Thursday, December 26, 2013

Eating the sin offering

Leviticus 6:24–26; Numbers 18:8–12; Ezekiel 9; Daniel 9; 1 Corinthians 5

There has been some conversation about eating the sin offering in the gathering here. I wanted to put a few of my thoughts on "paper", mainly for my own reference later.

The law of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:24–30) details that the priest is to eat the sin offering. That is, when an animal was brought to be sacrificed, it was mainly the animal's blood and fat that were offered. The flesh of the animal was the priest's. This is slightly over-simplified: there were various subtle differences in offerings, depending on what was offered and by whom. But in general, the law of the sin offering is that the priest is to eat the flesh of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:26).

We understand that the Levitical laws contain "typical" teaching for us. We understand this because Scripture very carefully points this out, especially in Hebrews. I understand that some Christians have taken this idea to the point where they hardly seem to think that the Pentatuech has any historical significance at all: they seem to think it is some sort of allegory. Of course that's wrong, but the New Testament does appeal to typical teaching in the Levitical law, and we don't want to miss what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.

Numbers 18:8–12 picks up this theme and teaches us that the priests are fed from the offerings that are brought to the Tabernacle. They don't have a part in the inheritance God gave Israel, so He gave them the offerings. And so the priests are told, "this shall be thine: the heave-offering of their gift, with all the wave-offerings of the children of Israel; I have given them unto thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, by an everlasting statute" (Numbers 18:11).

Is there a typical teaching for us in the priests' eating the offerings? It would seem so, and 1 Corinthians 10 picks up this theme. "See Israel according to flesh: are not they who eat the sacrifices in communion with the altar?" (1 Corinthians 10:18). Here the Apostle's argument is that although an idol is really nothing (it's just a piece of metal or wood or stone), idolatry is very real. And eating what has been sacrificed to an idol brings us, in a way, into communion with the idolatry. The appeal is made to the Levitical law: doesn't eating the sin offering bring the priest into communion with the offering?

This statement sheds a great deal of light on what it means to eat a sin offering. Eating the sin offering wasn't only God's provision for the priests, to give them fresh meat. It was putting a responsibility on the priests and on their families, because they were in communion with the offering of those sacrifices.

If a man in Israel was to bring a goat to the priest as a sin offering, then when that priest was eating the flesh of that goat later that day, he was expressing a fellowship with the man's offering. Not merely the man's act of slaughtering a goat, but the man's need to slaughter the goat. The man's responsibility was to bring the offering to the priest, but the priest was not allowed simply to slaughter it and go about his day: he had to express communion with that offering probably after the man had stopped thinking about it.

If we think about Aaron, we notice that he grew into his priesthood. When Moses was up the mountain, receiving instruction from the Lord about Aaron's role as priest (Exodus 28), Aaron was down on the plain, leading the people in idolatry (Exodus 32:1–6). And when the Lord was angered about the idolatry, it was Moses and not Aaron who went to make atonement for them (Exodus 32:30–35). In fact, I'm not sure that Aaron really took up his role as priest until the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram, when he ran to stand between the people and the plague (Numbers 16:46–50).

(I realize there is a difference between Advocacy and Priesthood, and perhaps Moses up on the mountain in contrast with Aaron on the plain illustrates this... but the fact remains that Aaron's priesthood grows in Scripture.)

But through the Old Testament, we have the histories of others who took up the duty of the priest, even if they weren't called to it. I don't mean ceremonially, but morally. Morally, the duty of the priest is to take represent the people to God. We see this in Samuel (1 Samuel 12:23), and Daniel (Daniel 9), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:8), to name a few. The priest stands between sinful people and holy God.

So what does it look like to eat the sin offering morally, if not physically? Daniel 9 is an example. Daniel read Jeremiah and realized the Babylonian Captivity was about to end. So he got down on his knees and prayed. His prayer is listed in Daniel 9:3–19. The vast majority of the prayers (vv. 4–16) is confession of the sins of Israel. But here's the thing: Daniel hadn't actually committed a single one of those sins. In fact, Daniel wasn't even in Jerusalem, he was in Babylon and had been since before Zedekiah's reign.

This is what we mean when we talk about eating the sin offering. Daniel himself hadn't sinned, but he expressed fellowship with his people in their sin. He confessed the sins as his own, and he took God's side, as it were. That is, he didn't make excuses, he acknowledged God's righteousness in judging the sins of His people.

Ezekiel 9 gives us a little more light on the subject. Here the Lord is judging Jerusalem for their idolatry. But before He sends judgment on them, He commands what appears to be an angel to go through the city, marking out certain people as untouchable (v. 4). What was the test? What made someone escape the judgment? It was simple: "mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that are done." God wasn't looking for a Jerubbaal who'd pull down an idol altar. He wasn't looking for a Josiah who'd go out and slaughter the idolatrous priests. He was looking for someone whose heart was touched with the enormity of their iniquity. He was looking for someone whose reaction in the middle of all this corruption was a broken heart.

This brings us into 1 Corinthians 5. Notice what the Apostle says to the Corinthians: "*ye* are puffed up, and ye have not rather mourned, in order that he that has done this deed might be taken away out of the midst of you" (1 Corinthians 5:2). So the "normal Christian" response to blatant immorality is supposed to be mourning. And I have to admit, I don't see a lot of that. The reactions I've seen have been more along the lines of gossip, slander, finger-pointing, or even just a deliberate ignoring of the sin. But Scripture says that "normal" reaction is mourning.

What's really interesting is the statement, "that he that has done this deed might be taken away out of the midst of you". I'm not going to be dogmatic about this, but this suggests that the Lord might have stepped in and intervened, had He seen the Corinthians mourning. If that's true, then we might conclude that assembly discipline in disfellowshipping someone is an indicator of failure. Had they been mournful of the sin, they wouldn't have had to act.

Regardless, Ezekiel 9 and 1 Corinthians 5 carry this theme: that the reaction God is looking for is sorrow. We see this same theme in Exodus 32. And so we have to ask ourselves: when we observe sin in the assembly, is our reaction sorrow?

When Daniel recognized the sin in Israel, he reacted to it as though it was his own. There was a degree of humility that comes from mourning sin: it reminds us sharply that we aren't above the sin we have seen. Daniel couldn't very well repent of the sins of Israel before God and then say, "I wouldn't ever do that!". But we see that reaction quite frequently among Christians: "How could he have done such a thing?" When we find ourselves asking that question, we've forgotten the lessons of Romans 6–8.

It's one thing to despise sins we've committed, but eventually we have to learn to despise the indwelling sin that is their source. That's the lesson of Romans 7, isn't it? It's one thing to despise what we do, it's another to recognize that "in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing".

Galatians offers a warning to those who'd take the lead in the assembly: "if even a man be taken in some fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest *thou* also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). What's the danger hidden in the godly desire to help out? There is the same flesh in me that is in every other child of God. When a believer is "taken in some fault", he or she is simply expressing the same sin that is in me too.

Galatians says the remedy is a "spirit of meekness". That's what Daniel had, that's what Ezekiel had. We don't see in either Daniel or Ezekiel a sense of superiority. We don't see them pointing to the idolaters without a sense of their own frailty. Ezekiel and Daniel are both deeply touched by what they've seen, and they're both dismayed to see it.

When a Christian falls into sin, there's frequently a sort of feeding frenzy among other Christians. We get the scent of blood, and we get into a self-righteous condemnation. The Lord Jesus said, "there's none good but God" (Mark 10:18). We'd do well to bear that in mind.

Now, this doesn't mean we can just ignore sin. At no point does Scripture ever teach, suggest, or imply that we should just ignore sin. Scripture is quite clear: "Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19).

What it does mean is, the proper response to sin is meekness and sorrow. We've no call to act in malice, arrogance, and self-righteousness when sin in the assembly comes to light. The godly ones are always called to walk in humility. Yes, we are to separate from evil. Yes, we are called to walk in separation. Yes, the Scripture certainly prescribes a breaking of fellowship with the unrepentant. But when it comes to assembly matters, the how is at least as important as the what.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reception, again

It seems like the issue of reception keeps coming up. So I thought I'd write down some notes about it. I've already laid out what I think about reception ("Thoughts on reception"), but I'm not sure I did a good job of referring to Scripture. So I'd like to establish in just a few paragraphs what Scripture has to say about reception. Yeah, like that's possible...

The first thing we need to establish is that not everyone is supposed to be at the Lord's Table. Scripture specifically says we're to exclude some: 1 Corinthians 5 discusses putting believers out of fellowship who deliberately and unrepentantly persist in sin. What does it say we should do in this case?

  • to have nothing to do with such a person (v. 11)
  • not to eat with such a person (v. 11)
  • to remove such a person from among ourselves (v. 13)
If we're supposed to remove the person, if we're not to mix with the person, if we're not to eat with the person, then that person sure isn't supposed to be at the Lord's Table. If we allow that person to the Table, then we've disobeyed these three commands.

This is only about removing someone from fellowship who is living in known sin. So no, these verse don't apply to someone who just walks in off the street. But it does establish the general principle that we aren't supposed to have everyone at the Table. There is at least one complete class of people we're specifically told to exclude. Not to exclude such people is sin.

So we've established the principle that the Lord's Table isn't for everyone.

The next question is, why shouldn't we allow this person to the Table? The question is answered easily in 1 Corinthians 5:6–8: "a little leaven leavens the whole lump". What does that mean? It means that sin spreads. It's possible for an entire gathering of the Lord's people to become defiled by the sin of one person.

This isn't an isolated statement in Scripture. The Scriptures mention it explicitly in other places:

  • 1 Timothy 5:22 commands not to "partake in others' sins"
  • 2 John 10 & 11 say that you "partake in [a false teacher's] wicked works" just by allowing him into the house, or greeting him
So we have a principle given three times in Scripture, that it's possible to become a participant in someone else's sins. How? 1 Corinthians 5 contemplates social interaction, and includes church activities. The assembly is supposed to "remove" that person. 1 Timothy 5 connects participating in someone else's sins just by "laying hands" on him. That is not, I take it, a physical touch, but a symbolic gesture, like a hand shake. 2 John says it's possible to become a participant in an evil teacher's "wicked works" by allowing him to come into your house, or even by greeting him. There's a reason I never let representatives of the Watchtower Society into my house when they knock on the door. No thanks, I'm not interested in getting in on their blasphemies.

But can we really apply a principle like that to the assembly? Isn't it talking about individual social interactions? That's not really a reasonable interpretation of 1 Corinthians 5. But if we want to argue about it, we have more of God's thoughts on fellowship in Revelation 2 & 3. In the message to the assembly in Pergamos, the Lord Jesus says He has two things against them:

  1. they have those who hold the doctrine of Balaam (Revelation 2:14)
  2. they have those who hold the doctrines of the Nicolaitanes (Revelation 2:15)
Let's be perfectly clear here: the Lord makes exactly two accusations against the assembly in Pergamos, and they're both that the assembly has allowed people in who hold to false doctrines. And then He warns them to repent (Revelation 2:16). So the teaching of Revelation 2 is that there is judgment coming on this assembly because of their fellowship with certain people.

We could go on. We could discuss Jude. We could talk about Romans 16. But in the end, it's an indisputable fact that the Lord takes our associations very seriously. The Scripture explicitly warns against becoming a partaker in someone else's sins, and Christ judges the assembly specifically in terms of the people they allow in fellowship.

But there's more. The Lord's Supper is not an individual thing. What does the Scripture say? "[W]e, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17). No, it doesn't mean we become one Body by eating the one loaf. The context makes that clear. What it means is that we announce our "One Body"-ness by eating that one loaf. Why do many Christians refer to the Lord's Supper as "Communion"? Because that's what 1 Corinthians 10 calls it. By eating the Lord's Supper together, we are demonstrating our communion.

Now we see why the Lord takes it so seriously to have an unrepentant fornicator in the assembly: the entire assembly is expressing unity with that man whenever they sit at the Lord's Supper together.

So let's talk about unbelievers for a moment. Do we believe they are part of the One Body? Of course not! It's only by baptism of the Holy Spirit we become part of the One Body (1 Corinthians 12:13). So then we're lying if we announce "One Body"-ness with an unbeliever, aren't we?

So we have the general principle that it's possible to become a partaker in someone else's sins. And we have some specific examples of how that works: things like inviting a false teacher into the house, or greeting him. And we have the explicit command that the assembly is to put unrepentant sinners out of fellowship: we're to have nothing to do with them, and we're specifically told not to eat with them. And we have the judgment of the Lord Jesus, that allowing people with false doctrine to be part of the assembly is a serious sin. So we can say with complete certainty that there are several reasons to exclude someone from the Lord's Supper. And in fact, Scripture makes it clear that if we don't exclude them, we come under the Lord's judgment (Revelation 2:14–16).

But what about 1 Corinthians 11? People have pointed out 1 Corinthians 11:28, "a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (NASB). People have taken that to mean that it's up to the individual to decide whether he ought to take part in the Lord's Supper. I suppose the verse might be taken that way, but I don't think it fits the context very well. Why would I say that? Because just six chapters earlier, the Scripture specifically commands we're not to eat with unrepentant sinners. Does the Lord's Supper count as eating? Of course it does! And 1 Corinthians 10 makes the point that in eating the Lord's Supper, we're expressing communion with each other. So 1 Corinthians 5 explicitly forbids eating with someone, can we then understand 1 Corinthians 11 to mean that it's up to them whether they partake of the Lord's Supper?

1 Corinthians 11 isn't saying that anyone who comes along is responsible to decide for themselves whether they ought to eat and drink: that would mean that the entire discussion in 1 Corinthians 5 is meaningless. It means that 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11 together read something like this, "Have nothing to do with that person, don't even eat with them. But really, leave it up to them to decide whether they eat with you..." When we put it that way, it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

1 Corinthians 11 is addressing the people who are in the assembly. This is a known group of people, and we know that by v. 23. They were ones to whom Paul had already given the truth of the Lord's Supper. He knew them, they weren't strangers. And he says to them that they ought to be judging themselves, because it's by self-judgment that we escape God's judgment.

The concept of an "open table" doesn't stand up to Scripture. But there's another question: what is our test of fellowship? If not everyone's allowed to the Table, then who should be allowed?

I've pointed out before that the test of fellowship isn't loyalty to the group: the test is loyalty to Christ. I'm not by any means condoning a sectarian membership. But I am saying the uniform testimony of Scripture is that God holds the assembly responsible for who's eating the Lord's Supper. And Scripture plainly states that this relationship can be defiling to an assembly.

As a final note: I wrote several years ago about reception ("Thoughts on reception"), but I didn't know then that J. N. Darby wrote something very much along the same lines. It wasn't for quite some time I found it, but Darby's paper "Principles of Gathering" is excellent. It's on STEM Publishing, and it's worth a read.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Forgiveness and Deliverance

A friend asked me what I found helpful in terms of "practical ministry". I was desperately trying to remember the title of a paper by JND I'd read fairly recently, but I just couldn't remember it. So when I got home, I found the paper. It's in Collected Writings, Volume 29, and it's called "Forgiveness and Liberty". It's on the STEM Publishing site.

I must say, this paper might be the most complete and "perfect" presentation of Darby's understanding of sanctification that I've read. But in the end, it's Darby. So I thought I'd spend some time tonight to highlight some of the really great bits. It might be helpful to some.

I would, for a few moments, draw the attention of brethren in Christ to a point, as to which I think there has been a good deal of misapprehension in practice, and which, while the joy of known forgiveness seemed to make all plain for a time, has left souls subsequently in distress and difficulty, even when not doubting of their acceptance, though it has sometimes come to that. Forgiveness is not deliverance, and they have been a good deal confounded.
This is the opening of the paper, and it lays out a very real problem for many, many people. There is a difference between forgiveness and deliverance. God looks on me and refuses to see my sins: He has forgiven my sins. My sins cannot ever appear in God's sight, they are gone forever. But as blessed as this is, it's not enough.

"Not enough?" How is that not enough? Quite simply, a man or woman with the Holy Spirit in residence isn't going to be satisfied with a freedom from sin's guilt: we want freedom from sin's power. This is not now forgiveness, but deliverance. A sinner might be content simply to be forgiven, but a child of God will be discontent with anything less than deliverance from sin's power, as well as forgiveness for sin's guilt.

So it is quite normal for a believer to go gradually from overflowing joy at the assurance of forgiveness to deep depression over sin's presence and power.

It is a very common experience, when a person has found peace through the blood of Christ, that the pardoned and justified soul, filled with joy and gladness to find its sins gone, the conscience purged, the sense of divine goodness filling it, thinks that it has done with sin because it is at the time full of joy, and the Lord's goodness and favour; but this is not deliverance.
Deliverance has a double character; perfect freedom with God in love in my place before Him; and freedom from the power of sin in myself. We are in Christ for the former; Christ is in us for the latter.
This is really the question of Romans 5–7. Romans 5 starts with the remarkable statement that "we have peace with God" (Romans 5:1). But having peace with God isn't the end of the story, or Romans would end there. After guilt is dealt with, Romans turns to the question of indwelling sin: not what we have done, but what we are. So Romans 6 declares that we are free from sin (Romans 6:7), because we have died with Christ. And so sin is not our master: we've died and have thus been freed from that master. But Romans 7 takes it even further, even a man who has died to sin lives in a body where sin lives. And so we find there is "sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:17). We can't get rid of it, and no amount of forgiveness can help us with it. The believer soon finds that however grateful he is that all his sins are forgiven him, he dreads the certainty that he'll sin again. How do we deal with that? Do we just give up? Do we learn to live with it? This is why we need deliverance.

Forgiveness of sins was found in Christ. There's nowhere else to look for a solution to sins' guilt. Deliverance, too, is found in Christ. There's nothing God has for us that's not in and through Christ.

I do not now say simply, He bore my sins, and cleared me for ever from them, but, I am in Christ before God, accepted in the Beloved, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. I am not in the condition of a child of Adam, responsible before God, and thinking of my condition in His sight in connection with my conscious state; I have died to that as wholly and hopelessly evil, and know by the Holy Ghost that I am in a new standing altogether, in Christ, accepted in the Beloved. I am not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Christ has died to sin, and I have died in Him, and He is my life; I am alive to God in this new life in Christ before Him, and reckon myself so by the Holy Ghost.
I think it's safe to say there are many Christians who understand the truth of Christ's dying for us, but who haven't learned that we have died with Him. Forgiveness for sins is based entirely in the death of Christ for me. But the Christian life isn't the life of a forgiven sinner, it's the life of a crucified man. It's the life that flows from my history ending in Christ on the cross. I died with Him there.

If I understand that my life has ended at the Cross, then I shall live in a very different way. See, it's not just that what I have done is forgiven, it's now that God has done away with the "I" that did those terrible things. I haven't just got a clean slate, I've got a whole new life to live with it.

Thus for faith I am delivered from sin in the flesh, as having died in Christ, in that Christ has, who is my life. It is not resurrection with Him — that carries us further — but death in Him on the cross as to the old man and state, and He now at the right hand of God, my life. Such is the doctrine and effect. Christ, who died, my life, and I in Him, in the power of the Holy Ghost, and through that dead to sin altogether, He having thus died, and the sin in my flesh condemned there, but for faith I died to it, for I died in Him.
It is very difficult for us to accept what God declares to be true: not only that I have done wrong, but that I am wrong. It's not just that I have sinned, but that I am a sinner. And I didn't become a sinner by sinning, I sinned because I was a sinner. This is the plain teaching of Romans 5:19–21. But God hasn't been content to deal with the symptoms (my sins), He's also dealt with the root problem: the sinner. How do you deal with a sinner? There's only one way: the sinner has to be put to death. And so the Biblical solution to the problem of what I am is that I have died in Christ.

So what do I do now? Do I cease to exist? No, because it's not simply that I have died, it's the I have died in Christ. Christ is my life: and now that I've died, He lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Now I have a life that's entirely beyond sin, death, and the grave. It's a life of God's resurrected Man, the life of the Son of God. And it's not mine to earn or develop or achieve. It's mine by grace, it's mine because it was given to me freely.

But there's a catch, isn't there? It's one thing to understand what I've been given, but it's another actually to experience it.

The delivering work was done on the cross, so that our state, by faith in Christ, is dead to sin, and morally, as to the life this side the cross, in which He, sinless, had to be made it, wholly closed, and alive now wholly beyond it all, with nothing but God to live to; and this, not by our efforts, but by faith through grace; yet, as conviction of guilt goes before known forgiveness, so the experimental knowledge of self before deliverance. No effort clears the guilt; no effort effects the deliverance; but there is the knowledge of self, and that we cannot get free by improvement or victory, as there is the knowledge of the guilt which is pardoned; only here it is self-knowledge and present experience.
Here's the catch: we can't achieve deliverance, it's not ours to earn. But we learn our need of it through our efforts. How? Because the harder we try to be good, the more certain we become that we're not. It's not an issue of doubting our forgiveness, it's not a matter of questioning our acceptance before God. It's learning that no matter how hard we try, we can't live the Christian life. It's not that we don't want to. It's not that we don't have new life in Christ. It's that God's way is for us to find what we need in His Son, and our efforts at self-improvement all prove vain precisely so we can give up on self and rest in Him.

Here is something very, very important for us to learn: whenever we compare ourselves with what we ought to be, we find we're not. This is the essence of Law.

Of this the law is ever the instrument; if we have learnt forgiveness already, the form is modified, takes the shape of hoping we have not deceived ourselves, and the like; but it is always a comparison of our state, and what God requires, and that is law; very useful for the discovery of our state, but bondage. I repeat, as it is important, wherever we reason from our state to what God's acceptance of us may be, that is, in principle, law just as the prodigal son between his conversion and meeting his father. It calls itself holiness, will insist that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, which is necessarily and eternally true, but mixes it with God's acceptance of us, connecting this and our state, so that it is really righteousness, not holiness, that the mind is occupied with: for in holiness we hate evil because it is unholy, not because we are out of divine favour by it; but, whatever shape it takes, it is always really law, a question of evil that makes us unacceptable to God.

What is legalism? It is confusing holiness with righteousness. It's confusing our standing with our state.

Our righteousness is in Christ. God only ever deals with me on the basis of what Christ is, of what He has done, and of what He is doing. There is nothing for me but Christ. God's not interested in what I can and cannot do, but in what Christ has done. But because I am born of God, because I have the Holy Spirit, I can't help but notice that I don't measure up. And as soon as I try to fix myself, I have moved outside of that Christ has done for me. There's a tremendous danger in doing this: it's facing off with sin in the flesh, which God never intended me to do.

So what's the solution? The solution is when we give up trying to improve ourselves.

Here I learn that in me (it is not what I have done) dwells no good thing; the flesh is simply and always bad. Secondly; it is not myself, being born of God, for I hate it, it is not therefore I. This is often a great relief, though it be not deliverance; but thirdly, though it be not I, it is too strong for me: I am captive to it. All my efforts only prove this to me. As effort and conflict, I give it up as hopeless, and look for another to come in and deliver me. I have learned that I have no strength (not that I am guilty), and that is what I had to learn, the lesson God was teaching me; and when brought there I find it is all done.
The solution is that I cannot be better. I can't improve myself, I can only look for Christ to deliver me. I don't need self-improvement, I need a Deliverer.

It's so hard for us to accept what God calmly tells us in His word: we are to walk as we received. We received Christ by grace through faith, we did nothing to earn His favour, we accepted based on faith in what God says. In the same way, we cannot improve ourselves, we cannot make our walk what it ought to be, we must simply accept what God has said.

"As therefore ye have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and assured in the faith, even as ye have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6–7)