Counsel of Chalcedon
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1996 Issue 1

I will not forget the year 1970 when Dennis Johnson, Roger Wagner, and Greg Bahnsen, three friends from Westmont College, first joined us at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. They drove all the way from California to attend our Prospective Student Conference; the next fall they enrolled as first-year students. Their seminary years were a memorable time for me as a teacher, even something of a golden age, as I think back on it. Beside the Westmont Three, there was Vern Poythress, now Professor of NT at WTS, Wayne Grudem, who recently published a Systematic Theology, John Hughes, who earned his doctorate at Cambridge and is now a leading expert on the use of computers for theological study, Tiina Allik, who doctored at Yale and has taught theology, and several other future theological scholars. That was an exciting time at Westminster.

I grieve that we will not be able to hear any more of those debates, or to see to what extent he was really able to teach students his practical apologetic. It's certainly hard to imagine why God would have taken him when he may have been on the verge of making a major impact in the field of theological education here in the United States, in the former Soviet Union where he lectured to the leaders of society, indeed, potentially all over the world. I do hope that work will go on. For one thing, I would urge his colleagues and friends to look through his hundreds of tapes and articles to publish more volumes of his work. Greg considered carefully almost every theological and apologetic issue there is, and he did valuable work in church history and exegesis. As a fellow laborer in the field, I deeply wish I had Greg's thinking - in all these areas - at my fingertips.

Few sad events in my life have struck me as hard as the December 11, 1995, death of Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, my teacher, mentor, and friend. I had long known of his congenital heart defect and his increasing health problems. But I had seen him, by the grace of God, weather many physical storms over the years. Now, however, God in His all-wise providence has called Greg home to glory.

As a believer in the sovereign Christ of Scripture whom Greg loved and whose will he vigorously promoted I have to remind myself that Paul's testimony in Philippians 1 has two sides, both being glorious. In applying Paul's comments to Greg's untimely departure, my immediate thoughts and hopes were on the one side: to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (v. 24). Greg's continuing ministry had been so significant in my own personal spiritual growth and pastoral ministry and not just mine but many, many others. Consequently, I had to struggle to recognize the greater truth for Greg himself: to be with Christ is far better (v. 23). Greg has now heard those glorious words of Christ: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

I first met Dr. Greg L Bahnsen on the phone. I was emerging from a rather rigid conception of the supposed dispensational structure of God's revelation and dealings, attempting to grasp that most capacious of all religions, the Reformed faith. I was hungry for truth. My chosen method in the pursuit of it was to contact people who had a reputation for understanding it and then "bother" them until they explained it to me.

I want to say a few words of thanksgiving to God for the testimony and service of Greg Bahnsen as a churchman. Humanly speaking, I would not be a Presbyterian or a pastor today if it had not been for Greg's commitment to the visible, institutional church and its Christ-appointed ministry.

Greg was a dedicated and loyal Protestant - a Presbyterian - and an Orthodox Presbyterian. He believed that the Reformation had restored the church - as well as her doctrine to the pattern intended by Christ and set forth in the New Testament. But he also believed that many questions about the doctrine of the church and its life and ministry were being posed afresh in our day and needed contemporary biblical answers. In his lectures and writings he addressed such topics as the biblical necessity of church membership, the marks of the church, the validity of Roman Catholic (and apostate modernist) baptism, the practice of church discipline, and many other subjects both practical and theoretical.

It pleased God, in the mystery of His providence, to raise up a doubly-gifted man, in the person of Greg L Bahnsen, for the benefit of His people in this generation. That same mysterious providence also purposed to call that servant home at an early age. "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Robert E. Lee, a man acquainted with such mysteries, observed: "The truth is this; The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding is so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often tend to see only the ebb of the advancing war and are discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope."

Over the past three years, I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Greg Bahnsen at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies. Though his passing weighs heavily upon me, a sense of great rejoicing floods my soul; for Dr. Bahnsen's teaching ministry was Christ's gift of love to his Church. Through him, our Lord wooed us to the truth that sets us free from sin and death into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. He warned us against ethical relativism, cultural irrelevance, and doctrinal laxity. Dr. Bahnsen's voice was nothing less than a clarion call from the Lord of glory to remember our first love by returning to the faith of our fathers. As Dr. Bahnsen has now joined the ranks of the Church triumphant we must examine the lessons he taught us and take them to heart. This is the only response that we can make to such a wonderful gift from our Savior.

And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, [the good under-shepherd] shall receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

On Monday, December 11 at approximately 4:15 PM, Dr. Greg Lyle Bahnsen died in St. Joseph's Hospital from heart failure, six days after he had surgery on his dysfunctional aortic valve. On that day the church of Christ lost one of her great leaders, his four children lost a loving father, his parents lost their first born, and his friends lost a warm and loyal companion. On that overcast December day I lost my pastor, the man who watched over my soul.

Once again Luke does not tell us the time and place of this healing of the paralytic man. All he tells us is that it happened "one day." Mark puts this incident early in the ministry of Jesus, 2:1-3:6, and: Matthew places it in Capernaum after the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, 8:28. Luke places this healing incident here to give us another example, along with Peter and the healed leper, of a humble person receiving help from Jesus.