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.