Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Question and Answer (in a page or less)

Where and When did the Church Begin?

The Church began in the eternal counsel of the triune God as the Father determined to give His beloved Son a bride who would be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

In redemptive history, Adam was given the ordinance to beget a holy seed that would inhabit the earth. Adam failed in this charge. He failed as prophet, priest, and king. Everything that follows in the way of covenants is part of God’s reclamation project of Adam’s failures. The promises of God find their culminating “amen” in Christ, who was born in the fullness of time.

Jesus founded disciples who were given the mandate to preach the gospel to all the nations. This task took place during Jesus’ ministry, but really finds its origin on Pentecost in Jerusalem as the ascended Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the “called out” assembly who were then charged with bringing the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth:

Acts 1:8 (ESV) — 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts shows us how the apostles completed this task through missionary efforts, church planting, and training a future generation of leaders. The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), and selected material from other epistles give us a clearer picture of the Apostolic Church as a lasting institution. God ordains that the Church be supplied with particular servants/leaders and also supplies the description and requisites for such positions.

A properly constituted Church will function within the defined ecclesiology of the Scriptures. There are many disagreements about what constitutes a valid sanctioned Church.  These matters must be resolved from further study.

Suffice it to say that God purposed an elect body of people who would belong to Him for all eternity. This is according to the mysterious eternal counsel of God from which He set His love upon a community who would be set apart by way of covenant. The Father chose a people > Jesus consented to win the bride by redeeming them at the cost of His own sacrificial love (read Hosea) > The Holy Spirit is the “matchmaker” who wins over our hearts for Christ through the work of “new birth” and therefore makes us a “bride of Christ”. This is all revealed throughout redemptive history and culminates in the fullness of time with Christ. The NT defines the Church in the current era of redemptive history, which shall continue until the second coming of Christ.

There is a great book that I read some time back, titled “Believer’s Baptism: The Sign of the New Covenant in Christ”. There is a chapter titled, “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” by Stephen Wellum, which is a response to some recent works such as Gregg Strawbridge’s, “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism”.

Wellum’s chapter summarizes well the whole idea of how baptism relates to the covenant and why covenantal paedo-baptists and credo-baptists disagree. You will want to read both Strawbridge and this book. They represent two of the better current books from both perspectives. Wellum’s chapter is available for free via pdf at this link:

James Davison Hunter says that, “…Christianity in North America…is a weak culture; weak insofar as it is fragmented in it’s core beliefs and organization, without a coherent collective identity and mission, and often divided within itself, often with unabated hostility.”

My question: “what’s the solution?”

Pennies from heaven

Posted: December 19, 2010 by Brian Andrews in Devotional, Theology

I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up some items on a list. We’re trying to pay cash for everything, so I headed to the ATM first to get some money. As you know, ATMs only give you $20 bills, which was fine with me.

When I parked my car at the store and got out, I decided to bring in some coins because I generally like to get as close as possible to giving exact change. Scrounging around the car, I found a few coins. I was just about to head in the store, when I looked down and saw a penny on the ground. I picked it up and then happened to notice two more rather scuffed up pennies under the car. Thinking to myself that I might need these, I shoved them into my pocket and entered the store. My youngest son was with me riding in the cart.

Now, you have to understand that I often have trouble making decisions. That day was no exception. Fruit was on my list, but I didn’t have any idea what type of fruit or how much to get. Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples, pears and kiwis passed the test and made it into the basket. I got some sweet potatoes for pies, but first had to make sure I had just the right weight. I picked up and put back a few of them until I was satisfied with my choices. A number of items made it into the shopping cart that weren’t on my list, but I felt like I should get anyway. For example, normally, I don’t buy things on a whim, but when my son asked for shells and cheese I got it for some reason. A little later he saw an apple slicer and reminded me that we needed one so I got it.

I know this may seem like a lot of boring detail–(I mean, how exciting can grocery shopping be?)–but that’s part of what makes the outcome so significant to me.

When I was finally ready to check out, I went through the self-checkout line, scanned and bagged all my stuff, and got the total: $60.73. At that point I remembered the change in my pocket and wondered how close I would be to having exact change. I reached into my pocket and found that I had exactly 73 cents, the three pennies I found on the ground having made all difference. Not only that, but since I had gotten all $20s from the ATM I had exactly what I needed down to the dollar and cent.

Another thing you have to understand is that I’m a math teacher and God often speaks to me through situations involving numbers. (BTW, the odds of the above happening are about 1/2000.) What I sensed God reminding me of through this whole thing is that He is in total control of my life. He is sovereign over all the choices I make. He is interested in even the most minute, unimportant details of my life, like buying kiwis and apple slicers.

Some people don’t like the idea of God being in control of everything, but this is a very comforting truth for someone like me who too often agonizes over “did I make the right decision?” He is with me; I don’t need to fear. Whether big things or mundane things, my Heavenly Father concerns Himself with the things that concern me. If you are His child, He has the same concern for and interest in you. You are not left alone in the tough decisions you face. He is with you and will in everything work it out for your good. He reminded me of that when He gave me His three cents.

George Bryson wrote the following:


The First Point

The first side (the positive side) of the first point of Calvinism is that if you are one of those elected for salvation you will one day (in this life) inevitably be born again before the final judgment. When you are born again you will be given a new nature. As your old nature was an unbelieving nature so your new nature will be a believing nature. Here is how it unfolds. As a new born child of God you will (as a result of your new birth) believe in Jesus Christ. Because (and when) you believe in Jesus Christ you will be declared righteous and be guaranteed a place among the resurrection of the just-and at that time glorified for all eternity.

The second side (the negative or doom and gloom side) of the first point is that if you are not one of the elect, you will not and cannot born again. Here is how it unfolds. Because you are not born again and will forever be stuck with your unbelieving nature you will not and cannot believe in Jesus Christ. Because you cannot believe in Jesus Christ in your unregenerate condition, you will not be justified. If you are not justified you will eventually be raised with the unjust, and finally be sentenced to everlasting shame and torment. This to is according to God’s sovereign will and good pleasure.

The Second Point

The first side (the positive side) of the second point of Calvinism is that if God has chosen you for salvation He did so unconditionally. You do not have to believe to become chosen for salvation but you were chosen and created for salvation and so you believe as a result of being elected and created for salvation.

The second side (the negative or doom and gloom side) of the second point is that if God has not chosen you for salvation,-meaning He has chosen you for damnation-He did so unconditionally. You were chosen, decreed, and created for damnation. You cannot believe and are therefore damned for your unbelief because this is according to God’s sovereign will and for His glory and good pleasure.

The Third Point

The first side (the positive side) of the third point of Calvinism is that if you were chosen and created for salvation, Christ died for your sins so that the eternal decree for salvation would have an historical provision for salvation.

The second side (the negative or doom and gloom side) of the third point of Calvinism is that if you were not chosen and created for salvation-meaning you were chosen and created for damnation- Christ did not die for your sins because an eternal decree for damnation needs no historical provision for salvation.

The Fourth Point

The first side (the positive side) of the fourth doctrine is that if you were chosen and created for salvation, God will irresistibly draw or efficaciously call you (applying saving grace to your life and circumstance) to Himself, first giving you a new life, which in turn brings with it a new nature, which is a believing nature, resulting in your certain and immediate justification and eventual and everlasting glorification.

The second side (the negative and doom and gloom side) of the fourth doctrine is that if you were not chosen and created for salvation-meaning that you were chosen and created for damnation-you will not be irresistibly drawn, efficaciously called, and no saving grace will be extended to you, which means you will not and cannot be born again, which in turn means you cannot have faith in Christ and thereby be justified in this life or ultimately glorified in the next life. Instead you will suffer the torments of the everlasting lake of fire in accordance with the sovereign will of God because this is according to His good pleasure.

The Fifth Point

The first side (the positive side) of the fifth point of Calvinism is that if you were chosen and created for salvation, the new nature you receive when you are born again, and the saving faith that comes with that new nature, and the justification that immediately follows faith insures that you will live (however imperfectly) a sanctified, holy, or righteous life in faith (practically speaking) for the most part, from the time of your regeneration until the time of your glorification. This perseverance in sanctification, holiness, or righteousness in faith, while not perfect is inevitable for the truly born again and will be to the end of this life for the elect. It is not as though the elect should not fail to persevere (for the most part) but they cannot do so. If therefore a person appeared to be a saint earlier in life, but failed to persevere in faith and righteousness until the end of life, it proves he was never a saint or never born again, never had faith in Christ, and never had a holy and righteous life in faith to persevere in.

The second side (the negative and doom side) of the third point is that if you are not elect and created for salvation-meaning you are elect and chosen for damnation-you cannot be born again, have faith in Christ, live a holy or righteous life in faith for even one day, much less to the end of your life. Because God is sovereign and can do as He pleases with His creatures, God is free to mislead a person into thinking they are one of the elect, help them live much like the elect, but at the judgment reveal that they were convinced by God that they were one of the elect even though they were not. No matter how convinced someone is in thinking he is one of the elect, assurance of salvation and eternal life is impossible to secure. How could anyone know for certain that they will persevere to the end proving they were elect without actually having persevered to the end.
After many years (actually decades) of studying the Calvinist doctrines of grace, I am convinced that the best refutation of the five points of Calvinism is an accurate and honest explanation of the five points of Calvinism. Unfortunately most new converts to Calvinism are not aware of the flip side to the five points of Calvinism early on. Those who introduce Calvinism to the non-Calvinist believe that the new believer is not ready for the meatier stuff of Reformed theology. That, they say, should come only later when they can handle it. They reason that the positive side of each point is like simple arithmetic. The negative side is more like algebra or some other more complicated, difficult and higher form of math.

The truth is this; the negative side is not more difficult to understand for the new convert to Calvinism, it is more difficult to accept. The positive side seems more palatable whereas the negative side is difficult to swallow and some even choke on it. Full disclosure, early on and sometimes even later on, is a major hindrance to those committed to winning the non-Calvinist over to Calvinism. Admittedly, sometimes proponents of Calvinism do not lay it all out on the table because they themselves have not turned the coin over to see what is on the other side. Sometimes they ignore it. Sometimes they deny it. They are on the Reformed road and are trying to get others to join them. However, they have not gone very far and sometimes do not choose to go but a few blocks down the Reformed road. Some would like to believe that each of the five points of Calvinism are only five points of grace. It is too much (for them) to think that these five points also represent a very hard and harsh message of doom and gloom. In fact, John Piper happily concedes that:

The “Doctrines of Grace” (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints) are the warp and woof of the biblical gospel cherished by so many saints for centuries.

I responded as follows:

George, thanks again for chiming in on my blog. I just want to say in short that you are not representing the “Confessionally Reformed” tradition fairly. You may have met some obnoxious “5 pointers” and I can almost guarantee you that most have not actually read Calvin’s Institutes, nor the Confessional tradition that emanated from him (Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, Heidelberg Catechism). Calvin, along with the confessions, are very pastoral and present the doctrines of Scripture in a clear, yet necessarily nuanced form with regards to some doctrines that transcend our full ability to comprehend. Here’s an example from the Belgic Confession (emphasis mine):

Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.
Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground^20 without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

George, on a personal note, I really wish you and CC would stop attacking Calvinism. I am meeting more and more former CC folks who have left because they were ostracized after claiming to like guys like John MacArthur, John Piper, and C.H. Spurgeon. It has gotten ridiculous out there. Do you seriously wish to continue to attack the Calvinistic understanding of God that MacArthur, Piper, Spurgeon, and the historical Church has held? Stop proclaiming that you are neutral on the Calvin-Arminian debate if you are going to continue to attack Calvinism and run very Godly pastors and “members” out of your churches and missions support because they share such convictions. I have met exCC folks who said that they would have remained in the fellowship with their Calvinisitic convictions if they weren’t attacked so vigorously. One gentleman told me that he was receiving correspondence from his CC friends about attending our church, whereas the concern was that we were heretical almost on the level of Mormonisn and JW. This is sad and I think you are partly responsible, unless of course you truly think we are borderline heretics, which means you should do everyone a service and tell all the CC bookstores to stop selling Tozer, MacArthur, Piper, Spurgeon, etc. My convictions are hardly any different from Spurgeon and yet his works are sold in most CC bookstores, whereas some CC members think that we as a church are almost heretical. Would you say the same about Spurgeon and his congregation? Consistency would definitely help, not only for your CC folks, but also for the church universal.

Grace and Peace…Rick

Here is the journal article and I have posted my brief thoughts at the very end. BTW, I am not for baptismal regeneration or supporting the position and practice of the Church of Christ. I am simply asserting that baptismal practice and theology in the early church most accords with this view.

The early church generally practiced baptism in a simple ceremony upon the occasion of professed faith, by some form of immersion, and used the language of “Regeneration” in reference to the occasion. Things were not that monolithic, however, and will quickly diverge as I continue to tackle this topic in future posts.

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Water Baptism in the Ancient Church

Part I

William A. BeVier

[William A. BeVier is Instructor in Historical Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary.]

This investigation was undertaken because of the great and divers divisions in Christendom today in respect to the ordinance of baptism, especially in regard to mode. At the outset it must be admitted that this presentation will not solve the problems or issues to everyone’s satisfaction. The controversy is too old and involved for that. The very fact that so many Christians for centuries have held various views on the matter is proof enough that the Scriptures are not precise on the question. Practically all Christians for all generations have maintained a belief in baptism as an ordinance. The Scriptures are sufficiently clear on this, and on every other vital issue. Therefore, it is to be accepted that because the Scriptures are not definite as to mode in its details, then mode of baptism is not a vital issue, in spite of what some might say to the contrary.

The early church fathers and archaeological findings are resorted to in order to determine how they interpreted the Scriptures on this issue. They lived much closer to the actual presentation of the revelation of God than we do. It is to be accepted that the fathers were all mortal and fallible, and thus they are not a sure or inspired guide. But they are the best area of investigation available beyond the Scriptures, and, in the case of the fathers, the closer they lived to the apostles the better.

Because of the fact that in the early centuries it is impossible in many cases to separate the topic of modes from baptismal regeneration, it has been necessary to include much in these articles that does not strictly pertain to mode of baptism only. It is further to be noted that the majority of the reference material used in this work is from secondary sources, and as a result the source of any given citation must be kept in mind as to whether the author is an immersionist, affusionist, or aspersionist. In the field of baptism the lack of objectivity among historians is appalling. All seem to give

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the truth, but never the whole truth, and, therefore very few give testimony to more than one view in respect to mode. Each has his own belief and presents evidence only in favor of that one.

General Background

Historians are generally in agreement that in apostolic and subapostolic generations water baptism was a very simple service. In the first century most of the converts were from Judaism and baptism immediately followed profession of faith. By the third and fourth centuries most converts were pagans and a period of instruction was set up between profession and baptism, generally of three years duration but sometimes less. By the third century several symbols and much ritual had been added to the simple baptismal service as described by Justin Martyr, and this order of service will be presented below. Some of these symbols were the sign of the cross; giving of milk, honey, and salt; unction of the head; and the white robe. Schools were set up to handle the large numbers and grades of advancement. In the fourth century for these schools baptism was a sort of elaborate graduation exercise. The Coptic Constitutions of the fourth and fifth centuries called for the three years of instruction, an examination, exorcism, an anointing with oil, an oral profession, and a baptism of triune immersion before the convert was allowed into the church and to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The anointing with oil combined with the water in some areas to render the picture of salvation. Water symbolized the removal of sin, the anointing the positive gift of the Spirit. It has been pointed out that from the second century forward the idea gradually gained ground that baptism works more or less magically, the water itself having power.

The place of baptism in these early centuries seemed to make no difference whatsoever as is seen from Hinton’s quotation from Tertullian’s De Bapt. c. IV: “There is no

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difference whether baptism takes place in the sea or in a pond, in the river or the fountain, the lake or the bath; nor between those who were baptized in the Jordan by John, and those who were baptized in the Tiber by Peter.” We cannot fail to notice in this citation the complete lack of distinction on Tertullian’s part between John’s baptism and Christian baptism. From all indications, baptism took place in the nude in the early centuries. Robert Robinson gives a rather lengthy discussion and presentation of the facts of this aspect of the baptismal service. It is stated there was a separation of the sexes, with deaconesses assisting with the women. Robinson suggests there was theological significance to this method, that in such baptism we put off the old man, being typified by the removal of the clothing. Another suggestion was that as we were naked in our first birth, so should we be in our new or second birth.

Certain seasons of the year were the standard times of baptism after the first century, generally Easter and Pentecost, or Epiphany in the East. The favorite hour seems to have been midnight, with a torchlight service. Men were baptized first, and then the women.

In the minds of some of even the later fathers baptism was not enough in itself for salvation. Tertullian called for repentance to accompany it (De poenitentia, 6) and Origen stated that sin must be forsaken (Homily 21, on Luke). Yet we know that in a real sense Tertullian believed in baptismal regeneration.

As to the mode used, Schaff gives two very revealing citations. One quotes Marriott (in Smith and Cheetham, I, 161) as saying: “Triple immersion [italics Schaff’s], that is thrice dipping the head while standing in the water, was the all but universal rule of the church in early times,” and he quotes in proof Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Jerome and Leo I. But Schaff points out that Marriott later admits (p. 168ff) that affusion and aspersion were exceptionally used,

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especially in clinical baptism. The second citation is from Dean Stanley’s Christian Institutes, who states that immersion was thrice dipping the head of the candidate, who stood nude in the water; but some claim the entire body was plunged under three times. The significant force of these citations is that while baptism may have been by immersion in many cases, it in all probability was not the entire plunging of the body as is practiced today, the claims of some not withstanding.

Most all of the fathers believed that baptism was to “complete and seal the spiritual process of regeneration…” And in both East and West baptism served three purposes, “forgiveness of sins, communication of the Spirit, and the obligation to fulfill the commandments of Christ.”

Early Fathers and Writings

As mentioned above, it is in the early church fathers and their writings that we have probably the best human interpretations of the apostolic Scriptures available to us.

It is most significant that in all the extant writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp—the three outstanding subapostolic fathers—there is no mention whatsoever to water baptism in any form. This is not to say that they did not believe in or practice water baptism, but it is indicative that they did not lay the great stress on the ordinance that was present in the later fathers. This is clear evidence that these who were taught by the apostles themselves put no emphasis on any particular mode, but they did at the same time stress many other doctrines in their epistles. We undoubtedly should learn much from these early pupils of Peter, Paul and John and at the same time save ourselves and those about us a lot of time, effort, and ill feeling wasted on that which is not vital.

It is not until we come to the Shepherd of Hermas, written about 100 A.D. at Rome, that we find the first subapostolic

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mention of water baptism. Hermas, however, presents a well developed approach to the subject and no doubt the doctrine as it appears in Hermas did not originate with the author. Commandment 4.3 teaches baptism for forgiveness of sins, stating the event was “when we went down into the water.” In Parable 9, chapter 16, baptismal regeneration is taught, with water being the seal of regeneration. “So they go down into the water dead, and they come up alive. So this seal was preached to them also, and they took advantage of it, in order to enter the kingdom of God.” The reference here is to Old Testament saints, baptized in death. In the same chapter the reference to the living is: “But these went down alive and came up alive, but those who had previously fallen asleep went down dead and came up alive.” We see from these citations that baptismal regeneration appeared early and from this point on, all manner of elements were attached to this ordinance.

The writings of Justin Martyr (ca. 115) are the next significant ones that are extant. It is to be remembered that this is less than twenty years after the generally accepted date of the death of the Apostle John. Justin (Apol. I, c. 61) wrote concerning those to be baptized, that after prayer and fasting: “…are led by us to a place where is water, and in this way they are regenerated, as we also have been regenerated; that is, they receive the water-bath in the name of God, the Father and Ruler of all, and of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost…The baptismal bath is called also illumination (ψωτισμός) because those who receive it are enlightened in the understanding.” Justin in his “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” (XXX.19) speaks of baptism bringing pardon and the new life, and is therefore necessary to salvation. He also was the first one to demand that baptism be administered by clerics only (Loofs, DG4). But the very fact that he felt called upon to demand such a thing is proof enough that such was not the general practice until that date.

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Justin, seemingly following the pattern of Hermas, regarded baptism as the end act of regeneration; only then does actual forgiveness of sins take place. Another item has been drawn from his writings on the subject of water baptism. He wrote (Second Apol. p. 93): “We were born without our will—but we are not to remain children of necessity and ignorance (as to our birth) but in baptism are to have choice, knowledge…. This we learned from the Apostles.” The fact that the word “choice” is used here seems to rule out infant baptism, because an infant has no power of making a choice. Justin Martyr then appears to present baptism by immersion, clearly believed in baptismal regeneration, and omits the doctrine of infant baptism.

One reference to water baptism occurs in The Letter of Barnabas, 11:11 (ca. A.D. 130, perhaps Alexandria). The reference is to Israel in the wilderness and their baptism, and then allegorically applied to Christians with these words: “This means that we go down into (είς) the water full of sins and pollution, and we come up (ἀνεβαίνομεν) bringing forth fear in our hearts and with hope in Jesus in our spirit.” This would seem to indicate baptism by immersion, and clearly advocates regeneration. A problem here is that the letter is extremely allegorical and its validity and interpretations are not generally accepted.

The next citation chronologically is important. This is in the Didache or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” This work is significant because it gives a systematic presentation of baptism as to features and more particularly to modes. It dates from about A.D. 150 and probably originated in the region of Antioch. In chapter 7 we read: “About baptism, baptize in this way: After first repeating all these things, baptize in living (running) water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If you have no running water, baptize in other water, and if you cannot use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour (ἔκχεον) water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and

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Holy Spirit. And before the baptism let the baptizer and the one who is to be baptized and any others who can do so fast. And you must order the one who is to be baptized to fast one or two days beforehand.” (more…)

For Luke the charismatic ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is very much the power and life of the church, and so probably of the individual too. It is the means by which the heavenly Lord exercises his cleansing and transforming rule over Israel as much as the means by which he uses her as the Isaianic servant to witness his salvation to the ends of the earth (Max Turner 1998:347).

The bestowing of the Spirit on Pentecost didn’t mark the end of God’s dealings with Israel and a transferring of God’s salvific dealings solely to the Gentiles, but was rather the initiation of Israel’s glory age. They were empowered to be the witnesses to the nations as prescribed in Isaiah. The height of Israel’s existence is their mission to the Gentiles and that is being fulfilled right now in these last days. There remains a distinction in ethnicity between Jew and gentile, no doubt, but both constitute a single people of God who are constituted by the same means of calling upon the name of their common Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all the nations are blessed.