . . . then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” When exiled as a punishment for their sins and the sins of their fathers, Israel ought to repent and confess both. And they should do so with the assurance that the God who shows mercy from generation to generation will do precisely that!
See this also with Daniel in his great confession. This holy man, far from isolating himself from the larger body to which he belonged, rather owned it and identified with it. Even if the nation would not confess its sin, he would do it for them. Or, more to the point, as a part of them. “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land” (Dan. 9:6; see the reference to “our fathers” also in vv. 8 & 16).
Now we may not like this. We may complain, charging God with injustice. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezek. 18:2). But the Potter has power over the clay. And it has pleased Him to make us not bare, atomized individuals – but much more. We are also members of corporate bodies. We are waves in a larger generational stream, branches in a much bigger tree. This is biblical. This is covenantal. This is reality! Let us acknowledge it and confess our sins. Including those we share with our ancestors. And if we do, should we not expect the God of the thousand generations to remember his mercies towards us – and our children (Acts 2:39)?