Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Disjointed Thoughts on Justification, Imputation and Vocation 

We are imputed righteous in Christ. Imputation occurs when God regards us as righteous in Christ. Imputation has, as Gaffin observes, no discrete structure of its own. Being raised with Christ is ‘judicially declarative’; God regards us as righteous as we are incorporated into Christ’s body. Being incorporated into Christ’s body is inseparable from being part of the Church. We enter the Church through Baptism. Baptism is the key moment of justification. I believe that N.T. Wright is inconsistent on this point: he argues that justification is not entry language and yet he associates it with Baptism. Is not Baptism all about entry? Can Baptism merely be the declaration that we are ‘in’ and not the means by which we enter when unbaptized people cannot partake of the Supper? What is it that we are talking about entering ‘in’ to? The fact that Wright frequently speaks of Baptism in terms of entry suggests that something more is going on here. Wright is interacting with people who have tended to think of ‘conversion’ in terms of entry. Wright speaks of conversion in terms of ‘call’. He argues that the effectual call is the means by which we ‘become Christians’. Wright wants to distinguish the moment of initial faith from the moment of justification. He is right to do so. Both Abraham and our Lord were believers for more years before they were ‘justified’ (Abraham by the making of the covenant in Genesis 15; our Lord by His resurrection from the dead). Justification is for Wright the ‘verdict which God pronounces consequent upon that event’ [when ‘someone comes from idolatry, sin and death to God, Christ and life’]. The declaration of justification does not change anything. Of course, this sits uneasily with what Wright says about the Jewish lawcourt metaphor. It also leaves us with Baptisms that don’t change anything. Baptism merely becomes a declaration of conversion. It seems clear, to me at least, that Wright does not understand Baptism this way. Perhaps he is inconsistent on this point. I suggest that we need to think more carefully about what it is that we come ‘in’ to. I would argue that we are talking about coming into the Church. The Church is the temple that God indwells by His Spirit. To be brought into the fullness of relationship with God in His temple is salvation. The fullness of this relationship really cannot take place apart from Baptism. Are all the unbaptized damned then? Certainly not! OT Gentile God-fearers may not have had access to the full blessings of fellowship with God enjoyed by Israel but they were not for that reason damned. Nevertheless, they were certainly not ‘in’ in the sense that Israelites were. In a like manner, those who are ‘out’ of the Church but yet trust in God are excluded from the fullness of fellowship with God but are not as a consequence damned. But the analogy breaks down: the place of the Gentile God-fearer no longer exists under the New Covenant. In the New Covenant it is not possible to abide outside the Church as a believer, as it was to abide outside Israel as a God-fearer. Those who are baptized should be baptized because in some sense they already ‘belong’ to the Church as believers or members of believers’ households. Nevertheless, Baptism still constitutes their entry into the Church. Without it they are in some sort of liminal state, hovering on the threshold — neither properly ‘in’ nor ‘out’. ‘Conversion’ brings us to the threshold of the Church; we cross the threshold in Baptism. Becoming a Christian: does it happen in conversion or Baptism? It all depends upon what we mean by ‘becoming a Christian’. Baptism brings us into a particular relationship with Christ and His people. Baptism is our entry as full members into the new humanity, the new family and the new nation of the Church. In Baptism we become kings and priests unto God. Our faith brings us to the Church to become partakers of Christ’s faith. We partake in Christ’s faith as we are baptized, as we worship, and as we partake of the Supper. Apostates? As James Jordan observes, it is possible to be given a gift and never to open it. It is also possible to be given a gift and to abuse it, or to properly use it and then abandon it. The gift is given to us in Baptism. Only those who receive this gift and persevere in it will be saved. Perseverance, of course, is done in God’s strength and not in our own. There is no cause to boast. However, every baptized person receives the same gift. What is this gift? The gift is union with Christ and communion with the Father and the Spirit. The gift is a new status in Christ. What is this status? The new status is not merely that of being regarded as righteous; the new status makes us agents by whom God’s righteousness is spread. And it must be so, for if we are to deny any nature / grace dichotomy, the restoration of nature must restore it as a channel of grace. We would not be truly and fully reconciled to God were we not entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. We are not given to drink of the rivers that flow from the new Temple without being made into new temples and sources of rivers ourselves (John 4:13-14). God does not clothe us with righteousness so that we might stand idly by. God clothes us with righteousness so that we might become His agents through whom He sets the world to rights (Isaiah 61). God clothes us with righteousness so that we might become His warriors and His priests (cf. Exodus 28:15-30; Psalm 132:9, 16). In Christ God puts His armour upon us (Ephesians 6:10f.; cf. Isaiah 59:16-17) so that we might become the true warrior/worshippers. The new clothes of righteousness given to us in Christ (Galatians 3:27) are the clothes that fit us for priestly and kingly service (cf. Zechariah 3). The new status that we have been given in Christ is that of prophets, priests and kings. But ‘status’ is probably a poor word to use; it might suggest that these things are merely static positions of privilege. They are not — they are vocations given to us in Christ. This suggests that the common separation between ‘becoming a Christian’ and being given a vocation is invalid. Becoming a Christian — being saved — is being made a partaker of the ministry of Christ. In Christ we become those who rule (Ephesians 2:6) and serve as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). This vocation is given to us at Baptism when we are ordained as priests (a position that Peter Leithart has argued for compellingly in his book The Priesthood of the Plebs). Our sufficiency in this vocation comes as we depend upon God by faith. As Christ was faithful in His vocation we are given to become partakers in it (1 Peter 4:13). This is a recurring theme in Paul. Paul has a profound sense of what Christ is accomplishing through Him (Romans 15:14f.). God will crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20). We are crucified with Christ and we no longer live but He lives in us and we live by His faithfulness (Galatians 2:20). We are weak in Christ but yet can live with Him by the power of God (2 Corinthians 13:4). We are counted righteous in Christ as we are given to be conformed to His death, knowing the fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:8-10). How does partaking in the ministry of Christ relate to the various ministries that exist in the Church? All the ministries of the Church flow from Christ Himself who gives them. The ministries are all given for the sake of the body and not just for the sake of the minister. When one member is given a gift, the whole body is given that gift. All of our vocations are a re-presentation of that one Vocation. All of our gifts are merely a re-presentation of that one Gift. Bernd Wannenwetsch expresses this concept very well in his chapter in A Royal Priesthood. All of our gifts and vocations must presuppose Christ’s Vocation and the Gift of the Spirit. The body of Christ is given as is our membership in it. Our ministries do not create the body but presuppose it (I have elsewhere described the Church as deriving its existence from the future). Our ministries re-present the body to itself. Wannenwetsch writes:—
The individual minister is but a personal reference to the presence of the charisma in the whole body. Were she the only one to have a particular charisma she could not re-present it. There would be no ‘re-’, no presence to refer to apart from her own personal gift. So the minister is by her exercise of a charisma to others exactly witnessing to the commonality of the charisma.
The ministries have been given to the whole Church and for the benefit of each member of the body. No gift is the ‘property’ of the individual exercising it; the gifts belong to the Church. Each gift is a representation in a particular and ordered fashion of the one Gift given to the Church. In the Church everyone is a member of each other. Everyone must exist for the benefit of the other. No member can be self-sufficient. In the Church, to the degree that we are claiming our ministry as our own private property, we are amputating ourselves from the body. To the degree that we deny a part in the other’s ministry we also deny our part in the one Ministry that they are representing to us. We are not any less if we do not have great gifts, because we all belong to each other. The great gifts of others are given for our benefit and are a representation of the Grace that belongs to us all in the Church. In the Church the other ceases to be a threat. We live in perichoretic unity and consequently no longer claim possession over ourselves; we belong to the other in Christ.

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