12 November 2008

The Fuller's Soap

by Frank Turk

So last week I tried to divert you from the fact that I owe you a conclusion to my series on daGifts by telling you that God loves you in spite of your attitude about the results of the last election -- and that goes for the ones who are elated as well as the ones who are deflated.

God loves you in spite of the election results.

But here's the thing -- if we stick to Malachi as a message to God's people about what He thinks about what they are doing and what they ought to be doing, He also says this:
"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
Now, we all get the "refiner's fire" thing, right? God is sending a "messenger", that is, the Messiah, the Anointed one, to purify Israel. Great -- purify is good.

But I think we have sung our Hillsong choruses so much regarding that phrase that maybe we don't get that God, though He loves Israel, is telling them that in order to receive His promise of a king who will redeem and save them, they need to be burned up like corrupt metal. They need to be purified the hard way.

So let's instead turn to the other phrase God uses there about what's about to happen to them: "He is like fuller's soap."

Now, what exactly is "fuller's soap"? We don't use such a thing today, so the phrase is rather arcane, and to understand what it means we have to go back to one of God's favorite topics: sheep.

When you shear a sheep, you get fleece -- raw wool. And as you can imagine, it smells and feels like a sheep does -- which, overall, is not how you want to look and smell (no offense to sheep). So to use the raw wool for anything, the fuller would handle the wool.

The fuller is the guy who takes the filthy, dirty wool and washes it so that it gets really white and clean. He uses boiling-hot water, and soap which is extremely caustic. So what he does to the wool is not pleasant for him very much, but it is in fact much worse for the wool. Often the wool would be beaten with rocks to really get the nasty smell, dirt, piece of farm debris, and non-wool stuff out of the fleece prior to spinning it into thread -- and then often it was done again to the thread when it was woven into fabric to make the cloth as tight and clean and presentable as possible.

So when God says that the Messiah is coming with "fuller's soap", He's not saying, "Jesus will make you wash your hands." he's saying, "you are disgusting and useless unless you are cleaned up by the Messiah."

So it's been a week since the election, and everyone has had their little catharsis regarding who won and who lost. Now it is time to break out the fuller's soap.

But listen to me: the fuller's soap is not for our nation. God didn't write Malachai to America. God wrote Malachi to Israel, and therefore we should see Him here speaking to the church. God is not bringing the fuller's soap to the U.S. Constitution: He's bringing it to you, and to your church. And the thing is that anything that's not pure wool is going to be scalded and bleached out, beaten out with rocks, and washed away.

What's going to be left if God brings you the fuller's soap?






54 comments:

jhubb546 said...

Why does this passage lead to applying to Church? I thought he was talking to Israel? a little help please...

thanks

josh

Chad V. said...

Because we are fellow citizens with the saints and in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. (Eph 2:19, Gal 3:28) nad if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise.(Gal 3:29). The salvation that comes to Israel comes also to the Gentiles. It's the same salvation, the same promises.

VcdeChagn said...

Why does this passage lead to applying to Church? I thought he was talking to Israel? a little help please...

I'm NOT Frank, and I did not sleep in a Holiday Inn last night, but I think it's because we've been grafted on. We don't REPLACE Israel (if Frank thinks we do, I'd be shocked) but we've been grafted in. So in many ways, but not ALL ways, God's promises to Israel apply to the Church as well.

Frank will come along and say it better, but there's a start.

And remember, this sort of thing (refining, etc) is reiterated in 1 Cor 3 and other places in the NT.

DJP said...

So... I'm a Jew, and a girl?

DJP said...

(That last to Chad)

Chad V. said...

Not a Jew according to the flesh but you are Abraham's seed. True Israel are those born according to the promise, not the flesh. Rom 9:6-8.

Chad V. said...

I know DJP. jhubb546's question has raised a fundamental difference between Dispensationalists and Reformed Christians.

DJP said...

Wanting to stay on Frank's good side, and not further contribute to the derailing his meta (—though, Lord knows, he's done it to me often enough!) I bite back my instant response until my tongue bleeds.

Phil Johnson said...

jhubb546: "Why does this passage lead to applying to Church? I thought he was talking to Israel? a little help please..."

I'm not Frank or as smart as him, either, but the point he was making is not really complex, and it doesn't hinge on any particular eschatalogical scheme or novel hermeneutic. The point, simply, is that the fuller's soap was for the people of God, not the pagans who were a threat to them. "Judgment must begin at the house of God" 1 Peter 4:17. God always purifies His people before He judges their enemies.

So there's no need to turn this thread into a referendum on dispensationalism and Reformed doctrine. That's off topic for this post.

tomgee said...

I always thought we should have an alternate version of the Hillsong chorus. My old NIV translated the term as "launderer's soap", so my version of the chorus went:

Launderer's soap
My soul's only hope
is to be...
...bubbly.

Brandon Scuba Quest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SolaMommy said...

"But I think we have sung our Hillsong choruses so much regarding that phrase that maybe we don't get that God..."

Good call. And thanks for the explanation on fuller's soap...makes the passage a lot clearer.

Frank Turk said...

Let us praise God that we are not dealing in Eschatology today.

:-) Nice try, DJP. (-:

However, the point here is simple, as Phil has already noticed: when God is worried about who needs cleaning up, He's not focused on how filthy the Persian empire is: He's looking at His people and how much they need Him -- and that His care looks, frankly, like what goes on in a metal shop or in a fuller's boiler room than it does like what goes on (for example) at the mall or at the coffee shop.

We have to get over the idea that God's care for us in this present world looks like the nursery at church. It looks a lot more like a foundry or a furnace.

Daryl said...

I've found that following American blogs is helpful to maintain the nation vs. church distinction simply because I'm Canadian.
So when an American applies verses like that to America I see right through it, after all, what interest would I have in America being God's nation?
The funny thing is, in Canada, you hear the same sorts of things, about Canada.

Anyhoo, great post Frank. And your comment in the meta about God's care for use looking like a foundry rather than a nursery...graet great reminder.

olan strickland said...

Good post Frank!

And as Phil pointed out - "Judgment must begin at the household of God." This is one of my main beefs with "Christians" attempting to legislate morality through the government before they ever submit to God's government in the church. How can we impose God's standards on the courthouse when we will not abide by them in the church?

Chad V. said...

"The point, simply, is that the fuller's soap was for the people of God"

That was precisely my point. I simply offered the scriptures that show that both Jew and Gentile are one in Christ and there is no difference. If we are the poeple of God we are the people of God whether it be Enoch, Moses, David, Paul, Tychius, or Dan Phillips.

bugblaster said...

I like this illustration. Going to use it.

atruefaith.com said...

"And the thing is that anything that's not pure wool is going to be scalded and bleached out, beaten out with rocks, and washed away."

This begs the question regarding the church: What, if anything, will be left?

Good article, Frank.

Brad

Chad V. said...

Christ will purify His church, His people, He will do it by His righteousness. He will present us to the Father spotless and blameless, pure in the righteousness of Christ.

That's what the text is pointing to.

Chad V. said...

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matt 3:11

Frank Turk said...

Olan:

Exactly. We want to outlaw Gay marriage, but we can't seem to actually make marriage inside the church live up to the vow "what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder".

Why bother with the former if we are going to do the latter?

witness said...

Good point chad v, but the fire is for the chaff not the wheat.

Stephen Newell said...

You just broke my sermon block this week. Immediately proceeding to a study of this passage in preparation of preaching this Sunday. That's why I call you Mr. Turk. Thank you. ;-)

David said...

Thanks, Frank. There are a lot of songs that commit us to a truth we'd hesitate to sing about if we really thought about it. But that's probably a good thing, since we're commanded to teach and admonish another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

donsands said...

Some very good words. Thanks.

I remember seeing an old film, "The Fuller Brush Man', with Red Skelton. It was a great flick.

Not sure if his fuller is the same kind of fuller though.

Frank Turk said...

Stephen Newell --

You'll of course send the appropriate love offering for the spiritual jump-start.

:-)

olan strickland said...

Why bother with the former if we are going to do the latter?

Frank, that's a great question that we all need to consider. Have we forgotten that God purifies from the inside out and not from the outside in? Surely we should not only practice what we preach but we should also practice before we preach (see Ezra 7:10).

Frank Turk said...

Let's keep in mind that we should preach as we reform our practice -- but we -must- reform our practice.

witness said...

Frank you said this:

"The fuller is the guy who takes the filthy, dirty wool and washes it so that it gets really white and clean. He uses boiling-hot water, and soap which is extremely caustic."

Should the Christian be concerned if there seems to be a lack of this kind of purifying cleansing?

Frank Turk said...

witness:

My one-word answer would be "yes".

Do I think that means everyone who is a Christian should be 100% perfect, because it doesn't.

witness said...

Don't you think that is where the danger lies in the seeker sensitive movement? It seems so much of it is geared towards not experiencing those things.

I guess I believe God uses hardship, mistakes, and hard painful scrubbing to conform us to the iamge of Christ Jesus.

Frank Turk said...

There is much more far worse in the seeker-sensitive movement than this, but I would say that this is a massive flaw in evangelidom: that somehow our Christian life is supposed to be -easy-, and that God takes away hardship because you love Jesus.

That concept is wholly-absent from the NT, let alone the OT.

Johnny Dialectic said...

What about all the "your best life now" stuff? Soft soap, that's the way to sell Christianity. You want to thin the ranks or something?

Phil Johnson said...

More proof that soft-soap won't cut it.

Chad V. said...

You're not supposed to drink the soft soap.

Stefan said...

It's time for a gratuitous comment that my avatar is an allusion to Romans 11:24.

Judgement comes first to the house of God...and even (or especially) if we think we don't it, we need it, if for no other reason than to learn to always maintain a repentant relationship with our Lord and Saviour.

***

At first, it was hard to square the apparently disparate reactions of Phil, Frank, and Dan to last week's election. But as time has progressed, the points of commonality between all three of you are becoming clearer, and I for one am benefiting from the multi-dimensional view that's getting fleshed out.

Stefan said...

...So thank you.

And Chad's got his comments so far bang on. One of my greatest pleasures in coming to faith in Christ was learning that we, both Jews and Gentiles, are fellow heirs in Christ, saved by the grace of God alone through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Tom Chantry said...

...I would say that this is a massive flaw in evangelidom: that somehow our Christian life is supposed to be -easy-, and that God takes away hardship because you love Jesus.

"Must I be carried to the skies
On flow'ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

"Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

"Sure I must fight if I would reign:
Increase my courage, Lord;
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by thy Word."

Quoting the incomparable Isaac Watts: "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?"

dac said...

Why bother with the former if we are going to do the latter?

made me think of Matthew 7:1-5 this am when I first read this post.ovity

JustJan said...

Thanks Frank. This was on my list of things I was going to tackle this week.

donsands said...

Red Letter Ministries actually has a fairly orthodox faith statement, and yet I've never seen such insanity.
Actually, it was cracking me up. But in reality, it's quite sad.

I suppose even Satan can have a decent statement of faith, and still have unconverted disciples.

"or you receive a different spirit which you have not received" 1 cor. 11:4

Phil Johnson said...

Donsands: "Red Letter Ministries actually has a fairly orthodox faith statement, and yet I've never seen such insanity."

Yeah, I'd love to see someone who is a hard-core contextualizer of the sort who have been defending the use of smutty words and images in the pulpit assess the "apostolic birdie," and tell us what's wrong with it.

Warning: the guy on that video makes vulgar hand signals. I would not link to it at all, but he is quite serious, and, frankly, this seems to me the next logical step in reaching subcultures "where they live."

It's from the "tokin' the Ghost" cult, who think it is a ministry of the Holy Spirit to make people act like burnt-out potheads.

. . . kind of a convergence of every sinister pomo and charismaniac trend into one glorious (?!) sect of doper-wannabes.

Phil Johnson said...

I should mention that the guy on that video is Brandon Barthrop, the founding "minister" of that group. Calls himself an "apostolic pirate."

You're going to think he is attacking Christianity in a blasphemous way when you first see the video.

And he is, but not in the way it seems at first. He claims to be a Bible-believing minister of the gospel.

Rick Frueh said...

A great post. Especially:

"and that goes for the ones who are elated as well as the ones who are deflated."

Let not your hearts be troubled...

donsands said...

"the apostolic birdie"

That's so far out of bounds he's not even in the ball park.
I also watched the one where his pet fish was blessed with a gold tooth, and it's a sign from the Holy Spirit.
Man, this is nuts.

But perhaps the Lord will be a "refiners fire" to this so-called minister of the gospel. Or open his eyes to see his ignorance.

Frank Turk said...

Phil:

I have read, listened to, and watched many things that I know are wrong and have been saddened by their errors.

I think this is the first time since I started talking about the faith on the internet in 1998 that I have been deeply and angrily offended. That video ... the fuller's soap will not be enough.

That was actually painful to watch.

Phil Johnson said...

Well, I did make a strong warning that it was offensive.

It's the blasphemy of it that angers me, not the obscene gesture per se.

But as to the question of why I linked it: This guy is serious; and he is influencing people and gathering followers who also take him seriously. Read the comments on the video and other comments from people at his YouTube page.

Here's the deal: if you buy the postmodernized notion that we can't really know what's true and therefore should never say definitively that anyone else is wrong; and if you accept all the arguments made these days about why it's OK for preachers to be vulgar and talk about smutty things from the pulpit in the name of "contextualization"--in short, if Ephesians 5:4 does not even rule out bathroom humor about Jesus' humanity--then I cannot imagine what possible argument anyone could make against this dude's antics.

I have no doubt that for the most part, even hard-core pomos would find this guy offensive and they would blow him off. I'm just suggesting that if they really believed their own premises, there is no rational reason for them to do so.

And it's quite clear from the comments on his videos that lots of people have figured that out already, so they accept him. A few of them actually believe he is some kind of prophet.

This kind of thing does seem to me the next logical step on the trajectory the evangelical fringe have been traveling for at least two decades.

Sorry to hijack the thread. I'm prolly in danger of being banninated for a rule-4 violation, huh?

Brad Williams said...

Frank,

I loved this post. I was so moved by it, I was trying to think of a way to sort of steal it and re-post it at my blog. Then I followed Phil's video link. I'm sitting there going..."Whaaat?" Did you get the bit about Ezekiel?

And where do you suppose he got that hat? Not even James White would wear something that ridiculous.

Frank Turk said...

No way -- burninated maybe, but never banninated.

BTW, it was the blasphemy that wore me right out. I won't be starting a fan club for him at my blog.

Frank Turk said...

For the record for all:

You go ahead and steel my posts and repost them on your blogs. just link back to the place you stole it from when you do that.

Andrew Faris said...

Hey Frank,

Any chance you could throw a post up that has links to the whole series on the gifts? I'd like to read it from the start but I can't find where it started. Many thanks.

Andrew

jhubb546 said...

thanks for answering my questions


josh

QueenKnitter said...

Uh . . . Actually, that's not "fulling." That's scouring, teasing, and picking.

"Fulling" is something entirely different -- something done far after the wool has been cleaned, carded, spun, and woven or knitted. Fulling is similar to felting -- taking an already woven or knitted item and washing it in hot, hot water with soap until it shrinks and becomes more dense and water-resistant.

Why does it matter in this discussion? Because the Church is not a piece of junk that God is currently washing clean. He's already done that!! No, the Church is the process of being changed into something new. From a large, floppy knitted cap into a Stetson hat!

Frank Turk said...

I would bow to your superior interest in this subject, QK, except for two things:

[1] The distinction between "fulling" and "scouring" is only the state of the wool, not the process which by which the wool is treated. In a wholly-technical sense, the fuller treats fabric and not raw wool -- I grant that. What the fuller does is get the wool from an undesirable state of uncleanness to a desirable state of cleanness -- hence, the comparison to a refiner's fire here in Malachi.

[2] At no time in history has either Israel or the church been without the need for purification. True: the church is justified and therefore has no sin-debt to pay. But the present church has the problem of being full of sinners -- some of them saved, and some not so much. That is, there are unbelievers in the church.

When the refiner's fire comes -- or when the fuller brings his soap -- it's to take away everything that is not pure, leaving only the pure behind.

That is Malachi's message to Israel, and the church we should heed it well.