Sunday, February 25, 2024

It Is Finished: A Biblical Response To Trent Horn’s Misunderstanding Of Christ’s Atonement

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to refute arguments made by Trent Horn on the nature of Christ's atonement and the meaning of His words on the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Following are excerpts from the author along with a critique:

          "The fact that Christ’s death “paid for” or atoned for our sins does not mean that everything is finished regarding our salvation."

          Our justification before God is a done deal. Other aspects of salvation such as sanctification, perseverance, and glorification are ongoing but are guaranteed to be completed. They can therefore be safely spoken of in terms of having already happened. It is for this reason that Hebrews 10:14 speaks of us being perfected once for all.

          "Our Lord himself “did things” for our salvation even after the crucifixion, since the Bible says Christ’s resurrection justifies us. Romans 4:24-25 speaks of “Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” This shows that our justification, and even the act of remitting our sins, was not finished when Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross."

          Romans 4:24-25 speaks of Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead as being proof that God had accepted His payment for our debt of sin. If the resurrection did not happen, then we would have no assurance of being forgiven by God. He did not need the resurrection to happen in order to justify us, but it does show that we can obtain a righteous standing before Him. It also shows that Christ is not a mere man, but God in the flesh. Only He could conquer death.

          "In fact, we have to do something in order to be saved because if Christ paid for all of humanity’s sins, then the difference between who is saved and who is damned can be found only in something the believer does, such as receiving grace through baptism and remaining in communion with Christ until death."

          What distinguishes saved people from the damned is their response to the gospel. Even unsaved people can do things like going to church, partaking in communion, and getting baptized. The one who abides in Christ has been regenerated by the Spirit of God and so does works that are pleasing to Him. We are not given conditions for justification in His sight other than faith. Nowhere is it said that Christ needed to do further works after the cross to ensure our salvation.

          "The lesson is clear: God has atoned or “paid for” all of our sins. But if we refuse to cooperate with God’s grace, then the debt can be reinstated. That’s why Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment.”

          Hebrews 10:26-27 is a call to faithfulness and repentance. However, grace is not earned through participating in sacraments but is graciously given to us by God apart from anything that we do. It is not like a substance transferred to believers as was taught by medieval theologians but is found in the person of Christ.

          "One prominent interpretation is that Jesus meant that the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were now fulfilled in his sacrificial death. Read the preceding verses, which describe what happened after Jesus entrusted his mother to the apostle John (John 19:27-28). John 19:28 is the only other place where tetelestai is used in Scripture. When combined with the related word teleiōthē, we see that the context is related to finishing, completing, or fulfilling messianic prophecies of the Old Testament."

          This is true, but incomplete. Jesus was affirming that He had accomplished all that God intended Him to do in His earthly ministry. Christ finished offering up Himself for our sins and paying its penalty. He defeated sin at the cross. It is then that He completed the work of redemption and atonement. Christ's death, burial, and resurrection were certain in the plan of God so they could be referred to as already done when He said, "It is finished."

          "Jesus could also have been referring to the “finishing” of the Last Supper. Scott Hahn proposed this hypothesis in his book The Lamb’s Supper (and in more detail in his 2018 book The Fourth Cup). Hahn notes that Jesus conspicuously did not drink from the fourth cup of the Passover meal. Instead, Jesus refused to drink wine until he came into his kingdom, and then, before dying, he drank sour wine on the cross. Hahn says, “It was the Passover that was now finished. More precisely, it was Jesus’ transformation of the Passover sacrifice of the Old Covenant into the Eucharistic sacrifice of the New Covenant."

          If Jesus Christ not drinking from the fourth cup carries with it any theological significance, then it would be that the Old Covenant is inadequate and we need a newer and a better covenant. We have that in Christ. The context nowhere makes a eucharistic connection with this action of His. This reading of His words is also anachronistic, since the understanding of the communion elements evolved over time. Moreover, different Jewish sects celebrated the Passover meal differently and not all accepted the fourth cup as part of their practice.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Historical Background On The Use Of Altars In The Roman Catholic Church

  • Discussion:
          -Roman Catholic Churches contain stone altars in which the sacrifice of the Mass is conducted by the parish priest. It is maintained that the communion elements are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ at the words of consecration. The altar is considered the central aspect of the church building or point of focus for worshipers. It is said to be made holy in the presence of Christ as the bread and wine becomes Him.

         The earliest Christians did not use altars or temples for three centuries. Afterwards, the table at which the communion celebration was held came to be known as an altar. The Catholic Encyclopedia says the following, "According to Radulphus of Oxford (Prop. 25), St. Sixtus II (257-259) was the first to prescribe that Mass should be celebrated on an altar, and the rubric of the missal (XX) is merely a new promulgation of the law."

          Wayne Meeks, in his essay titled Social and Ecclesial Life of the Earliest Christians, notes:

          "Christians had no shrines, temples, cult statues or sacrifices; they staged no public festivals, musical performances or pilgrimages. As far as we know, they set up no identifiable inscriptions. On the other hand, initiation into their cult had social consequences that were more far-reaching than initiation into the cults of familiar gods. It entailed incorporation into a tightly knit community, a resocialisation that demanded (and in many cases actually received) an allegiance replacing bonds of natural kinship, and a submission to one God and one Lord excluding participation in any other cult."

          Christians have no need for altars in their places of worship because they do not perform sacrifices as did the Levitical priests of old. This order of things found its ultimate fulfillment in the atonement sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In contrast with the sacrificial system of Judaism, communion is based on spiritual sustenance and remembering Christ. The earliest Christians, being Jewish converts, would have understood these things. They also would have objected to the Roman Catholic eucharist on the grounds that the Old Testament forbade the consumption of blood, cannibalism, and knew a human body can be located at only one place at a time.

          The earliest Christians did not believe in the doctrine of the real presence in a corporeal sense. They did not view their offerings as making atonement for sin. The mode of receiving Christ was faith as opposed to physically eating Him. The communion elements were not treated as though they were no longer physically bread and wine, but the incarnate Christ Himself. Nevertheless, there is no question that patristic authors took the business of communion very seriously. Hippolytus of Rome, a bishop of the 2nd century, writes these instructions in The Apostolic Tradition

          “But let each of the faithful be zealous, before he eats anything else, to receive the eucharist…let each one take care that no unbeliever taste the eucharist, nor a mouse nor any other animal, and that nothing of it fall or be lost; for the body of Christ is to be eaten by believers and must not be despised. The cup, when thou hast given thanks in the name of the Lord, thou hast accepted as the image of the blood of Christ. Therefore let none of it be spilled, so that no strange spirit may lick it up, as if thou didst despise it; thou shalt be guilty of the blood, as if thou didst scorn the price with which thou hast been bought.”

          He was very much concerned with the purity of worship offered to God. He believed the bread and wine given at communion to be special and worthy of protection, but described the former in terms of being an "image" of Christ's blood. The communion elements communicate to us the reality of Christ's broken body and shed blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. The statement of Hippolytus is representative of the general attitude of Christians toward the communion ritual at that time.
          Roman Catholic Scholar Peter J. Riga made this remark about the origin of the altar in Judaism:

          "...They [the Jews] inherited the fundamental notion of the altar as being the meeting place, the "high place," the "sacred heights," from their pagan background. We have already mentioned how much the Jews depended on the common traditions of the Near East, which take us back to the very dawn of recorded history."

          He then goes on to posit this theory as to how such a development began:

          "But these pagan traditions were not accepted as such by the chosen people. Under the divine guidance of divine inspiration they slowly purified their notion of sacrifice and altar."

          The problem with this kind of an explanation is that God Himself nowhere sanctioned the use of pagan objects to worship Him. If the Old Testament gives us any details at all, it would be that He commanded the Jews to destroy altars belonging to outsiders who worshiped foreign gods (Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 12:1-3; Judges 2:2). That in and of itself makes it unlikely God would purify or redeem pagan traditions for His own sake. Jewish altars were unique in character. They were associated with monotheistic worship. They conveyed Jewish morals that other groups would not have shared. Whatever altars the Jews erected for themselves, were reflective of their own religious experiences.

          Just because the Jews had altars in which animals were sacrificed before God, does not mean Christians today need the same in regard to the spiritual sacrifices that they offer to Him. Later Christian converts came not from a Jewish but pagan background. Their understanding of the Old Testament was further removed from its original context. The communion meal evolved over time into a system of sacrifices that mimicked the Jewish system of ongoing bloody animal offerings. The introduction of altars into the Christian church laid the foundation for the development of the unbiblical idea of transubstantiation.