Friday, December 30, 2011

Luther on Examining Ourselves for Communion

My thanks to Scott Diekmann at Stand Firm for this content.  What he posted from Martin Luther (as found in Logia, Vol I, No, 1) was too good not to share.

To examine one’s self means to consider well in what condition we are.  If we find that our hearts are hardened, that we are not willing to refrain from sin, and that we do not fear its presence, then we may well conclude that we should not go to the Sacrament; for we are then no Christians.  The best thing we could do, under such circumstances, would be to put a stop to such wickedness, to repent, to trust faithfully in the promises and mercy of God, and to unite again with Christians in the participation of the Holy Sacrament.  If, however, we are unwilling to do this, we ought not to approach the Lord’s Table; for we would surely eat and drink damnation there.  Let us carefully meditate upon what eternity has in store for us, if we thus fall under the judgment of God.  If we are mindful of this, we will not be slow to repent, to put aside anger and other kinds of wickedness, and to make our peace with God in His Holy Supper.  Again, if our hearts are contrite, if we confess our sins before God and are heartily sorry on account of them, if we believe that God in mercy, for Christ’s sake, will pardon us, then we are well prepared and can confidently say to the Savior: “O Lord, we are poor sinners, and therefore come to Your table to receive consolation.”  If we approach the Sacrament in such a spirit, we shall be truly ready and receive the richest blessings.  In behalf of such contrite and sorrowing souls the Lord’s Table was prepared, so that they might find there consolation and joy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Do You Offer Your Sacrifices?

The New Testament states that Christians are to offer up sacrifices with a spiritual character as acts of worship to God.  Is that we we present our sacrifices?  What is the motive?

Arnobius of Sicca was extremely critical of the sacrificial system set up amongst the pagans for their gods.  Some have already been mentioned (see here and here), but now he asks if there are laws handed down from deities which would tell why and in what manner the sacrificial worship is to be conducted.
But neither do I demand … that I should be told what causes the gods have for their anger against men, that having taken offense they must be soothed.  I do ask, however: did they ever ordain any laws for mortals?  And was it ever settled by them what it was fitting for them to do or not do, what they should pursue, what avoid; or even by what means they wished themselves to be worshiped, so that they might pursue with the vengeance of their wrath what was done otherwise than they had commanded, and might be disposed, if treated contemptuously, to avenge themselves on the presumptuous and transgressors?  As I think, nothing was ever either settled or ordained by them, since neither have they been seen, nor has it been possible for it to be discerned very clearly whether there are any.  What justice is there, then, in the gods of heaven being angry for any reason with those to whom they have neither deigned at any time to show that they existed, nor given nor imposed any laws which they wished to be honored by them and perfectly observed?
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 7

He raises an interesting question: If a deity does not give commands concerning proper conduct or worship, can that one be justly offended for unknown misconduct which would require a propitious sacrifice?  This question has parallels for Christians since the Paul makes a similar argument:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (Rom 5:12-13)

Though death was a consequence of Adam's sin being meted out through his progeny, sin was not reckoned because no law was established.  Where there is no law, no command statute has been breached, ergo no trespass which should bear the consequence of righteous indignation.  If no offense is rightfully incurred, no propitiating sacrifice can be expected. This leads Arnobius to conclude:
It has been established that sacrifices are offered in vain for this purpose then, viz., that the angry deities may be soothed; since reason has taught us that the gods are not angry at any time, and that they do not wish one thing to be destroyed, to be slain for another, or offenses against themselves to be annulled by the blood of an innocent creature.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 9

This summary may be surprising for in that it appears that the Lord God of heaven and earth was wrong to require any type of sacrifice for sin, whether law was established or not.  Such is not the case.  With the giving of the Law, the Lord our God also gave in great mercy and justice the sacrifices which would atone for sin and transgression.  Every bloody offering had an atoning aspect whether for the inadvertent wrongdoing or given as a freewill offering of worship or fellowship.

Within the pagan cultus, there was no category for atonement.  All was given to try and influence the deities for that day and circumstance with no thought to walking in fellowship with them as a beloved or special people.  Arnobius finally states plainly that the people are doing no more than bribing their gods to gain some selfish favor.
This point, however, because it would require too tedious and prolix discussion, we hurry past unexplained and untouched, content to have stated this alone, that you give to your gods dishonorable reputations if you assert that on no other condition do they bestow blessings and turn away what is injurious, except they have been first bought over with the blood of she-goats and sheep, and with the other things which are put upon their altars.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 12

So I return to my first question.  Why do you and I present our sacrifices to the Lord Almighty?  Are we trying to garner some favor for a business deal, difficult circumstance, wisdom in a decision; or are we humbly offering "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ?" (1 Pet 2:5)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Putting the Lord First in Confession

There is a spectrum of belief concerning the acts of confession and absolution as to who may hear a confession and to what degree absolution may be considered effectual when pronounced in God's stead.  In an article addressing the confidentiality issues when someone hears confessed sin(s), Craig Meissner makes the following points.
If a confessor does not intend to keep the seal absolutely confidential, he is likely weak in faith, or his doctrine of justification is likely inconsistent, and so could easily likewise mislead or harm the faith of any penitent who would approach him.  When a confession is not held in absolute confidentiality, any of the following is suggested to the penitent, however subtle:
    1.The word of absolution is not fully sufficient for forgiveness.
    2.Christ has not necessarily died for or perfectly forgives all sins.
    3.Certain sins and sinners are somehow more or less damnable before God.
    4.There is no authority or office for truly forgiving sins on earth, but that forgiveness is only something for which one may hope to have as a reality before God in heaven.
    5.That the church is made up of and led by only those who are morally superior.
    6.One believes one can and must be the actor in changing his or her own destiny, including his own fate before God eternally.
Similarly, if a penitent is required first to be willing to reveal his sinful intentions or actions to neighbors or other authorities before coming to confession, then confession and absolution is not understood as being the place where the ungodly are justified.  If reporting sins to the government or other earthly authorities is first required before confession, this also suggests to the penitent that the government is a higher authority than Christ’s word and church also in regard to dealing with sin. *
My interest was stimulated by the high regard for the Lord and his word expected of the Christian hearing a confession.  I say this because I know of many instances where absolution or forgiveness was not extended to the penitent until there was full restitution, a period of penance, or both: upon which the matter becomes public without the confessor breaking the trust of confidentiality.  But where is the scriptural precedent for this requirement?  If someone who has sinned makes confession, scripture plainly states that God "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).  Before God the sins are reckoned as forgiven.  Before the wronged parties the same should be said, though we realize this is not always the case.  Either way there should be no man-made precursor.

This does not mean that restitution should not be made or consequences not suffered.  After confession is made before the aggrieved party or parties, the true penitent will set matters right to the best of his ability.  It will be a natural response of the humbled heart before God.  The confessor should instruct that action be taken as quickly as possible and not act as intermediary unless requested—and even then with much wisdom and discretion.

What of the person who admits he or she has sinned but refuses any attempt to make proper restitution and seeks to avoid the consequences?  In this matter the person making an admission was in no way speaking out of a spirit of repentance.  Forgiveness and absolution are neither actually expected by the so-called penitent or given by God.  There is no obligation for the confessor to maintain confidentiality.  The full weight of condemnation should be brought to bear on the matter with the hope that the person will repent and deal justly.

* Craig A. Meissner, "The Seal of the Confessional and Maintenance of Confidentiality in Pastoral Practice," Logia XX, No. 3 (Holy Trinity 2011): 25-33.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On a Personal Note

Some may be wondering where I have been.  Besides December being the busiest month for Sandi and me in social calendar, I have also been working from home each evening—a mixed blessing of the internet age.  Two drafts have been started and others are swirling around in my mind, but there is no time for coherent thought along those lines.

Now if readers would just pay me to stay home and write posts . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rejoicing in God as He Rejoices in Us

Praise is, in fact, one of the sacrifices that please [God] most of all (Heb 13:15-16).  What’s more, he has created the church as his choir to stand before him and praise him. He has appointed us as his praise singers for the good of the world and its people, for through our praise he reveals his glory and his grace to suspicious people in a fallen world.  When we sing our songs of praise in the divine service we preach the gospel with the whole of our being to each other and the world.  Our praises disclose the mystery of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who reaches out to us in word and sacrament, to fill us with the Holy Spirit and give us access to God the Father.  In praise the church not only announces that heaven has come to earth in Jesus; it also receives a foretaste of heaven as it gives thanks and adores the triune God.  So then, by praising God we enjoy him and share our enjoyment of him with others.  That’s why God is so pleased with our orthodoxy, our right praise of him.  We rejoice in him as he rejoices in us.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Praise Transforms the Worshiper

We are transformed as we praise the triune God.  As sinners we are turned in on ourselves and seek our own glory.  Like Narcissus we admire ourselves and boast of our achievements.  But praise of God changes our orientation, the idolization of ourselves.  It takes us out of ourselves and opens us up to the glory of God.  As we contemplate and glorify our Lord Jesus, we too are glorified (2 Cor 3:18).  We become what we are meant to be, people who reflect the glory of our Creator.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Friday, December 9, 2011

No Contribution Possible

Justification takes place by grace through faith—not because of any good qualities inherent in faith.  In justification, it is not the person's faith that is taken into consideration, but the fact that Jesus Christ has redeemed the entire world.  Justification is based on the fact that Jesus has already done what was necessary as has suffered all that mankind ought to have done and suffered, and that people merely have to accept this.  Therefore, the way to salvation is this: We contribute nothing—absolutely nothing—toward our salvation.  Rather, Christ has already done everything for us, and we must merely cling to what he has done, drawing consolation from His finished work of redemption and trusting in it for our salvation.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 244

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Judging the Judge

Americans have a love-hate relationship with those who are called to adjudicate between competing factions whether on a sports field, stage, courtroom, etc.  When a decision is made correctly, nothing is said because the person is acting according to the position of authority.  However, if a decision or action goes awry from the expected, howls go up calling into question the arbiter's eyesight and/or intelligence.  This is most often true of those who are removed spatially and chronologically from the action: the further removed from the decision, the greater the misunderstanding of facts and context resulting in negative criticism.  Christians are not exempt from this behavior.  Over the years, I have noted many comments about the failings of those mentioned in the Bible who purport to represent Almighty God in an official capacity.  The further from an idealized conception of what that person should be and do, the more condemnation is poured on the target.

One of the most common recipients of misinformed assault is the judge Samson.  Israel's downward spiral of decline – oppression – supplication – deliverance brought the nation lower and lower with each cycle, but God was always faithful to aid when the people cried out to him.  Philistines had been oppressing the people forty years when the Lord visited Manoah and his barren wife and promised that a son would be born with two main distinguishing characteristics.

The first distinctive is that the boy would be a Nazirite* from birth.  Normally, such a vow was intended to be temporary in nature, however in this case, Samson would be set apart until his death (Jud 13:7).  He would never be released from this vow set upon him.  In addition, Manoah's wife was to prepare for this future life and work by abstaining from appropriate foods while pregnant.

The second distinctive is his life mission: he will "begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (Jud 13:5).  Samson was to begin the liberation process from his countrymen's oppressors.  Notice that the Lord did not say that Samson would completely save Israel.  This was never his to accomplish, which was borne out in the historical record.  God had different timing involving other men.

Upon reaching adulthood, Samson began to be stirred by the Spirit of the Lord (Jud 3:25).  He traveled to a neighboring city of the Philistines, saw a good-looking woman, and requested that his parents get her for his wife.  His parents questioned why an Israelite woman was not good enough but relented.†  God was using Samson's infatuation to provoke an altercation (Jud 14:4) resulting in the death of 30 from Ashkelon (Jud 14:19).  Samson had violated his Nazirite lifestyle in eating honey from the lion carcass, but the Lord used it for deliverance.

When Samson later discovered that his fiancée had been given to his best man, he took vengeance by catching 300 foxes, tying torches to pairs of tails, and set them running through the standing grain and olive orchards (Jud 15:5).  When the Philistines reacted by burning her and her father, Samson once again acts against the Philistines (Jud 15:8).  Then when men of Judah came to deliver Samson over, he struck down 1,000 Philistines with a donkey's jawbone (Jud 15:14-15).  After this he went to Gaza where an ambush was set, but he carried off the gate of the city (Jud 16:3).

Lastly, Samson was addled by his infatuation with Delilah, gave away the secret of his strength, and was enslaved.  As a last act of mercy, the Lord allowed Samson to bring down the house upon the Philistine leaders so that "the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life" (16:30).

In all this Samson is usually portrayed as a ladies' man who scorned his life mission.  There is no denying his conduct—going after Philistine women, one of whom was a prostitute, and breaking the Nazirite vow at least twice.  He was a sinner who was used mightily by the Lord.  Could he have done more by being obedient, or been more productive in how he judged Israel those 20 years (Jud 15:20)?  Perhaps, but he accomplished all that the Angel of the Lord had promised—the beginning of deliverance.

What we know for certain is that this flawed man is given a brief mention as one who acted in faith (Heb 11:32).  This surprises us because our heroes are not supposed to be flawed.  They are to be inhumanly perfect, so that we can dream of emulating though falling short.  We cannot bear our heroes to be normal because their shortcomings become apparent and remind us of our own fallen humanity.

Maybe our heroes need to change.  Notice those who are mentioned with Samson in Hebrews 11—Gideon, Barak, Jephthah.  This is hardly a Who's Who list by any worldly standard, yet all are regarded by the author of Hebrews the same way.  They acted in faith as witnesses to God's faithfulness, but they are not the epitome.  Only Christ is the one suitable for following.  He, who knew no sin, bore our sin on the cross.  That is true heroism.  That is true victory over an enemy.  We can never accomplish the like, but we can with other sinners saved by grace "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14).

* See Numbers 6:1-8 for laws concerning the Nazirite vow.
† There was no direct prohibition against this union: Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, et al were under God's ban, though a case can be made that Philistines were as wicked as can be seen with what happens to Samson's betrothed (Jud 14:20; 15:6).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holy Spirit: Equal in Power and Counsel

Today the church remembers Ambrose.

For the Spirit Himself is Power, as you read: “The Spirit of Counsel and might” (Isa. 11:2).  And as the Son is the Angel of great counsel, so, too, is the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Counsel, that you may know that the Counsel of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is One. Counsel, not concerning any doubtful matters, but concerning those foreknown and determined. … And that we may know more completely that the Spirit is Power, we ought to know that He was promised when the Lord said: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28).  He, then, Who was promised to us is Himself Power, as in the Gospel the same Son of God declared when He said: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, II.20-22

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Adoration of God Gives Us a Foretaste of Heaven

All thanksgiving ultimately leads to adoration of God (2 Cor 4:15).  When we stand before him and discover what he is like, we cannot but adore him.  That’s what the angels do as they surround him and serve him in heaven (Rev 4:11; 5:12; 7:11-12).  They sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).  As they stand before him and see the glory of his Son, they sing: “Glory” (Ps 29:9; Rev 5:13).  Ever since the incarnation of our Lord they invite us to stand with them before God the Father in the divine service and join with them in giving glory to him (Luke 2:13).  Our adoration of God therefore gives us a foretaste of heaven.  As we adore the triune God we begin to do on earth what we will do forever in heaven; we begin to enjoy our God who is so good and great that we never come to the end of our enjoyment of him.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Angels Assist Us in Praising the Triune God

Since Christ has become incarnate and is now present with us to bring us peace and make us holy, we adore him, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, by singing these songs together with the angels and the whole communion of saints.  The angels, who have been appointed as liturgising spirits to serve us, assist us in our adoration of the Triune God (Heb 1:14; 12:22).

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Praise Plants God's Word Deeper So To Praise Him More

Paul speaks about this kind of praise-full proclamation [of God's goodness] in Colossians 3:16 and explains how it functions in the church.  He says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you and hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  The last clause could also be translated: “as you sing about God with Spirit-produced psalms and hymns and songs with grace in your hearts.”  Praise begins with Christ himself.  Through his word, the message of the gospel, he teaches us God’s grace and speaks that grace to us.  By his word he gives us the reason for our praise and its content.  And more than that, he actually produces our praise by giving us his Holy Spirit through his word.  So then, the more Christ’s word dwells in a congregation, the richer and fuller its praise.  This affects us corporately and personally.  On the one hand, by the use of songs that are inspired by God’s word and full of the gospel we teach and admonish each other to take in God’s grace and to praise him for his grace.  We therefore proclaim the gospel to each other in our songs of praise.  On the other hand, as we sing the psalms and hymns and songs that the Holy Spirit generates, Christ plants his word deeper and deeper into the hearts of each person.  The sung word imbeds God’s grace there, so that it can bear its full fruit in our lives.  That grace produces thankfulness, a sense of overwhelming gratitude at the generosity of God.  That, in turn, issues in greater praise.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Praise Communicates God's Goodness

God does not need us to flatter him, but he does want us to tell others about his goodness, so that they too will put their trust in him and enjoy his good gifts.  And that is what we do when we praise him in songs that proclaim his goodness.  In fact, most psalms of praise do just that.  They do not address the Lord, but address the congregation and anyone else who cares to listen.  They sing about God and his goodness.  These psalms have three main parts to them.  First, they name the Lord and announce his presence in the divine service.  Second, they praise his goodness and speak about the good things that he has done.  Third, they invite their hearers to join with his people in receiving his gifts and praising him for his generosity.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Faith Naturally Produces Fruit

A fruitful tree does not produce fruit because someone ordered it to grow fruit but because, as long as there is still some life in it and it is not dried up, it cannot help but produce fruit spontaneously.  Faith is like that tree.  If it fails to bring forth fruit, it is obviously withered.  In the same way, the sun does not need to be told to shine.  It will continue shining until the Last Day—without anyone commanding it to do so.  Faith is like the sun.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 231

Jesus Leads in Songs of Praise

Jesus leads the church in its songs of praise.  He does not just proclaim his Father’s name to those who are his brothers and sisters; he invites them to join with him as their lead singer. He teaches them to praise by giving them his word (Col 3:16) and his Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18-20).  The church then sings its songs of praise together with Jesus.  This amazing result of the incarnation is expressed in a number of different ways in the New Testament.  Both individuals (Rom 1:8) and the church (Rom 7:25; Col 3:17) give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. They give thanks to him in the name of Jesus (Eph 5:20).  Jesus is also the leader of the church in its performance of doxology.  As people who serve with Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary we give glory to God through Jesus (Rom 16:27; 1 Pet 4:11; Jude 25) and in Christ Jesus (Eph 3:21).  So, since we have Jesus as our great high priest who is physically related to us and able to stand in for us physically with his heavenly Father, we are to offer a sacrifice of praise to God through Jesus (Heb 13:15).

The church then follows Jesus in singing its songs and in performing its praises.  It does not, however, sing its own song; it sings the song that it receives from him.  Nor does it sing that song by itself with its own instruments.  The vision of St John in Revelation 15:2-4 shows how the saints hold ‘the harps of God’ in their hands as they sing ‘the song of the Lamb’.  The song of the Lamb is the song of Jesus, the song that he sings as he adores his divine Father.  Jesus does not copyright that song, but he makes it freely available to us.  We can sing it with him because he sings it for us, like a mother teaching her child to sing.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our Vocation As Praise-Singers

St Paul explores the implications of [a new song of praise sung by a new human/angelic choir] in Ephesians 1:3-14.  As he writes this extravagant sentence, he contrasts the new choir created by Christ with the old choir at the temple.  The temple choir had been appointed to praise God for the blessings that the Israelites had received from him here on earth.  Each of the musicians had been given their allotted place at the temple before the Lord.  Their vocation from God was to praise him whenever they were rostered for duty there at the temple.  But now Christ has created a new cosmic choir.  The church is that choir.  By his incarnation he has united earthlings with angels, just as he has united Jews and Gentiles by his death on the cross.  Both human beings and angels are now subject to his headship.  He has redeemed people and made them holy by their union with him.  They now have the same status as Jesus.  They share in his sonship and have every blessing that belongs to him as God’s Son.  They join the angels in a single choir that spans heaven and earth.  That choir consists of both Jews and Gentiles.  Through the incarnation of Jesus, human beings have access to the heavenly realm as they continue to live on earth.  Both angels and people have the same vocation as praise singers.  Those who have been redeemed by Christ have been appointed as praise-singers for God the Father here on planet earth.  They are called to live for the praise of God’s glory (Eph 1:6,12,14).

They cannot do this in his absence.  In and through Jesus they praise God the Father as those who stand ‘holy and blameless before him’ (Eph 1:4), for Christ has united them bodily with himself and has taken them bodily with himself into the Godhead.  As recipients of God’s grace they sing the song of God’s amazing grace to the world.  In fact, God is so utterly good and gracious, so much more generous, philanthropic, and loving than the best human being, that they can only communicate something of that grace by wholehearted, full-bodied praise.  The praises of the church then are full of wonder and amazement at the great mystery of the incarnation, by which the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus, so that we humans can come to fullness of life in and through him.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

God's Presence Inspires Praise

The song of praise performed a very significant theological function in the temple service.  It was not spoken to God as a gesture of flattery, or even as an act of adoration, but was addressed to the congregation.  As is shown in 1 Chronicles 16:7-36, David proclaimed the goodness and steadfast love of the Lord to the congregation through the choir.  He called on the people of Israel and all the nations to join him in seeking God’s gracious presence and praising him to the whole world.  The song of praise therefore proclaimed the Lord’s name and his saving deeds to all people.  It acknowledged his presence and announced his availability to his people.  The presence of God in grace inspired the song of praise, even as the song of praise made his gracious presence known to its hearers.

This connection between access to God’s presence and the performance of praise is shown most vividly by the account of the dedication of the temple by Solomon in 2 Chronicles 5:11-14.  This story tells us that after the priests had placed the ark in the inner sanctuary of the temple and had come out of the temple, the full choir began to sing a song of praise to the accompaniment of lyres and harps.  As soon as they began to sing the Lord’s song, the glorious presence of the Lord filled the temple.  But the glory of the Lord was not seen, because it was hidden in a cloud.  It was revealed to the people audibly to the human ear in the song of praise, rather than visibly to the human eye.  The performance of praise in music and song disclosed the hidden presence of the Lord and announced his acceptance of the people.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Eucharistic Theology in Ignatius of Antioch

While recently reading Ignatius concerning the Trinity (parts one, two, and three), I noticed sentences and phrases that referred in some measure to the Eucharist.  Below are a few thoughts concerning Ignatius' view, and how he interweaves this theme through a few of his epistles.

Unity – Ignatius was concerned for the unity of believers, so it comes as no surprise that he relates that breaking bread is a sign of unity (Ephesians, 20; Philadelphians 4) and pure doctrine (Trallians, 6-7).  Those not partaking are deprived of that unity with the church as subjects of discipline (Ephesians, 5).  Heretics apparently refused orthodox practice and abstained from the Eucharist (Smyrnaeans, 7) which all believers were instructed to do by Jesus and Paul.  The presence of a separate Eucharist was considered schismatic as a probably sign of heresy (Philadelphians, 2-3).  As a result the believers were encouraged to keep one that was properly sanctioned and administered (Philadelphians, 4; Smyrnaeans, 8).

Means of Grace – Ignatius relates a function in the Eucharistic beyond a memorial meal.  This is evidenced by a definite connection between the body and blood of Christ to the bread and cup in the following:
   • For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup into the unity of His blood (Philadelphians, 4)
   •[Heretics] confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. (Smyrnaeans, 7)
In addition he bestows the union of bread with Christ's body as “the medicine of immortality, and the antidote which prevents us from dying, but a cleansing remedy driving away evil” (Ephesians, 20) giving clear testimony to a salvific effect.

Final Hope – Lastly, Ignatius' desire is to put away the symbols and passing of this world to “come to the Father” and partake of Christ as “the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and . . . the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life” (Romans, 7).

I am not completely certain what to make of this for two reasons.  First, Ignatius was a colorful writer using ornate word pictures to communicate many of his thoughts.  This is especially seen in his use of musical themes for explaining his thoughts on church unity.  It may be that he used the same rhetorical device in associating a real presence and salvific work to the bread and cup though the language seems to be clear enough.  Second, while a real presence of Christ in the elements is possible (per Chemnitz' The Two Natures in Christ), I still question the actuality based on my understanding of the biblical evidence.

Sola Scriptura must be the governing norm, but epistles written in so close proximity both in time and distance deserve due weight.  That said, I need to revisit this and come to a more firm conclusion.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christ's Incarnation: Our Basis for Praise

In his great vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 5:6-10, St John sees twenty-four elders singing a new song.  The elders, twelve for the patriarchs of Israel and twelve for the apostles of Christ, represent the people of God in both testaments.  As John watches, they rise from their thrones and fall down before Jesus the Lamb, because he has just received the sealed scroll from God.  That scroll is his script for the last act in the drama of world history.  Each of the elders holds two things in their hands, a lyre for accompanying their songs of praise, and a bowl full of incense for presenting the prayers of the saints to God.  As they fall prostrate before Jesus, they sing a new song of praise to him.  In this song they acknowledge that by his sacrificial death, Jesus has created a new international priesthood for God.  Their task is to reign with him on earth.  And they reign in a strange way indeed.  As those who stand before God and have access to him, they reign by their performance of prayer and praise.

This vision shows us how singing of praise is connected with the incarnate Christ.  He himself has created this priestly choir by his self-sacrifice as the Lamb.  This choir now performs its song of praise in his presence here on earth.  In music and song it acknowledges and praises him.  It sings its song together with all the angels and the whole of creation (Rev 5:11-14; cf. Ps 148:1-14).  By that song it proclaims the hidden kingship of Christ to the world and announces what he is doing as the cosmic world ruler.  He does not reign as the Lion of Judah, but as the Lamb of God.  In its song of praise the church proclaims the presence of the incarnate Son of God and tells of his work as the redeemer of the world.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rely Solely On Christ

No matter what other false doctrines [fanatical sects] may teach, they all have this great error in common: They do not rely solely on Christ and His Word, but chiefly on something that takes place within themselves.  As a rule, they imagine that all is well with them because they have turned from their former ways.  As if that were a guarantee of reaching heaven!  No—we should not look back to our conversion for assurance.  Rather, we must go to our Savior again and again—every day—as though we never had been converted.  My former conversion would be of no benefit to me if I became secure in my sins.  I must return to the mercy seat every day, otherwise I would make my former conversion my savior, and not Christ, because I would be relying on it.  That would be horrible, for at the end of the day that would mean that I would make myself my own savior.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 225.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christians Are Called To Praise God

We Christians are called to praise the triune God.  That, in fact, is the main purpose of our life here on earth (1 Pet 2:9).  It is part of our vocation as members of God’s royal priesthood.  We have been redeemed from a life of suspicion and mistrust to be praise singers.  This is no occasional task, something we do once a week, or every now and then when we feel moved to do so.  Nor is it something that we do by ourselves.  Since we belong to the church, we have joined God’s heavenly choir here on earth.  This means that our whole life is, in some way, caught up in praising God.  We are well-placed to do so, because we, like the holy angels, have access to God and grace.  Since we stand in the light of his presence, we can reflect that light in our rejoicing.

John W Kleinig, "What's the Use of Praising God?" Lutheran Theological Journal 38/2 (2004)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Win "Historical Theology" by Gregg Allison

Credo, the online magazine, is giving away a copy of Historical Theology by Gregg Allison.  Multiple opportunities to win are allowed by posting and sharing the news.  And since divine providence will surely work so that this volume comes into my possession, I promise to let you know how good it is after reading it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten Reasons to Love Luther

Over at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike has posted ten reasons why he loves Martin Luther.  I give those ten here:
1.For Luther, it was all about Christ.
2.He loved and listened to God’s Word.
3.I love a good “Rocky” story.
4.The guy had a way with words.
5.He treasured music right up there next to the Bible.
6.He never wrote a systematic theology.
7.He had a pastor’s heart that cared deeply about the church.
8.He loved a good time, especially when beer was involved.
9.He cherished his wife and family.
10.He was utterly human, completely dependent on God’s grace.
I pretty much agree with his sentiments.  Luther was noted for his colorful commentary.  One case in particular that struck me was a treatise on making vows of celibacy.  He said, as best as I remember:
Do you want to make a good vow?  Vow that you will not bite the nose off your face.  That one you can keep.
The entire article with the specifics behind the above can be found here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trinitarian Doctrine in Ignatius of Antioch (3)

This is the third and last of a series on Trinitarian doctrine in Ignatius' writing.  Based on what was in the first two epistles, I assumed the others would also be filled with references, but such was not the case.  The remainder are listed here.
Epistle to the Trallians.
as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna by the will of God and Jesus Christ - chap 1 (God [the Father] and Jesus both exercised their wills showing equality between the persons.)
continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God - chap 7
God promises unity, which he himself is. - chap 11 [translation from Michael Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 3rd ed.] (God is a unity, not a singularity, therefore requiring more than one member or person within the Godhead.)

Epistle to the Romans
in accordance with faith in and love for Jesus Christ our God … heartiest greetings blamelessly, in Jesus Christ our God - preface [Holmes ed.]
For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed - chap 3

Epistle to the Philadelphians
For though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit, as being from God, is not deceived.  For it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and detects the secrets. - chap 7 (The Holy Spirit is from God and acts as God)

Epistle to the Smyrnaeans
I glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. - chap 1 (Equating God and Jesus Christ)
if by any means they may be brought to repentance, which, however, will be very difficult. Yet Jesus Christ, who is our true life, has the power of this. - chap 4 (Jesus has God's power of bringing men to repentance.)
You have done well in receiving Philo and Rheus Agathopus as servants of Christ our God - chap 10

Epistle to Polycarp
I pray for your happiness forever in our God, Jesus Christ, by whom you continue in the unity and under the protection of God - chap 8

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trinitarian Doctrine in Ignatius of Antioch (2)

This is part two of a series on Trinitarian doctrine in Ignatius' writing.  Given below are extracts from Epistle to the Magnesians.

I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ, the constant source of our life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred, but especially of Jesus and the Father, in whom,… we shall enjoy God - chap 1 (Jesus is the source of life, which can only be ascribed to God. Jesus and the Father are co-equal in our ultimate salvation.)
the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ, by whom, if we are not in readiness to die into His passion, His life is not in us. - chap 5 (It is Christ who secures sharing in both the nature of God and life.  2 Pet 1:3-4)
Therefore all of you run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one. - chap 7 (Jesus came from the divine glory, remained in the glory while on earth, and returned again to the glory.)
there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word,… and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him. - chap 8 (Jesus was sent by God and is the manifestation of God.  John 17:21, 25; Col 1:15; Heb 1:3)
Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God.  Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual. - chap 13 (Body life in the church is a result of a correct, trinitarian understanding of God.)
Farewell in the harmony of God, you who have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ. - chap 15 (Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one in being though different persons.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trinitarian Doctrine in Ignatius of Antioch

I was listening to a podcast lecture on the proper understanding of the Trinity and was reminded how far back it went.  Here are some excerpts from Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians written circa a.d. 107—well before the Council of Nicaea.

to the Church which is at Ephesus … being blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father,… being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God - preface (Jesus is different from the Father, but both are called God.)
Being the imitators of God [Eph 5:1], and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God - chap 1 (God can only have blood if he has a human body, as in the incarnation.)
Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God,… that no heresy has any dwelling-place among you.
Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth - chap 6 (God and Jesus are both considered the basis for truth.)
There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible,—even Jesus Christ our Lord. - chap 7 (Explicit statements of God in human flesh; born of Mary and different person of Godhead)
being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope - chap 9 (Trinitarian picture of salvation)
For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head, that He might breathe immortality into His Church.… And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? - chap 17 (It is Jesus who gives life to the church; and Jesus is the embodiment of God's knowledge)
For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. - chap 18 (Trinitarian view of incarnation: Jesus is God, was appointed by God, and was conceived by Holy Spirit who is God)
God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life - chap 19 (God put on human form to give life)
My intent in this post was to give excerpts from all the letters, but I was surprised by the number in the first of these. This looks like a short series in the making.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kate Cooper Examines Fourth-Century Shift in Church Polity

Kate Cooper has written an interesting article in Journal of Early Christian Studies examining the shift in church polity from the third to fourth century.†  Her thesis is that as the Roman government operated within a framework of landowners operating for their mutual benefit, so similarly the universal church took up this characteristic as they transitioned from "private power to corporate institutional policy."(327)  Landowners were considered worthy of heeding by virtue of their business acumen and life experience, and the church found the pattern useful for the establishment of bishops over the churches in a diocese in order to maintain order and interact in a corporate way with the Roman government.  Later, as the power of Rome faded, the authority of the bishops came to the fore within the context of both church and state.

The comparison is not without merit.  Rome was first established as a republic with a senate as the governing body.  Mutual cooperation would be required in order for the system to be maintained.  The church acted similarly as evidenced by the apostles and later writers though the basis of their union was entirely different.  Cooper quotes Cyprian's On Unity of the Church as the best example of the collegiate nature of church governance in the mid-third century.  We also can follow Rome and the Church taking similar steps in moving from a decentralized to a centralized authority structure as both internal and external affairs needed action and power was given to a smaller and smaller sphere of governors.  This might be directly related to Constantine's legalization of Christianity.
But the imperial sanction certainly made a difference to the bishop’s power already from the early fourth century, and across the fourth century it became increasingly important to cultivate good standing with the imperially recognized bishop of one’s city in order to enjoy the privileges of conformity with the state religion. (343)
I disagree with Ms. Cooper's thrust that Roman society was a lead factor or primary example for church structure.  Scripture itself identifies the impetus—apostolic doctrine (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  However, the research does raise a question: How much does culture affect the church?  Plenty.  But this does not mean we stop walking in the good works that God has given us (Eph 2:10).  Neither you nor I will build the church.  Jesus builds the church.  We are called to trust him and work out what God done and given (Phil 2:12-13).

Kate Cooper, "Christianity, Private Power, and the Law from Decius to Constantine: The Minimalist View," JECS 19:3 (2011), 327–343.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Who Is the Gospel About?

Marc Cortez of Western Seminary is doing a series The Problem With Our Gospel, which is not about the shortcomings of the gospel but identifying what we have inadvertently or deliberately done with the gospel to strip it of power.  In the latest post, he shares the following:
Just look at how we summarize the Gospel:

▪ God loves you and wants a relationship with you.
▪ You sinned and separated yourself from God.
▪ Jesus died for your sins so that you could have a relationship with God.
▪ If you believe in Jesus and confess your sins, he will forgive you and you will spend an eternity in heaven with him.

These are some tremendous truths.  But notice who this story revolves around.  You.  You’re the one God loves, you’re the one in trouble, and you’re the one getting saved.  The whole story revolves around you and your needs.  No wonder we like this story.

But the Gospel isn’t about you.

The Gospel is not about me.

The Gospel is about God.
I hear or read this "all about me" somewhere, sometime during any given week.  How refreshing to remember that I am not the center of redemption but the undeserving recipient.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lutheranism For the Post-Evangelical

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk has two posts giving strong points of the Lutheran tradition which fill a void that his former Evangelical associations simply could not or did not address.  In the first, he identifies "three main areas of disillusionment with the culture of American evangelicalism: (1) Worship, (2) Pastoral Ministry, (3) Missional living" and notes the following as Lutheran strengths:
The Word and Table liturgy of the Lutheran church, rooted in the historic tradition of the church rather than the revivalist movement, restores the priority of worship in the local congregation.

Pastors are not CEO’s or program directors in the Lutheran church as they have become in much of evangelicalism.  Rather, they represent Christ in distributing the means of grace through Word and Sacrament.  Preaching is embedded in the liturgy so that worship does not revolve around the charisma of the preacher, but the Word Himself who meets us in the gathering of his people.  Pastoral care and catechizing the congregation are essential components of his or her work.

The doctrine of vocation is one of the gifts the Lutheran tradition has given to the larger Church.  Luther, himself a monk, came to appreciate the priesthood of all believers and the integrity of every calling, "sacred" or "secular," as a means of showing Christ’s love to the world.
In the second post, he addresses two other theological distinctives.  First is the centrality of Christ, especially as regards three areas:
First of all, Lutherans observe the Christian Year, which is as Jesus-shaped and salutary a practice for getting to know Christ and learning to live in his story as any I know.

Second, throughout the year this involves preaching from the lectionary, which shows week in and week out how the Bible relentlessly points to Christ and God’s kingdom.  As I’ve attended the Lutheran church, I have heard sermons from the Gospel reading almost every Sunday, which means it is Jesus’ story and Jesus’ voice that is constantly highlighted.

Third, traditional liturgical worship itself is by nature Christocentric, as Robert Webber has explained so well in his writings on worship.  The liturgy is designed to reenact the drama of the Gospel, with Christ at the center through proclamation of the Gospel and invitation to the Lord’s Table.
Then there is distinguishing of Law and Gospel.  The Law "comes to us in imperatives: “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not…”
It draws the line and therefore defines crossing the line as “transgression.”  It paints a picture of perfect health and defines the corruption of our nature as “iniquity.”  It issues commandments, requirements, laws, exhortations, and instructions, and defines disregard of those standards as “lawlessness.”  As a revelation of God’s character, it declares that our lack of conformity to him is “ungodliness.”  It sets forth a clear path, a “straight way” on which humans should walk, and then points out that we have “gone astray” and become “lost.”
While the Gospel "is the announcement of God’s grace in Christ for a rebel creation."
God’s grace also renews us and God’s grace leads us.  Through grace we delight in God’s will.  Through grace we are strengthened to walk in his ways.  The formation of virtue in our lives does not come through simply hearing God’s commands and “following the instructions.”  It comes instead as we focus on Christ and feed on Christ, digesting his grace toward us.  We learn with amazement that we are accepted by him solely because of his “one-way love” and not because we are in any way attractive or deserving.  Our relationship with God has been initiated and is sustained wholly from outside ourselves.
With the amount of Lutheran theology read in the past five years, I can add my affirmation to the general points though disagreeing with some of the specifics.  These are definitely areas where American evangelicalism has largely fallen flat. We can learn a thing or two from our Lutheran brethren to get away from what Evangelicalism has become and be an assembly of God's people.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

ESV Text Changes For 2011

An announcement was made concerning some text changes in the English Standard Version that can be found here on the FAQ page.  The complete list of changes can be found here.  There are only 750 word changes, and they are rather innocuous.

The one global change I did not care for was from hired servant to hired worker, but the translation committee did not consult me—certainly their loss.  Maybe it is because my knowledge of Biblical languages is not up to par.  For instance, my Greek does not go much beyond Gyro and Galaktoboureko.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Appeasing God(s)

We have next to examine the argument … that sacrifices are offered to the gods of heaven for this purpose, that they may lay aside their anger and passions, and may be restored to a calm and placid tranquility, the indignation of their fiery spirits being assuaged.  And if we remember the definition which we should always bear steadily in mind, that all agitating feelings are unknown to the gods, the consequence is, a belief that the gods are never angry; nay, rather, that no passion is further from them than that which, approaching most nearly to the spirit of wild beasts and savage creatures, agitates those who suffer it with tempestuous feelings, and brings them into danger of destruction.  For whatever is harassed by any kind of disturbance, is, it is clear, capable of suffering, and frail; that which has been subjected to suffering and frailty must be mortal; but anger harasses and destroys those who are subject to it: therefore that should be called mortal which has been made subject to the emotions of anger.  But yet we know that the gods should be never-dying, and should possess an immortal nature; and if this is clear and certain, anger has been separated far from them and from their state.  On no ground, then, is it fitting to wish to appease that in the gods above which you see cannot suit their blessed state.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 5

In this chapter Arnobius contends that because deities are impassible, they are not subject to anger—perceived to be an animalistic, self-destructive emotion—and therefore do not need sacrifices to appease them.  The reader may wonder whether he has overstepped at this point since the covenant-keeping God of the Bible is described as expressing both anger and wrath.

The pantheon Arnobius addressed had as a common characteristic a propensity for unbridled, emotional responses.  In many cases the humans interwoven in the tales had more self-control than the deity involved.  He argues that true gods will not be so capricious as those being worshiped in his world and not the quick, oft-given sacrifices to curry favor.  Stability grounded in core principles is obvious for society and should be even more so among those overseeing the created order.  A true god would be more like the Supreme, Almighty God in this manner of whom it is attested:
God is not man, that he should lie,
        or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
        Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  (Num 23:19)

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.  (Mal 3:6)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  (Jas 1:17)
Since both scripture and argumentation presented here claim God's impassibility, how can Paul and the other biblical writers plainly teach plainly thus seemingly controverted need for propitiation?  An examination of anger and wrath in the Bible demonstrates how these pertain to the Godhead.

This attribute is a response based on something done or said by another and being communicable to mankind is similar to our emotion.  The difference lies in the basis and measure of anger since we tend toward sinful use and God couples it perfectly with divine patience.
And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.  (Num 11:1)

But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.  (Jos 7:1)

And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.  (2 Ki 17:17)

And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.  (2 Ki 21:6)
Each of the above was a response to specific sins of which the Lord had given instruction and resulted in just discipline directed toward the offenders.  Even then the degree of punishment meted out, though sufficient for correction, but did not fully satisfy the extent to which the people deserved punishment as a stiff-necked people.  This is a much different attitude than was told of the pagan gods who were to have taken vengeance on whole nations for minor infractions.

Divine wrath is different from anger in that it is
His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness.  It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil.  It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.  It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers.1
Wrath runs deeper and broader than anger addressing the whole of what a sinful nature does in and through the person rather a single instance.  God reserves wrath until his patience runs out when, because of great indignation against sin, he executes judgment.  Again, this is executed within the parameters of God's justice, and because the offense is beyond the measure of any being, the fullness of judgment is brought to bear on the one to whom it is due.

In order to avert the just execution of wrath, a sufficient sacrifice is necessary.2  Christ as that sufficient propitiation in his work on the cross (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17).  J. I. Packer explains well:
The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched.  How was this effected?  Through the death of Christ.… The 'blood'—that is, the sacrificial death—of Jesus Christ abolished God’s anger against us, and ensured that His treatment of us for ever after would be propitious and favorable.3
The sacrifice of Jesus dealt with all righteous requirements of a holy, eternal God and was not given to influence a fickle deity but satisfy forever the greatest need of mankind.  And what of those who reject what God has so richly provided?
The wrath of God on the wicked is great.  Men deserve it.  And there is no escaping it.… Those who chose to reject the sacrifice of Christ for their sins must now be judged according to their works.  It is a terrible fate, but one which sinners richly deserve.4
Arnobius was correct to question the need to appease gods who were emotionally erratic.  The constant need for sacrifices to influence divine behavior was folly and undeserved.  In comparison, the one true God was aggrieved to an infinite degree by virtue of Adam's sin and provided himself as the only sufficient sacrifice to cover and remove sin and its effects.

1 A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, (Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications, 1968 [Reprint]), p. 75.
2 See my post on Bloody Sacrifices for more on this.
3 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), p. 165.
4 Bob Deffinbaugh, The Wrath of God, accessed online at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Comparing Psychological Method and Christianity

Glenn Chatfield at The Watchman's Bagpipes has begun a series comparing psychological methods against Christianity.  Part 1 and part 2 have been posted looking at the historical figures in the field of psychology.

It is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sound Theology Brings Peace Of Mind

A friend shared this Peanuts cartoon on Facebook.  (Thanks, Karen!)  The simple truth is striking.  When we are not grounded in God's word, whether through ignorance or disobedience, no assurance can be found.

Consider the analogies used in scripture beginning with Jesus:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.  (Matt 7:24-27)
Here, the Savior shared that those who take heed to his instruction would be firmly based and nothing that assailed would shake his stand.

Later, the apostle Paul would write of godly men that Christ has given to the church
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  (Eph 4:12-14)
Those who do not know God's word are easily swayed and concerned about the wrong things.  And even those who have been taught rightly, yet doubts, James refers to in similar fashion:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  (Jas 1:5-8)
One can easily envision a helpless vessel on a choppy sea being blown hither and yon because there is neither anchor nor ballast.

This being so, it then behooves the Church to be diligent in making disciples, not converts.  Let's be "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."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Strength to Persevere

Will Weedon's Patristic Quote of the Day is from On the Holy Spirit by Basil the Great and attests to the Holy Spirit's work in perseverance as demonstrated by the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  What a blessed source of strength!

I do not know what translation he shared, but the same section is found in NPNF2, volume 8 given here.

I was taught too by the children at Babylon, that, when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our duty.  They from out of the midst of the flame lifted up their voices in hymns and praise to God, reeking not of the host that set the truth at naught, but sufficient, three only that they were, with one another.  Wherefore we too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth.

Daniel 3

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bloody Sacrifices

One of the objections laid against orthodox Christianity is the concept of a loving father sending his innocent son to suffer and die for the guilt of others.  Men make every effort to deconstruct the plain reading of scripture and restate the narrative in a way that removes the scandal of the cross.  Why?  Such a sacrifice is abhorrent.  Justice demands that the guilty should pay for his or her own transgressions.  For someone or something to die as a substitute for wrongdoing runs counter to our thinking.  Why should a living thing shed its blood for my behalf?  In the following from his work against pagans, Arnobius takes up a similar argument that bears some investigation.
And can any man persuade himself that the gods become mild as they are exhilarated by pleasures, that they long for sensual enjoyment, and, like some base creatures, are affected by agreeable sensations, and charmed and tickled for the moment by a pleasantness which soon passes away?

But the gods should be free from both passions, if we would have them to be everlasting, and freed from the weakness of mortals.  Moreover, every pleasure is, as it were, a kind of flattery of the body, and is addressed to the five well-known senses; but if the gods above feel it, they must partake also of those bodies through which there is a way to the senses, and a door by which to receive pleasures.  Lastly, what pleasure is it to take delight in the slaughter of harmless creatures, to have the ears ringing often with their piteous bellowings, to see rivers of blood, the life fleeing away with the blood, and the secret parts having been laid open, not only the intestines to protrude with the excrements, but also the heart still bounding with the life left in it, and the trembling, palpitating veins in the viscera?  We half-savage men, nay rather,—to say with more candor what it is truer and more candid to say,—we savages, whom unhappy necessity and bad habit have trained to take these as food, are sometimes moved with pity for them; we ourselves accuse and condemn ourselves when the thing is seen and looked into thoroughly, because, neglecting the law which is binding on men, we have broken through the bonds which naturally united us at the beginning.

Will any one believe that the gods, who are kind, beneficent, gentle, are delighted and filled with joy by the slaughter of cattle, if ever they fall and expire pitiably before their altars?  And there is no cause, then, for pleasure in sacrifices, as we see, nor is there a reason why they should be offered, since there is no pleasure afforded by them; and if perchance there is some, it has been shown that it cannot in any way belong to the gods.
The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 4

A cursory reading has the writer castigating the practice of bloody sacrifice as unnecessary since any divine being would not be given to pleasure by the slaughter of these beasts.  He argues strongly that deity is impassible and that these offerings are not compatible with that high character.  That begs the question: Does the God Arnobius confesses desire such sacrifices?  And what of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross?

Why sacrifices?
The first step is to establish why someone would feel the need to offer a sacrifice.  There is within mankind an understanding that a gap exists between a person who is a corporeal entity and the incorporeal deity.  A gap exists either because of shortcomings or just the inadequacy of ability in communicating from one level of existence to the other.  In either case, something must bridge the chasm in order for interaction to occur.

The Bible tells us that there was originally fellowship between God and man—as much closeness in a relationship as is possible between the Creator and his creation.  This was ruined by man's disobedience, and the sin resulted in a chasm (Gen 3:17-24).  While no animal sacrifice was required, they were given from earliest times.  The earliest recorded came from Abel who gave of the flock which was accepted (Gen 4:4).

While the early sacrifices were useful in approaching God, man still lacked basic knowledge of how short he came in his attempts and what was needed to ease the situation.  Through Moses was communicated the Lord's holy character and his expectation of a holy people.  Because of the sin nature within every one of his people, God also gave stipulations for the sacrifices needed to atone for those sins, because
the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  (Lev 17:11)
A life was required in order to deal with sin.  Since the Lord so valued human life (see Gen 1:26; 2:7) above animal life, the blood of specific livestock was offered in a prescribed manner as a substitute for the individual or nation.

Something Better
God has said in his word that there is something he desires above sacrifice.

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
        as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
        and to listen than the fat of rams.  (1 Sam 15:22)

Sacrifice and offering you have not desired,
        but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
        you have not required.
Then I said, "Behold, I have come;
        in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I desire to do your will, O my God;
        your law is within my heart."  (Psa 40:6-8)

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
        says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
        and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
        or of lambs, or of goats.
                                . . .
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
        remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
        seek justice, correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
        plead the widow’s cause.  (Isa 1:11, 16-17)

The sacrificial system was installed because of sin, but what God wanted more than anything else was obedience.  Continual sacrifices were a measure to cover sin for a time but never completely dealt with the issue.  Something more was required to deal with all sin forever.

Ultimate Answer
Because man had sinned, a man had to deal with the problem, but nobody was sufficient to the task.  To deal with the shortcoming, God himself stepped into this world as fully man, yet remaining fully God.  As man, he could represent us to pay the debt of his own precious blood.  As God, the sacrifice was of infinite worth and power to cover all sin.  None more were required (Heb 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 10:10).  The bloody sacrifice that was not needed by man in the beginning or wanted by God, but given by necessity, is now completed for all time, so that if we but trust in Jesus' finished work on the cross, we might walk in newness of life as new creations in Christ.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Two Natures in Christ: Lectures by Rod Rosenbladt

This morning I finished listening to a set of MP3s featuring Dr. Rod Rosenbladt lecturing on Martin Chemnitz' book The Two Natures in Christ.  I read this book about five years ago and was both impressed and overwhelmed.  After listening to the lectures, rereading the book seems in order.

The audio sessions are available at Fighting for the Faith beginning here and presented intermittently over three months worth of shows.  If you wish video format, links can be found at the website for Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, CA.

Incarnation Notes for Two Natures Lecture

The edition I read can be found here.  An updated edition is available from CPH.  It is thick (542 pages) and packed full of good stuff.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Receptive Worship

For most of my readers, receptive worship is an oxymoron like being an Arminian Calvinist.  It simply cannot work.  Our understanding of worship is outward—from me to God—with my responsibility to offer sacrifices of person (Rom 12:1), purse (Phil 4:18), and praise (Heb 13:15) that are all spiritual in nature (1 Pet 2:5).  Praise and worship music overwhelmingly reflects the idea of constant focus on God and his attributes, similar to Psalms 149 and 150, in our relationship with him.  Such attribution is good, but may I assert this constant refrain is little more than emoting, and we are missing the fullness of worship?

The first direct mention of worship is used on the occasion when God tested Abraham (Gen 22:1-19):
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.  (22:2)
At this point in the story, there is certainly the God-ward focus with the command to give a burnt offering, and later after three days' journey, Abraham and Isaac separated from the young men, telling them to stay while they "go over there and worship and come again to you" (22:5).

It is at this place in the account where things take a turn as Isaac comments that they have the fire and wood but no sacrifice.  The answer is instructive: "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering" (22:8).  Abraham is expecting to receive from God in his obedience of worship.  This is a remarkable statement that can best be understood through the much later commentary given by the author of Hebrews:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  (Heb 11:17-19)
While Abraham was in the act of worship, there was expectation that God was faithful concerning the son of promise.  He was convinced in the ultimate reception of a fulfilled promise manifested in a material way in the face of any outward circumstance; and he was not disappointed as God provided the sacrifice of a ram after stopping the death of Isaac.  Not only was the promise kept intact and received back, but the burnt offering was received and offered as a substitute—provision beyond all he could ask or think.

The same type of application can be made in the offerings of Leviticus 1-6.  Each of the five offering types had its picture within the whole of worship, but broadly speaking these can be summed up under two—atonement and fellowship.  Blood was shed to make atonement (Lev 17:11) and dealt with the sin problem; and the worshiper entered into fellowship with God and the priest by virtue of sharing in the offering when permitted (Lev 7:11-18).  A prescribed animal or item was brought before the priest as an act of worship, thus portraying the God-ward view, but the promises of God associated with these offerings assured the faithful Israelite that the presentation of his gift would result in sin covered and peace with God.  In the mind of the worshiper, sin was considered atoned for in three ways: first, what had been covered previously no longer carried any guilt; second, there was the promise that the person's sin would be covered in worship; and third, guilt for the sin would not be reapplied as in cases of double jeopardy and fellowship is renewed.

This expectation of atonement and fellowship is no different for the worshiper today, but we may not see it because one, final atoning sacrifice by Jesus was given 2000 years ago.  When coming before the Lord to worship, we still have assurance that each person's sin was covered, and it is but for me to believe (1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 2:1-7); that my sin is currently being covered (Eph 1:4; Col 1:22) as I come into God's holy presence with my brothers and sisters in Christ; and that I will be covered as I remain faithful to him (1 Thess 5:23), having the promise fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:5-7).  It is not that we once again sacrifice the Lord of glory on the cross, but we consider him who was made a little lower than the angels and now crowned with glory and honor that I may enjoy the benefit here and now.

It is this receiving aspect of worship that is rarely mentioned today in song and sermon among evangelicals, yet it is part and parcel with God's word.  The scriptures are replete with the telling of God's great acts for his people and the work of redemption, especially as one reads the psalms.  We are called to worship to consider, not simply an act two millenia ago against an innocent person, but a sacrifice that dealt with for all time the sin that kept God and man separate.  And as we do so, we glory in the wonder if who our God is and what he has done for us—past, present, and future—all the while relishing in the good gifts he bestows.

The correctness of the contemporary praise and worship music's relational focus is not under consideration here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Knowing the Hour and Day

Early in my Christian life, I was convinced by others that if a person did not know when he first believed, that one was not a believer at all.  Once and again, well-meaning teachers stated plainly that if someone did not have the date, and perhaps hour, engraved in memory, that person's salvation was viewed as suspect.  With that knowledge came great pride in knowing the time of decision.  The "gold standard" was knowing the very minute.  My attitude was like those described by C.F.W. Walther:
The Pietists held that anyone unable to state the exact day and hour when he was converted and entered into grace was certainly not a true Christian.  The Pietists claimed that neither should such people consider themselves to be Christians nor should they be viewed as such.  (210)
Years later, I have come to understand that this was nonsense: first, because I met godly men and women who could not articulate when they believed; and second, because the Bible teaches no such thing.  What you may or may not remember of something done years ago is not as important as what you believe today.  Do I believe the gospel?  Do I confess Christ as Lord?  Do I believe the condemnation of sin the Law describes in me and trust the eternal promises of God that I am saved by faith as a free gift?  These questions point to the reality of my spiritual condition—within the kingdom of God or without.  Walther continues that
conversion is nothing other than an awakening from spiritual death into spiritual life.  Put differently, conversion is leaving the broad way leading downward and turning onto the narrow way leading upward.  It is the transfer from the realm of the devil to the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

Just as there is no "middle way" between death and life, just as there is no "middle way" between the narrow way leading upward and the wide way leading downward nor an intermediate realm between the realm of Satan and the kingdom of Christ, we are all spiritually dead or spiritually alive.  We are traveling either on the narrow or on the wide way.  We are either in the kingdom of Jesus Christ or in the realm of the devil.  In other words, a person is either converted or not.  There is nothing in between.  (210-211)
Regardless of what may or may not have occurred in the past, are you today trusting in Christ's atonement because of and for your sin?

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, (trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 210-211.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Christian Publisher Is Assimilated Into the Collective

Thomas Nelson has agreed to be purchased by HarperCollins, the corporation which had previously purchased Zondervan.  The news release can be found here.  Somehow I am not surprised.  In recent years, Thomas Nelson seemed to be more concerned with what sells merchandise rather than quality of the product.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Facing the Emergent Church With the Ancient Church

Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and other Emergent leaders are undermining sound doctrine by claiming to return to the ancient church to find the truth and bring it forward, except what they bring forward is usually not what the Church Fathers taught.  In February 2010, Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith put together an argument against the major tenets of the Emergent movement using The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (circa a.d. 130).  The full PDF can be found here.

The following are his points followed by the corresponding ancient text and chapter number.


Was Mathetes a Universalist? Did he believe that adherents of other religions were already followers of Christ through their pagan sacred traditions?  Absolutely not!  Biblical Christianity has always been exclusive and has considered idolatry and false worship to be a breaking of the 1st commandment.
they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews (1)
Was Mathetes uncertain? Did he engage in a humble hermeneutic that claimed that knowledge wasn’t knowable and that truth was left to the individual to interpret through their experiences?  Absolutely not!  Not only was Mathetes certain about knowing sound doctrine, but he claimed Biblical doctrine was of divine, not human origin.
[lay] aside what you have been accustomed to, as something apt to deceive you (2)

you hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods (2)

you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busybody spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshiping God from any mortal. (4)

nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines (5)

They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. (5)

The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. (6)
Did Mathetes deny the existence of hell and God’s judgement? Did he claim that because God was merciful and loving that it was contrary to God’s nature to judge the world and send people to hell.  Absolutely not!  Mathetes along with Jesus and His Apostles affirmed that God’s character was both loving and just, merciful and wrathful.
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word (7)

but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things ... as a Savior He sent Him (7)

For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? (7)
Did Mathetes believe in salvation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone by Christ’s Work Alone?  Absolutely!  Mathetes along with Jesus and His Apostles affirmed that salvation is not through man’s works or his own self-righteousness, but through the work of Christ alone.  Furthermore, Mathetes affirmed the Penal Substitution as well as the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? (8)

But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers (8)
Did Mathetes affirm the doctrine of original sin?  Absolutely!  Mathetes along with Jesus and His Apostles affirmed that man is sinful by nature and fallen, dead in trespasses and sins and incapable by nature to do that which is necessary to attain eternal life.
so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. (9)

and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us (9)

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for those who are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? (9)

O sweet exchange! ... That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! (9)

our nature was unable to attain to life (9)

it was [formerly] impossible to save (9)
Did Mathetes believe in eternal conscious punishment a.k.a. hell?  Absolutely!  Not only does Mathetes believe in hell, he calls it the “eternal fire” and he contrasts the “eternal fire” of hell with the temporal sufferings and persecutions that Christians face in this life time.  Those sufferings he calls the “fire that is but for a moment.”
He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven (10)

then shall you condemn the deceit and error of the world (10)

which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it (10)
Did Mathetes believe in the authoritative, accurate and binding Word of God?  You bet your bippy he did!  There is no trace of Modernist Liberal or Postmodernist Liberal destructive higher criticism in Mathetes.  He believed God’s Word was of divine origin and was written by the Apostles & Prophets and absolutely true, authoritative, and binding.
For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples ...? (11)

Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. (11)
Did Mathetes believe Genesis contains an accurate historical account of the World’s creation and man’s fall into sin through the tempting of the devil?  Absolutely!  Mathetes along with Jesus and the disciples believed the Book of Genesis to be accurate history, not myth or allegory.
it is disobedience that proves destructive. Nor truly are those words without significance which are written, how God from the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of paradise (12)

For he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, ... knows nothing, but is deceived by the Serpent (12)