Thursday, February 24, 2011

John Chrysostom on Singing Psalms

The following is from a homily by John Chrysostom on Psalm 42.  The translator is Alex Poulos at The Poulos Blog.

For in the songs of the world there is harm, ruin, and much that would lead to danger.  For all the licentiousness and lawlessness of these songs bring about divisions in the soul.  But in the spiritual psalms, there is great gain, great benefit, great sanctification, and every tenant of philosophy may be found.  By these words, the soul is cleansed, and the Holy Spirit is quick to be with the one who sings in this manner.  For those who sing with understanding invoke the grace of the Spirit, which is why Paul says, “do not get drunk on wine, in which there is debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  Following this phrase on fullness, we hear, “singing and psalming in your hearts to the Lord.”  What does it mean to sing “in your hearts to the Lord?”  It means to sing with understanding, so that your mouth may not merely speak the words while your mind perishes, entirely deceived and separated.  Instead, the soul should heed the tongue.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gangra - Epilogue

These things we write, not to cut off those who wish to lead in the Church of God an ascetic life, according to the Scriptures; but those who carry the pretense of asceticism to superciliousness; both exalting themselves above those who live more simply, and introducing novelties contrary to the Scriptures and the ecclesiastical Canons. We do, assuredly, admire virginity accompanied by humility; and we have regard for continence, accompanied by godliness and gravity; and we praise the leaving of worldly occupations, with lowliness of mind; we honor the holy companionship of marriage, and we do not condemn wealth enjoyed with uprightness and beneficence; and we commend plainness and frugality in apparel, only from attention, not over-fastidious, to the body; but dissolute and effeminate excess in dress we eschew; and we reverence the houses of God and embrace the assemblies held therein as holy and helpful, not confining religion within the houses, but reverencing every place built in the name of God; and we approve of gathering together in the Church itself for the common profit; and we bless the exceeding charities done by the brethren to the poor, according to the traditions of the Church; and, to sum up in a word, we wish that all things which have been delivered by the Holy Scriptures and the Apostolic traditions, may be observed in the Church.

This summation is one that could and should be practiced by churches today: pride is denounced, doctrine is elevated, disciplines are practiced, piety is practiced, God is paramount.  Did those in council at Gangra realize their desire?  Possibly for only a time, but history tells us the church in this area faded, and practice of the same spiritual pride remain with us today in diverse forms.   Still, the effort appeared to be worth the attempt if only as a warning to those who should have learned from the proceedings.

Gangra - Canon 20

If any one shall, from a presumptuous disposition, condemn and abhor the assemblies [in honor] of the martyrs, or the services performed there, and the commemoration of them, let him be anathema.

Services in which martyrs were remembered had been common in the early church in order to commemorate their sacrifice and acknowledge them as part of the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1).  Eustathians had set out to disregard such recognitions.  Protestants reading this will probably side with Eustathius in this regard, but one needs to remember that his teaching was directed at puffing up one's spiritual self.  If that be the case, his condemnation of these assemblies in an act of false piety is worth no more than worthless slag.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gangra - Canon 19

If any of the ascetics, without bodily necessity, shall behave with insolence and disregard the fasts commonly prescribed and observed by the Church, because of his perfect understanding in the matter, let him be anathema.

Here is the opposite of Canon 18.  Here the person was disregarding the proper place of fasting, especially the times observed by the Church.  Eustathians determined they had the more perfect knowledge and acted contrarily.  The conduct was really no different than the Pharisees who says "God, I thank you that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gangra - Canon 18

If any one, under pretense of asceticism, shall fast on Sunday, let him be anathema.

Fasting on Sunday may appear through modern eyes to be a worthy spiritual discipline.  The early church took a different position.  More than one canon specifically addressed this because the believers' gathering on Sunday was to be a time of joy.  As they gathered together, they rejoiced in and from the resurrection life gained by Christ.  Eustathius had turned this idea around by having the person focus on himself with this outwardly pious act.  There are times when grief, sorrow, sin, or another factor will drive us to fast and seek the Lord, but Sunday was and is to gather together, remember him who died for our sin, build up one another, and relish the abundance of grace so freely given.

Gangra - Canon 17

If any woman from pretended asceticism shall cut off her hair, which God gave her as the reminder of her subjection, thus annulling as it were the ordinance of subjection, let her be anathema.

The early church determined the mandate in 1 Cor 11:2-16 was authoritative in how submission was manifested and non-adherence a clear step away from the counsel of God.  As with Canon 13, the issue was rebellion.  In a supposed act of spiritual liberation, some women abandoned doctrine to follow their own way, regardless of the fact that rebellion is as the sin of divination (1 Sam 15:23) and therefore an abomination before God.

Gangra - Canon 16

If, under any pretense of piety, any children shall forsake their parents, particularly [if the parents are] believers, and shall withhold becoming reverence from their parents, on the plea that they honor piety more than them, let them be anathema.

This was the case of grown children abandoning the care of their parents.  The scenario mentioned in this canon is remarkably similar to that of the Pharisees who did the same thing concerning their parents by saying that what was due their parents was given as an offering to God (Mark 7:9-13).  Their feigned spirituality was a source of hardship toward those who were due gratitude and honor.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gangra - Canon 15

If anyone shall forsake his own children and shall not nurture them, nor so far as in him lies, rear them in becoming piety, but shall neglect them, under pretense of asceticism, let him be anathema.

Paul wrote to Timothy that the one who does not care for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8).  The context for the passage has to do with the care of a widow.  If negligence toward an adult family member is grievous, how much more for neglecting his or her own children?

This brings to mind those parents who either do not want their children to have any Bible teaching until adulthood or abdicate their role to the preacher, Sunday School teacher, youth leader, etc.  While neither set of parents might do this for reasons of asceticism, both types are making the same mistake of abandoning God-given responsibility.  One does not do it for reasons of unbelief, while the other does not for reasons of misinformation or misunderstanding as taught by the church or from a sense of inadequacy.  Whatever the reason for the latter parents, the directive to disciple and care for your children remains.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gangra - Canon 14

If any woman shall forsake her husband, and resolve to depart from him because she abhors marriage, let her be anathema.

The teaching infiltrating the church had infiltrated and disrupted homes akin to the teachers in Ephesus who crept "into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions" (2 Tim 3:6).  While the Eustathians did not openly teach wives to leave their husbands, the teaching led the wife to feel superior and take whatever measures she felt necessary to not engage in conjugal relations as an unspiritual thing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gangra - Canon 13

If any woman, under pretense of asceticism, shall change her apparel and, instead of a woman’s accustomed clothing, shall put on that of a man, let her be anathema.

Distinctions between men and women are evident from creation onward.  As YHWH revealed himself to mankind, more of this was codified.  By the time God gave the Law to Moses, a definite rule came expressly forbidding the blending of genders by what is worn (Deut 22:5).  Further instruction is given through the remaining works of scripture and touch on issues such as order (1 Cor 11:2-16) and authority within the assembly of the elect (1 Cor 14:26-40; 1 Tim 2:8-15).  The point of canon instruction was not simply a matter of style or cultural norms but identifying sin and rebellion.  The woman who abandons what suits her, whether matters of natural law or revealed law, is living in rebellion of what the Lord has established.  And though the fullness of grace has been shown and given in Christ's atoning death, this does not give permission to leave behind what each sex was created to do.  Shame on any Christian group for desiring or promoting an egalitarian model for roles and authority within the family or local assembly.

Gangra - Canon 12

If any one, under pretense of asceticism, should wear a peribolæum and, as if this gave him righteousness, shall despise those who with piety wear the berus and use other common and customary dress, let him be anathema.

The peribolæem was a "rough mantle worn by philosophers to show their contempt for luxury."1  Those wearing such attire and despising those who wore common dress were guilty of spiritual pride in opposition to the apostle Paul's instruction (Rom 14:1-12).  As believers grow in Christ certain characteristics become manifest—those things that demonstrate maturity and reflect more of the Lord living in and through us.  Those who are older in Christ can forget the lost estate from where Christ called us.  We all begin physically and spiritually as newborns with the expectation to grow to maturity.  We should not be proud of ourselves for doing what is expected or despising others for not being at the same place we are.

1 Hefele, (NPNF2 14:97).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gangra - Canon 11

If anyone shall despise those who out of faith make love-feasts and invite the brethren in honor of the Lord, and is not willing to accept these invitations because he despises what is done, let him be anathema.

This canon does more than touch on bad intentions toward those who gather at love-feasts.  The early church placed its main emphasis on this very meeting.  Both Paul (1 Cor 11-14) and Jude (Jude 12) mention these gatherings as intended for the local assembly on a regular basis.  Even after the apostles die off the scene, the church brought forward the importance of the Lord's remembrance in the bread and wine.  Examples are found in early church documents, such as the Didache (chap. 9, 14).  For anyone to dismiss or despise this solemn time of remembrance and fellowship illustrates both a profound lack of understanding and an indifference to what the Lord Jesus himself asked us to do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gangra - Canon 10

If any one of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord’s sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema.

Regardless of the reason for choosing the virginal life, as mentioned in the previous canon, there was possibility for one so committed to be spiritually proud: even more so was in regard to the immediate doctrinal battles being waged related to the holy institution of marriage.  The apostle Paul appealed to the church at Corinth to work together and know how the Lord has gifted and is using each one for his service (1 Cor 3:1-9).

Gangra - Canon 9

If any one shall remain virgin, or observe continence, abstaining from marriage because he abhors it, and not on account of the beauty and holiness of virginity itself, let him be anathema.

The emphasis here is motive.  What is the reason for withholding union with a spouse?  Virginity and continence are virtuous when maintained for service as the Lord has led, however the infiltrating doctrine saw marriage as detrimental.  This ran counter to the direct revelation in from the beginning (Gen 1:27-28) and declared very good without reservation or retraction (Gen 1:31).  The one flesh of man and woman together forms a complete picture of what mankind is (Gen 2:23-25) and God's reflected glory through it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gangra - Canon 8

If anyone, except the bishop or the person appointed for the stewardship of benefactions, shall either give or receive the revenue, let both the giver and the receiver be anathema.

If anyone not having the proper authority in the local church give or receive gifts intended for the church, both should be removed from the church for misappropriation of funds.  The assumption at the time was that the overseer or treasurer would take proper care of gifts to and for the church.  The apostle Paul saw the wisdom of sending someone with Titus to gather the collection from the Corinthians (2 Cor 8), thus not allowing reproach to touch the work of the ministry.  Local assemblies today are wise to practice the same.

Gangra - Canon 7

If any one shall presume to take the fruits offered to the Church, or to give them out of the Church, without the consent of the bishop, or of the person charged with such things, and shall refuse to act according to his judgment, let him be anathema.

The fruits mentioned here were those acts done for within and for the church but here being done outside the church for another group.  That was not to be done without the consent of the overseer, since such could (and was) being used to subvert the local assembly of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gangra - Canon 6

If any one shall hold private assemblies outside of the Church, and, despising the canons, shall presume to perform ecclesiastical acts, the presbyter with the consent of the bishop refusing his permission, let him be anathema.

Besides the fellowship in meeting together as in Canon 5, the ecclesiastical workings of a normal functioning church were not to be allowed: normally Lord's Supper, baptism, prayer, and teaching.  Such start-ups were generally instigated by someone on the outside or on the fringe (i.e., Eustathius, et al acting as elders) who had a desire to be free from the order God had placed in his church both as an organization and as an historic entity reaching back to Christ and the apostles.  Elders were and are given to shepherd and oversee the flock.  Splintering the group only serves to provide Satan more opportunity to disrupt than has already been manifest in the circumstances leading to the split.  In this case Eustathius as elder, without the permission of the overseer above him, had already set up another meeting to continue what he considered to be a true, pure church.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gangra - Canon 5

If any one shall teach that the house of God and the assemblies held therein are to be despised, let him be anathema.

Structures dedicated to worship meetings were increasingly common after Constantine made Christianity a legitimate, legal religion in the Roman empire.  Building form and function were being settled.  Eustathius had gone to the opposite extreme and set up separate meetings for his followers who were despising married elders and overseers. These rogue meetings were not to be condoned because they veered from the apostolic teaching.

As an unrelated aside, while the early church had no dedicated meeting place, the use of one was certainly not prohibited.  The advantages of the house church far exceed a permanent, dedicated structure, but to impose that stricture on the local assembly as a spiritual mandate far exceeds the freedoms found in Christ as a group of his own worshiping together.

Gangra - Canon 4

If any one shall maintain, concerning a married presbyter, that is not lawful to partake of the oblation when he offers it, let him be anathema.

This now enters into the proper functioning of the early church.  Nothing prohibited a duly recognized elder from offering the Lord's Supper to those in fellowship, save for the presence of an overseer.  Marriage was inconsequential pertaining to the duties but was a measure of fitness concerning the recognition (1 Tim 3:2-4; Titus 1:5-6).  Should he be serving in the proper capacity with all due respect of the position, nothing should prevent him from completing said duties of office.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gangra - Canon 3

If any one shall teach a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service, and not to serve his own master with good-will and all honor, let him be anathema.

Slavery had been a known social construct for centuries.  The Mosaic law gave rules for who could be enslaved and under what criteria.  Also provisions for the proper conduct of both slaves and masters were given.  In a nutshell, slaves and bondservants were to be treated with respect.  New Testament documents seem to go further in that the practice was acknowledged with due respect given between slave and master as the Law had done.  Colossians 3:22-25 and 1 Peter 2:18-25 are clear in how the slave/servant was to act toward the master.  The obligation was to be fulfilled, but freedom should be welcomed when given.  Onesimus is the only slave for whom freedom is sought and that by Paul.

For a person or group to promote slaves running away as an act of piety, perhaps mirroring Onesimus, was wrong.  Though freedom would certainly allow ministry opportunity, it would be under false pretenses.  The better act was to endure the service to the master in hopes of gaining future freedom.  That is the better course of action and one with the potential of bearing more fruit.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gangra - Canon 2

If any one shall condemn him who eats flesh, which is without blood and has not been offered to idols nor strangled, and is faithful and devout, as though the man were without hope [of salvation] because of his eating, let him be anathema.

Carnivorous activity by believers brought condemnation with a certainty of heaven lost though one was walking uprightly.  The council rightly concluded that this contradicted Paul's testimony that all things were permissible concerning meats (1 Cor 10:23-30),  further citing the stipulations given to the Gentiles from the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:19-20).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gangra - Canon 1

If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom let him be anathema.

God had ordained marriage in creation (Gen 2:18-25) yet setting this aside for the sake of a perceived spirituality has been a recurring problem for centuries.  Those who promote such a thing as the normal Christian experience—or at minimum for church leaders—are called liars by the apostle Paul (1 Tim 4:2-3).  What God had created is to be accepted by faith with thanksgiving according to his word (1 Tim 4:4-5).  Manichaean asceticism had made its way into the church and probably joined with Paul's admonition that believers should be single as he was (1 Cor 7:8).  Since the apostle conceded that marriage was acceptable from lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:9), the logical conclusion from binding the heretical doctrine with apostolic teaching became an aberration.

The faithful woman who lives in loving, God-fearing obedience with her husband is to be honored and not derided.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gangra - Synodical Letter

The council at Gangra convened sometime between Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381), but no firm date has ever been established though 340 has come forward as a probable date.1  The council dealt with Manichaean teaching and distributed a letter condemning Eustathius of Sebaste in Armenia.2

The body of the synodical letter deals with the proper roles of men and women in marriage and culture.  All biblical norms and gender roles are put off apparently for the common good.  As the letter states, it ends up as the common detriment, throwing the church into disarray and confusion.  The canons deal with the individual issues, so more detail will be given there.

1 C. Nardi, “Gangra” in The Encyclopedia of the Early Church, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
2 "Historical Introduction," NPNF2, Vol 14, p 89 and at