Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hallowed be Your name

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  (Mt 6:9)

This is, indeed, somewhat obscure, and not expressed in good German, for in our mother-tongue we would say: Heavenly Father, help that by all means Your name may be holy.  But what is it to pray that His name may be holy?  Is it not holy already?  Answer: Yes, it is always holy in its nature, but in our use it is not holy.  For God’s name was given us when we became Christians and were baptized, so that we are called children of God and have the Sacraments, by which He so incorporates us in Himself that everything which is God’s must serve for our use.

Here now the great need exists for which we ought to be most concerned, that this name have its proper honor, be esteemed holy and sublime as the greatest treasure and sanctuary that we have; and that as godly children we pray that the name of God, which is already holy in heaven, may also be and remain holy with us upon earth and in all the world.

But how does it become holy among us?  Answer, as plainly as it can be said: When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian.  For since in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty always to deport and demean ourselves as godly children, that He may not receive shame, but honor and praise from us.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism III.36–39

Friday, February 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Crispin de Passe, engraver - Story of Jonah, Plate 5

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.  Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.  (Jonah 3:5-10)

These things, beloved, we write unto you, not merely to admonish you of your duty, but also to remind ourselves.  For we are struggling on the same arena, and the same conflict is assigned to both of us.  Therefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling.  Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us.  Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.  Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him.  Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved.  Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were aliens [to the covenant] of God.

Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians 7

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Word Is Near You

Christians feel the tension between a proper relationship of trust and obedience, of faith and works.  On the one hand, we have clear instruction that the righteous live by faith (Hab 2:4; Ro 1:17); while on the other, there are clear eternal penalties for not obeying the Lord (Joh 3:36; 2Th 1:8; He 5:9).  The tendency is to uphold one side of the faith–works coin to the detriment of the other; and while a two-headed coin may be suitable to win a wager, it has no effect in spiritual matters.

“Moses Speaking to the Children of Israel” - Henry F. E. Philippoteaux
Many, if not most, Christians have the misplaced notion that anything before the Cross was salvation and redemption by works of obedience.  Nothing could be further from the truth: Moses made this clear.  After delivering blessings of faithfulness, curses for faithlessness, and blessings for repentance, he comes to the end of his teaching with a summary statement, See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil (De 30:15), followed by the only alternatives they can take.  He explains that obedience and good works flow from trust in the Holy One of Israel, whereas disbelief and disobedience lead to destruction.  We can better see the relationship of alternatives by breaking the summary paragraph apart:
Life and good:
If you obey the commandments of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God that I command you today, by loving the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  (De 30:16)
Death and evil:
But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.  You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.  (De 30:17–18)
The path of life might cause one to think that God will bless simply by following His rules: in other words, I can work my way into God’s good graces—health and wealth is mine—lending itself to the perception of works righteousness.  The way of death, however, offers the corrective: if your heart turns away, and you will not hear…. The Septuagint helps clarify by translating the beginning of verse 16: If you hear the commandments of the Lord your God…. This is not to say that one can simply listen to Scripture being read or a sermon be proclaimed and instantly be righteous as a result.  That would be like fusing together the tail sides of the previously mentioned coins—again, suitable for deception but otherwise worthless.  The problem in our understanding of Moses’ instruction comes from the English translation.  The intent is to convey the two-fold meaning of hearing and heeding, so that the comparison given by Moses is not action versus inaction, but faithfulness versus faithlessness.  When Moses entreats the people to obey, he has the idea of actively clinging to the entirety of God’s revelation to His people and allowing it to be worked out in their lives: they hear with the intent to do.

Moses did not lay this on the people in a surprise fashion at the end.  He had begun his discourses with the same message, though stated differently.
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them.  (De 5:1)
Literally speaking, Moses instructed the people to take heed so that they might keep the commandments to do them.  And it was not out of a sense of burden that the people would do this.  Moses reminded them of the unique covenant that God made at Horeb: they were the recipients of this treasure—not Abraham, not Isaac, not Jacob, but this great people.  They experienced what great things the Lord had done, and though the people feared the Lord’s presence while the Ten Commandments were proclaimed, He was pleased by their initial desire to hold fast.
And the Lᴏʀᴅ heard your words, when you spoke to me.  And the Lᴏʀᴅ said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you.  They are right in all that they have spoken.  Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”  (De 5:28–29)
Moses brought the nation to a moment of decision.  He implored them to choose God because He was their life that would be manifest in a three-part manner: loving the Lord…, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him (De 30:19; see also De 5:32).  Devotion did not serve to win the Lord’s favor or gain the Promised Land: these they already had.  Instead, the people were to live out their calling and relish the blessing in believing His abundant promises, in order that they and future generations might enjoy the blessings of the covenant relationship (De 5:33; 30:20).

The combination of hearing and doing is brought out wonderfully in Psalm 119, which demonstrates the heart and intent of the grateful follower in relation to the Scriptures:
Blessed are the blameless in the way,
    who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who search out His testimonies;
    they shall search for Him with their whole heart.
For those who work lawlessness
    do not walk in His ways.
You have commanded us regarding Your commandments,
    That we should be very diligent to keep them.
Would that my ways were led,
    that I may keep Your ordinances.
Then I would not be ashamed,
    when I regard all Your commandments.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, with an upright heart,
    when I learn the judgments of Your righteousness.
I shall keep Your ordinances;
    Do not utterly forsake me.  (Psalm 119:1-8)
The psalmist begins with an attention to blessing on those who cling to the law of the Lord.  His desire is to always receive the commandments and meditate on them so that they would lead his steps.  The verbs might cause the reader to think this is a difficult task, but the life of faith is not arduous.  Moses had told the people that no courageous or audacious effort was necessary: only believe and follow the Word of God you have been given (De 30:11-14).  Paul picks up the same theme and words in relation to Christ: all that is necessary has been accomplished (Ro 10:6-10).  Take hold of what Christ has accomplished for you: trust and walk in it.

And what does the phrase mean, “The Word is near you?”  It means, “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 even if you do not intend to cross so much as the threshold, you may  be saved while you sit at home.  For “in your mouth and in your heart” is the source of salvation.  And then on another score, he also 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.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans XVII

Friday, February 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Now the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ.  Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.  And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk.  Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  (Jonah 3:1-4)

For with respect also to the fact that He destroyed all men in the flood, with the exception of one righteous man together with his house, whom He willed to be saved in the ark, He knew indeed that they would not amend themselves.  Yet, nevertheless, as the building of the ark went on for the space of a hundred years, the wrath of God which was to come upon them was certainly preached to them: and if they only would have turned to God, He would have spared them, as at a later period He spared the city of Nineveh when it repented, after He had announced to it, by means of a prophet, the destruction that was about to overtake it.  Thus, moreover, God acts, granting a space for repentance even to those who He knows will persist in wickedness, in order that He may exercise and instruct our patience by His own example; whereby also we may know how greatly it befits us to bear with the evil in long-suffering, when we know not what manner of men they will prove hereafter, seeing that He, whose cognizance nothing that is yet to be escapes, spares them and suffers them to live.

Augustine, On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed 19.32

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Theology and Doxology

Domenico Gargiulo, “David before the Ark of the Covenant”

Theology and doxology are inseparable.  Praise of God and faith in Him must spring from speaking about God using the Word of God.  The Word's own claims of power unto salvation drive us to confess the truth of the word that we obediently convey to the world in the discipline of theology.  The Word of God is never a dead letter, rather being spirit and life, it gives life and salvation to us who are dying and by nature damned sinners.

Who, when granted such a salvation, would not break forth in paeans of glory to the God who becomes man for our sakes in Christ?  Who would not praise the one who breaks the darkness?  Who would not offer prayers to honor the God who debases Himself in our Lord Jesus for our sakes?  Theology that does not echo in prayer and praise to God is not theology but self-babble, the blather of those confined to theological navel gazing.  It is an abuse of the word theology when it is not also doxology.

Praise of God also admits the true limits of theological talk.  What God has said we may repeat.  What God has not said, we may not say.  It is neither theology nor doxology to speculate about what God has not revealed in these last days by His Son.  True praise of God thus also includes faithful acceptance of the limitations that God has placed on us to distinguish us from Him.  He knows all.  We do not.  He reveals some things about Himself to us, others He has not.  We speak of what we know.  We remain silent when we do not.  Like rests are music, silence may also be eloquent praise too.  Our speculations about God must be made in silence, that God only may be praised.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray

Friday, February 3, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Pieter Lastman, “Jonah and the Whale”
Then Jonah prayed to the Lᴏʀᴅ his God from the belly of the fish.  He said:
I called to the Lᴏʀᴅ out of my distress,
    and He answered me.
Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and You heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me.
All Your billows and Your waves
    passed over me.
Then I said, “I am cast away
    from Your sight;
yet I will look again
    to Your holy temple.”
The waters encompassed me; even to my soul
    the deep surrounded me;
    weeds were wrapped around my head.
I went down to the foundations of the mountains;
    the earth with its bars was around me forever;
yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
    O Lᴏʀᴅ my God.

When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered the Lᴏʀᴅ;
and my prayer came to You,
    into Your holy temple.

Those who follow vain idols
    forsake their true loyalty.
But I will sacrifice to You
    with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
    Salvation is of the Lᴏʀᴅ!
Then the Lᴏʀᴅ spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon dry land.  (Jonah 2:1-10)

Finally from these depths, Jonah who was set in the whale’s belly and had entered hell alive, spoke to the Lord with silent vehemence.  The whale was a house of prayer for the prophet, a harbor for him when shipwrecked, a home amid the waves, a happy resource at a desperate time.  He was not swallowed for sustenance but to gain rest; and by a wondrous and novel precedent the beast’s belly yielded up its food unharmed, rather than consumed by the normally damaging process of digestion.  Jonah bears witness to this in his book when he says, “And the Lord commanded a great fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights,” and the rest.  In that same passage he recounted his prayers as well with prophetic truth.  What an outstandingly and wholly glorious repentance, a humility that experiences no fall, grief that rejoices people’s hearts, tears that water the soul.  Indeed this depth, which conveys us to heaven, has no inkling of hell.  So observe the power of holy prayer, believing as it does that it must be heard the more quickly, the deeper the depths from which it cried to the Lord.  So finally there follows, “Lord, hear my prayer,” for those who have buried themselves in the bowels of holy humility are all the closest to the Highest.  Thus when he prayed from the depths he quickly gained the gifts of the highest Redeemer.

Cassiodurus, Exposition on Psalm 129

Friday, January 27, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”  Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.  Therefore they called out to the Lᴏʀᴅ, “O Lᴏʀᴅ, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lᴏʀᴅ, have done as it pleased you.”  So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.  Then the men feared the Lᴏʀᴅ exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lᴏʀᴅ and made vows.  And the Lᴏʀᴅ appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  (Jonah 1:12-17)

The sailors and the passengers…do not know the reasons why the prophet, a fugitive servant, deserved to be punished.  And yet they justify God and acknowledge the blood of him whose deeds they do not know to be innocent.… They do not question the justice of the judgment of God but acknowledge the veracity of the just Judge.

Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2.23

Now when we take the blessed prophet as a type of the ministry understood in Christ, there is need to add that the whole world was at risk and the human race was affected by the tempest, as if the waves of sin itself were raging; the dire and insufferable pleasures were overwhelming it, corruption impending in the form of a storm, fierce winds buffeting it—namely, the devil and the wicked powers subject to him and working with him.  When we were in this situation, however, the Creator had pity, and the God and Father sent us the Son from heaven; He took on flesh, arrived on earth even when it was at risk of tempests, and willingly went to His death to make the storm abate, allow the sea to become calm, settle the waves and put an end to the storm; by the death of Christ we were saved.  The tempest abated, the rain passed, and waves settled down, the force of the winds diminished, deep peace then prevailed, and we enjoyed fair weather of a spiritual kind, since Christ has suffered for us.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Jonah

Friday, January 20, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

“Jonah and the Whale” by Carlo Antonio Tavella
 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the L
ᴏʀᴅ.  He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lᴏʀᴅ.… So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?”  For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.  (Jon 1:3, 9–10)

But, as I have learned from a man skilled in these subjects, and able to grasp the depth of the prophet, by means of a reasonable explanation of what seems unreasonable in the history, it was not this which caused Jonah to flee, and carried him to Joppa and again from Joppa to Tarshish, when he entrusted his stolen self to the sea: for it was not likely that such a prophet should be ignorant of the design of God, viz., to bring about, by means of the threat, the escape of the Ninevites from the threatened doom, according to His great wisdom, and unsearchable judgments, and according to His ways which are beyond our tracing and finding out; nor that, if he knew this he would refuse to co-operate with God in the use of the means which He designed for their salvation.   Besides, to imagine that Jonah hoped to hide himself at sea, and escape by his flight the great eye of God, is surely utterly absurd and stupid, and unworthy of credit, not only in the case of a prophet, but even in the case of any sensible man, who has only a slight perception of God, Whose power is over all.

Gregory Nazianzen, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, Oration 2.107

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Christification by Jordan Cooper – Book Review

Cooper, Jordan.  Christification: A Lutheran Approach to Theosis.  Eugene, Ore.  Wipf & Stock, 2014.  142 pp.

Jordan Cooper’s purpose with this book is to bring light to the little-understood doctrine of theosis that has its basis in Scripture and is promulgated in both the Eastern and Western Church in different forms.  Cooper begins by defining theosis—no mean feat since these two branches differ in their understanding.  However, this foundation is necessary, first, because many in the Western Church have not heard of this doctrine, and second, because the believer needs to understand God’s active, sanctifying work.

The next chapter covers theosis in the Lutheran tradition.  Here, the author makes the case that Christification or theosis was taught as a Lutheran doctrine from the 16th into the 21st centuries.  One would expect such a chapter since the author is a Lutheran pastor writing primarily to Lutherans on a doctrine with which Lutherans should have familiarity, since the concept is brought up in Martin Luther’s teaching and the Lutheran Confessions.  A host of historical authors are cited, making the chapter a bit difficult to follow, because I wanted to know more background of each man cited.  For those who know Lutheran history, this should be a profitable section.

The author wants to begins his look at New Testament usage with 2 Peter 1:3–4.  In order to do so, he spends time defending the Petrine authorship.  I am uncertain this is necessary in view of his intended audience, but it does not detract from his argument as he looks to both Luther and Calvin for Reformation-era input on this passage.  From there he moves into the Pauline and Johannine writings to establish the doctrine.  I am not convinced of the latter’s use, however, Paul seems to present a theological case with his consistent view of communion and unity with Christ.

Cooper finishes with two chapters drawn from patristic sources.  The first draws on the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists.  I am familiar with these writers and found his explanations of their thought to be accurate.  For example, Ignatius understood suffering with Christ and allowing that function to have its perfect work in him.  Alternatively, Irenaeus and Athanasius seem to have understood the interplay between God and man as accomplished by Jesus’ incarnation.  The last chapter looks at Neo-platonic thought in the writing of Dionysius the Areopagite, which is foundational to the Orthodox understanding of theosis.  Cooper does a good job in describing this view of the doctrine and making it understandable to the reader.

Overall, the book presents the doctrine of theosis well, but I pass along two areas of possible concern.  The first is the density of citations: I had trouble following the lines of reasoning when checking unfamiliar authors.  The second is the lack of a concluding chapter.  While there is a conclusion at the end of each chapter, a final chapter dedicated to this purpose would have been a benefit.  Those minor things aside, I can recommend this book even if you are not Lutheran.

And if I might be allowed a bit of whimsy:

Best book I’ve read all year—but, then, it’s only mid-January.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Jonah the Prophet – Byzantine icon
Now the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”  (Jnh 1:1–2)

In my view, then, the God who knows everything had the beneficial intention of demonstrating even to the ancients that people who were quite alienated and caught in the toils of deception would also be attracted in due course to the knowledge of the truth, even if quite desperate, stubborn, and completely in the grip of impenitence.  The word of God, you see, is quite capable even of succeeding in forming attitudes and persuading people to learn the things that make a person wise.… It was therefore not without purpose that the divinely inspired Jonah was sent to the Ninevites; rather it was for him to be a kind of harbinger of God’s inherent clemency, which is bestowed even on people led astray by ignorance.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Jonah