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Spiritual Warfare and God's Provision in the Church (part 2): The Administration of the Ordinances

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Built-In Defense Mechanisms:[1]

From an animistic worldview, demonic attacks and spiritual engagements are part and parcel to everyday life. Such a notion is not easily remedied when conversion to Christianity is undertaken. Though the worldview of the bible does not downplay supernaturalism, it seeks to supply a much-needed corrective in order to understand and comprehend the posture of the Creator God Himself. That is, spiritual entities are not autonomous from God, but rather find Him as Sovereign Creator over all. Thus, as noted in part one of this blog series (click here), the Word of God centralizes the Kingdom of God through His power, presence, and Lordship throughout the created sphere. In doing so, He has not left His covenant people, i.e., the church, to fend for themselves through syncretistic, shamanistic tactics. Rather, through the proclaimed Word, God has commissioned safeguards in one sense to strengthen and in another to protect the flock amid demonic attacks. As was stated in part one: The premise of this paper, then, will seek to defend the missiological and theological notion that God safeguards the church from demonic threats by His indwelling Spirit through the markers of the true church, i.e., the faithful preaching of the Word and the administration of the ordinances.[2]


The Administration of Ordinances:


The next marker of a true church is in one sense the second line of defense for the covenant community. For definition sake, Calvin articulates the sacraments, and for our usage the ordinances, as “an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promise of His good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward Him in the presence of the Lord and of His angels and before men.”[3] The ordinances themselves, then, are appointed by Christ to initiate and renew covenantal membership amid the family of believers—primarily expressed through devotion to a local congregation (Matt. 3:13-17; 26:26-29; Mk. 1:4-8; 14:22-25; Lk. 3:21-22; 22:14-23; Jn. 1:29-34; 1 Cor. 11:17-34). They, by nature, are external markers to convey internal realities. As Calvin purports the believer’s guise for divine sustenance does not terminate upon the outward sign itself, but rather moves beyond the exterior mode and rises toward devout contemplation on the immaterial truths in salvific proportion.[4] The ordinances, affirming the trustworthiness of God’s Word, become a sign and seal to divine realities through the Spirit’s work. They are, like marriage, an external corporeal ring which symbolizes and affirms the intangible presence of affection, commitment, and love. Bavinck insists that “the Word signifies and seals Christ to us by the sense of hearing; the sacrament signifies and seals Christ to us by the sense of sight.”[5] In turn, the ordinances become a tangible security blanket wrought by the Spirit’s work for regenerate believers in the Gospel of Christ.


The notion of sign and seal, then, can be fostered amid Bavinck’s threefold establishment.[6] First, it is clear yet necessary to convey that God is the arbiter in adjudicating the ordinances themselves. They are not merely construed through human predilection. Rather, the grace of God is transmitted directly upon relational and, thus, covenantal grounds. According to Bavinck, this cannot be imparted by sheer creaturely means, but is intuitive to the favor and fellowship of God Himself which corresponds to divine grace.[7] Secondly, the ordinances, in turn, do not impart grace underneath the action itself, i.e., transubstantiation or consubstantiation, but rather “inwardly confers grace in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit.”[8] The elements in themselves are not the source of value but are the instruments to which God conveys His laudable esteem.[9] Third and lastly, the action of God in the elements and, simultaneously, in the pious confession itself unite both God and believer to one another through faith. On the one hand, God encourages and seals His Word upon the believer in order to invigorate faith in the Gospel. In another, the believer enacts the ordinance as a confession of her communion and pledge to God as well as His people. Such an observance articulates covenantal renewal, a charge to faithfulness, and a commitment to service in the Name of Christ. The ordinances, then, are sign and seal of covenantal fidelity through the indwelling work of the Spirit; that is, they point to the spiritual reality grounded in Christ Jesus Himself.


Hmong animism, conversely, functions amid ritualistic schemes in order to appease and mollify ancestral spirits.[10] Family altars (dab xwmkab) assemble the framework to which majority of equipment and appliances of everyday life are dedicated to shamanistic offerings. This reasserts the notion that spiritual forces are under or consubstantial to the material elements themselves. A host of ceremonial arrangements are anchored, then, upon what is known as tso plig (“releasing the spirits”). Ya Po Cha contends that an inability to appease the spiritual forces could result in the household demons negating their protective oversight and, in turn, “barter the soul of a family member to evil spirits, making that person sick.”[11] Thus, obtaining a firm biblical grasp of the ordinances can serve in the spiritual growth and vitality of an animistic convert. In this section, then, we will establish pneumatological strongholds in the guise of ordinances convened through the covenantal community of saints.


Baptism into Christ and His Church. Though it is quite simple to diverge into soteriological considerations when discussing the doctrine of baptism, i.e., baptism of the Holy Spirit, we will for all intents and purposes mitigate ourselves to an ecclesiology wrought in pneumatology.[12] In so doing, baptism will be identified under the rubric of a person’s faith before God and, in turn, their confession before men.


The act of baptism construed by the ministry of the church through the proclamation of the Word reflects the effectual work of the Spirit in drawing persons into union with Christ. It is not as though baptism functions in an ex opere operato manner, but rather that the sign is the response of faith through the Spirit’s work in regeneration.[13] This faith garners, then, a good conscience to the one professing, for it assures covenant inclusion which is based upon Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus, Peter contends that baptism is the grounds for perseverance in the midst of suffering because it points to the assurance of “a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ” (1 Pet. 2:21, italics mine).[14] This virtue of inner peace is indispensable due to the ever-present depravity of human nature. Moral guilt and divine culpability linger and prowl amid the confines of original sin (Rom. 5:12-14). Yet, our living hope resides in what Christ has accomplished through His atoning sacrifice. It is the pledge to baptism, then, where Paul assures the saints of their victory over the dominion (Gk. kurieuó) of sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-14). Baptism, as an outward sign of an inward confession, is the banner to which the apostle charges the saints to press forward in righteous living (cf. Rom. 6:15-23; Gk. edoulōthēte dikaiosynē). Douglas J. Moo appropriately confers, “There has already taken place in the life of the believer a ‘change of lordship’ (Paul could hardly use the verb kyrieuo without thinking of the real kyrios of the Christian), and it is in the assurance of the continuance of this new state that the believer can go forth boldly and confidently to wage war against sin.”[15] This profession of faith before the Almighty Judge of the Universe, then, garners monumental ramifications upon covenantal proportion. These consequential inferences culminate upon an ordinance of baptism which delivers saints through faith into the familial hands of God.


In addition, the other side to the baptismal coin is an ordinance of confession before men. As the first notion is communion and union with Christ, the second impression is the declaration of faith to particular persons. The Christian faith is public by nature because it touches every corner of one’s life. Thus, on the one hand, it is an announcement to the church, says Calvin, “that we wish to be reckoned God’s people; by which we testify that we agree in worshipping the same God, in one religion with all Christians; by which finally we openly affirm our faith.”[16] In unity to one Spirit, our eyes are illumined to see that we are not only saved unto Christ but we have been saved into His people—the church (Eph. 4:1-7). The people of God are marked, therefore, not by social status, ethnic identity, nor economical prestige, but rather “through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18; cf. 1:13-14; Gk. Pneumati tēs epangelias Hagiō). On the other hand, the baptismal declaration conveys to the world a new allegiance to the kingdom of God. Devotion, commitment, and dedication is given and surrendered to Christ Jesus as Lord; that is, every facet of life and every ounce of one’s being is consecrated for kingdom purposes. Where there is an authentic appeal, then, to faith in Christ, and where a faith amid a covenant community is genuinely aroused, the presence of the Spirit is evident and, thus, constitutes the ordinance as a “means of grace.”[17]


Communion with Christ in the Spirit. Though the church historic has articulated deeply and to great lengths the presence of Christ amid the Eucharist, my aim will be to showcase its covenantal significance within ecclesiological and pneumatological emphases.[18] Therefore, the ordinance of communion will be conveyed under the metric of union with Christ via the indwelling Spirit and covenantal renewal.


The Eucharist is the ordinance that seals and confirms the promise that the body and blood of Christ are true bread and true drink for the elect people unto life (Jn. 6:55-56). Not that the elements themselves are His body and blood, but rather by faith and through the Spirit “the Sacrament sends us to the cross of Christ, where that promise was indeed performed and in all respects fulfilled.”[19] For Christ took on flesh through the incarnation in order that “He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9; cf. Jn. 6:51; Phil. 2:8). That is, in sharing in humanity’s nature “He identifies with us and takes on the same nature to destroy the devil’s power by yielding up His life in death.”[20] Therefore, His body was given up for us and, in addition, the ordinance is “given for you” so that the benefits of Christ would be disseminated to His children (Lk. 22:19).[21] These benefits, in turn, are communicated through external means and in a spiritual manner in so far as they are received through Spirit wrought faith. Moreover, as the proclaimed Word produces faith by the Spirit, the Eucharist signifies our union with Christ through the drama of the Gospel procured in sight. Simply put, the ordinance of communion is a display of corporate union with Christ through the Gospel for the covenant people of God.


Recent developments in sacramental theology have produced an emphasis upon pneumatology; that is, the role of the Spirit in the corporate administration of the ordinance has taken center stage. There is a plethora of differences amid the Eastern and Western approach to the mystery of consecration. Consequently, the Eastern tradition has proposed a Spirit-centered methodology, while the heritage of Westernism has held to an in persona Christi.[22] Among the Eastern development there has been attention given to two main components: (1) anamnesis and (2) epiklesis. The former accentuates the notion of remembrance which has more to do with bringing the power of past events to bear upon present circumstances. Thus, the anamnesis does “not see merely an act of human remembering of which we are still subjects but the self-presenting of Jesus by His Spirit.”[23] The Eucharist, then, is the work of the Spirit in illuminating the hearts and minds of covenant believers to the centrality of Christ Jesus. The latter, in addition, formulates a prayerful dependence upon the Spirit’s work in accomplishing such feats. The sacred activity is not a prayer of command, but rather a request and petition in supplication. Robert P. Imbelli states, “Anamnesis and epiclesis form the heart of the Church’s eucharistic celebration and life: Christ and the Spirit together, both truly present.”[24] This notion, in turn, entails a perichoretic involvement to the ordinance itself. Kärkkäinen correspondingly asserts,

Therefore, the celebration of the Supper is much more than just “remembering” a deceased person. It becomes a spirited event where the celebrants rather than the elements are to be transformed into the image of the One who was crucified and rose from death through the power of the Spirit. The same Spirit effects in them the transformation.[25]

In addition, the Eucharist conveys and affirms continuously the covenantal bond that is embedded into the body of saints. As individual believers embark upon the ordinance itself, the corporate entity affirms such notions and, furthermore, distills grace by the Spirit through a collaborative faith.[26] The prospect of examination given by the apostle is instituted via the gathered assembly; that is, the table is not merely an individual supposition engaged through the whims of subjectivism but rather embodies a communal endeavor that asseverates a covenantal declaration (1 Cor. 11:28). Gordon D. Fee asserts that “Before they participate in the meal, they should examine themselves in terms of their attitudes toward the body, how they are treating others, since the meal itself is a place of proclaiming the Gospel.”[27] Thus, proper examination will secure and ensure that the eschatological judgement will not be rendered in the negative (1 Cor. 11:31). The corporate body, then, becomes an instrument in the hands of the Spirit to assure believers of their covenantal fidelity and, thus, communal inclusion into the body of believers.


Missiological Conclusion. Hmong animism is anchored upon spiritual bondage that is construed through familial notions. Feeding the spirits is a vital element to the shamanistic infrastructure.[28] Such practices are the basis between receiving blessings or imbuing curses. Sicknesses and illnesses can be inferred by the ancestral spirit when rituals and customs are not rendered to the appeasement of demonic forces. Conversely, the converted animist will find security in the confines of the covenant community through the supernatural safeguards instituted by the wisdom and providence of the covenantal Lord in sacramental ordinances. If its observance is Spirit fashioned, then the continual impartation of the ordinances will minister and secure the saints amid demonic temptation. The covenantal renewal instructs the corporate body to return to the cross, the anchor to which salvation is bounded in Christ Jesus Himself. Calvin gives a pastoral encouragement when he says, “Therefore, there is no doubt that all pious folk throughout life, whenever they are troubled by a consciousness of their faults, may venture to remind themselves of their baptism, that from it they may be confirmed in assurance of that sole and perpetual cleansing which we have in Christ’s blood.”[29]


Spiritual Oversight Upon the People of God:


The eschatological assembly, in God’s infinite wisdom, is a covenantal safeguard against demonic forces and worldly temptations that brim at the doorpost of every regenerate believer. Persons of animistic upbringings can find in the Gospel of Christ redemption from the domain of sin and darkness as well as a covenantal community that forges a built-in spiritual defense mechanism empowered by the Spirit of God. For it is the third Person of the Godhead who confers all the spiritual blessings purchased through the work and Person of Christ to those who have embrace covenantal union by faith (sola fide). Such giftings are not procured from a lesser deity, but rather are disseminated by His own divine nature to which He imputes and imparts the salvific remedy to the elect of God. Calvin, therefore, accentuates the ministry of the Spirit by saying, “Thus through Him we come into communion with God, so that we in a way feel His life-giving power toward us. Our justification is His work; from Him is power, sanctification [cf. 1 Cor. 6:11], truth, grace, and every good thing that can be conceived, since there is but one Spirit from whom flows every sort of gift [1 Cor. 12:11].”[30]


The Christian faith, then, can speak directly to the spiritual dilemma scourged in the animism of the Hmong cultural infrastructure. So-called spiritual consubstantiality expresses itself within household appliances and, further, demonic familial bondage which are remedied upon the work of Christ and the presence of His indwelling Spirit. Redemption in Christ Jesus, in turn, does not foster a neutrality in spiritual warfare, but rather garners a dominion overture which allocates giftings to covenantal children in waging a preservative front for kingdom fidelity.[31] Thus, covenantal categories are not only foundational to the renewal of regenerate minds, but are extremely practical in the outworking of Christian living. Consistent and proactive battle can be appropriated when the ecclesial life makes precedent a proper administration of the ordinances for the betterment of the people. The means of grace, then, when invariably dispensed nurtures the community of saints in being dependent upon the indwelling Spirit’s sanctifying work. The sign of maturity is not autonomy, but rather an ever-present reliance upon the covenantal Lord Himself. The indwelling presence of the Spirit, then, provides divine grace to garner such a disposition to the glory of God and for the good of His people.

 

***footnotes***

[1] The content of this article was taken with permission from an assignment from my doctoral seminar “Biblical Ecclesiology” at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

[2] I chose these two markers of a true church because they have been the talking points for the church historic. Church discipline was first added, according to Deusing, by Martin Bucer in the Strasburg Confession during the Reformational era. Though I find it necessary in the outworking of ecclesiology, I did not include it into the final analysis here because I wanted to focus upon, what I would deem as, the initial covenantal markers. In saying that, I would not categorize church discipline any less covenantal but, in turn, a rear guard in ecclesial life. See Jason Duesing, “The Church,” Historical Theology For the Church, ed. Jason G. Duesing and Nathan A. Finn (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2021), 236. In addition, I realize and am aware of modern and recent developments of markers for a sound biblical ecclesiology. See Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. 3rd ed. 9Marks. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. Another point of contention that I would like to briefly address is the idea that a proper understanding of ecclesiological oversight will eradicate demonic attacks. The author does not hold nor promote this notion, but rather would contend that the Word and the ordinances are a means to strengthen and protect saints; that is, demonic attacks may not cease but the saints through ecclesial engagement are strengthened to endure such incursions.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 4.14.1. See also Gregg R. Allison and Chris Castaldo, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 101-124. Allison and Castaldo helpfully mark out the different nuances as to the usage of terms between “sacrament” and “ordinance.” Though the author is empathetic to the sacramental language and, thus, understands the historical development between Catholicism, Lutheranism, and the Reformed tradition; I will use in this work (not necessarily when quoting Calvin or Bavinck) the verbiage of “ordinance.”

[4] Ibid., 4.14.5.

[5] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation. ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 479.

[6] Ibid., 473-477.

[7] Ibid., 474.

[8] Ibid., 475.

[9]Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.14.12.

[10] See Long Khang, Hmong Animism: A Christian Perspective (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015), 193-230.

[11] Ya Po Cha, An Introduction to Hmong Culture (Jefferson and London: McFarland & Company Inc., 2010), 142-143. See also Walton and Walton, Demons and Spirits in Biblical Theology, 233-234. Walton and Walton argue that we cannot infer all medical illnesses to demonic activity. “These passages are not intended to provide supernatural insight into the causes of diseases beyond what medical science [ancient or modern] could discover, because as far as the ancient world is concerned that is the medical science.” Either way, it is important to understand the animistic worldview while being tempered by a natural reading of the text. We should not fall toward either extremes—fanaticism or philosophical naturalism.

[12] See Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, CCT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996), 57-78. See also Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 449-460.

[13] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.15.15. See also 4.15.6. Though the author agrees with the nuances of Calvin’s baptismal engagement amid pneumatological regeneration, his conclusion for infant baptism takes the practice beyond the initial theological assertion. Thus, Calvin’s arguments will be rightfully stressed, but tempered toward a credobaptism posture.

[14] See Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, NAC (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2003), 193-197.

[15] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed. NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 411.

[16] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.15.13.

[17] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 1181.

[18] See Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 635-658. See also Horton, The Christian Faith, 778. Horton mentions the necessity of placing the sacraments/ordinances in their covenantal context rather than within a philosophical construct foreign to the Scripture’s worldview.

[19] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.4.

[20] Thomas R. Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews, BTFCP (Nashville, TN: Homan Reference, 2015), 103.

[21] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.3.

[22] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Toward a Pneumatological Theology: Pentecostal and Ecumenical Perspectives on Ecclesiology, Soteriology, and Theology of Mission (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 2002), 139.

[23] Ibid., 138.

[24] Robert P. Imbelli, “The New Adam and Life-Giving Spirit: The Paschal Pattern of Spirit Christology,” Communio 25 (1998), 251.

[25] Kärkkäinen, Toward a Pneumatological Theology, 140.

[26] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, 581.

[27] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, revised ed., PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 621-622.

[28] Khang, Hmong Animism, 215-219.

[29] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.15.4.

[30] Ibid., 1.13.14.

[31] Walton and Walton argue that the “combat exorcisms” within the narratives of the Gospels do not terminate upon the notion of what some conflict theologians would infer; that is, it is not primarily about an ontological battle between good and evil; right and wrong; light and darkness. Rather, these narratives, collectively, seek to showcase the messianic figure and the inbreaking of the eschatological epoch. Thus, a surge to engage in a “witch hunt” would be misinformed and misguided upon understanding the text. See John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton, Demons and Spirits in Biblical Theology: Reading the Biblical Text in its Cultural and Literary Context (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019), 233-248.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.