Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rick Warren Is Doing It Again—Or Still

Jim Hinch has an article in the Orange County Register describing how the members of Saddleback Church are befriending the Muslim community as part of Rick Warren's PEACE plan.  The lead paragraph states:
The Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of America's most influential Christian leaders, has embarked on an effort to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims by partnering with Southern California mosques and proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Before jumping all over Warren for this, I assume the reporter does not understand Christian parlance and might misconstrue what is happening.  For instance, later in the article is the mention of a joint document authored by representatives of Saddleback and a local mosque:
The men presented a document they co-authored outlining points of agreement between Islam and Christianity.  The document affirms that Christians and Muslims believe in "one God" and share two central commandments: "love of God" and "love of neighbor."  The document also commits both faiths to three goals: Making friends with one another, building peace and working on shared social service projects.  The document quotes side-by-side verses from the Bible and the Koran to illustrate its claims.
This does not state the two groups worship the same God, but the language is vague enough to confuse all involved, which may be the purpose—use religious, but friendly, wording that ultimately communicates nothing.

One quote that caught my attention came from the Muslim representative:
"We agreed we wouldn't try to evangelize each other," said Turk. "We'd witness to each other but it would be out of 'Love Thy Neighbor,' not focused on conversion."
Why would Rick Warren or any other pastor at Saddleback agree to this? Then I read further:
For 12 years Warren has lived next door to Yasser Barakat, a Muslim from Syria who worships at a Mission Viejo mosque four miles down the road from Saddleback.  The Trabuco Canyon neighbors were friends for years before Barakat realized he lived next door to a world-famous Christian pastor.
No hint of Christ or Christianity for 12 years?  Really?!  The situation is quite clear: Rick Warren has no interest in the gospel, and he has taught the Saddleback members likewise.  A word of warning to them is in order:
I know your works.  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, then, what you received and heard.  Keep it, and repent.  If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.   Revelation 3:1-3

Modern Marcionism

I have heard and seen multiple references that Christians are largely either Deists or Gnostics, and the reasoning behind each is quite substantial.  The newest entry on the epithet list comes from Bill Muehlenberg in Culture Watch—Marcionite.  He aptly describes the problem with this second-century bishop who was soundly denounced by Tertullian.  In a nutshell, Marcion tried to pit the God described in the Old Testament with that described in the New Testament, so much so, that he rejected the O.T. as little more than a necessary evil—a precursor to get the important work of Paul's proclamation of Christ on the stage.

Muehlenberg identifies themes of this movement working within Christianity today, particularly in the emergent sector.  Rather than re-posting, I recommend reading his post.

Bookworm Bliss

This afternoon I received Eusebius of Caesarea: Gospel Problems and Solutions, Roger Pearse ed.  I originally became aware of Roger through his website The Tertullian Project and began following his blog.  He is a likable sort and has been willing to answer questions concerning patristic writers.  He is quite willing to lecture on his work, so if anyone is in a position to underwrite his travel from Great Britain and organize a lecture tour, let him know.

Now do I read Eusebius or L'Exégèse de Théodoret de Cyr by Jean-Noël Guinot received late last week?  Probably the former since it's shorter.  I found the latter when I saw the author's two-volume biography on Theodoret being promoted at Les Éditions du CERF.  When I searched for other works by Guinot, I was able to purchase a copy in near new condition from an American bookseller at a good price.  My French language skills are not what they were, but this should help stimulate them.

Of course, I still have books received as Christmas gifts that need my attention:

        Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson
        Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, Richard Longenecker
        Early Church and State, Agnes Cunningham
        Evangelicals and the Nicene Faith, Timothy George, ed.

And besides these I am reading Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Letters of St Paul, Robert C. Hill, trans., as devotional material, taking one chapter at a time.

Poor me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Expecting the Wrong Thing of Seminaries

Marc Cortez has a post on what we, the church, expect of seminaries based on notes he took from a Leith Anderson lecture.  The seven points are standard offerings, but one in particular struck me.
3.  Leaders who can lead
This one seems obvious, but its among the hardest to address.  The trick here is that the church doesn’t need people who know about leading; the church needs people who can actually lead.  Those are two very different things.  And, since many students enter seminary with little leadership experience, seminaries need to give students opportunities to start and lead something, anything.  The classroom provides the necessary time and distance to reflect critically on leadership experiences, but real leadership only develops in the field.
As the quote states, this one seems obvious, but on further reflection the emphasis is all wrong, because it is based on a faulty concept of assembly leadership principles.  What the church and the seminary began doing several centuries ago is incorporate secular leadership styles into the local assembly expecting similar organizational efficiencies.  Such thinking was and is wrong-headed.  The thesis point should be Leaders who can follow.

The church is Christ's body with Him as the head.  As such, those placed as shepherds over the local flock are to be those who can follow and apply the Scriptures through careful  discipleship and instruction.  They are given the task of feeding and caring for the flock, ever pointing to the Lord Jesus.  Scripture is clear on what to teach, how to teach, and what the collective role of overseer is intended to be.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:1-2)
This is a far cry from being a "vision-caster."  Seminaries are to teach that leading is by example:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim 4:12)

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

(See also Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 1:16)

This living example (commonly called servant-leadership) is performed under the scrutiny and direction of the triune God according to His plan and purposes, which, again, have been clearly stated in His Word.  Instill these precepts properly in the local body and the self-imposed stress caused by vision and planning will diminish greatly as people naturally walk in those good works that God has prepared for them to do.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Open Letter to Praise Bands

James K. A. Smith has written an open letter to praise bands commending them for their desire but noting shortcomings.  His three main points I give here:
1.  If we, the congregation, can't hear ourselves, it's not worship.
Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular "form of performance"), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music.  In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo.  And there's nothing wrong with concerts!  It's just that Christian worship is not a concert.  Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice—and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship.  It is a way of "performing" the reality that, in Christ, we are one body.  But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us.  When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can't hear ourselves sing—so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become "private," passive worshipers.
2.  If we, the congregation, can't sing along, it's not worship.
In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and "be creative," offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune.  Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can't sing along.  And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence.  And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.
3.  If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it's not worship.
I know it's generally not your fault that we've put you at the front of the church.  And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate.  But because we've encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we've also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention.  And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity—even with the best of intentions—it's difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as "offerings to God," we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we've adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention.  I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

His postscript to the original post is also worthwhile, reminding us that worship is not just expressive but also formative.  That being  so, worship must be intentional.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

God's Judgment is Proper and Just

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

Consider the potter's clay, which has no share in reasoned discernment and so offers no objection to the maker.  Even if it is assigned the work of an ordinary vessel, it remains silent to what happens.  But you resist and object.  You, then, are not constrained by natural necessities nor transgress in defiance of free will, rather you embrace evil willingly and accept the hardship of virtue of set purpose.  The sentence of the God of all is therefore proper and just: He justly punishes the sinner for presuming to do this with free will.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 9:20-21

Friday, February 24, 2012

Salvation Is Not Either ... Or

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

There is need of both, of faith true and firm and of confession made with confidence, so that the heart may be adorned with the certainty of faith and the tongue shine forth by boldly proclaiming the truth.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 10:9-10

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Preach Christ's Finished Work So the Sinner May Find Rest

[T]he preacher needs to frame his address in a way that would awaken in every poor sinner the desire to lay down the burden of sins at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and say to Him, "You are mine, and I am Yours."  Here is where Luther reveals his true greatness.  He rarely appeals to his listeners: "Believe, really believe!"  Rather, he preaches the work of Christ, salvation by grace, and the riches of God's mercy in Jesus Christ.  Everyone gets the idea: "All I have to do is receive; all I need to do is rest in the lap of divine grace."  That is the great art that you must seek to learn, so each listener will think: "If that is true, then I am a blessed person.  All my anguish and unrest has been unnecessary.  I am completely redeemed.  I am reconciled with God.  I am among the saved, among those whom God has made His gracious face to shine."  The moment a person thinks these thoughts, he attains faith.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 287-288

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Repentance: A Sweet Sorrow

Love for God enters a person's heart through the Gospel.  When repentance follows from love for God, it is indeed a truly sweet sorrow, acceptable to God.  It pleases God, for we cannot offer Him greater honor than by throwing ourselves in the dust before Him, confessing, "You are righteous, O Lord, but I am a poor sinner.  Have mercy on me for the sake of Jesus Christ."

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 281

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Marginalizing Christianity: Then and Now

Mike Aquilina has written a post concerning Julian the Apostate that strikes a chord:
The Emperor Julian (“the Apostate”), in his drive to re-paganize the empire, tried to weaken Christian opposition by dividing it, setting one faction against another. He restored heretical bishops who had been deposed, so that major cities would have two competing bishops. He offered prominent Catholics high positions, so that he could neutralize them while claiming their support. Meanwhile, he made the requirements for schoolteachers so stringently pagan that no Christian could fulfill them. Banished from the public square, Christianity could be minimized as a cultural force. According to a recent biographer, Julian “marginalised Christianity to the point where it could potentially have vanished within a generation or two, and without the need for physical coercion.” Said Julian: “If they want to learn literature, they have Luke and Mark: Let them go back to their churches and expound on them.” Julian wished to remove Christians from public discourse – drive them into a cultural ghetto.
Just replace the name Julian with a sitting President or Prime Minister, and you have a fit description of the United States and Canada and Great Britain and Australia and … 

You get the idea.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nothing Separates Believers from the Love of God

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Having weighed the whole creation against the love of God, and added such as are visible and such as are perceptible only by the mind—angels and powers and dominions—and to the present, hoped for, blessings (as well as threatened punishments also; for by depth, as I apprehend, he signals hell, and by height the kingdom of heaven) and moreover everlasting life and eternal death; and seeing that even then this scale is lightest in the reckoning, he seeks for something else to be cast in.  And finding nothing, he frames into his account all creation in great variety and even then does not find all these together capable to be weighed against the love of God.  For it is fitting, he says, not to love Him on account of His promises of blessings, but to desire them for His sake.  For neither if a man be sincerely well-disposed towards one who is rich, does he love him for the abundance of his wealth; but from his very affection towards him, loves also the possessions belonging to him.  And in like manner the holy apostle declares, I would not choose to inherit the kingdom of heaven, and all visible and invisible creation, and as many such again twice or thrice multiplied, apart from the love of God.  But if any person was to lay before me present and future distresses, present and eternal death, and the most protracted punishment in hell, together with the love of Him, with readiness and welcome would I choose these in preference to the former splendid and glorious and unspeakable objects devoid of love for Him.  Therefore let us both pray and strive that which we also may possess, so that following in the footsteps of the apostles, we may be made sharers thereby in the footsteps of the apostles through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together with the thrice-holy Spirit, belong glory and majesty, now and ever, unto endless ages.  Amen.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 8:38-39

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Unity of the Trinity in Our Resurrection

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

He invigorates them by hope of the future, and inspires them with willing readiness sufficient for present contests.  Before long your bodies will be immortal and superior to the passions that now molest them.  And this the God of all will do, who now so liberally bestows on us the pledge of the Spirit.  And he has given us all a pledge of this resurrection in the resurrection of Christ.  And he teaches by all this the unity of nature in the Godhead, for he calls the thrice-holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, not that, as the infamous heretics say, He was created of the Father by the Son, but that He is one substance with the Father and the Son and proceeds from the Father according to the teaching of the gospels.  His grace it is, that is extended to such as are worthy.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 8:11

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Didache, Discipleship, and Disjunction

Readers of my blog will have noticed my recent references to Thomas O'Loughlin's book, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians.  The book is a "mixed bag."  The author accepts that the Gospel accounts, save Mark, were late first to early second century works while the "deutero-Pauline" epistles (Pastorals, et al) were second to third century.  As such, the Didache is thought to inform or be consistent with material that informed the writing of those works.  This calls into question much of his reasoning as he attempts to bring Didache together with the New Testament.  A straightforward reading of N.T. and Didache would demonstrate that the Church Fathers were correct in holding the former group as primary both in chronology and authority.

The benefit of this book is O'Loughlin's thesis that Didache was a training manual for the Christian community: it is a catechetical work for discipleship.  He notes the process from one phase to another in logical steps: basic presentation concerning the ways of life and death, taking in the moral teachings of Christ, understanding the character and identifying marks of the church, and looking for the promised return of the Lord.  He questions why the church has largely dismissed the need for thorough instruction of what comprised the relationship with God and His people.  To that end he has identified a weak spot in the life of the church.

What formerly had been a progression that occurred in any given person—proclamation of judgment and gospel, repentance, belief on Christ with accompanying baptism for the forgiveness of sins, assembling with others, instruction in God's word, nurture by an older believer—has now become truncated and compartmentalized.  Christians develop characteristics more akin to Deism or Gnosticism than being true followers in the Way.  What God had joined together man has torn asunder: evangelism from discipleship, baptism from belief, person of Christ from his Supper, sound doctrine from instruction, admonition and correction from training in righteousness.  Priority has shifted from the care of souls to care of the corporate entity.  The mindset driving this is, "How do we touch the most lives with limited resources?  How do we keep the organization together, moving strong and growing?"  That is a practical outlook, but it has little to do with the local church.  The correct questions should be, "What has God revealed in his word that needs to be done, and are we doing it according to his pattern?"

We would do well to evaluate both content and methodology of the local church against what the Lord has told us and be willing to look at what those early Christians did after the apostles died.  We do not want to directly imitate what as done, nor do we dare romanticize the purity of those first few centuries.  Instead, make a critical examination of their teaching and practice to better ground what we do in Christ's name.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Test the Prophets

And any prophet who teaches the truth, but does not live according to his teaching is to be considered a false prophet.  (Didache 11.10)
The final note is interesting in that it sets the actual walking of the Way as a test for anyone who acts as a prophet.  The correct teaching is not enough in itself, it must be backed up by the correct form of life.  The Didache has a bald statement intended as a test for the community to use to distinguish visitors in two groups: false and genuine. *
Visitors are not the only people who need to be examined: wolves, goatherds, and other self-promoters are a "dime-a-dozen."  Fellow believers, do the hard work of discernment.  Elders, do the hard work of guarding the flock.

* Thomas O'Laughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 118

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jesus Suffered Injustice for the Unjust—You

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

He says not in the likeness of flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, for he certainly received the human nature, but human sin he did not received—hence that which He thus assumed he calls not the likeness of flesh, but the likeness of sinful flesh, because though He had the same nature with ourselves, He yet did not have the same character or disposition.  He means, then, that the law having been unable to bring to effect its own design—by reason of the weakness of those beneath its covenant, possessing as they did a mortal nature, and one answerable to infirmities and passions—the only-begotten Word of God, becoming incarnate, by that human flesh overthrew sin, fulfilling all righteousness and admitting no taint of sin; and by enduring the death of sinners, as though Himself a sinner, manifested the injustice of sin, in that it delivered up to death a body over which death had no just claim.  And this then both overthrew and put an end to death: for in thus submitting to death through the unjust sentence of sin (while not at all answerable to it, in that He never committed sin) He became the price of redemption of those justly subjected to death, as one free among the dead.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 8:3-4

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy or Holy: What Does God Want for Us?

Will Weedon has written a post that makes an important point.  I give it here in entirety:
I've been hammering home at St. Paul's of late: the Lord doesn't want you to be happy; He wants you to be holy.  "For this is the will of God, your sanctification."  Last night Judy asked: does He want us to be both?  I thought about it and replied: He wants us to be holy so that we may be truly blessed; and blessedness is even better than happiness.  I'd stand by that: blessedness doesn't ride on the ups and downs of our emotions.  It rises above them.  And since God often uses adversity and trials to give us growth in holiness (yes, holiness is given you whole and entire in your Baptism, but I refer to growing up into the salvation that is yours), there are times of sadness that come our way on this path toward the fuller inner appropriation of that holiness which results in blessedness.  Anywho, the big point is that our deceitful hearts way too often tell us that "God wants us to be happy" and take that to mean: "God can't mean that I shouldn't engage in this sin - because I am finding happiness in doing so!"  Wrong.  Just wrong.
In spite of what culture or others have taught, happiness is not the antithesis of holiness.  Only walking in fellowship with the Father, as it is made available through the redemptive work of the son in the power of the Holy Spirit, can men and women be fully content, resulting in happiness as we see the Lord work in and through both us and others.

Doubly Free in Christ Jesus

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

As [Paul] had just before called sin "the law of sin," so now he calls the life-giving Spirit, the law of the Spirit of life.  His grace, says he, by faith in Christ has bestowed on you a double freedom: not only has it overthrown the power of sin, but also put an end to the tyranny of death.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 8:2

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Main Thing!

I regularly read biblical offerings from Bruce Collins, an evangelist here in Eastern Iowa.  In this week's meditation, he begins:
Galatians 1:8  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

Preaching an accurate faithful Gospel is important to the Lord and it needs to be important to us.  When we preach the Gospel we are dealing with the destinies of people for eternity.  Who would want to mislead anyone on that that important matter?  When we talk about the Gospel, we know we are talking about Good News.  Sometimes we use the word to include all or most of the doctrines of the Bible and sometimes we limit the term to the need to trust in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus to be saved for eternity.  Whether we use the term in a broad sense or in a narrow sense, the end result is the same—we are preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.  But if those who are preaching the Gospel are all preaching the same Gospel, why does what I hear today often seem so strange to me?
This is a good question.  Why do "Gospel" preachers have different messages?  Are they not all working from the same basic text?  If not, why not?  They claim to be preaching the same message from the same text, but what comes forth is something entirely different.

There are various reasons why the message is not consistent, but I would dare say they are all rooted in pride and promotion of a local church, a ministry within the church, corporate vision of the church, the preacher himself/herself, or some combination thereof. The point is that the message is not Christ.

But even when relating the gospel one-to-one, we can fall into this trap—of speaking more about me or my church than what Christ has done for me. In the e-mail Bruce goes on to relate the result of an encounter in a Chinese restaurant:
She invited herself and her daughter to sit with me while she ate, and we had a nice discussion.  I found out that this stranger that I had decided to help had been baptized by my own brother—she was friends with a lot of people that I knew though I didn't know her.  It sounded like she had had a rather hard life, but she couldn't forget what the Lord had done for her.  She didn't tell me about what she had done for the Lord, she told me about what the Lord had done for her.
Now that's what I'm talking about—not dwelling on me or what I have done but showing forth the Lord Jesus in simple conversation.

Rejoicing in Deliverance

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

[Paul] calls it a body of death, as being born subject to death—that is, mortal, for the soul is immortal.  Christ alone, he says, has freed us from this bitter bondage by putting an end to death, and promising us immortality, and that life which is without either labor or pain and apart from warfare or sin.  The full enjoyment we shall receive in the existence to come, while in the present we are blessed with the grace of the thrice-holy Spirit, and thereby not only do we set ourselves against the passions but by the possession of such an Helper are enabled to triumph over them.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 7:24-25

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Law Shows Us Our True Selves; Christ Is the Remedy

Therefore God added the commandment that man might thereby learn to understand his own nature and to fear his Lawgiver.  And we may certainly perceive the lovingkindness of that Lawgiver, for He did not add some Law which was difficult to heed but one which could have been easily kept.  He allowed to [Adam] the enjoyment of all the trees, of one alone He forbade him the use; not that He envied him that one (for how could He do so, who had already given him power over all?) but in order to teach him the terms of submission and to render him well-disposed towards his Creator and provide a means for the exercise of his rational faculties.  And if then, by not keeping the commandment he came under sentence of death, this can be no cause for blame to the Lawgiver but to him who transgressed the law.… But indeed the Lord God has treated with every possible consideration and kindness both Adam himself and all his race, and—to pass by all other and come at once to the heart of the matter—for him and his race the only-begotten Word became incarnate and put an end to the power of death, which from him had received its beginning, and promised the resurrection, and prepared the kingdom of heaven, and so He both foreknew his transgression and made ready beforehand the means of remedy to follow.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 7:11-12

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Death to the Law and New Life in the Spirit

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.  It would have been indeed in strict consistency with the example adduced to have said, "the law is dead," that is, has ceased, but in consideration of the spiritual weakness of the Jews, for they greatly exalted the law, and from a desire not to afford an opportunity of finding fault with it to the heretics who denounced the Old Testament, he avoids saying that the law has ceased, but declares that we have died to the law by baptism which saves us, and then rising again have been united to Him who has Himself risen from the dead, that is Christ.  And as he had called the faith which is in the Lord a marriage and union, in keeping with this image he shows the fruit also arising from marriage, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  What then is this fruit-bearing?  That our members become the instruments of righteousness.  And most aptly does he show that the law itself leads us to be joined to Christ, for it did not forbid a woman to be married to a second husband after the death of the first.  And then he goes on to point out the difference.

For while we were living in the flesh, that is, according to the law (for the legal ordinances concerning the flesh, as of foods and drinks, of leprosy, and such like, are what he here calls the flesh), our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members.  He says not "in" the law but by the law.  For the law, which is good, does not itself bring about sin, but sin uses [it] for evil.  Neither indeed do our members themselves bring about sin, but the inclination of the soul to the worse has brought its operations to effect by our members.  And what then springs from this?  To bear fruit for death.
In these words he has taught us that before the coming of [the covenant of] grace, while we were living according to the law, the attacks of sin to which we were subjected were the most powerful, in that the law showed indeed what ought to be done, but offered no help to do it.  But now we are released from the law.  He still continues in the same cautious mode of expression, and says not, "the law is made to cease," but we are released from the law, that is, it is inoperative as regards ourselves, we are no longer under its polity.  And how are we released from it?  Having died to that which held us captive.  For when we were subjects of the law we came to baptism, and dying with Christ, and with Him rising again, we were united to our Lawgiver, and no longer need the polity of the law, for we have received the very grace itself of the Spirit, as what follows proves, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Romans" on Romans 5:4-7

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Being Subordinate

Subordination gets a bad reputation because people imply the meaning of submission with someone else exercising authority over me.  Western civilization bristles at this notion because it appears to run counter to a decidedly egalitarian philosophy.  In actuality, subordination is necessary for any civil society.  Its basis is understanding and practicing the particular role I have in order to benefit others.  We see this in everyday life: goods and services are bought and sold; laws are enacted and enforced; knowledge is transferred from instructor to student, etc.  We place ourselves in a position so that needs are met, whether yours or mine or both.  The apostle Paul explains the importance of this concept nicely in Ephesians 5:18-21.

Be filled with the Spirit
He begins by commanding believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  This is an odd request since the verb is passive.  The requirement is only to receive, but how is that done?  Backing up just a bit in chapter 5 we see:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.… Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.… Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  (4:17; 5:1-2, 15-16)
And all this is lived out based on what has been given us freely in the Beloved upon our belief and confession of Christ (chapters 1-3).

Manifestation of filling
What are the manifestations of the Spirit-filled life?  The apostle mentions four characteristics common to every assembly:
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
Singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Be Subordinate
All these are important, but the last Paul expands by giving practical application in the family setting (5:22-6:9).  All of these were common as families and communities turned to Christ from their false idols.
submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
The emphasis here is to fulfill your place in the family in a godly way regardless of which role you are playing in the immediate relationship addressed.  Being mutually subordinate in this way edifies the body of Christ and serves as a powerful witness of Christ's redemptive work.