Wednesday, July 23, 2014

False Teachers Expound Themselves, Not Jesus

Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: Hear the word of the Lord!  (Ezek 13:2)

Just as he who was ordered to say these things had need of the Holy Spirit, so also there is need of the same Spirit for one who wishes to explain their hidden significance, in order to show that the prophecy before us is directed against the one who teaches what is contrary to the will of God, against those “who prophecy from their own heart.”  Indeed, according to the simple understanding, some of the prophets, since they spoke from the divine Spirit, did not speak “from their own heart,” but from the mind of God; while others, inasmuch as they pretended to be prophets, and said, “Thus says the Lord,” when the Lord was not speaking in them, were false prophets.

The passage before us, however, can also [be seen as] properly regarding those who teach in the churches, if they teach otherwise than the truth demands.  For if any [teacher] speaks what the Lord Jesus Christ spoke and understood, and does this on the same subject in which he himself who taught [it originally—i.e., Jesus—did so], then he speaks the words of Jesus.  If he agrees with the wishes of that Holy Spirit who spoke in the Apostles, he does not speak from his own heart, but from the heart of the Holy Spirit, who spoke in Paul, who spoke in Peter, who also spoke in the other Apostles.  But if any [teacher], while reading the Gospel, imposes his own opinion on the Gospel, not understanding it in the way the Lord spoke, that one is a false prophet, speaking from his own heart in the midst of the Gospel.  And it is not at all ridiculous to interpret these words in reference to the heretics: for they give discourses on the fables about their Aeons, as through from the Gospels and the Apostles, expounding their own heart, not the heart of the Holy Spirit.  For indeed they are not able to say, “but we have the mind of Christ,”* “such that we see the gifts that have been bestowed on us by God.”†

Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel 2.2.2-3


* 1 Corinthians 2:16
† 1 Corinthians 2:12

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Christians Must Speak Forth the Truth

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  (1 Pet 3:14-16)

An observer paying a modicum of attention will have noted the polarization of ideologies across the country.  With palpable increase, sections of society are wrestling over issues with a “winner-take-all” approach over matters that had not mattered to the populace or were not deemed acceptable in a civilized society.  Proponents, rather than engaging in debate, are now pressing points of interest on specific issues for tactical advantage, creating angst through emotional manipulation and garnering favor for a position.  The rallying point is the societal or political need deemed best for a sub-group, sometimes as standalone causes, but more usually as one of multiple divergent thrusts seeking to gain wide acceptance and celebration of personal liberty regardless of societal effects.

Those causes that become enmeshed into the fabric of society become viewed as a norm of existence, being placed on par with natural law.  People learn how to adjust to the system, even turning it to an advantage.  Power and authority are legitimized, and laws enacted to defend and promote acceptance however irrational the defense might be.  Leaders prop up their causes and engage in syncretistic alliances on multiple fronts, arguing sometimes contradictory causes in a phenomenal feat of juggling prowess lest one fail and a “domino effect” befall the remainder, while followers are swept up in the emotion of the movement.  Such an approach to gain single-issue favor can be effective in securing short-term goals, however the argumentation of the proponents quickly devolves to aping key phrases in a self-defeating string of argumentation or assaulting opponents through ad hominem attacks, all of which demonstrates that the rationale for the cause is pure self-interest: this is what we want.

In spite of all the effort to force transformation, there remains a contingent who recognizes the Emperor’s New Clothes for what they are.  Those, who know the facts and can reasonably articulate disagreement, break with status quo, turn to follow the truth, and are instantly castigated for not adhering to popular opinion and practice.  Through the past 20 centuries, Christians have played the role of societal critic, resulting in heaps of blame received for many ills that befell mankind: civil unrest, disease, drought, flood, etc. were considered the result of those who refused to bow to the authority of the deity du jour and their established representatives.  The change in worldview sets the believer apart from those around.  They become noticed and alternatively respected or feared for their stand.  Whichever is the case, the reaction is certain and immediate.  Repercussions have varied from genial discussion to open threats and hostile attacks.

As I have stated, none of this is new.  The third-century apologist Arnobius of Sicca noticed how those who worshiped the Roman pantheon of gods were holding Christians like himself responsible for the troubles in North Africa.  He opens his work:
I have discovered some who deem themselves very wise in their opinions, acting as if they were possessed* and announcing with all the authority of an oracle,† that from the time when the Christian people began to exist in the world the universe has gone to ruin, that the human race has been visited with ills of many kinds, that even the very gods, abandoning their accustomed charge, in virtue of which they were wont in former days to regard with interest our affairs, have been driven from the regions of earth.  I have resolved, so far as my capacity and my humble power of language will allow, to oppose public prejudice, and to refute calumnious accusations.  For, on the one hand, those persons may imagine that they are declaring some weighty matter, when they are merely gossiping common rumors;‡ and on the other, if we refrain from such a contest, they may suppose that they have won a cause because our view is lost by its inherent demerits, when rather the defenders abandoned their view through silence.

I would not deny that the charge is a most serious one, and that we fully deserve the hatred attached to public enemies,§ if it should be apparent that we are the reason by which the universe has deviated from its laws, the gods have been driven far away, and such swarms of miseries have been inflicted on mankind.
The Case Against the Pagans, I.1

Some points to note:
  1. The seriousness of the accusations.  In effect, the people were blaming Jesus Christ as causing the problems when their own sin or natural consequence of sin was working in the world.  Arnobius does not cast off these accusations as meaningless or trivial.
  2. The need for a response.  Christians cannot remain silent in the face of accusations. Whether or not the political or religious atmosphere is considered safe, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ must be upheld.  Arnobius lived during the reign of Diocletian, who was openly hostile to the Christian sect.  Many died in martyrdom for not worshiping the pagan gods, but standing firm for Christ.
  3. Ability is not an issue.  A defense of the gospel does not depend on the ability of the believer to articulate the faith.  While Arnobius was a rhetorician by vocation, he did not feel up to the task of properly responding as he should.  He presented his response as God had enabled.  This does not mean that Christians are to remain willfully ignorant of what Scripture teaches, but lack of thorough understanding does not disqualify the believer from responding.
Opponents of the Most High will use any means possible to enhance their arguments through whatever political maneuvering or religious gesticulation makes a point and raises the issue so that others will join the accusatory chorus and shout down what is true and right.  Christians need to remain reasoned and reasonable to effectively make their case for the gospel.


*  Referring to the appearance of the ancient seers when under the influence of the deity.  The meaning is, that they make their emphatic assertions with all the mad raving and gesticulation of a seer under the influence of the god.
†  Declare a matter with boldness and authority, as if most certain and undoubted.
‡  Rumors arising from the ignorance of the common people.
§  The Christians were regarded as “public enemies” and were so called.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Right Worship Establishes Right Doctrine

Orthodoxia means “right praise” or “true worship” rather then “right doctrine.”  But, of course, the praise and worship is “right” only if its is directed to the right God.  Orthodox liturgy is that which prays to and worships the Holy Trinity.  Thus, while the relationship between praying and believing, the lex orandi and lex credendi, is a reciprocal one, the priority of right praise is such that the lex orandi establishes the lex credendi.  Prosper of Aquitaine wrote in the heat of the Semi-Pelagian controversy “legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” (Let the rule of prayer establish the rule of belief).…

The evangelical content of liturgy has served sometimes as a corrective of the catholic tendency to root liturgy in the culture of the people.  Words and ceremonies are not always shorn of their heathen connotations.  Symbolic actions and objects can be a source of superstition among Christians, and their multiplication can lead to a ceremonial pomp that is foreign to the spirit of Christianity.  It is difficult to reconcile “chancel prancing” with worship done in spirit and truth.  The evangelical principle has served as a critique of the catholic substance of Christian liturgy.... The evangelical critique reminds us that when liturgy is too much shaped by cultural vitalities, it loses its ability to transcend culture or to transform the culture it seeks to address.

Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy

Friday, July 18, 2014

Worship Is Initiated by Christ to Our Behalf and for Our Participation

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.  (Heb 8:1-2)

A theology of worship requires that we recognize the divine initiative in the divine-human encounter.  The only basis on which we can scribe to God “the glory due his name” is that God is already glorified in humanity by the incarnation of the Word.  Worship is not only what the congregation does; it is also what God does through the proclamation of the word and ministration of the sacraments.… A word that comes closer to incorporating both the divine and the human participation in worship is leitourgia.  It meant a service that was rendered on the people’s behalf by a representative; hence it is composed from words for work (ergon) and public (le├»tos).… In subsequent use, “leitourgia” referred to religious rites performed to the public good.  The one who performs these services is a liturgist (leitourgos).…

Just as Paul was a leitourgos to the Gentiles,* and Epaphroditus was a leitourgos to Paul,† and just as the church from an early date appointed ministers (bishops, deacons, as in Didache 15:1) who could render the leitourgia to the congregation, so there is a venerable tradition that regards Christ as the true leitourgos to the people, their true high priest or presiding minister.  The liturgical role of Christ in the church has been given focus in the sacramental celebrations.  Thus Ephesians 5:25-32 uniquely states that Christ gave himself up for the church “in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.”  The church’s holiness and glory are those of Christ who gives himself for and to the church.  He makes the church his own by cleansing it “with the washing of water by the word.”  Christ the baptizer; the church and its ministers are only the instruments of his will.

Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy


* Romans 15:16
† Philippians 2:25, 30

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Our Great Privilege to Bless the Blesser

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  (Eph 1:3-4)

God blesses us; let us bless him.… It should be our life to bless him who gave us our life.  It should be our delight to bless him whom give us all our delights.  So says the text, and so let us do: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our first occupation, at this time, will be that of Blessing God.

But how can we bless God?  Without doubt the less is blessed of the Greater.  Can the Greater be blessed by the less?  Yes, but it must be in a modified sense.  God blesses us with all spiritual blessings; but we cannot give him any blessings.  He needs nothing at our hand; and if he did, we could not give it.  “If I were hungry,” says the Lord, “I would not tell you: for the world and its fullness are mine.”  God has an all-sufficiency within himself, and can never be thought of as dependent upon his creatures, or as receiving anything form his creatures which he needs to receive.  He is infinitely blessed already; we cannot add to his blessedness.  When he blesses us, he gives us a blessedness that we never had before; but when we bless him, we cannot by one iota increase his absolutely infinite perfectness.  David said to the Lord, “I have no good apart from you.”  This was as if he had said, Let me be as holy, as devout, and as earnest as I may, I can do nothing for you; you are too high, too holy, too great for me to be really able to bless you in the sense which you bless me.

How, then, do we bless God?  Well, I should say, first, that this language is the expression of gratitude.  We say with David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” and we say with Paul, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We can bless God by praising him, extolling him, desiring all honor for him, ascribing all good to him, magnifying and lauding his holy name.  Well, we will do that.  Sit still, if you will, and let your heart be silent unto God; for no language can ever express the gratitude that, I trust, we feel to him who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.  Praise him also in your speech.  Break the silence; speak of his glory.  Invite other to cry with you, “Hallelujah!” or “Hallels unto Jah!”  “Praise to Jehovah!”  Ascribe greatness unto our God.  Oh, that all flesh would magnify the Lord with us!

This language is also the utterance of assent to all the blessedness that is ascribed to the Lord.  After hearing how great he is, how glorious he is, how happy he is, we bless him by saying, “Amen; so let it be!  So would we have it!  He is none too great for us, none too blessed for us.  Let him be great, glorious and blessed, beyond all conception.”  I think that we bless God when we say concerning the whole of his character, “Amen.  This God is our God for ever and ever.”  Let him be just what the Bible says he is; we accept him as such. Sternly just, he will not spare the guilty.  Amen, blessed be his name!  Infinitely gracious, ready to forgive.  Amen, so let it be!  Everywhere present, always omniscient.  Amen, so again do we wish him to be!  Everlastingly the same, unchanging in his truth, his promise, his nature.  We again say that we are glad of it, and we bless him.  He is just such a God as we love.  He is indeed God to us, because he is really God, and we can see that he is so, and every attribute ascribed to him is a fresh proof to us that Jehovah is the Lord.  Thus, we bless him by adoration.

Charles Spurgeon, “Blessing for Blessing

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Origen on Gentleness in God's Discipline

I have begun reading Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, Roger Pearse, ed., Mischa Hooker, trans.  Those who have a general knowledge of Origen know that he would stretch the allegorical application of scripture beyond proper measure.  This is disappointing because Origen's grasp of scripture and ability to communicate are quickly coming to the fore in this work.  Consider the following as this church father describes the goodness of God in discipline.

But there might be someone who, taking offense at the very word “anger,” would complain of it in God.  To such a one, I will answer that the anger of God is not so much anger as necessary providential direction.  Hear what the action of God’s anger is: to reprove, to correct, to improve.  “Lord do not rebuke me in your anger, and do not reprove me in your fury.”*  He who says this knows that the fury of God is not without use for health, but that it is applied for the purpose of curing those who are sick, for improving those who scorned to hear his words.  And the Psalmist prays that he may not be “improved” by such remedies for this reason: that he may not receive back his former good health with the medicine of punishment.  It is as if a slave who has already been put into position in the midst of the whips were to beseech his master, promising again that he will carry out [the master’s] orders, and were to say: “Master, do not rebuke me in your anger, and do not reprove me in your fury.”  All things that are of God are good; and we deserve to be reproved.  Also in the curses of Leviticus, it is written: “If after this they do not obey, and do not return to me, I will apply seven afflictions to them for their sins.  If, however, after this they do not return, I will improve them.”†  All the things of God which seem to be bitter contribute toward education and remedies.  God is a doctor; God is a Father; he is a Master—and not a harsh one, but a gentle Master.  (Homily 1.2.3)
After reading a few pages of the first homily, I believe this will be worthwhile for understanding the book of Ezekiel.  I plan to post my thoughts upon completion, but if the beginning pages are any indication, I will be commending this book for the reader’s edification.


*  Psalm 6:2
†  Leviticus 26:27-28, apparently modified by Origen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Secret to Sustained Church Growth

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.… And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42, 47)


From the start of the New Testament church there is worship.  God is speaking (through the Apostles’ teaching) and believers are listening.  God is giving his gifts (through the breaking of the bread) and believers are receiving gifts.… They have gathered around “the apostle’s teaching,” and “the breaking of bread” (as well as baptism, see Acts 2:38-41), corporate “fellowship,” and “the prayers.”  God comes to them and they respond with faith and devotion, not to mention a little bit of “awe” and service to those in “need.”  From the start we see there was worship, witness, and service to neighbors.

But there’s something else very intriguing about this worship.  It appears that it facilitated the incorporation of new believers into the community of saints.  And even more, implicit in this worship was the presence of the outreach going on among the “fellowship” of believers.  When “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved,” it implies that those who were “added to their number” were added through nothing other than the means which the believers had devoted themselves to—“the apostles’ teaching … the fellowship … the breaking of bread and … the prayers.”

Lucas Woodford, Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession?, 183-4

Monday, July 14, 2014

God's Word Does Its Work

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  (Isa 55:10-11)


To “believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy [Catholic] Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” is to recognize and confess the power of the external Word.  It means that one engages the people of the world with this belief through the only way in which this belief is made possible—by preaching, teaching, proclaiming, confessing, and sharing the truth of the Word in their lives where they are and out of love for them.…

To preach and teach Christ crucified and risen is to pierce an empty and dead world with the resurrection and the life.  To proclaim Christ is to let his reconciling truth pervade what was once meaningless.  To speak the Word is to bring hope and purpose to lives filled with empty entertainment, disguised despair, and aimless drifting.  Sooner or later, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Scrubs will lose their ability to distract wondering minds and sustain wandering hearts.  But even with the TV blaring, the Word of Christ is still strong enough to speak through the empty and fading amusement.

When the church (pastors and royal priesthood) are unwavering in the proclaiming and teaching of His Word, the Lord is unwavering in His promises of grace.  And those promises are readily confessed in the third article of the Apostles’ Creed—the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Lucas Woodford, Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession?, 160-1

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Marriage, the All-Natural Aid to Maintain Purity

You must know also that [marriage] is not only an honorable, but also a necessary state.  In general and in all conditions it is solemnly commanded by God that men and women, who were created for it, shall be found in this estate.  Yet there are some exceptions (although few) whom God has especially set apart, as not fit for the married estate, or whom He has released by a high, supernatural gift that they can maintain chastity without this estate.  For where nature has its course, as it is implanted by God, it is not possible to remain chaste without marriage.  For flesh and blood remain flesh and blood, and the natural inclination and excitement have their course without delay or hindrance, as everybody sees and feels.  In order, therefore, that it may be the more easy in some degree to avoid inchastity, God has commanded the estate of matrimony, that every one may have his proper portion and be satisfied with it.  Yet God's grace is also required in order that the heart may be pure.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Ten Commandments 211-212

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Misuse of God's Word in the Pulpit Constitutes Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.  (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11)

It is misusing God's name when we call upon the Lord God, no matter in what way, for purposes of falsehood or wrong of any kind.  Therefore this commandment enjoins this much, that God's name must not be appealed to falsely, or taken upon the lips, while the heart knows well enough, or should know, differently…  But, the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters, which pertain to the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God's Word.

Behold, all this is decking one's self out with God's name, or making a pretty show, or claiming to be right, whether it occur in gross, worldly business or in sublime, subtle matters of faith and doctrine.  And among liars belong also blasphemers, not alone the very gross, well known to every one, who disgrace God's name without fear (these are not for us, but for the hangman to discipline); but also those who publicly traduce the truth and God's Word and consign it to the devil.  Of this there is no need now to speak further.

Here, then, let us learn and take to heart the great importance of this commandment, that with all diligence we may guard against and dread every misuse of the holy name, as the greatest sin that can be outwardly committed.  For to lie and deceive is in itself a great sin, but is greatly aggravated when we attempt to justify it, and seek to confirm it by invoking the name of God and using it as a cloak for shame, so that from a single lie a double lie, nay, manifold lies, result.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism 51-56