Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Asaph and Election 2016

 I do not often post something political, but as I was reading Psalm 73, I could not but help seeing parallels to the current election cycle.  Many are swayed by the carefully crafted rhetoric, while others are emboldened to continue in their ways.  We should be as Asaph who looks at his situation objectively and spiritually:
Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  (Ps 73:1-3)
Notice that Asaph starts with God’s goodness to those living by faith, but he recognizes his temptation to follow after the arrogant and wicked because of what they had and were able to accomplish.  In order to set matters in perspective, he lays out who and what the wicked are about.
For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.  (Ps 73:4-12)
Do these words remind you of anyone running for public office?  Regardless of political party or leaning, narratives will be written to disguise or excuse wickedness for the sake of a greater good.  Brethren, we can be, and should be, politically engaged, but we need to go into any election remembering that the rhetoric is designed to influence us in specific areas of life.  Be mindful so that you will not stumble and slip.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ezekiel 13 for the 21st Century

Steven Furtick
The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to me:  “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 Lᴏʀᴅ!’  Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!  Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel.  You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lᴏʀᴅ.  They have seen false visions and lying divinations.
Brian Houston
They say, ‘Declares the Lᴏʀᴅ,’ when the Lᴏʀᴅ has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.  Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lᴏʀᴅ,’ although I have not spoken?”

Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ God.  My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations.  They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ God.  Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall!
Andy Stanley
There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out.  And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’  Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end.  And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare.  When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord.  Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ God.

Beth Moore
“And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts.  Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls!
Ann Voskamp
Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive?  You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.
Jennie Allen
“Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds.  Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ.  Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination.  I will deliver my people out of your hand.  And you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ.”

Monday, October 24, 2016

Unworthy Worthiness

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  (1 Cor 11:27-28)

I have known many Christians who have refrained from the Lord’s Supper because they felt they were not in the right place relationally with the Lord to partake.  If pressed for a reason, they would give vague answers about some recent sin (though it was confessed) or a general malaise about their spiritual condition (not sufficiently attentive to the disciplines, for instance).  In a word, they felt unworthy before the Lord and did not want to eat and drink judgment on themselves.

While such thinking has good intentions, taken to its logical conclusion, nobody should participate, because none are worthy.  Every believer works through the ebb and flow of the old nature as it works in us.  The apostle Paul did not recount the conflict between the law of God and law of sin (Rom 7:21-23) because he was the ultimate overcomer—just the opposite.  The fight is real for all who are alive to God.  And we fail.  If we are all unworthy, how can we come to the meal, which must be eaten worthily?

Look at the situation in Corinth when the epistle was written.  As the body of Christ assembled together, there was division, hunger, drunkenness, and general chaos.  They considered themselves worthy to come together.  The consequence of this attitude was that each person and group served himself rather than allowing the Lord to serve them through His gifts.  Paul pointed out that their attitude garnered God’s judgment and discipline.  The solution came in understanding through examination that they were unworthy in themselves but were made worthy solely by righteousness freely imputed to us through our Lord Jesus.  He has called us into His body to His glory: we add nothing.

Such a paradox—only the unworthy are worthy—but that is the way of our great God, who chooses the foolish, weak, and lowly things of this world
so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God.  And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  (1 Cor 1:29-31)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt 28:18-20)

Sending of the Twelve by Duccio
Christ Jesus our Lord (may He bear with me a moment in thus expressing myself!), whosoever He is, of what God soever He is the Son, of what substance soever He is man and God, of what faith soever He is the teacher, of what reward soever He is the Promiser, did, while He lived on earth, Himself declare what He was, what He had been, what the Father’s will was which He was administering, what the duty of man was which He was prescribing.  And this declaration He made, either openly to the people, or privately to His disciples, of whom He had chosen the twelve chief ones to be at His side, and whom He destined to be the teachers of the nations.  Accordingly, after one of these had been struck off, He commanded the eleven others, on His departure to the Father, to “go and teach all nations, who were to be baptized into the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Ghost.”  Immediately, therefore, so did the apostles, whom this designation indicates as “the sent.” … And after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea, and founding churches, they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations.  They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches.  Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches.  Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification.  Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, founded by the apostles, from which they all spring.  In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in unbroken unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality,—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.

Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics XX

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Baptism Is Not—Merely a Symbol

Philip Baptizing the Eunuch
I have read many treatises on baptism, all of which attempt to define what it is and does.  One expects that approach as a sign of good rhetorical skills; however, my post presents the topic from the opposite direction, to wit, baptism is not merely the external demonstration of an inward reality.  Please do not think that baptism is not a symbol, but my goal is to demonstrate that more is occurring than just a demonstration as posited similarly to Millard Erickson.
Baptism is, then, an act of faith and commitment that one has been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, that one has experienced spiritual circumcision.  (Christian Theology 1110)
I agree with this statement, but it falls short.  To that end, let us look at a familiar passage.
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.  (1 Pet 3:21-22)
For purposes of this post, I will not address the main clause “baptism … now saves you.”  Rather than dealing with the varied interpretations, I will focus on the dependent clause which follows looking first at the negative component, then the positive.

Not as a removal of dirt from the flesh – The first part of the clause signifies that someone could misunderstand what is intended to be cleansed.  The Mosaic Law prescribed ritual washings that actually cleaned people, offerings, utensils, etc. of whatever uncleanness needed to be removed.  Teachers of the Law added to washings during the Second Temple period in order to maintain external purity:
For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.  And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.  (Mark 7:3-4)
But as an appeal to God for a good conscience – This where Judaism failed, as Mark alludes to above.  During their ministries, both John and Jesus preached repentance.  Hearers who understood their need for cleansing from sin responded by faith and were baptized.  Confession of sin was exhibited with the appeal to the promise of God for acceptance.  To go back to the Mosaic Law example, the effect on the object washed left it useful in relation to holy things and now applied to the repentant sinner.  There was a change of position.  He who was once separate from a holy God and His dwelling place becomes holy and is useful in His service.

As we can see there is something active happening in baptism, but this is not the only place where we see this.  Turning to the apostle Paul, we note the following acts of identification, death, and new life:
In addition, For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  (Gal 3:27)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  (Rom. 6:4)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  (Col 2:11-12)
Each of these passages state that something actively occurs to the person who is baptized when it is performed.  This is the clear testimony of Scripture.  More is happening than what has become simply a demonstration (and, sadly, sometimes a sideshow) to encourage other believers.  I encourage the reader to compare what is commonly offered as a generally accepted summary statement on baptism against the biblical texts.  When we reduce this act to mere symbolism of a decision theology, we denigrate the character and work of God actively working in the one baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sapa X Pocket Diary – Quo Vadis

I have used a variety of planners over the years, changing sizes and layouts as my needs change.  When Quo Vadis announced a giveaway of their Sapa X Pocket Diary in late 2015, I decided to enter.  Not long after I was notified that my planner was on its way.  My original intent was to write a review back in April or May, but life has a way of happening.

These planners are well-designed and takes a beating.  The binding is sewn, which gives spine durability, plus the exterior is protected by a cover (Texas Blue for me), which allows a moisture barrier against perspiration (and rain if not careful).

You will notice that the pages have a perforated corner at bottom right that can be torn out for easy access to your week.  Previously, I never had this feature in a planner, but it’s a handy feature.

Looking at a typical week’s layout, you will see a scheduled time from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, except on Sunday.  Each day’s space is generally sufficient, though there are some Sundays that get a little crazy.  In that case, one could use the small note area on the bottom left for overflow, or use it for a weekly To-Do list.
Between each month (or as close as possible) there are blank note pages.  These come in handy to write down tasks for the following month.  I underuse this feature, but here (see photo at right) is an instance when it was handy.  Heretofore unknown book titles are always worth recording.
At the back is a place to record communications (e-mail and phone).  Since my phone handles most of this, I found this to be a good place to make notes.

One feature that I liked was the set of maps at the back: United States, Canada, South America, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Africa.  I never needed these, but they are nice for keeping up with current geography.

I really enjoyed using this planner.  Consider picking up this or another of the available models.

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

The Lᴏʀᴅ has remembered us; He will bless us;
    He will bless the house of Israel;
    He will bless the house of Aaron;
He will bless those who fear the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    both the small and the great.  (Ps 115:12-13)

He made the same distinction here, too, and gave a glimpse of the fruit of hope: he linked blessing to hope and said a share of it would be not only to the house of Israel and the house of Aaron but also to those who fear Him.  Then in turn he makes the distinction of ages and positions: not only the young but also the elderly, not only those bedecked with wealth but also those living a life of need, not only those furnished with liberty but also those forced to carry the yoke of slavery.  For those possessing hope in God, the inspired word prays for increase and abundance.  You will attain this above all, he is saying, to the extent that you receive the blessing from the Maker of all things.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms

The heavens are the Lᴏʀᴅ's heavens,
    but the earth he has given to the children of man.
The dead do not praise the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    nor do any who go down into silence.
But we will bless the Lᴏʀᴅ
    from this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!  (Ps 115:16-18)

For the feast does not consist in pleasant intercourse at meals, nor splendor of clothing, nor days of leisure, but in the acknowledgment of God, and the offering of thanksgiving and of praise to Him.  Now this belongs to the saints alone, who live in Christ; for it is written, “The dead shall not praise You, O Lord, neither all those who go down into silence; but we who live will bless the Lord, from henceforth even forever.”  So was it with Hezekiah, who was delivered from death, and therefore praised God, saying, “Those who are in Hades cannot praise You; the dead cannot bless You; but the living shall bless You, as I also do.”  For to praise and bless God belongs to those only who live in Christ, and by means of this they go up to the feast.  For the Passover is not of the Gentiles, nor of those who are yet Jews in the flesh, but of those who acknowledge the truth in Christ, as he declares who was sent to proclaim such a feast: “Our Passover, Christ, is sacrificed.”

Athanasius, Festal Letter for Easter Day 4

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Delighting in the King

I was reading Psalm 61 recently and noticed the flow of David’s poetry.  He begins by crying out to God while remembering His faithfulness, security of care, and blessings.  What follows next, though, intrigued me because David suddenly shifts from first person to third:
You will prolong the king’s life,
    His years as many generations.
He shall abide before God forever.
    Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him!  (Ps 61:6-7)
Suddenly, it seems that David is no longer considering his own circumstances solely but wishes to pray for his royal house according to God’s promise of a never-ending lineage on the throne.  Theodore of Mopsuestia reflected on the passage this way:
You will grant us everything, and once more You will give us a gentle king, whom You will also make long-lived (a reference not to the person but to the position)—in other words, For a long time you will bring us under our own kings.  You will give him length of life to abide forever.… While You will provide [mercy and truth] in Your characteristic goodness, it would be a blessed thing for him also to give evidence of some disposition of his own in his regard for You, not losing hope in You, and seeking this from You.
One cannot help but wonder if David was thinking forward to a time when the everlasting Son of David would sit on His throne.  Theodoret of Cyrus picks up this thought nicely:
Now, at that time [the king] was ruling over them; but all the words of the inspired composition do not apply to him. … Instead, they apply to the One who out of great lovingkindness came of his line according to the flesh, as he himself knew.  Of Him, you see, were realized the words of the inspired composition.  He had no beginning to His days, nor will He experience an end.  I mean, even if He became a human being and accepted death for our sake, nevertheless “He was in the beginning, and was with God, and was God.” … Do you see that the One who accepted cross and death for our sake has also an unending kingship insofar as He coexists with the Father?
Yes, our Lord Jesus coexists with the Father, yet notice that the Father is requested to prepare mercy and truth to preserve Him.  There is an active bond of love in the Godhead that transcends understanding, and we are given the blessing of seeing that worked out through the Word.  The fullness of such matters are to great for us, but we are given a measure to look in awe at what things God has made known in part.  And we delight in them, as David wrote in the last verse of the psalm:
So I will sing praise to Your name forever,
    That I may daily perform my vows.
Worship is not an end in itself.  There is work to be done in the strength He supplies through His gifts as we gather together.  May we go out reinvigorated to the task of serving our neighbor.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Heresy Is the New Orthodoxy

First Council of Nicaea
Christianity Today recently published the findings of a disturbing survey showing the abysmal condition of American evangelicalism.  While discerning Christians realize that CT regularly allows opinions from writers on the fringes of Christendom advocating questionable doctrine (thereby earning snarky publication names like Christianity Astray and Paganism Today), they do provide an outlet for trending data.
Reprising their ground-breaking study from two years ago, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries released an update today on the state of American theology in 2016.  Researchers surveyed 3,000 adults to measure their agreement with a set of 47 statements about Christian theology—everything from the divinity of Christ to the nature of salvation to the importance of regular church attendance.
The article is worth reading.  To summarize, those claiming to be evangelical are as likely to follow heresy in different areas of doctrine as to historic orthodoxy.  That is disturbing.  We have a problem.  I do understand the scholarly feedback in the article that said much of the ignorance is due to new Christians not fully understanding the faith, but that should be a minority of the population surveyed, not 75%.

Based on what I have seen, the primary issue is that Christians are not being taught Christianity.  People are challenged to believe that Jesus can deal with their situation—even recognizing their own sin—but after being brought into the church, these same people are never pushed to understand what the faith they purport to follow entails.  Leaders of churches, publishing houses, and parachurch organizations openly promote moralism and mysticism instead of doctrine.  Why?  Because people want a way to feel good about their relationship with God and others, so pastors and publishers give that to them.  The emphasis has turned from spiritual growth to behavioral modification and emotional salve, and if people want to aid the organization financially, so much the better.

There was a day (and still is in some sectors) when people were catechized between one and three years, depending on the assembly, before being allowed into full communion.  Now, we might attend a new member class for a couple hours (if at all), then give an affirmation of a mission statement in order to gain all the rights and responsibilities of membership.  Afterward, all the teaching they receive is a steady diet of euphemisms.  Shame on us for allowing that to happen.  Can this trend be reversed?  Yes, but do we want to?  As long as there are pastors and teachers drawing people to themselves instead of to Christ, the emphasis will remain centered on tactics to entice people to whichever personality best promotes the image desired.

We have the divine mandate and the tools to turn the tide, so there is no excuse.  What we lack is the will.  Pastors are to lead the flock to good pasture.  Teachers are to teach.  We are not called to make Scripture palatable.  We are to deliver a divinely delivered curriculum—all that Jesus commanded us.  Anything less will not do.

[Prepublication update] After I scheduled this to post, Matthew Block posted his own thoughts on the same survey at First Things.  He has mentioned the need to recognize how God worked the historic faith in creeds, confessions, and dedication to Scripture.  I recommend that you read his thoughts as well.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Representing Christ by Uche Anizor and Hank Voss – Book Review

Anizor, Uche and Hank Voss. Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers.  Downers Grove, Ill.  IVP, 2016.  208 pp.

Having fallen precipitously from watchword to buzzword, “the priesthood of all believers” is in dire need of recovery today.

With this quote from the back cover, Fred Sanders offers the impetus of this work in which the authors attempt to once again energize what was revealed, passed down, and rediscovered concerning the priesthood of believers and what that means for the Church in the 21st century.  Believers need to be reminded of this wonderful privilege given to them by the Almighty.

The authors divide the task in half.  In the first three chapters, Anizor undertakes a biblical and historical foundation for the doctrine, while, in the latter three chapters, Voss takes up practical application for today.  As far as authorship plan, this seemed to work well.  The two men used their respective strengths to bring this work to fruition.  However, this also means that the two major sections, while presented with equal style, are not presented with equal biblical acumen, as will be noted below.

Anizor clearly and accurately presents the Bible in relation to history and historical theology with ease.  This can be seen in the second chapter as he works through key passages  building the case for a corporate priesthood through Jesus’ priestly office.  Especially good are two sections: Isaiah 52-66 and the role of the Priestly Servant in making a way for all God’s people to have equal access; then Jesus’ eschatological priesthood demonstrated in His incarnation.

In the following chapter, Anizor demonstrates how the corporate priesthood changed from the apostolic corporate model to the specialized hierarchical model prevalent through the Middle Ages into the Reformation.  While delivering an accurate picture overall, the author misses a key point of historical sacramental theology by assigning intent among the early church fathers (Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, et al.) to innovate rather than passing along what had been handed to them.  The author, however, does correctly identify the innovation that entered as the priestly duties were subsumed under these offices.

Voss takes up the task of applying Scripture to our modern day.  He does an acceptable job explaining our priesthood in light of the Trinity, our practice as a body, and then, as the title states, representing Christ to the world.  Particularly good was this line:
The basis for the royal priesthood's prayer is thus found in Christ, and we pray “through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ.” (129)
Sadly, he misunderstands or mishandles some information, coming to questionable conclusions.  Notable among these is his recommendation of lectio divina (130-5).  As described, it seems innocuous enough, however, outside research would show its mystical roots.  Better is biblical meditation on God’s Word.

Another disturbing point is his misquotes of Scripture to make his point, of which I give two examples.  The first comes from a belief that “Scripture is a script to be performed.”  This makes little sense, but he drives home the point with the desire to hear:
“Well done, my good and faithful minister” from the great Priest-King. (153)
We might possibly let this pass, but he does something similar on the next page as he attempts to substantiate his VIM model (vision - intention - means) for the church:
A long time ago a man named Noah received a vision for an ark.  He decided (intention) to build it in the face of great opposition.  God provided the means, and after one hundred years of labor an ark was built.
I searched my Bible in vain to find this version of the narrative.  Perhaps someone could point it out for me.

In conclusion, this book has much in the first half to commend it.  We need the historical basis to point us forward.  The second half, though promoting the corporate nature of priesthood in a modern context, needs work to shore up some doctrinal error.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free of charge.  I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”