Friday, May 22, 2015

A Declaration of Faith

There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son.  There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal.  And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all.  There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged.  Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything super-induced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced.  And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever.

A Declaration of Faith, Gregory Thaumaturgus

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

We Brought It Onto Ourselves

Many have commented on the recent survey from Pew Research Center on the dramatic rise of the religious group that are “Unaffiliated” or “None.”  I full understand the concern for this shift.  One Facebook acquaintance lamented that a major reason for people leaving is because God handed them a bad break in life, and they failed to remember that God always works good to His own (Rom 8:28).  The truth of that promise is eternal, so what is the problem?

For decades the three major denominational wings cited in the study (Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic) have worked to be as inclusive as possible while acknowledging some identifying distinctive.  Entrance into these groups became increasingly easy as the identifying marks of what constituted Christianity were watered down or set aside so as not to impede free access.  Doctrinal statements were relegated to antiquity or the curio cabinet as relics of history, while by-laws were interpreted individually or changed in accord with the whim of societal norms.  The only draw was an increasing appeal to social conscience toward those outside or amusements for those within.  What enduring appeal remained constant came from the family bond from one generation to the next, though this waned with increased mobility.  They became groups having no other purpose of gathering except for a generally comfortable acceptance of one another while sharing the same building and governance.  We should not be surprised by the exodus.

Having been part of the Evangelical community for most of my life, I can see the downward trend.  We have largely moved away from preaching Law and Gospel in view of a thrice-holy God.  While faithful men continue to preach Christ and Him crucified, an increasing number are delivering up a God who desires to salve consciences and ease life’s turmoils.  He is painted as a deity who will do anything and everything for you.  Not only do preachers continually promote this combination demi-god/BFF, but all avenues of media are involved.  Whether print, audio, or video, Evangelicals (some in name only) are in high gear promoting the deity that will deliver the goods.  You might say we are being played as welfare recipients waiting for our weekly allowance with preachers and denominational headquarters reaping the rewards.*  The previously mentioned acquaintance should not have been surprised by those who thought they got a raw deal.  With so little substance being delivered, why would they stay?

Is a trend reversal possible?  Can pastors begin leading their congregations in the paths of righteousness once again?  Indeed, but it requires a shift from cultural Christianity to one biblically based, though this would be akin to a tugboat with multiple fully-loaded barges performing a U-turn.  Some will leave because of the reclaimed apostolic witness, but better the offense be from the Gospel rather than over a church program or social justice promotion.  Some may even think turning attention to the whole counsel of God will be boring, but Scripture rightly proclaimed and manifested in baptism and the Lord’s Supper is anything but.  Better to suffer for righteousness’ sake and doing good wherein is blessing (1 Pet 3:14, 17).

* I am painting with a broad brush, but in a discussion of trends that happens.  Our own pastor has thus far stayed clear of the trending currents and not been swept away, but no man is without his weakness (see Acts 20:28-30).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where Does God Reveal Himself?

Have you noticed that there is no end of nonsensical teaching coming from men and women who should know better?  I speak of seminary-trained individuals who have been instructed in all things biblical, yet jettison sound exegesis in order to promote their whims and passions.

This item came from the fertile field of Blackaby Ministries International (BMI).  (By fertile, I mean overgrown with weeds.)  In the devotion for May 14th:
“So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10 NKJV)

The servant carries out the master’s will. The servant doesn’t tell the master what to do. The servant does not choose which tasks to perform for the master, nor does the servant suggest days or times when it would be convenient to serve the master. The servant’s function is to follow instructions. The master, on the other hand, gives directions. The master does not tell the servant to develop a vision that will guide the master. The master is the one with the vision; the servant’s task is to help fulfill the master’s purposes.
I agree with the comments to this point.  The attitude of the servant is foremost in the verse selected.  The servant always puts the master’s will first.  In the next paragraph, matters begin to go offtrack:
We are the servants; God is the Master. We tend to try to reverse this! God’s revelation of Himself, His purposes, and His ways depends directly upon our obedience.
No.  God has revealed Himself in spite of our obedience.  He condescended and enabled to allow sinful men to transmit His holy and eternal Word.  Had He not done so, Scripture would not have been given or written down.  Continuing the paragraph:
He may not reveal today His intentions for the next five years, but He will tell us what our next step should be. As we respond to God’s revelation, He will accomplish what He desires, and He will be the One who receives the glory.
Here we see the underlying assumption of the devotion: God continues to reveal Himself and His will through our experiences.  This assumption is problematic since there is neither direct instruction nor from the Lord nor apostolic practice indicating that He works in this manner.  Many will appeal to the Holy Spirit’s leading in the following passages:
  • Acts 8:29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”
  • Acts 10:19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.
  • Acts 11:12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.
  • Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
  • Acts 16:6-7 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
  • Acts 20:22-23 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
  • Acts 21:4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
  • Acts 21:11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
The above interactions are too often deemed mystical in nature and typical for every Christian.  Such is not the case.  As to normalcy, notice that the instances were to direct the course of an apostle or was accomplishing an apostolic task.  In the latter case, Philip was not sent to proclaim the gospel to an African people, but instead was sent to an individual who would carry the gospel to his people.

Concerning mysticism, there is no reason to believe that strictly supernatural means were used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the task.  In the selection of Matthias, an appeal was made to the Lord for His direction when the lot was cast, trusting the Lord for making a selection, relying on the truth of Proverbs 16:33:
  • Acts 1:24-26 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Nor does an occasion of the Spirit speaking indicate that only the third Person of the Trinity was communicating the words. Late in his ministry, the apostle Paul :
  • Acts 28:25-27 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.’”
Notice that the quoted passage is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, but in Isaiah 6:9-10 to YHWH. Is this a mistake by Paul in speaking or Luke in writing? No, rather the Holy Spirit’s work in the delivery of Scripture is in the inspiration regardless of where and when that occurs. During Isaiah’s vision, the entirety of the Godhead was involved in delivering the message. We can then conclude that the Spirit’s speech, as recorded in the book of Acts, was the revelation of God and intended to be Scripture. If so, the communication was intended for canonical use and would not be ongoing phenomena.

The BMI devotion continues with:
Our fulfillment comes from serving our master.

The world will encourage you to strive for positions of authority and power. God wants you to take the role of a servant. As God’s servant you should have no other agenda than to be obedient to whatever He tells you. God does not need you to dream great dreams for your life, your family, your business, or your church. He simply asks for obedience. He has plans that would dwarf yours in comparison (Eph. 3:20).
Our fulfillment comes in Christ.  While we have good works prepared for us to perform and walk in, we do so not in order to be fulfilled, but because we have been fulfilled.  Christ has qualified us to share in the inheritance (Col 1:12) and has made us complete in Christ and empowered us to fulfill the law of Christ (Ro 13:10; Ga 5:13-14; 6:2).

There are some who wish to take our eyes of the Bible wherein God has revealed both Himself and His will.  It is from there that our Lord has chosen to make Himself known, and that is the most certain place to understand His designs.  If we walk in such a way as to place talismans and diving rods in order to discern the move of the Spirit, we miss the freedom we have to live life in obedience to Christ in the fullness of what He has so freely and abundantly given.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pray for the Persecutors Too

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.”  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.  (John 15:18-21)

O greatest, O Supreme Creator of things invisible!  O You who are Yourself unseen, and who are incomprehensible!  You are worthy, You art truly worthy—if only mortal tongue may speak of You—that all breathing and intelligent nature should never cease to feel and to return thanks; that it should throughout the whole of life fall on bended knee, and offer supplication with never-ceasing prayers.  For You are the first cause; in You created things exist, and You are the space in which rest the foundations of all things, whatever they be.  You are infinite, unbegotten, immortal, enduring forever, God alone, whom no bodily shape may represent, no outline delineate; of virtues inexpressible, of greatness indefinable; unrestricted as to locality, movement, and condition, concerning whom nothing can be clearly expressed by the significance of man’s words.  That You may be understood, we must be silent; and that erring conjecture may track You through the shady cloud, no word must be uttered.  Grant pardon, O King Supreme, to those who persecute Your servants; and in virtue of Your kind nature, forgive those who fly from the worship of Your name and the observance of Your religion.

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.31

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gnostic America by Peter Burfeind – Book Review

The sub-title of this book is: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion according to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy.  Peter Burfeind has accomplished that by identifying Gnostic traits and following the movement of this heresy as it was vigorously opposed and suppressed in the early church, through to emergence during the Reformation and Enlightenment, then coming to full bloom in modern manifestations both politically (fascism, communism, and nazism) and religiously (Liberalism and Neo-Evangelicalism).

The interplay between political and religious elements was fascinating.  Early on, the close ties of Church and State suppressed gnostic ideas from becoming a force.  As this barrier began to crumble across Europe and into the U.S., gnostic thought flourished and became more ingrained in the psyche of whichever society had as its head a leader adhering to the principles. Gnostic traits would then seep into the Church causing multiple splits, as more and more splinter groups sought (and seek) to work toward the utopian “other” not bound by the strictures of any specific doctrine or practice.

Especially disheartening is the role of Anabaptists in fomenting gnosticism.  Most of my Christian years have been spent in this part of Christendom, and it causes me to question some of the truths I learned, while reinforcing what had already been changing in my mind.  In addition, the author shows how music has been used to subvert the Church from within, leading to the current state of Contemporary Christian Music and its use in worship.  Western Christianity needs a “gut check,” and this book can do it.

A great deal of research and analysis went into this work, and it is written at an academic level.  I was glad for my previous reading of Irenaeus which gave me background to follow, as the author traced the movement and pointed back to the early heresy.  The reader needs to keep the gnostic traits and the spirit entities in relationship while going through this, but the reward will be a solid understanding of how Western Civilization got to this deplorable state.

There are some proofreading errors in the text, but nothing prevents comprehension.  All in all, this is definitely worth reading.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Give Me a Soapbox!

Praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!

I will give thanks to the Lᴏʀᴅ with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lᴏʀᴅ is gracious and merciful.  (Ps 111:1-4)

Would that it were allowed me to deliver this argument with the whole world formed, as it were, into one assembly, and to be placed in the hearing of all the human race!  Are we therefore judged guilty before you with an impious religion, and because we approach the Head and Pillar of the universe with worshipful service, are we to be considered—to use the terms employed by you in reproaching us—as undesirable godless?  And who would more properly bear the odium of these names than he who either knows, or inquires after, or believes any other god rather than this God of ours?

Do we not owe to Him this first, that we exist, that we are said to be men, that, being either sent forth from Him, or having fallen from Him, we are confined in the darkness of this body?*  Does it not come from Him that we walk, that we breathe and live, and by the very power of living, does He not cause us to exist and to move with the activity of animated being?  Do the causes not emanate from Him, through which our health is sustained by the bountiful supply of various pleasures?  Whose is that world in which you live, or who has authorized you to retain its produce and its possession?  Who has given that common light, enabling us to see distinctly all things lying beneath it, to handle them, and to examine them?  Who has ordained that the fires of the sun should exist for the growth of things, lest elements pregnant with life should be listless by settling down in a stupor of inactivity?

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.29

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cultural Pressure: Stand or Fall?

On April 7th, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a piece proclaiming that conservatives have lost the culture war on same-sex couples and are foolish for continuing to push “discriminatory” religious freedom laws.  We, as a society, have allegedly become more enlightened concerning same-sex relationships, and conservatives need to get over themselves.
Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.  At this point, either one will do.
Major organizations—media, professional bodies, corporations—approve the agenda, so it must be correct.  Now go away.  As Americans, we are not accustomed to this, because there had formally been a free exchange of ideas in this country.  Open, and often heated, debate among individuals, but increasingly, the West has eschewed individualism for a populist or fascist collectivism.  But this is really nothing new.

During the early centuries of the Church, the prevailing political and religious organizations were condemning and abusing Christians, because they refused to accept or approve of decadent cultural norms.  These early believers were met with opposition like that related by Arnobius of Sicca in Against the Pagans wherein the Christians are accused of practices contrary to society:
You follow profane religious systems, and you practice rites unheard-of throughout the entire world. (I.25)
The opponents in ancient Rome, just like Leonard Pitts, could not understand why there might be a segment of society that would be openly opposed to the generally accepted position.  They cannot fathom standards higher than those being practiced in their philosophically-advanced culture, yet their philosophies just do not grasp the truth.
What do you, O men, endowed with reason, dare to assert?  What do you dare to prate of?  What do you try to bring forward in the recklessness of unguarded speech?  To adore the Supreme God, as the Lord of all things that be, as occupying the highest place among all exalted ones; to pray to Him with respectful submission in our distresses; to cling to Him with all our senses, so to speak; to love Him, to look up to Him with faith—is this an accursed and unholy religion, full of impiety and of sacrilege, polluting through the superstition of its newness the ceremonies established in olden times? (I.25)
In other words, he is asking: “Are you saying that to put God above all in worship and life is polluting the established norms of society?”  The inferred answer is yes, because those ideas society idolizes were not being given their due, therefore pressure needed to be exerted to bring these Christ cult into line or silence it altogether.  Sounds oddly familiar to our modern world, does it not?

Christians are not called to worship or appease the world: we are to speak of Christ crucified.  Arnobius made the case that we are doing what is good, proper, and acceptable before our Lord:
We Christians are nothing else than worshipers of the Supreme King and Head, under our Master, Christ.  If you examine carefully, you will find that nothing else is implied in that religion.  This is the sum of all that we do; this is the proposed end and limit of sacred duties.  Before Him we all prostrate ourselves, according to our custom; Him we adore in joint prayers; from Him we beg things just and honorable, and worthy of His ear.  Not that He needs our supplications, or loves to see the homage of so many thousands laid at His feet.  This is our benefit, and has a regard to our advantage.  For since we are prone to err, and to yield to various lusts and appetites through the fault of our innate weakness, He allows Himself at all times to be comprehended in our thoughts, that while we entreat Him and strive to merit His bounties, we may receive a desire for purity, and may free ourselves from every stain by the removal of all our shortcomings. (I.27)
Arnobius lays out in straightforward terms the disciple’s duty of worship and obedience, plus the privilege, as sinners, to come before God seeking His bountiful provision of mercy and goodness that we might grow in grace.  To do otherwise would be unsafe, even foolish.

The level of Christian commitment would have been understood and praised by pagans of the time, but the object of adoration and resulting life change were not.  As followers of Christ lived before the world, they witnessed of Him in the course of everyday conversations of life with the level of freedom being dictated by the circumstance.  By necessity a culture clash ensued among worldviews.  The collective mindset, rooted in polytheism as it was, would have accepted Christianity if the Christ they adored would have been been offered in henotheistic fashion, but its virtuous exclusivity ran contrary to not only all religious forms, but also as the political and philosophical that had been interwoven to accommodate the masses.  Measures were enacted to either squelch Christianity or rid the empire of its adherents and return the populace to the status quo.

The same collective plans and mindset are working within Western Civilization, so that the Church, once held in high regard for being a beacon of truth, must battle cultural onslaughts from many factions, both internal and external.  Those outside the church are increasingly fighting for normalization of relationships once considered aberrant.  Tolerance and diversity have transformed from being positions of disagreement to cultural weapons to ensure the masses are in lockstep.  Open hostility with extreme measures are applauded as proper tactics to battle so-called “discrimination” of whichever cause or person might be receiving objections to their sin.

Those inside the church recognize that something needs to be done, but have decided that the most effective tactic is to appease the culture.  Mainline Protestants began doing this decades ago, and as they continue to align with the world, their numbers showing a 50% reduction in membership since 1960.  Evangelical and Confessional groups are somewhat better off, but even here there is trouble afoot as well-meaning pastors insist on changing the format, preferring an entertainment-driven experience to solemnity.  (Consider some thoughts by Glenn Chatfield on his experience and reaction.)  In addition, sermons have been changed to be relevant (i.e., they no longer mention sin or the need of a Savior).  Rick Warren and Andy Stanley have given up on preaching truth and are now preaching nonsense (Warren’s Imagination Doctrine) or appeasement (Stanley’s Brand New).

If Christians live out their calling, culture will be affected: people will notice.  (Pastor Jordan Cooper has a few thoughts on this.)  Our attempts may be met with sincere questions, more hostility, or both.  Arnobius was writing when Christians were persecuted.  Beginning with the highest positions of government, these Jesus followers were to be run out, killed, or forced to recant—all for the common good.  Today, our society is moving that direction.  Rather than capitulate, hold fast (Heb 10:23) and stand firm (2 Th 2:15; 1 Pe 5:12).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Freedom to Sin, or Freedom from Sin?

A friend posted a link on Facebook referencing the following blog post from a Christian father offering four promises if he has a child coming out as homosexual:
  1. If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.
  2. If I have gay children, I’ll pray for them.
  3. If I have gay children, I’ll love them.
  4. If I have gay children, most likely I have gay children.
The first and third promises seem appropriate.  The author will acknowledge what is happening and not attempt to hide or deny it; neither will he stop loving them.

Promise two is also appropriate in form, but the intent is incorrect.  The author says that he “won’t pray for them to be made ‘normal,’” nor will he “pray that God will heal or change or fix them.”  He goes on to explain that he will pray that the child be kept from “ignorance and hatred and violence” and ungodly treatment from “His misguided children.”  Every parent I know would seek to prevent bullying, teasing, etc. for his or her child, so that aspect is all well and good, but something is dreadfully wrong.  He does not pray that they might repent from the lifestyle.  That seems a rather odd position to take, but these three promises are built on the fourth, which is the underlying basis for the post: homosexuality is a God-given condition.  If you do not believe my words, consider these from the post:
  • God has already created them and wired them, and placed the seed of who they are within them.  Psalm 139 says that He, “stitched them together in their mother’s womb.”  The incredibly intricate stuff that makes them uniquely them; once-in-History souls, has already been uploaded into their very cells.
  • Because of that, there isn’t a coming deadline on their sexuality that their mother and I are working feverishly toward.  I don’t believe there’s some magical expiration date approaching, by which time she and I need to somehow do, or say, or pray just the right things to get them to “turn straight,” or forever lose them to the other side
  • [Emphasis his]
Do you see the problems?  First, this father has chosen to rationalize the sin of the child by blaming it on the Creator.  We have a problem though.  The very Creator being blamed established the heterosexual union of husband and wife as the only valid place for sexual relations.  Every other form is sin.  There is no valid argument to be made that will lessen the truth.  Second, if anyone disagrees, that person or group is misguided.  The natural parent-child relationship trumps all other law—biblical, natural, or otherwise.

About this time, the usual retort is, “There are people who have same-sex attractions but are celibate.  They‘re still ‘gay.’  What about them?”  Lust is a sin regardless of the object.  Whether I might lust after another woman or man, I am an adulterer; if unmarried, I would be a fornicator.  Men and women deal with lust, whether opposite-sex or same-sex attraction.  As with any other sin, the question remains: are we willing to mortify the flesh as the Apostle Paul says?
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  (Co 3:5)
Western society has a way of grouping individuals of aberrant intent or behavior in special classifications.  While in the past these classifications may have been used to assist the individual toward normalcy, we have chosen, rather, to consider any predilection to be normal for that individual and to change the classification in order to protect the right to engage in any resulting behavior, further enslaving the person in their sin, downplaying or dismissing potential effects on others.  Christians are not to condone this mindset whereby sin is coddled and given a free pass.  No, our call is much higher—to live in a new-found life in God won for us by Jesus:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  (Ro 6:17-18)

Friday, April 10, 2015

No Take Backs!

Times of great stress cause people to act strangely—even repent of sin.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, should one Hebrew be destitute and sell himself into indentured service to repay a debt, the Law had specified, fixed limits and conditions for that service (Ex 21:1-11).  Later in Israel’s history, the people chose to ignore these limits, most likely to wrest more service than required for repayment.  During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, this practice was in full swing.  King Zedekiah, whether from pity or in hope of currying God’s favor, proclaimed liberty to all Hebrew slaves, and all the people complied “so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free” (Je 34:10).  At face value, we would call this a win.  The people had repented of a national sin—a fact recognized by the Lord Himself:
You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name.  (Je 34:15)
This seemed all well and good with sincerity apparently oozing from every pore.  Perhaps there was a chance for further reform.  Then conditions improved.  Nebuchadnezzar’s army withdrew because Pharaoh’s army was moving up from Egypt (Je 37:5).*  When the pressure relented, the people once again enslaved those they had freed (Je 34:16).  The change of circumstance brought a change of heart so that Zedekiah’s repentance looked like he was negotiating with God much as we see in this clip from The End.

Judah took back its act of repentance.  We review this case and say that the repentance was not “heartfelt,” “genuine,” “intentional,” etc., but we cannot ignore the fact that they had begun with the correct action.  Had the nation adhered to their resolve in the matter, other areas may have been rectified as well—a conjecture based on God’s acceptance of their limited obedience.

By rescinding on their granting of liberty, God pronounced “liberty” to the inhabitants:
I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  (Je 34:17)
In the same way that Judah had exercised freedom to bind former Hebrew slaves to their obligations, the Lord granted freedom to those who acted duplicitously to reap the fruit of their decision.
And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf.  And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives.  Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.  (Je 34:18-20)
Like the animal that would be cut in half to ratify a covenant, the two-timing penitents would be cut in twain (figuratively, if not literally) as God Himself established the method of judgment and its certainty.  What had been considered a problem averted became the tool of destruction and deportation.
And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you.  Behold, I will command, declares the Lord, and will bring them back to this city.  And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire.  I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.”  (Jer 34:21-22)
Do Christians fall into the same trap?  Yes, they do.  In the early chapters of Revelation, five churches are given commands to repent: explicitly to Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Laodicea; implicitly to Thyatira.  By following church history, we can see there was some success to the warnings in Ephesus and Laodicea, yet in both cases the conditions from which both were to spurn returned with a vengeance, and both lamp stands were effectively obliterated: indeed they all were, but these two are notable for being involved in the formation of both canon law and sound doctrine through the first few centuries† but lost sight of the gospel directive and placed their corporate interests above God’s, ultimately losing their places.

The problem continues today.  Disciple-making is no longer be pursued as a vital part of individual or corporate Christian life, giving way to tactics of self-preservation to forestall the dwindling numbers or invoking marketing schemes for self-promotion.  The problem clear.  Both methods are focused on self and are doomed, not being rooted in the purpose and plan of our Lord.  The solution is simple—repent.  But that solution is difficult, because it requires abnegation of our intentions as fickle and fallible, and acknowledging that what good we can do is accomplished only according to God’s precepts and empowerment.

*  Scholars disagree as to whether the Egyptian offensive was the occasion, but the timing fits.
†  Church councils were held at both locations: Laodicea (363-364 ᴀ.ᴅ.) and Ephesus (431 ᴀ.ᴅ.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jesus Christ: First-Born and First-Fruits

But it was not only by word, but also by deed, that the Lord revealed the resurrection of the bodies.  First He raised up Lazarus, even after he had been dead four days, and was stinking.  For He did not raise the soul without the body, but the body along with the soul: and not another body but the very one that was corrupt.  For how could the resurrection of the dead man have been known or believed if it had not been established by his characteristic properties?  But it was in fact to make the divinity of His own nature manifest and to confirm the belief in His own and our resurrection, that He raised up Lazarus who was destined once more to die.  And the Lord became Himself the first-fruits of the perfect resurrection that is no longer subject to death.  Therefore also the divine Apostle Paul said: If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.  And if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain: we are yet in our sins. And, Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept, and the first-born from the dead; and again, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with HimEven so, he said, as Christ rose again.  Moreover, that the resurrection of the Lord was the union of uncorrupted body and soul (for it was these that had been divided) is manifest: for He said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  And the holy Gospel is a trustworthy witness that He spoke of His own body.  Handle Me and see, the Lord said to His own disciples when they were thinking that they saw a spirit, that it is I Myself, and that I am not changed: for a spirit hath not flesh or bones, as ye see Me have.  And when He had said this He shewed them His hands and His side, and stretched them forward for Thomas to touch.  Is not this sufficient to establish belief in the resurrection of bodies?

John Damascene, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4.27