“As someone whom God has graciously lifted out of the prison that is the Catholic sacramental system, I do not greatly appreciate this attempt to sell my bondage back to me as an uplifting spiritual experience.”
[The following is a guest post by David Bancz, a Welshman and former Benedictine monk. The post, while quite self-explanatory, is primarily a reflection on Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option, but is also a beautiful contrast to the series of posts by Paul Liberati earlier this year, “Reformed Seminarian Converts to Roman Catholicism”. Lord willing, Paul will have his own forthcoming reflections on this wonderful example of God’s grace on behalf of His Children.]
What should repentance look like? In particular, what should repentance from a system of false belief look like? I ask because for roughly 20 years I was not only an enthusiastic Roman Catholic, but one who was convinced that he had a vocation in the Church. In 2006 I joined a Benedictine monastery in the UK and progressed through the various levels of formation and vows. Purely by the gracious action of God, I was liberated from the cloister in 2014 and was consequently freed from the Roman sacramental system. I currently worship in a church that is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Leviticus 17:11)
All orthodox believers understand that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were typical of the one vicarious, life for life, substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is called the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29), the Pascal Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), the Sacrifice of Atonement (1 Jn. 2:2), and He who “gave Himself up for us, an offering of sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell” (Eph. 5:2). This should not be disputed. But how were these ancient animal sacrifices “sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (Westminster Confession of Faith, CH. 8.6)? A short perusal of the Book of Hebrews will help make this plain.
Proponents of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) are indeed aware of and openly opposed to the Semi-Arian teaching of an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father, that is, a subordination and hierarchy within the very nature, essence, or being of God; for such a position clearly contradicts the Nicene Creed, dividing the one Nature and Will of God, calling into question the co-equality of the Persons. Rather, they locate this subordination and hierarchy of authority within relations of function or role amongst the persons of the Godhead. This, they claim, distinguishes their position from the Arian heresy and shields them from their critics. As Bruce Ware puts it,
In our LAST POST we argued that literally every passage wherein circumcision is either discussed or mentioned is consonant with the claim that the Covenant Sign of Circumcision had always signified for the Old Testament People of God (1) righteousness, which is had only by faith and is worked in the heart by the Holy Spirit (regeneration), and (2) a call to and requirement for such righteousness as a Covenant member.
With this conclusion firmly in place, we are now in a position to counter the growing sentiment that the Sign of Circumcision was a mere marker of the “national-ethnic” physical descendants of Abraham, as advocated by, e.g., John Piper: “[God] bound himself by covenant to an ethnic people and their descendants; he gave them all the sign of the covenant, circumcision, but he worked within that ethnic group to call out a true people for himself… The people of the covenant in the Old Testament were made up of Israel according to the flesh—an ethnic, national, religious people[…].”
[This post is a continuation of the series, “How was Christ Administered in the Old Testament?”. The previous post may be accessed HERE.]
The covenant people in the Old Testament were mixed. They were all physical Israelites who were circumcised, but within that national-ethnic group there was a remnant of the true Israel, the true children of God (verse 8). This is the way God designed it to be: he bound himself by covenant to an ethnic people and their descendants; he gave them all the sign of the covenant, circumcision, but he worked within that ethnic group to call out a true people for himself.
The people of the covenant in the Old Testament were made up of Israel according to the flesh—an ethnic, national, religious people containing “children of the flesh” and “children of God.” Therefore it was fitting that circumcision was given to all the children of the flesh. (John Piper, “How do Circumcision and Baptism Correspond?”)
The above sentiment is arguably the largest barrier to Christians’ understanding circumcision as a means of administering the one redemptive work of Christ to the saints of the Old Testament. True, most all would agree that circumcision pointed to Christ in some sense, even marked out the seed line from which He would be born; but because they believe that the sign peculiarly marked out an ethnic, national, physical people, circumcision itself was not “sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 7.5). If, as stated by Piper above, the Sign was a mere marker of “national-ethnic” physical descendants of Abraham, who only happened to contain a spiritual remnant called out by God, then clearly the Covenant Sign of Circumcision was not itself a means of administering the redemptive work of Christ. At best, the Sign merely narrowed the pool (and even that not exclusively).