Friday, May 19, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday of Easter

If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:15–17)

He says: I will confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that you may always have Him with you to teach you the truth. He speaks of another Advocate, as of another instructor, a comforter. This is a doctrine for those in dire straits, because the Spirit, through His grace, will make the afflictions inflicted on them by people lighter. And, as a consolation, through His gifts, He will enable them to easily endure their afflictions. This is what actually happened. Indeed, the more His disciples feared death before, the more they rejoiced in tribulations after the descent of the Spirit. He calls Him “Spirit of truth” since He teaches nothing but the truth, nor can He ever change to the contrary in order to teach anything different from the truth. He says “another” in relation to Himself, for while He was among them, He certainly filled the same role for them. In addition they received from the Holy Spirit the confirmation of all those things that He had taught them when He was present. Thus our Lord said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in all Judea and among the Samaritans, and all nations.”

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on John

Monday, May 15, 2017

Profitable Posts

I have not posted miscellaneous links to worthwhile posts and articles for a spell. Here are a few that I have been saving.

Joe Willman reinforces the idea that songs effectively convey a message, whether truth or error, recommending the use of hymns in the home. (This is why I so strongly advocate the greatest discernment for music in corporate worship.)

In the same vein, Jeff Meyer offers his thoughts on who (and what) shapes our worship.

Concerning worship topics, Uri Brito has two posts. The first gives ideas for reintroducing the creeds to our worship where they are missing, and the second deals with the hard work of worship.

Jason Helopoulos, in an older piece recently sent to me, presents the rationale from a Reformed perspective for an element of corporate worship missing in most assemblies—a corporate confession of sin.

Michael Kruger offers a reminder and antidote for those occasions when someone says, “God told me…”

Finally, Michael Horton reminds us why we should pray for our city—and it has nothing to do with political ends.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:12–14)

Plainly now He, being Very God, says that He will accept exceeding readily the prayers of His own people, and will supply right gladly whatever things they desire to receive, meaning of course spiritual gifts and such as are worthy of heavenly generosity. And not as the agent of another’s benevolence, nor yet as promoting another’s kindness, does He say such things—but as, with the Father, having all things in His power; and as Himself being the One through Whom are all things, both from us to God, and to us from Him.… Notwithstanding, it is by the Father through the Son that all good things are accomplished for the worthy, and the distribution of the Divine gifts is made; through the Son, I say, not as accepted in the rank of a servant, as we have already explained, but as conceived to be Co-Giver and Co-Supplier, and moreover as being truly so. For the nature of the Godhead is one, and also is believed so to be. For although it is extended to Father and Son and to the Holy Spirit, yet it has no absolute and entire severance; I mean, into each of the Persons indicated. For we shall be orthodox in believing that the Son is naturally both of the Father and in the Father, and that the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, that is, the Holy Spirit, is both of and in the Father. So then, for as much as the Godhead of Their nature both is and is conceived of as One, Their gifts will be supplied to the worthy through the Son from the Father in the Spirit, and our offerings will be carried to God manifestly through the mediation of the Son: for no one comes unto the Father but through Him, as to be sure He also Himself fully confesses. So then the Son both has become and is the Door and the Way as well of our friendship as of our progress towards God the Father, and the Co-Giver as well as Distributor of His bounty, for as much as it proceeds from a single and common generosity. For one is the nature of the Godhead in the person and substance both of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And for as much as it was unwonted in a way with them of old time, and as yet foreign to their practice, to approach the Father through the Son, He teaches this also for our profit, and laying first in His own disciples a foundation as it were of the structure, He implants in them both faith in this and knowledge, and dispatches to ourselves instruction both how we are to pray and wherein lies our hope. For He promises that He will Himself give us what we ask in prayer—a proof of the Godhead in His nature, and of the royal authority inherent in Him.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 9.14.14

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fixing What's Broken

For awhile now, I have noticed the increase in the use of broken or brokenness in discussions on the condition of people’s health, families, relationships, etc. Even with the increased knowledge and insights of various scientific and humanitarian endeavors, the human condition continues on a continual path of disarray, deterioration, and destruction. In recent weeks I have heard a couple sermons rightly describing the multiple examples in John 11. Following the narrative, one is presented with several examples as experienced by those in Bethany—debilitating sickness, earnest longing, dwindling hope, followed by death, grief, lament, and finally resignation—all within the span of a week or so. Those examples and others like them throughout Scripture provide a rich resource from which to draw and describe sin’s devastating effects. That being stated, I have also noticed the increased trend to ignore the cause of brokenness. In other words, an otherwise well-crafted presentation pointing out our dysfunction and need for rescue never gets to the underlying cause.

Why would someone fail to mention the root cause of the problem? Is there no desire to effect real change? Is there no expectation that change can be effected? Perhaps the pastor is tempted to soften the immediacy and severity of the condition in order to appeal to a mixed group, thinking that believers do not need to be reminded of the cause, and believers will not accept the explanation. Or perhaps the pastor simply fears giving offense, which is so easily taken in this culture. Whatever the reason, the net result is that, in spite of any passionate offering of Jesus as Savior, the gospel, as defined in Scripture, is never actually given.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. (1Co 15:3–5)
Christ died for sin, so without conveying that part of the message, there is no gospel. While Jesus may be offered as a savior or the savior, in effect that Jesus merely saves from our circumstances and feelings, but not our sin. We are offered a good therapist, or a moral example to admire and emulate, not One who transfers from death to life and cleanses from all unrighteousness. In an attempt to be relevant, nothing of substance is offered. All are left to wallow in the mire of their sin.

Instead of a veiled or milquetoast presentation offered in a way that salves the conscience, better to be forthright and forceful to all concerning sin, righteousness, judgment, and abounding grace. Friedrich August Crämer, rightly understanding that the force of Law and Gospel is not to be softened or otherwise nuanced based on audience but delivered for full effect, said:
Preach the Word, which is the power of God! Picture in vivid colors the deep misery of sin, so that the hearers become alarmed at their sinful state. Then preach also the Gospel in all its sweetness, pointing the people to Christ crucified, so that they come to a living faith in their Savior.*
This he directed to believers that they be reminded of the depths of misery from sin and be spurred to share Christ as “givers who will not look on their contributions as great sacrifices, but who will thank God that they are considered worthy to help in the spread of the Gospel by which they have been saved.” Yes, all are to have their sin made apparent that repentance and refuge might be sought in Christ. May our pastors be so caring that the message goes forth boldly and clearly to deliver the cure.

*  Quoted in The Lutheran Pioneer, Vol. 31.8, August 1909.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Good Shepherd Lunette, Galla Placidia, Ravenna

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I shall not want. (Ps 23:1)

Having said in the psalm before this, “The needy eat and will be filled, and those who seek him out will praise the Lord,” and again, “All the prosperous of the earth ate and adored him,” here he suggests the the provider of such food and calls the feeder shepherd. This in fact is the name Christ the Lord gave himself: “I am the good shepherd, I know my own, and I am known by my own.”* It is also what he called himself through the prophet Ezekiel.† So here, too, all who enjoyed the saving food cry out, “The Lord shepherds me, and nothing will be wanting for me”: this shepherd regales those shepherded by him with enjoyment of good things of all kinds.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 23.1

* This reading comes from the Majority Text.
† Ezekiel 34:23.

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (Jn 10:7-10)

Them that have fled for refuge to His ruling care, and through patient endurance have mended their wayward ways, He calls “sheep,” and confesses Himself to be, to them that hear His voice and refuse to give heed to strange teaching, a “shepherd.” For “my sheep,” He says, “hear my voice.” To them that have now reached a higher stage and stand in need of righteous royalty, He is a King. And in that, through the straight way of His commandments, He leads men to good actions, and again because He safely shuts in all who through faith in Him betake themselves for shelter to the blessing of the higher wisdom, He is a Door.

So He says, “By me if any man enter in, he shall go in and out and shall find pasture.” Again, because to the faithful He is a defense strong, unshaken, and harder to break than any bulwark, He is a Rock. Among these titles, it is when He is styled Door, or Way, that the phrase “through Him” is very appropriate and plain. As, however, God and Son, He is glorified with and together with the Father, in that “at, the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Therefore we use both terms, expressing by the one His own proper dignity, and by the other His grace to us.

Basil of Ceasarea, On the Holy Spirit 7

Friday, April 28, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday of Easter

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Lk 24:25–27)

All things that are read from the Holy Scriptures in order to our instruction and salvation, it behooves us to hear with earnest heed. Yet most of all must those things be commended to our memory, which are of most force against heretics; whose insidious designs cease not to circumvent all that are weaker and more negligent. Remember that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both died for us, and rose again; died, to wit, for our offenses, rose again for our justification. Even as you have just heard concerning the two disciples whom He met with in the way, how “their eyes were restrained that they should not know Him:” and He found them despairing of the redemption that was in Christ, and deeming that now He had suffered and was dead as a man, not accounting that as Son of God He ever lives; and deeming too that He was so dead in the flesh as not to come to life again, but just as one of the prophets: as those of you who were attentive have just now heard their own words. Then “He opened to them the Scriptures, beginning at Moses,” and going through all the prophets, showing them that all He had suffered had been foretold, lest they should be more staggered if the Lord should rise again, and the more fail to believe Him, if these things had not been told before concerning Him. For the firmness of faith is in this, that all things which came to pass in Christ were foretold.… Whereby shall we believe, but by that whereby it was His will that even those who handled Him should be confirmed? For He opened to them the Scriptures and showed them that it was appropriate for Christ to suffer, and that all things should be fulfilled which were written of Him in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms. He embraced in His discourse the whole ancient text of the Scriptures. All that there is of those former Scriptures tells of Christ; but only if it find ears. He also “opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures.” From which we also must pray for this, that He would open our understanding.

Augustine, Homily on 1 John 2:12–17

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

From Which Well Are We Drinking?

Allen Cagle has posted a good piece, Should We Sing That Song? [HT: Glenn Chatfield], on gauging the appropriateness of a song for corporate worship. I have mentioned elements of the major points in the past, but I wish to consider “Association and History” (given little attention in the selection process) by using two songs that have recently become popular in corporate worship.

O Come to the Altar Resurrecting
Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

(Chorus x2)

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t He wonderful
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him
For He is Lord of all
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen

(Chorus x2)

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you've found
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now
The Savior knelt to wash our feet
Now at his feet we bow

The one who wore our sin and shame
Now robed in majesty
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see

(Chorus x2)
Your name, Your name is victory
All praise will rise to Christ our king

The fear that held us now gives way
To him who is our peace
His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me


(Bridge x3)
By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
Our God has robbed the grave

(Chorus x2)


The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

Setting aside the gratuitous repetition, what do we learn? In the left column we are presented a song asking if we are hurting, overwhelmed, or thirsting for satisfaction after bad decisions made in life. In other words, we are told that we need a good therapist. In order to be that therapist, Jesus shed blood and rose again, and when we feel bad for doing something wrong, there is a Father who wants to hug us and make us feel better. In other words, we are offered a warm, cozy feeling with the encouragement to offer worship and praise for feeling better. Oh, and we are asked to tell others they can feel better, too.

The right column the songwriter at least attempts to show a humbled, yet glorified Savior, but in questionable language. Jesus’ crown was rightly changed from thorns to glory, but He never washed our feet: The song is improperly placing us in the Upper Room account. Moving on, He indeed took our sin and shame and is now robed in majesty; however, the radiance of love is not in His exaltation, but rather His humiliation and the cross, even as the apostle Paul wrote:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Ro 5:8)
In addition, the bridge teaches a confusion of justification and sanctification by equating them in a gradual process akin to Eastern Orthodox theosis. Resurrection does not happen in stages: one is either alive or dead. Again from the apostle Paul:
And you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ep 2:1, 5)
Those in Christ are alive now, not being made alive. The process of spiritual enlivening is not prolonged or elongated, but an instantaneous and certain change from one state to another.

Songs communicate a message, and within the church the message must be true to Scripture. It is incumbent on the lyricist(s) to correctly convey what God reveals in His Word.

Why these two?

Some may wonder why I use these two songs in presenting my case. They come from the same source, Elevation Church, whose head pastor is Steven Furtick. That’s right, the Earl of Eisegesis himself is the teaching source for those writing this music. In fact, Furtick is listed on both songs as a lyricist. We can see how this is yet another example, along with Hillsong United, of bad lyrics derived from bad teaching, but dressed in catchy music and salted with enough correct wording to make it palatable.

The music and teaching of these havens of heterodoxy need to be avoided.  They make mockery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus and change the message of the cross in order to glorify the Christian—here by using the “rising from the ashes” phraseology like the mythical phoenix. No such thing is promised to the believer, but it fits the template of spiritual power and triumphalism being promoted by Steven Furtick and Brian Houston.

Christians are not the exalted ones. We are the despised and rejected, because our Lord was deemed so; and we are not greater than He.
Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
    We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Ps 44:22)
By singing music that comes from these sources, we are affirming a theology that is antithetical to all our Lord and Savior accomplished in Himself. These teachers and their followers present a distorted picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross for our behalf.

Lighten up, will you?

I am certain some will consider my comments to be overly harsh, especially for “Resurrecting,” since I already acknowledged some correct content. Had the songwriters used biblical concepts throughout, there would be no issue; but as certainly as someone would grow sick or die if drinking from a poisoned well, so would those suffer who imbibe at the fount of a corrupt teacher or network. Discernment is needed when choosing worship resources.

Brethren, too often we offer trifles by trying to enter where we do not belong, labor where we have no work, and exalt what is to remain abased. Instead of salving guilty consciences or engaging in self-glory, perhaps lyricists (and their consumers, the congregants) should keep their eyes on the One of whom all Scripture speaks and remember with David:
They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
    And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
    In Your light we see light. (Ps 36:8–9)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday of Easter

Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Christ Taking Leave of His Disciples
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace to you.” And having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:19–23)

As He gives the Spirit, Christ says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” even though only one who is by nature God has the power and authority to forgive sinners for their sins. After all, who could rightly grant pardon to others for their transgression of the divine law, except the one who gave that law? You may, if you wish, see the point of my statement from human affairs. Who has the authority to alter the decrees of earthly kings, and who tries to set aside the orders issued by decree and will of the rulers except someone who is invested with royal honor and glory? Only such a person cannot be accused of breaking the law. Wise is the saying, “Whoever says to the king, ‘You are a law-breaker,’ is insolent.”* In what way, then, and in what sense did the Savior clothe His disciples with an honor that belongs to the divine nature alone? The Word, who is in the Father, could not miss the mark of what is fitting; He was quite right to do this. He thought it was fitting that they who already had the divine and royal Spirit within them also have the authority to forgive and retain the sins of whomever they want, since the Holy Spirit dwelling in them forgives and retains sins according to His own will, even though the deed may be accomplished through human beings.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

*  Job 34:18

Friday, April 14, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Easter Sunday

But after the Sabbath, at the dawning toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, a great earthquake occurred; for an angel of the Lord, having come down out of heaven, came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards were shaken for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here! For He is risen, just as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord was lying.” (Mt 28:1–6)

Our Lord is one and the same Son of God and Son of man. According to both natures, divinity and flesh, He shows signs, now of His greatness, now of His humility. This is why in the present passage, though it is a man who was crucified, buried, and shut in the tomb, whom a stone holds back in opposition, nevertheless the things that are done outside show Him to be the Son of God: the sun takes flight, darkness falls, the earth quakes, the curtain is torn, the rocks split, the dead are raised, there are services of angels, which even from the beginning of His birth proved that He was God. … The guards are completely terrified with fear. They lie there stupefied like dead men, and yet the angels console not them but the women: “Do not be afraid.” Let them be afraid, he says. Panic persists in those in whom abides unbelief. But as for you, since you are seeking the crucified Jesus, hear this: He has been resurrected and has fulfilled His promises.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Learning from the Great Preachers

This morning, Pastor Christopher Jackson had a series of tweets on Twitter (@revcjackson) that I slightly edited for posting here.

Reading the great preachers of the past (Chrysostom, Nazianzus, and Luther, in particular), I’m struck by a few things. (Oh yea, should add Walther in there too.)
  1. Their preaching is guileless and straightforward. No cutting edge sermon forms. No gimmicks. No Fordean* manipulation of the congregation. They often just jump into the text, even going verse by verse to explain the text. Illustrations are there (Luther is one of the best at illustrations, actually!), but these illustrations are ministerial rather than magisterial. They serve the exposition of the text, which in turn governs the very outline and arc of the sermon. (Again, verse by verse is common!) This also makes sense given the preaching demand they had. Preaching a couple times a day, one doesn’t have time for slick intros, etc.
  2. They weren’t afraid to repeat themselves. They seemed to understand that the apprehension of truth requires hearing it again and again. This also goes for some of their illustrations. I keep finding Luther using the “God is a doctor making us well” illustration.
  3. They weren’t as strict as modern exegetes in their hermeneutical approach. They were faithful expositors, mind you. In fact, I think in some ways more faithful than many modern exegetes. But they weren’t tied to modern methods, which I think have a way of atomizing the Scriptures. (Which is the very opposite of the Sola Scriptura principle, btw.) This occurred to me when I was in seminary choir, btw. Singing Bach and other great composers, I realized that they were making exegetical connections within the Scriptures that were at the same time incredibly illuminating but also questionable if sticking to modern exegetical methods, strictly. God is an artist. I’m siding with Bach on these matters.
  4. They didn’t follow, any of them, not even Walther, a strict Law/Gospel outline. Even Walther would at times end his sermons with scathing Law, and yet, despite that, the Gospel predominates.
  5. They weren’t afraid of moral exhortation. Sometimes it wasn’t even related to the text at hand. My favorite example was a Chrysostom sermon I read recently. In it he laid out pretty simply the meaning of the text, and then he just goes on to say: “Some of you are usurers. This is not how Christians treat others. Cut it out.”  I gather by this that he became aware of an issue in the congregation and felt beholden to address it. Which leads to the final observation:
  6. They were aware of the spiritual needs of the people, and they addressed them. Preachers need to be in their shut-ins homes, in the nursing homes, in the prisons, aware of what’s going on in people’s lives. Even aware of what’s going on at the bar down the street. (This inspired several Luther sermons!)
*  A reference to the Radical Lutheranism of Gerhard Førde.