Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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April 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 12


Mount Sion (2)

The glory and privilege of the New Testament economy and church include our coming to Mt. Sion and Jerusalem: "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). Mt. Sion here is contrasted with Mt. Sinai (18). Sinai is a touchable, physical and material mount, whereas Sion is a nonphysical, nonmaterial mount. It is a spiritual reality. For the church militant—us here in this world—Sion is approached and ascended only by faith.

Mt. Sion (on which was the royal palace) here also encompasses Mt. Moriah, the temple mount, as is generally the case in the Bible. Mt. Sion with its palace represents Christ, the great Davidic king, and His promised rule over the people of God. He ushers in the kingdom of God, the reign of the Triune God bringing righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17). The temple on Mt. Sion (understanding Sion more broadly, as above) is God’s dwelling place bespeaking our covenant fellowship with Him in Christ. The Lord Jesus is our priest, sacrifice and altar at this temple, bringing us redemption and the forgiveness of sins. This is why, especially in the Psalms and the prophets, Sion is presented as the place of love, grace and joy, the place of salvation and all blessedness.

Thus we have all the glorious promises and prophecies concerning Mt. Sion in Scripture. Consider Psalm 2. Despite the hellish opposition of Herod, Pontius Pilate and the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles (1-3; Acts 4:25-28), God establishes His Son as "king upon my holy hill of Zion" (Ps. 2:6). The believing Gentiles are included in His "inheritance" and "possession" (8), but He will smash the reprobate wicked with His "rod of iron" (9). Mt. Sion is the place where we are born again (87:4-6) and Mt. Sion is invincible (46; 48; 125).

This is what you, child of God, are come to: the glorious reality foreshadowed and typified by Mt. Sion in the Old Testament. The prophecies made concerning Mt. Sion predict the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ. All the promises concerning Mt. Sion—its beauty, joy and security—are yours, believer! Don’t let anyone take them away from you by applying them to the Jews in some future, earthly millennium.

From this we see two key hermeneutical principles or two vital rules of Bible interpretation. First, Scripture interprets Scripture. Second, the New Testament interprets the Old Testament (and not vice versa). Some call this "spiritualising" and they despise it and sneer at it. But I remind you, Mt. Sion, unlike Mt. Sinai, is not a mount that may be touched (Heb. 12:18-22). Mt. Sion is approached only by faith; this is the idea of "come" in verse 22 (cf., e.g., Matt. 11:28; John 6:35; 14:6).

Now turn to Isaiah 2:1-4. Verse 2 predicts that Mt. Sion will be raised to become the highest mountain in the world. Some reckon that this refers to orogeny in a literal Jewish millennium, that Mt. Sion will rise above Mt. Everest. But Hebrews 12 teaches that Sion is a mountain that cannot be touched (18, 22). Moreover, this conception of Mt. Sion is too low, for Hebrews 12:22 speaks of "the heavenly Jerusalem" and therefore a heavenly Sion in Jerusalem. Galatians 4:26 refers to the "Jerusalem which is above," which is "free" and "the mother of us all." Going up to Mt. Sion in Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3) does not refer to trekking to the Middle East in a Jewish millennium; it is approaching the God and Father of the church of Christ, for through faith we "are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22).

Isaiah 4:5 does not literalistically predict pillars of fire and smoke on top of every home in a Jewish kingdom. It prophesies God’s gracious covenant presence in the homes and worship services of His New Testament people, protecting and guarding us. "For all the promises of God in [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God" (II Cor. 1:20).

Hebrews 12:22 states that we are come "unto the city of the living God." A city with houses, streets and walls is a place of order, beauty and defence, unlike Sinai a mountain in the wilderness. Jehovah, the living God, dwells with His people in His city permanently; this is not just a brief terrifying appearance as on Sinai. The river of the Holy Spirit makes glad this city of the living God (Ps. 46:4; Acts 2)—this gospel church and its spiritual worship in the New Testament economy.

Hebrews 12:22 next refers to "the heavenly Jerusalem." "Sion," "city" and "Jerusalem" are all of one piece. Jerusalem is the city of the living God, and Sion is the place of the temple and palace in the city of Jerusalem. Therefore, a "heavenly Jerusalem" means a heavenly city and a heavenly Sion. This is a point made repeatedly in the last three chapters of Hebrews to Jewish Christians in danger of Judaizing, seeking literal, physical, Old Testament shadows rather than their reality in Christ. Father Abraham was not waiting for a literal, physical city, for "he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (11:10). The Old Testament patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Sarah (8-15) were not supremely hoping for a literal, earthly Canaan: "they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city" (16). But God is ashamed of those who merely desire an earthly country. Thus the Christian church confesses, "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (13:14). We, as our text puts it, "are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (12:22). This is far better! Rev. Stewart

Bachelor Office-Bearers and Women Scripture Readers

Question 1: "Is it biblical for single men to hold eldership in the church?" The background for this question is some of the qualifications for elders in I Timothy 3: an elder must be "the husband of one wife" (2) and "One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)" (4-5).

The argument is that if Scripture requires an office-bearer to be the husband of one wife (2), then a bachelor may not serve in an office in the church. And since an elder must rule his house and have his children in subjection (4-5), a childless man is unqualified. This line of argumentation is, however, fallacious. When the apostle says that one qualified for the office of elder must be the husband of one wife, the negative is: an elder may not have more than one wife. The apostle says nothing about unmarried men.

Notice too that the same qualifications are required in deacons. "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well" (3:12). If this line of reasoning were true, not only would single or childless men be excluded from the office of elder (including teaching elders or ministers); they would also be excluded from the office of deacon (3:12)!

The Lord Jesus during His earthly life was single, as was the apostle Paul and the apostolic office is a higher one than that of pastor (Eph. 4:11). Were Elijah or Timothy also unmarried? Many godly office-bearers in the post-apostolic era never married, including Augustine. Martin Luther was reforming the church for several years before he married in 1525. What if an office-bearer (minister, elder or deacon) is married but he loses his wife or he and his wife are unable to have children or all their children die (as was the case with John Calvin)?

Having said all this, an elder (or minister or deacon) who is married may, from a practical point of view, be better qualified than an unmarried man. When an elder must help sort out spiritual problems in families, he may have more understanding of these problems if he has a family of his own. But that line of reasoning is a practical consideration, not one of Scripture’s explicit teaching.

Yet this is not a hard and fast rule either. For God gave to the apostle Paul, a bachelor, the longest (I Cor. 7) and the deepest (Eph. 5:22-33) teaching on marriage in the New Testament, plus instruction on child-rearing (e.g., Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20-21).

Question 2 from the same reader is: "May women who are called to do so read the Scriptures in the morning or evening services, over the heads of elders or deacons?"

Apparently, this is a problem in the church the reader attends. Women, while not actually preaching, are permitted to read the Scriptures in divine worship services when asked to do so by the elders. My guess is that those who practice this argue that this practice is permissible because these women are not actually preaching. It reminds me of an evensong service in Westminster Abbey where the opposite was practised: A man read the Scriptures but a woman preached!

The apostle’s prohibition of women speaking refers to the official work of the church: the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of church discipline. The important texts are especially: "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (I Tim. 2:12), and "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law" (I Cor. 14:34).

The work of the church is the work of Christ, who accomplishes His purpose in gathering the church through the instituted church. The office-bearers stand in the place of Christ. Christ speaks through them. Christ is present in and with the church, not in some mystical sense, but through the work of the office-bearers.

This principle is true of all three offices and those who permit women deacons and elders err. Ministers bring Christ’s Word in the preaching and in the administration of the sacraments. Elders bring the Word in their rule of the congregation. Deacons bring Christ’s Word in their care of the poor, for they too must, according to the Form for Installation of Elders and Deacons, bring "comforting words from Scripture."

Scripture forbids women to perform this work and Scripture is unambiguous on the question. They must keep silence in the church. The emphasis falls on "in the church." Women may read Scripture for themselves. They may (and must) read Scripture to their children. They may read Scripture during family devotions. They may read Scripture in Bible Study groups. And in all these activities they may also speak. To impose silence on them in these areas of life is a serious mistake and even a sin, for it denies that women in the church hold the office of believer and are, under their husbands, prophetesses, priestesses and queens. The worship services, however, are different for they are the principle way in which Christ is present with His church by His Word and Spirit. As Westminster Larger Catechism, A. 156 states, "Although all are not to be permitted to read the word publickly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families."

In the worship services, the reading of the Scriptures belongs to the special offices, especially that of the minister. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 156 cites Deuteronomy 31:9-13 and Nehemiah 8:2-3 and 9:3-5 in this regard. It is an important and crucial part of the minister’s task as ambassador of Christ. I think that in some instances the reading of the Scriptures brings God’s Word to His people more clearly and more effectively than the sermon, for some sermons are not very good. Even in Scripture reading, Christ Himself is speaking to His people. And He is speaking by means of the written Word, infallibly inspired by His Spirit, the same Spirit He sends into the church. This Spirit works in the hearts and lives of God’s people, but always and only by means of the Word. He binds Himself to the Word, whether written in Scripture or spoken, and will not be cut off in His work from the Word.

Most churches have departed from these principles and this apostasy is due to the failure of the church to be faithful to the Word. Let the church of Christ be faithful to Christ and Christ’s Word in the Scriptures and it will prosper! Prof. Hanko

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