There are so very many international churches here in Seoul, multi-cultural pastors, and globally mobile servants from various walks of life. The international church here is exciting in that sense; but it is striking, given all the excitement, how little theological discussion takes place between individual churches and outside of the seminary classroom. The fact that so many international churches are young and non-denominational creates a need for theological growth, but it also signals an environment not naturally conducive to that maturation process.
There appears to be so much energy and activity in the church here, but little theological labor: ‘all these words,’ you might say, but often without theological self-awareness, often lacking theological rigor. The church’s sense of the riches of the biblical self-witness of its founder and perfecter should not be unkept or haphazard. Scripture promises and will do so much more for the church for God’s glory if we would only give it systematic priority, authority, and our full attention. If we will benefit from the Lord’s design for the church, we must preach the whole counsel of God and give serious attention to everything that he has given to his people, every word that proceeds. On the other hand, to devalue or de-emphasize Scripture is to take less seriously the words of eternal life. That is the beginning of the undoing of the church, and a threat to the assurance and perseverance of individual Christians.
To put a different spin on it, the phrase “all these words” appears a few times in Scripture, prominently in Ex 19:7 and 20:1. There the phrase refers to the words of the covenant and the law of God. Important to notice though is the ecclesiological significance of the words in this context: Israel is brought out of Egypt—delivered from bondage—in order to receive, keep, and obey these words, the counsel of God given, to embody the holiness of covenant obedience, to be a treasured possession unto God, so that the nations would see and glorify the Father in heaven—to gather and perfect the saints. The phrase refers to the objective Word of God as both God’s promise and his power to call and redeem a people for himself, that is, to found and perfect his church unto his own glory.
The main purpose of All These Words is to encourage theological discussion among past, present, and still to come members of the international Christian community in Seoul in hopes of encouraging the theological growth essential to the church and its commission (Eph 4:11-16).
The image above is of the Greek text of the opening of Galatians. Paul spends much of chapters 1 and 2 defending his apostolic call, and this emphasis is displayed already in the first verse: ‘Paul, an apostle neither from man nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.’
Calvin says that the first clause, ‘not from men’ (οὐκ ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων), Paul “had in common with all true ministers of Christ.” Calvin explains:
“It belongs to God alone to govern his church; and therefore the calling cannot be lawful, unless it proceed from Him.”
Ordination to gospel ministry, in other words, is just what Paul says here, recognition of calling not from men but from God.
A call to ministry must not come from men, but in ordinary circumstances it does come through man. The addition of ‘nor through man’ (οὐδὲ δι’ ἀνθρώπου) is designed to distinguish Paul’s office from that of an ordinary minister. Calvin writes:
“It was necessary that the apostles should be elected, not in the same manner as other pastors, but by the direct agency of the Lord himself. . . And thus Paul, in order to shew that he does not belong to the ordinary rank of ministers, contends that his calling proceeded immediately from God.”
In the first verse of Galatians Paul capitalizes on an ecclesiological distinction that displays the historical movement of redemption and revelatory dispensation. Apostolic teaching, the New Testament Scriptures just as the Old, is self-attesting; it is authoritative in a non-derivative sense. All succeeding ministers of the gospel, and Paul’s non-apostolic contemporaries such as Timothy, are called by God through men and teach with an authority derived from the Scriptures, only so long as their teaching is exegetical of the Scriptures. (‘Consistent with Scripture’ is not enough.) This dynamic structure remains in place today.
All These Words is a theology blog that hopes to help direct the church toward the Word of God, the gospel according to the Scriptures, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, and away from the dangers of churchy self-celebration and Christian religious talk that has no power.