Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Necessity of Good Works

But in this connection [that good works are necessary, and that it is necessary to do good] the following distinction must also be noted, namely, that the meaning must be: a necessity of Christ's ordinance, command, and will, and of our obligation, but not a necessity of coercion.  That is: when this word necessary is employed, it should be understood not of coercion, but only of the ordinance of the immutable will of God, whose debtors we are.  His commandment points out that the creature should be obedient to its Creator.  For in other places (2 Cor 9:7, Philemon 14, 1 Pet 5:2),  something is termed of necessity which is wrung from one against his will, by force or otherwise, so that he acts externally for appearance, but nevertheless without and against his will.  For such hypocritical works God does not want, but the people of the New Testament are to be a willing people (Ps 110:3), and sacrifice freely (Ps 54:6), not grudgingly or of necessity, but are to be obedient from the heart (2 Cor 9:7; Rom 6:17).  For God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7).  In this understanding and in such sense it is correctly said and taught that truly good works should be done willingly or from a voluntary spirit by those whom the Son of God has made free, even as it was especially for this opinion that the dispute concerning the voluntariness of good works was engaged in by some.

But here, again, it is well to note also the distinction of which Paul says:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind (Rom 7:22-23)
And as regards the unwilling and rebellious flesh, Paul says:
But I discipline my body and keep it under control (1 Cor 9:27)
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24; Rom 8:13)
But it is false, and must be censured, when it is asserted and taught as though good works were free to believers in the sense that it were optional with them to do or to omit them, or that they might or could act contrary to [God's law], and none the less could retain faith and God's favor and grace.

Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord IV 16-20

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Giveaway at Christian Focus Booknotes

Christian Focus Publications is giving away two copies of The Trials of Theology this week on the Christian Focus Booknotes blog.  Details for the giveaway can be found here: LINK.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

God Is Benevolent to All His Creation

Deuteronomy 10:17
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
Matthew 5:45
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
The Lord of all is not capricious, but bestows his lovingkindness on all his creation whether or not gratitude is shown.

Is the King of the universe solicited by any libation or sacrifice to grant to the races of men all the comforts of life?  Does God not impart the sun’s fertilizing warmth, and the season of night, the winds, the rains, the fruits, to all alike,—the good and the bad, the unjust and the just, the free-born and the slave, the poor and the rich?  For this belongs to the true and mighty God, to show kindness, unasked, to that which is weary and feeble, and always encompassed by misery, of many kinds.  For to grant your prayers on the offering of sacrifices, is not to bring help to those who ask it, but to sell the riches of their beneficence.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 24

Friday, August 26, 2011

God Is Ineffable

Psalm 145:3
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.

Arnobius makes the point that God is beyond any description we can give, because human language is incapable of describing the glories of all that He is.

If you are willing to hear our conclusions [of God]…we fear to ascribe to so great a being even mental graces, and the very excellencies by which a few have been allowed with difficulty to distinguish themselves.  For who will say that God is brave, firm, good, wise? who will say that He has integrity, is temperate, even that He has knowledge, understanding, forethought? that He directs towards fixed moral ends the actions on which He determines?  These things are good in man; and being opposed to vices, have deserved the great reputation which they have gained.

But who is so foolish, so senseless, as to say that God is great by merely human excellencies? or that He is above all in the greatness of His name, because He is not disgraced by vice?  Whatever you say, whatever in unspoken thought you imagine concerning God, passes and is corrupted into a human sense, and does not carry its own meaning, because it is spoken in the words which we use, and which are suited only to human affairs.  There is but one thing man can be assured of regarding God’s nature, to know and perceive that nothing can be revealed in human language concerning God.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 19

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

God Is Not Defined by Form

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  John 4:24

Arnobius argues that the divine nature cannot have a physical form, since any such form, regardless of how large, must be finite—something God cannot be.

Our opinion on the subject is as follows:—that the whole divine nature, since it neither came into existence at any time, nor will ever come to an end of life, is devoid of bodily features, and does not have anything like the forms by which the external termination of the several members usually completes the union of parts.  For whatever is of this character, we think mortal and perishable; nor do we believe that anything can endure forever which an inevitable end shuts in, however remote the enclosing borders.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 12

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reflections on Contemporary Christian Music

Meghan O’Gieblyn has written a thought-provoking essay for Guernica of her experiences and observations in Contemporary Christian Music and its attempts at relevancy.  Here is one paragraph.
Basically, CCM caught on to the number one rule of coolness: don’t let your marketing show.  The best bands—the successful ones, at least—learned to gloss over the gospel message the same way TV producers camouflaged corporate sponsorship.  Explicitly Christian lyrics prevented DC Talk from crossing over to the secular market in the ’90s; today it’s difficult to imagine their unapologetic faith making it in the Christian circuit.
Got that right.

Her conclusion is that all this attempted relevancy has produced a message with no authenticity.  The piece is relatively long but well worth the read.  Take time for it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Be Wary Lest One Testifies to Folk Religion Rather than Christ

Arnobius shares how the pagans could possibly have wooed opinion for their pantheon if they had not contrived ridiculous natures for them.  Believers need to take the same amount of care when testifying of the triune God and the saving work of Christ.  Give attention to accuracy as best you can.

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you

And yet let no one think that we are perversely determined not to submit to the other deities, whoever they are!  For we lift up pious minds, and stretch forth our hands in prayer, and do not refuse to draw near whithersoever you may have summoned us; if only we learn who those divine beings are whom you press upon us, and with whom it may be right to share the reverence which we show to the king and prince who is over all.…You might, perhaps, have been able to attract us to the worship of these deities you mention, had you not been yourselves the first, with foul and unseemly fancies, to devise such tales about them as not merely to stain their honor, but, by the natures assigned to them, to prove that they did not exist at all.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 6

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cling to the Lord Your God

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.  Joshua 23:6-8

The below is apropos because of the recent desire to invite Muslim teachers and speakers into Christian churches.  The opponents want to know why Christians do not worship all the gods or at least use some of the ceremonies in their worship.  The answer is simple: we pay homage to whom it is due.

For they propose these questions: "If you are in earnest about religion, why do you not serve and worship the other gods with us, or share your sacred rites with your fellows, and put the ceremonies of the different religions on an equality?"
We may say for the present: In essaying to approach the divine, the Supreme Deity suffices us,—the Deity, I say, who is supreme, the Creator and Lord of the universe, who orders and rules all things: in Him we serve all that requires our service; in Him we worship all that should be adored,—venerate that which demands the homage of our reverence.  For as we lay hold of the source of the divine itself from which the very divinity of all gods whatever is derived, we think it an idle task to approach each personally, since we neither know who they are, nor the names by which they are called; and are further unable to learn, and discover, and establish their number.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 2

And if those gods are indeed real, prove it.
Now we have made this statement, on the hypothesis only that it is clear and undeniable, that besides the Ruler and Lord Himself, there are still other beings, who, when arranged and disposed in order, form, as it were, a kind of plebeian mass.  But do not seek to point out to us pictures instead of gods in your temples, and the images which you set up, for you too know, but are unwilling and refuse to admit, that these are formed of most worthless clay, and are childish figures made by mechanics.  And when we converse with you on religion, we ask you to prove this, that there are other gods than the one Supreme Deity in nature, power, name, not as we see them manifested in images, but in such a substance as it might fittingly be supposed that perfection of so great dignity should reside.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 3

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Truth of God Stands

Romans 3:4
Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”

All these charges, then, which might truly be better termed abuse, have been long answered with sufficient fullness and accuracy by men of distinction in this respect, and worthy to have learned the truth; and not one point of any inquiry has been passed over, without being determined in a thousand ways, and on the strongest grounds.  We need not, therefore, linger further on this part of the case.  For neither is the Christian religion unable to stand though it found no advocates, nor will it be therefore proved true if it found many to agree with it, and gained weight through its adherents.  Its own strength is sufficient for it, and it rests on the foundations of its own truth, without losing its power, though there were none to defend it, nay, though all voices assailed and opposed it, and united with common rancor to destroy all faith in it.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book III, cap. 1

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Persecution Ultimately Frees Us

The question turns to persecution.  If Christians place their trust in an almighty God, why does he allow this suffering? Arnobius uses allusions to Peter and Paul to respond.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:21
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

The cause is plain and manifest.  For no hope has been held out to us with respect to this life, nor has any help been promised or aid decreed us for what belongs to the husk of this flesh,—nay, more, we have been taught to esteem and value lightly all the threats of fortune, whatever they be; and if ever any very grievous calamity has assailed us, to count as pleasant in that misfortune the end which must follow, and not to fear or flee from it, that we may be the more easily released from the bonds of the body, and escape from our darkness and blindness.

Therefore that bitterness of persecution of which you speak is our deliverance and not persecution, and our ill-treatment will not bring evil upon us, but will lead us to the light of liberty.  As if some senseless and stupid fellow were to think that he never punished a man who had been put into prison with severity and cruelty, unless he were to rage against the very prison, break its stones in pieces, and burn its roof, its wall, its doors; and strip, overthrow, and dash to the ground its other parts, not knowing that thus he was giving light to him whom he seemed to be injuring, and was taking from him the accursed darkness: in like manner, you too, by the flames, banishments, tortures, and monsters with which you tear in pieces and rend asunder our bodies, do not rob us of life, but relieve us of our skins, not knowing that, as far as you assault and seek to rage against these our shadows and forms, so far you free us from pressing and heavy chains, and cutting our bonds, make us fly up to the light.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 76-77

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seek the Righteousness Found in Christ

I wish to know the condition of your soul, namely, whether you have at last come to hate your own righteousness and, instead, desire to rejoice in the righteousness of Christ and to be of good cheer because of it.  For these day, people are desperately tempted to be arrogant, particularly people who work mightily to be righteous and godly and who do not know of the immaculate righteousness of God that is freely given in Christ.  For this reason they keep searching for something good in themselves, until they become confident that they can pass muster before God as people who are properly dressed with virtuous and meritorious deeds—all of which is impossible.  While you were with us, you held this opinion, or rather, this error—just as I did.  For my part, I am still wrestling with this error and am not quite rid of it yet.  Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ—Christ crucified.  Learn to sing praises to Him and to despair completely of your own works.
Martin Luther, Letter to George Spenlein, 1516
Cited in C.F.W. Walther, Law & Gospel, (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), 123.

Christ Came at the Proper Time

The opponents press the issue: "Why was the Savior sent forth so late?"  Arnobius replies that it is because what was done needed to be done according to God's timing, not ours. Or as Paul put it:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Romans 5:6
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  Galatians 4:4-5
In unbounded, eternal ages nothing whatever should be spoken of as late.  For where there is no end and no beginning, nothing is too soon, nothing too late.  For time is perceived from its beginnings and endings, which an unbroken line and endless succession of ages cannot have.  For what if the things themselves to which it was necessary to bring help, required that as a fitting time?  For what if the condition of antiquity was different from that of later times?  What if it was necessary to give help to the men of old in one way, to provide for their descendants in another?

So, then, it may be that Almighty God, the only God, sent forth Christ only after the human race, becoming feebler, weaker, began to be such as we are.  If that which has been done now could have been done thousands of years ago, the Supreme Ruler would have done it; or if it had been proper, that what has been done now should be accomplished as many thousands after this, nothing compelled God to anticipate the necessary measure of time.  His affairs are executed in fixed ways; and that which has been once decided on, can in no wise be changed again.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 75

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Christian Radio

This past week I listened to a podcast where the hosts of a Southern California radio show were interviewing the producer of a Midwest radio show.  The producer commented that the demographic for Christian radio is a 65-year-old woman female.  At first I was shocked, but after thinking on it, the truth was obvious based on my experience.

Here in eastern Iowa, there is a Christian radio station to which my family listens only because it is the only such station that can be received in our house.  I have long objected to the programming as being largely frivolous and inane, because its continuing message is "Feel good about us," "We're family-friendly," "We are the pivotal tool in bringing people to God," and other sentimental slogans.  Now, I do not mind any of the messages the station shares, but I can get all that from listening to the local classical and jazz music stations.  For solid information on current events, I turn to talk radio.

What is the purpose for this or any other Christian radio station?  What should separate it from any other genre?  To answer these a goal must be determined.  If the intent is to pander to the lowest common denominator, as is happening with the example station now, the final effect will be listeners who have positive feelings about good deeds delivered with a hint of Christian slang, but nothing about Christ and him crucified will be communicated.  On the other hand, if the goal is to build Christians in the faith once for all delivered to the saints, I give some helpful suggestions.

Arrangements and instrumentation are largely a matter of taste, but content is king.  I do not say that songs talking about losing keys or imagining certain cartoon characters praising the Lord are wrong.  We can appreciate them for what they are.  My hackles get raised when supposedly praise and worship songs speak more of me than the Savior; or when the song can be sung to my spouse by changing only one or two words.  Get rid of those, and I am happy.

Programming with solid exposition should be available. I do not mean programs for self-help or understanding how to have my best life, rather solid Bible teaching, apologetics, and practical application to current events. Programs such as Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, and Issues, Etc. are but a few of many that could form a solid base.

Community events are important and should be promoted even if the station is not the main promoter.  Make it known.

Feel free to have fundraisers, do not tell people that mentioning a certain company is just sharing that the proprietors are donating to the station.  Call it what it is—advertising.  If budget will not be made because you are sending the station manager and spouse on a trip to Israel or a cruise, cut the trip.  Do not continually come back asking for more through the year.  If there is a legitimate emergency, make it known.  The Lord's people will cover it.

This post has gone somewhat afield from where it began, but Christian radio and programming in my part of the country needs serious help, and I can guarantee others do, also.

God Has His Own Schedule

Arnobius' opponents do not understand why the "ruler and lord of the universe" would wait so long to give a savior to mankind.  The answer is quite simple: He is God, and we do not understand his timing.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

"And why," my opponent says, "did God, the Ruler and Lord of the universe, determine that a Savior, Christ, should be sent to you from the heights of heaven a few hours ago, as it is said?"

We ask you too, on the other hand, what cause, what reason is there that the seasons sometimes do not recur at their own months, but that winter, summer, and autumn come too late? why, after the crops have been dried up and the corn has perished, showers sometimes fall which should have dropped on them while yet uninjured, and made provision for the wants of the time?  Nay, this we rather ask, why, if it were fitting that Hercules should be born, Aesculapius, Mercury, Liber, and some others, that they might be both added to the assemblies of the gods, and might do men some service,—why they were produced so late by Jupiter, that only later ages should know them, while the past ages of those who went before knew them not?  You will say that there was some reason.  There was then some reason here also that the Savior of our race came not lately, but today.

"What, then," you ask, "is the reason?"

We do not deny that we do not know.  For it is not within the power of any one to see the mind of God, or the way in which He has arranged His things.  Man, a blind creature, and not knowing himself even, can in no way learn what should happen, when, or what its nature is: the Father Himself, the Governor and Lord of all, alone knows.  Nor, if I have been unable to disclose to you the causes why something is done in this way or that, does it straightway follow, that what has been done becomes not done, and that a thing becomes incredible, which has been shown to be beyond doubt by such kinds of virtues and powers.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 74

Monday, August 15, 2011

Discerning Christ's Body

In his first epistle to Corinth, the apostle Paul wanted to correct abuses of the local church gathering.  The agape meal culminating with the Lord's Supper particularly needed intervention because their attitude was leading to discipline from the Lord to the point of death (1 Cor 11:30).  Why this strong reaction by God with direct consequence on the church? Factions mentioned in chapter one were being manifest in the gathering through their lack of community: some were gluttonous and drunk, while others suffered want.  Because of this, Paul explains that there is something more happening that they had not considered:
1 Corinthians 11: 27-29
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
The apostle stated quite strongly that unworthy participation in the bread and cup will have serious repercussions.  But against what in particular is this warning directed?  I ask because two paths of thought have been presented as the most likely intention depending on how "discerning the body" is understood.

Resurrection body – The most widely taught interpretation of the above text is that we as believers meeting together are to comprehend and appreciate with due reverence what is being handled in remembrance of Christ.  For this to be most effective, the Lord's imminent presence would need to somehow surround the bread and cup.  To gain the same level of effectiveness, those who take a symbolic view of the elements need to perform self-evaluation and somehow ascertain my level of spirituality against a self-defined standard.  This leaves the believer with a hopeless conclusion: sin still remains, so I am not worthy to partake until I m more sanctified.

Church body – This minority view looks at the passage and says that the body life of the local church is in view.  The church in Corinth (or any church) is a manifestation of the body of Christ with him as the head (Eph 1:22-23).  Each believer needs to understand this truth in order to cure the ills so prevalently manifest when gathered together.  When a believer willfully ignores the proper understanding of how the local assembly should function, he places himself in danger.  This approach focuses more on the corporate aspect of the body, and the consequences of our interactions with relation to worship.  However, the weakness is not fully resolving the interaction of elements with Christ's body and blood in the intervening verses.

Which View Is Correct?
Thinking on this topic and examining what is before me, I cannot help but wonder if the correct answer is C. All of the above.  As Paul lays out the problem and solution, both corporate and personal responsibility are in view—both need repentance and reorientation.  Christ has paid the price of sin.  There is no need to burden ourselves with its guilt, neither should there be an inclination to wallow in it.  Rather live as an appreciative, free people being recipients of an abundant grace.

In addition, the bread and cup are symbols of remembrance.  This does not mean just bringing something to mind but joining again the disparate aspects of who Christ is and what he has done for us on the cross
to gain a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession who would proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Taking the bread and cup in an unworthy manner, whether individually or corporately, profanes what Christ has done for us.  These things he has given to his own that they might receive what he promised.  An unwitting trampling might be excused—our heavenly Father is abundantly merciful.  A knowing disregard will not receive like treatment but rather a just discipline, as he has demonstrated.  Let us then behave as we ought in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

God Is Alone Eternal, Therefore Alone True

The pagans reason that because their religion preceded Christianity, therefore it is more true.  Arnobius corrects them by pointing out that the eternal, uncreated God he serves preceded any god of the Romans.  Believers simply had not received the fullness of the revelation until Christ came.

But your [pagan] religion precedes ours by many years, and is therefore, you say, truer, because it has been supported by the authority of antiquity.  And of what avail is it that it should precede ours as many years as you please, since it began at a certain time? or what are two thousand years, compared with so many thousands of ages?  And yet, lest we should seem to betray our cause by so long neglect, say, if it does not annoy you, does the Almighty and Supreme God seem to you to be something new; and do those who adore and worship Him seem to you to support and introduce an unheard-of, unknown, and upstart religion?  Is there anything older than Him? or can anything be found preceding Him in being, time, name?  Is not He alone uncreated, immortal, and everlasting?  Who is the head and fountain of things? is not He?  To whom does eternity owe its name? is it not to Him?  Is it not because He is everlasting, that the ages go on without end?  This is beyond doubt, and true: the religion which we follow is not new, then, but we have been late in learning what we should follow and revere, or where we should both fix our hope of salvation, and employ the aid given to save us.  For He had not yet shone forth who was to point out the way to those wandering from it, and give the light of knowledge to those who were lying in the deepest darkness, and dispel the blindness of their ignorance.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 72

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Old Practices Should Be Jettisoned When Found Invalid

Worship practices tend to take on a life of their own and therefore should be reviewed for authenticity.  Arnobius points out that even the pagans revised their customs when mistakes were evident.  That being the case, a move to Christianity should be understood as one toward the truth.

Since, then, yourselves also have followed at one time [age-old] customs, at another different laws, and have repudiated and rejected many things on either perceiving your mistakes or seeing something better, what have we done contrary to common sense and the discretion all men have, if we have chosen what is greater and more certain, and have not suffered ourselves to be held back by unreasoning respect regarding frauds?

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 68

Friday, August 12, 2011

Maybe You Should Examine Why

Arnobius makes the case that his opponents are more perturbed that Christians are abandoning the ancient ways, than in the content of what they are following.  He asks them to examine their reasons and to take note that they themselves also follow after new ways regularly.

Therefore, when you urge against us abandonment from the religion of past ages, it is fitting that you should examine why it is done, not what is done, and not set before you what we have left, but observe especially what we have followed.  For if it is a fault or crime to change an opinion, and pass from ancient customs to new conditions and desires, this accusation holds against you too, who have so often changed your habits and mode of life, who have gone over to other customs and ceremonies, so that you are condemned by past ages as well as we.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 67

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our Righteous Attempts Are As Filthy Rags

So, then, even if you are pure, and have been cleansed from every stain of vice, have won over and charmed those powers not to shut the ways against you and bar your passage when returning to heaven, by no efforts will you be able to reach the prize of immortality, unless by Christ’s gift you have perceived what constitutes this very immortality, and have been allowed to enter on the true life.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 66

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Christ's Work Applies to Those Who Have Gone Before

"But if," my opponents say, "Christ was sent by God for this end, that He might deliver unhappy souls from ruin and destruction, of what crime were former ages guilty which were cut off in their mortal state before He came?"

Can you, then, know what has become of these souls of men who lived long ago? whether they, too, have not been aided, provided, and cared for in some way?  Can you, I say, know that which could have been learned through Christ’s teaching; whether the ages are unlimited in number or not since the human race began to be on the earth; when souls were first bound to bodies; who contrived that binding, nay, rather, who formed man himself; whither the souls of men who lived before us have gone; in what parts or regions of the world they were; whether they were corruptible or not; whether they could have encountered the danger of death, if Christ had not come forward as their preserver at their time of need?  Lay aside these cares, and abandon questions to which you can find no answer.  The Lord’s compassion has been shown to them, too, and the divine kindnesses extended to all alike; they have been preserved, have been delivered, and have laid aside the lot and condition of mortality.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 63

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Christ at the Center

In my circles of fellowship past and present, believers passionate about living the Christian life have often described their goal as being sold out for Christ.  I fully understand the laudable sentiment, but a nagging suspicion remains that all is not as it appears.  Consider two sentences which express Christian understanding of sanctification.
I want to live a Christ-centered life.
I want Christ to live in and through me.

Most people would see these as parallel or synonymous, but are they?  Both reflect the desire of the believer to reflect what Christ has accomplished within, yet they differ in how that life is lived.  The emphasis lies in who has the ultimate control.

Statement one – The power and authority for action and commitment lies within the person attempting the lifestyle.  Jesus Christ is seen as setting an standard by example of conduct to which the individual must attain.  Various activities (scripture memorization, Bible reading and study, protracted prayer, etc.) are enacted to to climb this ladder of spiritual success.  Any variance from pursuing the singular goal is sin requiring an appropriate discipline in order to regain a proper bearing.

This plan is doomed to complete failure because it relies on the strength of the one attempting the feat.  Believers, as limited creatures carrying the vestiges of the sin nature, are incapable of maintaining it.  Certainly, there is the empowering of the Holy Spirit working on the inner man, yet all the plans and procedures according to individual taste, rather than the true need.  The life of faith is replaced by the life of faithfulness becoming an end unto itself.

Statement two – This has some biblical allusions based on John 14:23 and Galatians 2:20 among others, which means nothing in and of itself.  However the emphasis is completely opposite the first by relying on what Christ is doing in and through  the believer according to his promises.  There is rest and peace in Christ's faithfulness to the believer.  Power and authority is recognized or originating outside from on high, and that any attempt to assist only interrupts or interferes with that being accomplished.

Activities are put in place in conjunction with the spiritual benefits of what has been promised and given through the cross.  Prayer, fellowship, and Bible-related activities are developed as a natural outgrowth to the life lived by faith.  Service is performed through the strength God supplies.

"Aren't you being harsh to the first person?  Just look at the desire!"
I applaud such desire to live before the Lord in a manner that demonstrates his glory, however discernment is useful.  Wrong-headed zeal will hinder more than help, especially when the person most affected is you.  Is the zeal pointed toward spiritual activities because they seem the right thing to do?  I have those who have done this only to discover the race was not to the swift but to the one who endured.  At that point the passion may die to an ember, not because the Lord was unfaithful, but because the self-imposed hurdles were too high.

If someone is pursuing a course in the Lord's name but without his sanction, it is time to be redirected to more fruitful outlets for Christ's kingdom.  Look to God's word, and zealously seek his kingdom and righteousness, knowing that all these things will be added unto you in Christ.

There Is a Way that Seems Right to Man, But...

And be not deceived or deluded with vain hopes by that which is said by some ignorant and most presumptuous pretenders, that they are born of God, and are not subject to the decrees of fate; that His palace lies open to them if they lead a life of temperance, and that after death as men, they are restored without hindrance, as if to their father’s abode.  Nor by that which the magicians assert, that they have intercessory prayers, won over by which some powers make the way easy to those who are striving to mount to heaven.  Nor by that which another holds out…that souls become divine, and are freed from the law of death, if the blood of certain animals is offered to certain deities.  These are empty delusions, and excite vain desires.

None but the Almighty God can preserve souls; nor is there anyone besides who can give them length of days, and grant to them also a spirit which shall never die, except He who alone is immortal and everlasting, and restricted by no limit of time.  For since all the gods, whether those who are real, or those who are merely said to be from hearsay and conjecture, are immortal and everlasting by His good-will and free gift, how can it be that they are able to give that which they themselves are, when they have it as the gift of another, bestowed by a greater power?

Let them sacrifice what victims they may, let the wise deny themselves all the pleasures of life, let the magicians soften and soothe all lesser powers, yet, unless souls have received from the Lord of all things that which reason demands, and does so by His command, reason will hereafter deeply repent having made itself a laughing-stock, when it begins to feel the approach of death.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 62

Monday, August 8, 2011

Turn from Vain Things to the Lord of All

We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.  Acts 14:15

Seeing, then, that the origin, the cause, the reason of so many and so important things [in creation] escapes you yourselves also, and that you can neither say nor explain what has been made, nor why and wherefore it should not have been otherwise, do you assail and attack our timidity, who confess that we do not know that which cannot be known, and who do not care to seek out and inquire into those things which it is quite clear cannot be understood, although human conjecture should extend and spread itself through a thousand hearts?  And therefore Christ the divine,—although you are unwilling to allow it,—Christ the divine, I repeat, for this must be said often, that the ears of unbelievers may burst and be rent asunder, speaking in the form of man by command of the Supreme God, because He knew that men are naturally blind, and cannot grasp the truth at all, or regard as sure and certain what they might have persuaded themselves as to things set before their eyes, and do not hesitate, for the sake of their conjectures, to raise and bring up questions that cause much strife,—bade us abandon and disregard all these things of which you speak, and not waste our thoughts upon things which have been removed far from our knowledge, but, as much as possible, seek the Lord of the universe with the whole mind and spirit; be raised above these subjects, and give over to Him our hearts, as yet hesitating whither to turn; be ever mindful of Him; and although no imagination can set Him forth as He is, yet form some faint conception of Him.  For Christ said that, of all who are comprehended in the vague notion of what is sacred and divine, He alone is beyond the reach of doubt, alone true, and one about whom only a raving and reckless madman can be in doubt; to know whom is enough, although you have learned nothing besides; and if by knowledge you have indeed been related to God, the head of the world, you have gained the true and most important knowledge.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 60

Forget the Facts; Note My Eloquence and Passion

Purveyors of philosophy will push their worldview in opposition to common knowledge, relying on rhetoric rather than truth to win the argument.

For what is there which men of ability do not dare to overthrow, to destroy, from love of contradiction, although that which they attempt to invalidate is unobjectionable and manifest, and evidently bears the stamp of truth?  Or what, again, can they not maintain with plausible arguments, although it may be very manifestly untrue, although it may be a plain and evident falsehood?  For when a man has persuaded himself that there is or is not something, he likes to affirm what he thinks, and to show greater subtlety than others, especially if the subject discussed is out of the ordinary track, and by nature abstruse and obscure.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 56

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God Allows Evil But Is Not the Source

"Why, then, does not the Almighty God take away these evils, but suffers them to exist and to go on without ceasing through all the ages, in steady continuance?"

If we have learned of God the Supreme Ruler, and have resolved not to wander in a maze of impious and mad conjectures, we must answer that we do not know these things, and have never sought and striven to know things which could be grasped by no powers which we have, and that we, even thinking it preferable, rather remain in ignorance and want of knowledge than say that without God nothing is made, so that it should be understood that by His will He is at once both the source of evil and the occasion of countless miseries.

"Whence then," you will say, "are all these evils?"

"From the elements," say the philosophers and from their instability.  But how it is possible that things which have not feeling and judgment should be held to be wicked or criminal; or that he should not rather be wicked and criminal, who, to bring about some result, took what was afterwards to become very bad and hurtful,—is for them to consider, who make the assertion.  What, then, do we say? whence?  There is no necessity that we should answer, for whether we are able to say from where evil springs, or our power fails us, and we are unable, in either case it is a small matter in our opinion.  Nor do we hold it of much importance either to know or to be ignorant of it, being content to have laid down but one thing: that nothing proceeds from God Supreme which is hurtful and destructive.  This we are assured of, this we know, on this one truth of knowledge and science we take our stand,—that nothing is made by Him except that which is for the well-being of all, which is agreeable, which is very full of love and joy and gladness, which has unbounded and imperishable pleasures, which every one may ask in all his prayers to befall him, and think that otherwise life is destructive and fatal.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 55

Friday, August 5, 2011

Got a New Testament Church?

David Alan Black has shared his thoughts on what he sees as the New Testament church.  I give his entire list.

I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.

I am convinced of the normalcy of tentmaking leadership.

I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.

I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.

I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient—efficient in doing almost everything [other] than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership.

I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.

I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.

I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.

I am convinced that the church is a multi-generational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.

I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.

I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.

I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.

I am convinced that Paul's letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.

I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.

I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.

I am convinced that since all believers are "joints" in the body, ministry is every believer's task.

I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God's people for works of service both in the church and in the world.

I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.

I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.

I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry.

In conclusion, the fundamental premise upon which I operate is that each believer in the church needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world.  If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ.  The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people.  Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.
Except for possible reservations concerning what gifts are still active today and the scope of the pastor-teacher, I think he has nailed the essence of the apostolic church.

Christ Crucified: Stumbling Block and Folly to Man

But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  1 Cor 1:23-24

Therefore, O men, refrain from obstructing what you hope for by vain questions; nor should you, if anything is otherwise than you think, trust your own opinions rather than that which should be reverenced.  The times, full of dangers, urge us, and fatal penalties threaten us; let us flee for safety to God our savior, without demanding the reason of the offered gift.  When at stake is our souls’ salvation and our own interests, something must be done even without reason…We doubt, we hesitate, and question the credibility of what is said.  Let us commit ourselves to God, and let not our incredulity prevail more with us than the greatness of his name and power, lest, while we are seeking out arguments for ourselves—through which that may seem false which we do not wish and deny to be true—the last day steal upon us, and we be found in the jaws of our enemy, death.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 78

Jesus Christ: Only Hope of Salvation

For, Christ alone has had given into his charge and entrusted to him by God the Father to bring salvation and impart to souls what should be bestowed and must be added—based on reasons too profound to understand.  For, as with you, certain gods have fixed offices, privileges, powers, and you do not ask from any of them what is not in his power and permitted to him, so it is the right of Christ alone to give salvation to souls, and assign them everlasting life.  For if you believe that father Bacchus can give a good vintage, but cannot give relief from sickness; if you believe that Ceres can give good crops, Aesculapius health, Neptune one thing, Juno another, that Fortuna, Mercury, Vulcan, are each the giver of a fixed and particular thing,—this, too, you must also receive from us, that souls can receive from no one life and salvation, except from him to whom the Supreme Ruler gave this charge and duty.  The Almighty Master of the world has determined that this should be the way of salvation,—this the door, so to say, of life; by him alone is there access to the light: nor may men either creep in or enter elsewhere, all other ways being shut up and secured by an impenetrable barrier.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 65

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Salvation Offered without Forcing Any to Receive It

"But if Christ came as the Savior of men, as you say, why does He not, with uniform benevolence, free all without exception?"

I reply, does not He free all alike who invites all alike?  or does He thrust back or repel any one from the kindness of the Supreme who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him,—to men of high rank, to the meanest slaves, to women, to boys?  "To all," He says, "the fountain of life is open, and no one is hindered or kept back from drinking."  If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindness of the offered gift, nay, more, if your wisdom is so great that you term those things which are offered by Christ ridiculous and absurd, why should He keep on inviting you, while His only duty is to make the enjoyment of His bounty depend upon your own free choice?…Must you be even implored to deign to accept the gift of salvation from God; and must God’s gracious mercy be poured into your bosom while you reject it with disdain, and flee very far from it?  Do you choose to take what is offered, and turn it to your own advantage?  You will in that case have consulted your own interests.  Do you reject with disdain, lightly esteem, and despise it?  You will in this case have robbed yourself of the benefit of the gift.  God compels no one, terrifies no one with overpowering fear.  For our salvation is not necessary to Him, so that He would gain anything or suffer any loss, if He either made us divine,1 or allowed us to be annihilated and destroyed by corruption.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 64

1 I.e., immortal

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Call to Preach the Fullness of Judgment and Grace

It is not our business to talk about the gospel, to talk about forgiveness.  It is our task to preach the gospel: that is to tell people right in front, "You, my friend are a damned sinner under the law.  And you, without faith in Christ, will go to hell.  You, even you sitting here in this church—the best of the moral people—you without faith in Christ will go to hell.  It is not your church attendance which is going to save you.  It is not your so-called moral life which will save you.  Your good works are nothing—nothing—if you expect to get some favor from God for them.  They do nothing but earn you hell.  Turn to Christ.  Repent, and in repentance one receives Christ—Christ as preached.  You are forgiven.  Are you a sinner?  You better be a sinner, because Christ came only for the unrighteous, not for the righteous.  He comes only for the sick, not for the well.  He comes only for sinners.  Are you a damned sinner under the law?  I hope so.  You must be.  If you aren't, leave the space.  Christ is not for you."

Matthew Harrison
President, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

9.5 Theses

Gene Veith shared a portion of a sarcastic posting by David Milliner (Wheaton College) against the Emergent church.  Here is a tidbit.

2.5 Paul did not end his speech at the Areopagus by saying "the Unknown God" is a great idea, sorry I bothered you.  Nice statue.  Can I have a copy?

NEW! 3.5 A new translation has revealed what was actually the last temptation of Christ. Returning our Lord to the temple mount, Satan said: "Obfuscate whatever remains of classical church teaching in American Evangelicalism and you'll get a book deal, multiple panel appearances, and an exponential increase in blog traffic."

The offer was declined.

David Milliner's full post is here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”  John 20:22-23

Do you have trouble with this passage?  Many probably do not know it exists and are blissfully ignorant.  Those of us who read our Bibles regularly tend to brush lightly over this passage without much thought.  It is enigmatic because we understand that only God forgives sins, yet here the Lord is plainly telling the apostles they have this authority.  Confusion ensues while traversing a treacherous mental pathway uncertain of the footing of what we read while also fearing a misstep and falling into that bottomless ravine of a mere man standing in the stead of God to forgive sin.  What curiosity which may have arisen quickly becomes suppressed through utter exhaustion and bewilderment of walking that thin line or avoided altogether by moving on to matters of the day.

Within Christendom, the ongoing application of this authority concerning those who hear confessed sin1 can align to one or more of the following broad categories:

Generally to the church catholic – The forgiveness is in the context of church reception and discipline with the authority lying in the group rather than an individual. Within the context of the local church, there may be cases of unrepentant sin that must be addressed (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:1-6).  When the believer repents, he or she is received back into fellowship (2 Cor 2:5-11).

Specifically to individuals – This is not often considered, but application at this level is rather compelling and practical.  You and I as people interacting with others know there are times when one or both parties of a relationship will wrong the other(s). What is the proper response?  The Lord gave a specific example of a brother sinning against another (Matt 18:15-17). In each confrontation, Jesus states first explicitly, later implicitly that the expectation is forgiveness.  The offender is to be absolved by the offended of the wrong and guilt by virtue of confession and that without number (Matt 18:21-22).

Specifically to the apostles and their representatives – Christ gave the apostles specific authority for the foundation of the church and recognized to be so as in the following quotes from these 19th century authors:
The disciples thus delivered are invested with a blessed privilege and a solemn responsibility as regards others.  Those without are now viewed as sinners, the old distinction of Jews and Gentiles for the time disappearing in the true light.  But if it be the judgment of the world, it is the day of grace; and the disciples have the administration, the Spirit of life in Christ giving them capacity.  Hence the word of the Lord is, "whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted; whose soever ye retain, they are retained."  So repentant souls were baptized for the remission of sins, whilst a Simon Magus was pronounced in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity.  So the wicked person was put away from among the saints, and the same man after the judgment of his evil and his own deep grief over his sin was to be assured of love by the assembly’s receiving him back, obedient, yet taking the initiative in the act that it might be conscience work and not of bare authority or influence.  William Kelly

They were the administrators of [remittance] in the world; first in the preaching of the gospel if you like; but afterwards, in the proper administrative sense.  Here it is the apostles.  But Peter in a sense remitted Cornelius’ sins.  Paul says, "To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also."  And yet, if such an one is a believer, he has eternal life and forgiveness all the while.  That is what I mean by administrative.  Not the forgiveness in which the soul is justified, but the present conferring the forgiveness in the ways and government of God.  James says, "And if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."  If discipline is carried out, there the sin is bound upon the person.  John N. Darby

Contention arises around the question: to whom was authority ultimately delivered—the assembly as a whole or specific ordained individuals bestowed with the mantle of like authority?

God is recognized as the one against whom we ultimately sin.  When David infamously committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah, her husband, killed in battle, the only one mentioned as having been wronged was God (Psalm 51:4).  This was not as a result of wrong thinking but an understanding that YHWH not only set the standard but was David's sole benefactor for his position and blessings.  God forgave David's sins and communicated that through Nathan (2 Sam 12:13).  For any sin or transgression not committed arrogantly or defiantly a sacrifice given in faith was required to atone (Lev 5:1, 4-5, 16, 18; 6:7) carrying the promise of forgiveness from God through the mediation of the priests.  Coupled with that was any possible restitution (Lev 5:15-16; 6:6) as an act of expiation to the wronged individual.  Later, while Jesus walked the earth, these laws were still in effect while he forgave sins as God incarnate (Mark 2:5), thus demonstrating the grace that would soon be shown in its fullness on the cross.  The scribes properly recognized this as the right of God alone, which attested to his true person veiled as it was having put on a human nature.

If God is the one against whom all sin is directed and the only one with the right to forgive sin, does someone have the authority to forgive another's sin against God? In other words, can a designated or recognized person act on God's behalf to utter words of absolution for Christ's sake in regard to confessed sin?  While the notion seems presumptuous, I have known several who have done just that in a roundabout way by going through scripture starting from the confessed sin(s) and turning to those promises of God that speak of his faithfulness to remove the iniquity and make a way of fellowship open.  The sinner is pointed to the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross and the truth of his word.  So yes, we can act on God's behalf to absolve sin.  I can look at someone and say, “Your sins are forgiven, and here is why.”

Somebody reading this is saying, “OK, maybe I can see something in that in a fuzzy sort of way, but what about the part of withholding forgiveness?”  As believers we want to see others confessing the Lord Jesus and walking in the Spirit, so bestowing forgiveness is (or should be) a relatively easy endeavor, because it can be done based on the word of God.  Withholding forgiveness is no different.  The apostle Paul was acting in harmony with God's will as revealed in his word by seeking for Alexander's condemnation by the Lord (2 Tim 4:14-15).  Lest one think this was a special, non-repeatable apostolic pronouncement based on certain God-ordained authority, we find a similar refrain in several psalms such as the following:

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Psalm 139:19-22

Paul and David were acting within a purview available to believers—again based on the revealed word.  Still someone wonder if we can legitimately take such a harsh stand.  The Lord Jesus gave instruction to do so concerning the unrepentant where he says that what is being followed according to God's patter will result in heaven agreeing with the excommunication (Matt 18:17-18).

Lastly, can simply anyone go about haphazardly forgiving sins of some and not of others?  Certainly not.  Notice what has been said repeatedly “according to divine revelation.”  Without understanding what the Lord's mind is concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, attempting a spiritual work on this order would be as ineffective as praying for something to use on our own pleasures: it will not happen.  The person must be knowledgeable in the scriptures and mature in the faith.

Perhaps we evangelicals need to stop being afraid of terms bandied about that invoke visions of misuse and outright heresy, so that they might be used properly again.  Or maybe I am wrong-headed and will get negative comments to that effect.  Share what you think.

1 These do not remove civil punishment that may need to be enacted. That is a separate issue.