Thursday, August 21, 2014

Don't Work for What Is Offered Freely

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom 10:8-10)

And what does the phrase mean, “The Word is near you?” That is, It is easy. For in your mind and in your tongue is your salvation. There is no long journey to go, no seas to sail over, no mountains to pass, to get saved. But if you are not minded to cross so much as the threshold, you may even while you sit at home be saved. For “in your mouth and in your heart” is the source of salvation. And then on another score also he makes the word of faith easy, and says, that “God raised Him from the dead.” For just reflect upon the worthiness of the Worker, and you will no longer see any difficulty in the thing. That He is Lord then, is plain from the resurrection. And this he said at the beginning even of the Epistle. “Which was declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). But that the resurrection is easy too, has been shown even to those who are very unbelieving, from the might of its Worker.

Since then the righteousness is greater, and light and easy to receive, is it not a sign of the utmost contentiousness to leave what is light and easy, and set about impossibilities? For they could not say that it was a thing they declined as burdensome. See then how he deprives them of all excuses. For what do they deserve to have said in their defense, who choose what is burdensome and impracticable, and pass by what is light, and able to save them, and to give them those things which the Law could not give? All this can come only from a contentious spirit, which is in a state of rebellion against God. For the Law is onerous, but grace is easy. The Law, though they dispute never so much, does not save. Grace yields the righteousness resulting from itself, and that from the Law likewise.

John Chrysostom, Homily XVII on Romans

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Now Is the Favorable Time, the Day of Salvation

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,
    “In a favorable time I listened to you,
        and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  (2 Cor 6:1-2)

“The acceptable time.”  What is this?  That of the gift, that of the grace, when it is appointed not that an account should be required of our sins nor penalty exacted; but besides being delivered, that we should also enjoy ten thousand goods, righteousness, sanctification, and all the rest.  For how much toil would it have been proper to undergo in order to obtain this “time!”  But, behold, without our toiling at all it has come, bringing remission of all that was before.  Therefore also He calls it “acceptable,” because He both accepted those that had transgressed in ten thousand things, and not merely accepted but promoted them to the highest honor.  Just as when a monarch arrives, it is a time not for judgment, but for grace and pardon.  Therefore also He calls it acceptable.…  It is a day of grace, of grace divine, therefore with ease even we shall obtain the crown.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Corinthians 12.1

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is Your Theology of Worship Scriptural?

Recently, Daniel Block has written a book aimed at recovering a proper theology of worship.  I have not purchased it yet, but if this quote from a Baker Book House blog post is an indicator of the contents, the book should be near the top of your wish list.

A number of years ago I preached in a large church with three Sunday morning services.  I shall never forget when, at a transitional moment in the service, the “pastor of music and worship’ declared to the congregation, “Now, before we continue our worship, let me read a passage from Colossians 3”—as if reading and hearing the Scriptures are not exercises in worship.

This restricted notion of worship is common in our day and is reflected in the ubiquitous labeling of CDs as “praise and worship” music, the specification in church bulletins of the singing period as “worship time,” and the identification of musicians on the pastoral staff as “worship ministers” or “ministers of worship arts.”  In fact, the worship industry tends to equate worship not only with music but with a particular type of music: contemporary praise.

These practices raise all sorts of questions, not only about the significance of other aspects of the Sunday service (prayer, preaching, testimonials, etc.) but also about religious rituals in the Bible and the Scriptures’ relative minor emphasis on music in worship.  Not only is music rarely associated with worship in the New Testament but the Pentateuch is altogether silent on music associated with tabernacle worship.  All of this highlights our skewed preoccupation with music in the current conflicts over worship. (xi)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Trinity in Isaiah's Vision

I have been reading the Bible regularly for almost 40 years, and the surprises keep coming.  While reading a book this past Monday, an author pointed out a fact of scripture I had read before but never connected on my own: the Trinity is found in Isaiah’s vision.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim.  Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts;
    the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts!”  (Isa 6:1-5)
Adonai is sitting on the throne in grand splendor and majesty above whom seraphim are ascribing holiness and glory and identifying as YHWH.  He is the Lord God—ruler of heaven and earth and redeemer of Israel.  Isaiah recognized that he could not behold God and live (Ex 33:20), so he fears for his very existence, but the Lord upholds and cleanses him.  After being consecrated, Isaiah receives a message to deliver to the people of Israel:
Go, and say to this people:
    “Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
    keep on seeing, but do not perceive.”
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.  (Isa 6:9-10)
The question to ask at this point is: Who or what did Isaiah see?  From his point of view, he saw YHWH in resplendent glory.  God the Father, first member of the Trinity, can rightly be said to be the source of the Trinity, in that he is the one who begets the Son and sends the Holy Spirit, but not so that the Son and Holy Spirit have a beginning, since they are all three co-equal and co-eternal.  Of this one we can rightfully say he is the “one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6) and “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:3).

In the gospel bearing his name, The apostle John recounts additional information of Isaiah’s vision as he comments on the unbelief that Jesus met during his ministry:
Though [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe.  For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.  (John 12:37-41)
We see that the one Isaiah saw seated on the throne in the temple was none other than Jesus, the Son of God and second member of the Trinity, in a theophany (i.e., pre-incarnate form).  His is the form seen seated on the throne.

What of the message itself?  Who delivered it?  Again, according to Isaiah the message to deliver came from YWHW, however the apostle Paul directs us more specifically:
And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
‘Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
        and their eyes they have closed;
        lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”  (Acts 28:25-28)
Notice that the message was authored and actively communicated by the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, and whose glory can also be said to be seen by the prophet as Ambrose states in his treatise On the Holy Spirit: “It is, then, the Spirit Who sent Isaiah.  If the Spirit sent him, it is certainly the Spirit Whom, after Uzziah’s death, Isaiah saw” (III.21.160).

We can see from Isaiah's vision both the distinctiveness and interconnectedness of the three persons of the divine Trinity.  When interacting with one, the interaction is with all.  To say that Isaiah saw and heard one member of the Trinity does not contradict another writer of scripture testifying that a different member was involved, for all three were present in the call of Isaiah and the delivery of the judgement message.  When one acts, all act.  Thus the three persons of the Godhead worked (and work) in unity as Gregory of Nyssa summarized:
And that “in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead,” the mighty Paul attests: yes, moreover, through the prophet Isaiah it is attested, as to the manifestation of the Divine appearance entrusted to him, when he saw Him that sat “on the throne high and lifted up;” the older tradition, it is true, says that it was the Father Who appeared to him, but the evangelist John refers the prophecy to our Lord, saying, touching those of the Jews who did not believe the words uttered by the prophet concerning the Lord, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”  But the mighty Paul attributes the same passage to the Holy Spirit in his speech made to the Jews at Rome, when he says, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet concerning you, saying, Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand,” showing, in my opinion, by Holy Scripture itself, that every specially divine vision, every theophany, every word uttered in the Person of God, is to be understood to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Against Eunomius, II.14

While researching this post, I quickly noticed how many over the centuries had made the same connections.  No new thought materialized, but the exhilaration of the truth coming to light in my head made my day.  The lesson to be learned: continue reading your Bible, and let the Holy Spirit bring these to light, not by virtue of placing yourself in the Bible but allowing God to speak for himself through his Word.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Beware the Well-Dressed Idol

You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore.  The like has never been, nor ever shall be.  You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.  And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them.  (Ezek 16:16-18)

If we mutilate and rip to pieces these multi-colored garments and beautiful cloaks, which God has bestowed on us, and wrap them around false teaching in order to deceive people, there is no doubt that we are covering idols* with multi-colored garments.  Look at … a defender of whatever heresy you like, and consider how he clothes his idols, that is, the fictions which he himself has composed, with gentleness and chastity, so that his words, ornamented by the goodness of his way of life, may creep more easily into the ears of his audience.  And when he has done this, understand that he has taken up a multi-colored garment of excellent habits and lifestyle and has thrown it over the idols which he himself constructed.  And in my opinion, at least, the heretic with a good way of life is much more harmful, and has more power in his teaching than does the one who brings disgrace on his teaching by his lifestyle.  For one who lives a wicked life does not easily attract people to his false doctrine, and is not beguile the naïveté of the audience by means of a shadow of sanctity.  The one who is corrupt in his discourse and contrary to salvation in his teachings, but has well-ordered and adorned habits, is doing nothing other than receiving the multi-colored clothing of good practices and a tranquil lifestyle and putting them around his idols, the better to beguile his audience.

Therefore, let us painstakingly beware of heretics who have an excellent lifestyle: perhaps it is not God but the devil who has taught them their way of life.  For just as bird-catchers put out certain enticing bait, in order to catch birds more easily through an appeal to the pleasure of their palates, so also, so to speak a little audaciously, there is a certain chastity that belongs to the devil, that is, a snare for the human soul, so that through chastity and gentleness and righteousness of that kind he may be able to catch more easily and trap them in the net of false discourses.  The devil fights using diverse kinds of stratagems, in order to destroy the wretched, and he grants a good way of life to the wicked so as to beguile the spectators, and thus he brands a bad conscience into the good.

Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, Homily 7.3.1-2

* See Crafting Idols from Eisegesis and Prooftexts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Crafting Idols from Eisegesis and Prooftexts

You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.  (Ezek 16:17)

[T]he “vessels of exultation,”* about which Moses wrote in Numbers—the incense-pans, the libation-bowls, the golden lampstand, the ark overlaid in gold with gold inside and outside, and so on—“you took” and melted them down, and “you made masculine likenesses and fornicated with them.”  According to the allegorical interpretation, however, the passage will be explained in this way: The golden and silver vessels, that is, the incense-pans, the libation-bowls, the golden lampstand, and so on, are what we have in the sacred writings; therefore, when we twist the meaning of Scripture into another meaning, which is contrary to the truth, we melt down the divine words and change the things of God into other likenesses.  If we do this, we have fallen into the sin which Jerusalem had now committed.  The vessels of our exultation are the Law and Prophets; we exult over these; in these we are raised up.  But when we expound them in a way different from the truth, we transform the vessels of our exultation from the rational silver and the perceptible gold, which God has given to us, and we are making for ourselves masculine images, and fornicating with them.

Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, Homily 7.2

*  Origen is using the words of the Septuagint which relate to “beautiful jewels” of verse 17.  These are the vessels in which the people justly gloried because they were given by God’s hand.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Copy That!

In radio speak there is a phrase, “Copy that!” to inform the broadcaster that you received the message.  Maybe that should be used by church leaders in response to God.  What do I mean?

There is a prescribed ancient practice that should be undertaken when recognized for spiritual oversight of a local assembly.  As Moses addresses the people of Israel before crossing over into the land of promise, he gives instructions to kings recognized over the people.  As first order of business upon coronation, the king
shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.  (Deut 17:18-20)
This is a remarkable requirement: the king is to make his own copy of Torah to read and study.  Moses’ instruction appears to state that “he king himself copy the covenant out by hand to impress it more deeply upon his memory.”*  Israel, as a nation called of God, was to be distinct from other nations in its administration,† therefore the administrative head needed to be on top of what He requires.  Since the king was not required to understand the minutia of Levitical practice, only the book of Deuteronomy would need to be copied, as it sufficiently summarized all the Lord required of the his people.

Of course, we cannot directly equate the king of Israel to the pastors or overseers of a local assembly, but the practice of hand-copying a document would cause the message to be instilled into the copier’s life.  There is no way the message could not have an affect.  Our overseers (plus deacons and any other teachers) should do the same.

You may ask why I would want a New Testament leader to write out the book of Deuteronomy.  First, the Pentateuch is the foundation of the Bible.  If our leaders do not know those five books intimately, they do not understand the purpose of the church as the Body of Christ and how it functions.  Those books are basic.  Second, I do not trust those in position to study it on their own, or if they do, that it be done properly.‡ Although these men may be otherwise trustworthy, they are still susceptible to sin and skirting sound doctrine.

This is a taxing requirement, but God’s people are to be led and served by those who can rightfully handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:2), and speak/serve in the strength as God supplies (1 Pet 4:10-11).  They need to know the basics of the Bible, and such a practice would help.

*  Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy, 180 .  He continues that this may simply be ordering the ruler to makes sure scribes create a copy for him, however the force of the language seems more pointed.
†  J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy, 295.
‡  If a

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Making It Personal

Churches increasingly have became personalized and specialized.  Congregants are subdivided into common groups to cultivate specified devotional forms.  Music has changed from interaction between pastor, congregation, and choir (if available) to exclusive use of trained artists as the congregation watched because the typical layman did not know the songs or could not sing the increasingly difficult arrangements.  Worship is increasingly viewed as a personal act.  Drama is introduced to visualize Bible lessons.  A subjective level of personal contrition is deemed adequate to expiate for sin, rather than actual confession.  Jesus is increasingly humanized in order for the congregants to more identify with his life and suffering.  Aspects of worship are geared toward the emotions of the individual.

When time period describes this major shift in worship?  Is it the Church Growth or mega-church movement?  Is it the Charismatic or Pentecostal revivals?  Is it the Second Great Awakening?  No, this is the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.  In Christian Liturgy, Frank C. Senn has a chapter laying out the deterioration of worship.
The liturgy of the church was not developed as a vehicle for personal devotion but as the public celebration of the faith of the church.  Liturgy was breaking down in the Middle Ages precisely because it was being used as a means of exercising personal piety or of expressing a subjective religiosity. (236)
Now stop and consider.  The contemporary evangelical church is becoming increasingly Roman Catholic in practice, and then we wonder why our local assemblies are bereft of substance.  Or worse, we don’t wonder at all.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Messenger and Message Seem Correct, But Are They?

Among several podcasts heard and blogs read, I come across many telling of men and women claiming to receive direct revelation from God for revelation to a person or group.  These messages have characteristics deemed necessary to qualify as a Spirit-delivered utterance: vision or dream state, sensed or seemingly-audible voice, physical sensation, unidentifiable messenger, and an audacious, generic message.  The “prophet” delivers a questionable message bolstered by a mixture of Bible proof texts and theological-sounding phrases recognizable to the hearer.  If the message comes from a spiritual messenger, credence and authority are automatically assigned by both “prophet” and audience, completing the deception.  Hucksters have long used their gift of rhetoric to fool crowds, but when a message is received from a spiritual source, how can it be properly evaluated, especially when the content closely aligns with scripture?  The book of Job gives a helpful example.

Job has just completed his great lamentation against the day he was born, after which Eliphaz the Temanite responds with what he considers to be an iron-clad argument that Job must have great, hidden sins for which repentance is required.  Part of his argument involves a spiritual visitor and the message received:
Now a word was brought to me stealthily;
        my ear received the whisper of it.
Amid thoughts from visions of the night,
        when deep sleep falls on men,
dread came upon me, and trembling,
        which made all my bones shake.
A spirit glided past my face;
        the hair of my flesh stood up.
It stood still,
        but I could not discern its appearance.
A form was before my eyes;
        there was silence, then I heard a voice:
“Can mortal man be in the right before God?
        Can a man be pure before his Maker?
Even in his servants he puts no trust,
        and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
        whose foundation is in the dust,
        who are crushed like the moth.
Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
        they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
        do they not die, and that without wisdom?”  (Job 4:12-21)
Assuming Eliphaz was actually confronted by this apparition and not inventing a tale, was the messenger sent from God or another source?  We know from other biblical texts that the appearance of an angel causes fear and awe (Luke 1:12, 29; Rev 19:10), so the sensation experienced would not be uncommon for such an occasion.  Similarly, the message is consonant with a scriptural view of man in his sinful condition: before a holy and righteous God, man has no standing within himself and can do no more than cry out to the Almighty in repentance, which Eliphaz counsels afterward (Job 5:8-16).

Even with these marks of divine authenticity, there are two particular elements that should cause the reader to reconsider.  First, the spiritual messenger does not identify himself, nor does Eliphaz offer one.  A quick check of similar appearances shows that the heavenly visitor was known by all involved, and though the initial meeting caused turmoil to the recipient, reassurance and respect were offered to help the person receive what was given.  Eliphaz’ account of the visit tells us nothing was offered but fear and dread.

Second, though the message is correct in what is delivered, the messenger does not offer the hope of remedy: there is no hope of falling on the Lord’s mercy and grace.  Eliphaz offers the solution himself outside the context of the visit, but the entity had no such words.  This is not how the Most High works.  Throughout redemption history, God has offered the hope of the gospel (see Gen 3:15; Rev 21:6) and has been patient with his creation that they might come to repentance.

From what Eliphaz described, we can conclude that the messenger was from Satan.  It came to tear down Job, cause him to look inward for rescue without turning to the Lord for peace and restoration.  This tactic is used today by the enemy to lead well-intentioned preachers and teachers to deliver misguided, even damnable, messages to His sheep.  We are told to clean up our messes, when in fact the Lord would forgive them freely through the completed work of Jesus for that sin on the cross.  We are told that not enough is being done, when in fact, there is nothing more to do but live in the light of the gospel.

Be wary of correct-sounding but error-ridden teaching.  Evaluate the content with an open Bible, not an open mind.

Friday, July 25, 2014

God Is Patient That We Might Repent

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  (Psa 86:15)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)

If God was quick to punish, the church would not have gained Paul, it would not have received one so great and noble.  For this reason, then, He deferred dealing with him while he was committing blasphemy in order to receive him when he was repenting.  God’s patience made the persecutor a preacher.  God’s patience made the tax collector an evangelist.  God’s patience had mercy on all of us, changed all, altered all.  If you see that someone who was once a drunkard has now [become] someone who fasts, if you see that someone who was once a blasphemer has now [become] a theologian,* if you see that the man who once stained his mouth with shameful songs is now purifying his soul with divine hymns, look with amazement on God’s patience, and praise repentance, and, taking it up from this change, say, “This change is from the right hand of the Most High.”†  While God is good to all, to sinners he shows his own patience to a special degree.  And if you want to hear a strange tale—strange with regard to what is customary, but true as regards piety—listen.

God appears [to be] altogether burdensome to the just, but mild to sinners and swift to kindness.  He raises up the sinner who has fallen and says to him, “Does the man who falls not rise?” or “Does not the man who turns away turn back?”‡  And, “Why did the foolish daughter of Judah shamelessly turn away?”§  And again, “Turn to me, and I will turn to you.”‖  And in another place he confirms with an oath the salvation that comes from repentance because of his great benevolence.  “‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘I do not desire the death of the sinner as much as that he turn and live.’”¶  To the righteous man he says, “If someone acts in all righteousness and all truth, and then turns and sins, I will not remember his righteousness, but he will die in his sin.”Δ  He thus uses diverse and various means in his planning, not changing himself, but advantageously distributing the dispensations of his goodness.

Severian of Gabala, On Repentance and Contrition, II.1-2

*  θεολόγος, God-speaker
†  Psalm 77:10
‡  Jeremiah 8:4-5
§  Jeremiah 8:5
‖   Zachariah 1:3
¶  Ezekiel 33:11
Δ  Ezekiel 18:24