Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Special Revelation and God’s “catholicity”

“If we finally briefly sum up with Scripture teaches about Revelation”, Bavinck says, “we first of all have to understand by revelation quite generally that deliberate and free act of God by which he makes himself known to human beings in order that they may come to stand in the right relation to him” (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 349).

General revelation teaches that there is a God, and that we are separated from him; but it is Special revelation that shows us the way back to God.

“Revelation” as given in Scripture holds that “the Messiah came forth only from Israel” and that “in Scripture the initiative in religion is not taken by human beings but by God”. That is, “in Scripture it is always God who seeks human beings. He creates them in his image and calls them after the fall. He saves Noah, chooses Abraham, gives his laws to Israel. He calls and equips the prophets. He sends his son and sets apart the Apostles. He will one day judge the living and the dead” (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 327).

General revelation provides “a calling from God that comes to human beings through nature and history and that, when they do not obey this calling, renders them inexcusable”:

Since this general revelation is insufficient [to convey the saving knowledge of the salvation that God has provided] … special revelation is a revelation of special grace and thus brings into existence the salvific religion known as Christianity.

Special revelation is salvific revelation and consequently casts the subject and the means, the content and the purpose of revelation, into another form… (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 342).

God’s “catholicity”:

Hence the object of revelation cannot only be to teach human beings, to illuminate their intellects (rationalism), or to prompt them to practice virtue (moralism), or to arouse religious sensations in them (mysticism).

God’s aim in special revelation is both much deeper and reaches much farther. [And here we see God’s “catholicity”.] It is none other than to redeem human beings in their totality of body and soul with all their capacities and powers; to redeem not only individual, isolated human beings but humanity as an organic whole. Finally, the goal is to redeem not just humanity apart from all other creatures but along with humanity to wrest heaven and earth, in a word, the whole world in its organic interconnectedness, from the power of sin and again to cause the glory of God to shine forth from every creature (Bavinck vol 1 pg 346).

This is God’s “catholicity”, and it shows the “catholicity” aimed for both by Roman Catholicism and also those who want to claim “reformed catholicity” to be cheap substitutes.

You want to say, “oh, but we still should try”? But God has his job, and we have ours.

Sin has spoiled and destroyed everything: the intellect and the will, the ethical and the physical world. Accordingly, it is the whole person and the whole cosmos at whose salvation and restoration God is aiming in his revelation. God’s revelation, therefore, is certainly soteriological, but the object of that salvation (σωτηρια) is the cosmos, and not only the ethical or the will to the exclusion of the intellect, and not only the psychological to the exclusion of the somatic and physical, but everything in conjunction. For God has consigned all human beings under sin that he might have mercy upon all (Rom 5:15f; 11:32; Gal 3:22).

When we keep this goal in mind, it will not be hard for us to draw the boundary to which special revelation is extended. Special revelation, according to Scripture has occurred in the form of a historical process, which culminates in the person and work of Christ. But when Christ has appeared and is taken up into heaven, special revelation does not immediately cease as a result. Still to come then, are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the extraordinary operation of powers and gifts through and under the guidance of the apostolate.

Without doubt, Scripture still counts all this as belonging to the area of special revelation; and the continuation of this revelation in the apostolic age was necessary to give special revelation, which had culminated in Christ, permanence and stability in the midst of the world, a permanence and stability in the text of Scripture as well as in the life of the church.

Truth and life, prophecy and miracle, word and deed, inspiration and regeneration go hand in hand also at the completion of special revelation.

But when in Scripture and in the church the revelation of God that appeared in Christ has become a constituent of the cosmos, a new dispensation begins. Just as up until this time everything had been prepared with a view to Christ, now everything is traced back to him. Then Christ was made to be the head of the church; now the church is to be the body of Christ. Then Scripture was completed; now it is worked out. No new constitutive elements can any longer be added to special revelation now, because Christ has come, his work is finished, his Word completed…

Scripture clearly teaches that God’s full revelation has been given in Christ and that the Holy Spirit who was poured out in the church has come only to glorify Christ and take all things from Christ (John 16:14).

But to that end, accordingly, the activity of the Spirit is continually needed. For the special revelation in Christ is not meant to be restricted to himself but, proceeding from him, to be realized in the church, in humanity, in the world. The aim of revelation, after all, is to re-create humanity after the image of God, to establish the kingdom of God on earth, to redeem the world from the power of sin and, in and through all this, to glorify the name of the Lord in all his creatures (Bavinck, vol 1, pgs 346-347).

God has set the course for “catholicity” – just as “sin has spoiled and destroyed everything: the intellect and the will, the ethical and the physical world”, so too does God’s reach for his Word extend “accordingly”, to the “whole person and the whole cosmos at whose salvation and restoration God is aiming in his revelation” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

God’s word neither requires nor asks for help of “the succession”.

“He himself is our peace” and “through him we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father”:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

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