What do Ezekiel & Revelation, Doctrinal Distinctives, and Five Solas Have in Common?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

As I work through Ezekiel in my daily communion times, I'm struck by so many things that are difficult to understand.  When I got halfway through the prophet's work, only to find that good ole' John Calvin didn't finish expositing it, I was both shocked and put at ease.  I was shocked because Calvin finished commentary and preaching on almost the whole Bible, but went on to other books before finishing Ezekiel, presumably.  Some say he died before getting to Revelation, and perhaps the last half of Ezekiel.  Who knows for sure.  Yet I was also put at ease, because if the last half of Ezekiel could have been too difficult to write a commentary on (like Revelation), then I am in good company in my frustrations.  


I agree with Matthew Henry on a passage like Ezekiel 40, "Many commentators , both ancient and modern, have owned themselves at a loss what to make of it and what use to make of it...and when we despair of satisfaction in every difficulty we meet with, bless God that our salvation does not depend up on t, but that things necessary are plain enough, and wait till God shall reveal even this unto us" (MHC, 4:770)  Since the last two chapters of Revelation allude to Ezekiel 40 and following chapters, they are both very difficult to get our arms around with full satisfaction.  And so I agree with Spurgeon on the book of Revelation, "There is a whole Book of Revelation which I do not understand, but which I fully believe" (Works, 45:402).


Now, let's add irritation to frustration.  If the giant of reformed theology did not write a commentary on the hardest part of Ezekiel, and if the "Prince of Preachers" made a statement like that regarding Revelation, why then why do so many Christians, pastors, scholars, theologians, and leaders - especially of the reformed flavor - work and write so urgently to contest so earnestly that the stuff John and Ezekiel wrote must rush so fervently through our veins?  


I recall in my post-college years my own father, working with the church where he was pastoring, to write a new constitution.  On the one hand this was necessary, since the church had worked its way toward biblical eldership.  A new constitution needs to be written to reflect biblical values.  But on the other hand, the premillenial reign of Christ, preceded by the seventy weeks of Daniel, followed by a literal thousand year reign of Jesus on earth, also made it into the constitution.  The effect was clear, as well as explicitly in writing.  If one could not sign on to a doctrinal statement which included these things, then one could not be a member of that local church.


Really?


I also recall my questioning as to why my name, contact information, and current church where I pastor are no longer listed on the alumni map of the seminary into which I poured four years of my life, paid thousands of dollars, and graduated from.  In short, it was gently explained that if I no longer endorsed the doctrinal distinctives of the seminary, I should no longer expect that my contact information would remain on the alumni map.  What distinctives are those?  Dispensationalism.


Really?


I am deeply grateful to both my father and my alma mater for the investment they made into my life  But my assumption all along has been that the investment was to follow Jesus and be a part of building the kingdom...not to endorse particular theological distinctives that even Calvin and Spurgeon didn't comment upon.  I'm not mad at all.  This post may give off that vibe.  I'm just genuinely frustrated that the precious gospel of my Lord and Savior has been placed on equal plain, most of my life it seems, with distinctives that in no way...
  • determine a person's salvation, which is by grace alone.
  • do detriment to a man's sanctification, which is by grace alone.
  • determine a person's welcome acceptance into the church of Jesus, which is by grace alone.
  • do detriment to a person's participation in the church of Jesus, which is by grace alone.
  • affect one's walk with Jesus, which is by grace alone.
  • mature a person's marriage, parenting...or pastoring, all of which are by grace alone.
The picture is clear enough.  If our walk with Jesus is by sola gratia, and if my acceptance into His kingdom and therefore His church is by sola gratia, then why do so many of our relationships with each other operate on solus distinctivus?  Making eschatological matters the determining factor of whether one can be a member of a local NT church is unbiblical...and downright sinful.  It is saying that what Jesus did on the cross is not good enough for you to be a part of this local church, but that you must believe more.  You must believe the way we believe about truths related to the future and end times.

If there were an eighth church to which Jesus wrote in the beginning chapters of Revelation, it would be the reformed churches of the west.  Here's what I imagine Jesus writing.
Write this letter to the angels of the churches in the West which call themselves "Reformed."   From the one who is the Amen - the only faithful and true witness of what is truth.  I know that you live in a world where absolute truth does not matter, and that you have remained loyal to Me.  I also know of your honor, respect, and love for My Word, in a culture where pursing one's best life now is preferred more. 
But I have these things against you.  You love my Word, but do not always love My words. I died to unite people, but you divide them.  I pray for the unity of my people, but you divide them.  I died then and pray now for world evangelization through this unity, but you hinder the expansion of My kingdom.  You prefer distinctives about doctrine above the doctrine of true fellowship, which is Me, and Me alone.   Hence, reality says you love your distinctives more than you love Me and those who are Mine.  I alone am the Alpha and Omega, and not your doctrinal distinctives about the beginning and end.
Therefore, repent of your sin, and turn to Me and Me alone, once again.  Or I will come to you suddenly and as an unexpected thief, who takes from you the people who actually belong to Me.  If you do not stop preferring your theological interests above other people, and if you do not start spending more time with the people I love rather than the distinctives you love, then I will come and remove my lampstand.  Your "church" will become a place so empty of love and fellowship that it will be as if I had never even been there at all.   
Anyone who has ears to ear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches:  "Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future."
What makes me and keeps me clinging to the doctrines of grace are the five solas.  It is by grace alone - sola gratia - that I am accepted by God...and therefore by grace alone I accept and embrace other people.  It is by faith alone - sola fide - that I can come to God...and therefore by faith alone that others come into fellowship with me.  It is by Christ alone - solus Christus - that I have a relationship with God...and therefore by Christ alone that I have a relationship with anyone at all.  It is by the Word of God alone - sola Scriptura - that I live my life and learn how to walk with Jesus...and it is by Scripture alone that I learn to help other people to walk with Jesus.


None of the solas are honored or followed when we forge friendship, alliances, relationships, and church memberships upon the quicksand of doctrinal distinctives, instead of upon the anvil of God's grace.  Turn to this, and you'll find the blessing of God turn to you and your church once again.  Embrace grace, and you'll find the lost embracing you once again.  Embrace Scriptures, and you'll find Jesus does not put any emphasis on your eschatology in following Him, except to be excited and ready that He's coming again.  Embrace faith, and you'll find that such faith is in Jesus and not in your doctrinal distinctives.


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