Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Apostles' Creed with Proof Texts

Paul McCain from CPH has posted the Apostles' Creed with proof texts from an unremembered 17th-century source, demonstrating its biblical basis.  I assumed someone had done this at one time.  Here it is:
I believe (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 4:5)
In God (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:6)
The Father (Psalm 89:27; Matthew 7:11)
Almighty (Genesis 7:1; 2 Cor. 6:18)
Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 33:6; John 5:17)
And in Jesus (Zech 9:9; Matthew 1:21)
Christ (Daniel 9:24; John 3:34)
His only (Zechariah 13:7; John 1:14)
Son (Psalm 2:7; Matthew 16:16)
Our Lord (Jeremiah 23:6; John 20:28)
Who was conceived (Jeremiah 31:22; Luke 1:31)
By the Holy Spirit (Daniel 2:45; Matthew 1:20)
Born (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:14)
Of the Virgin Mary (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:43)
Suffered (Isaiah 50:6; Luke 23:25)
Under Pontius Pilate (Psalm 2:2; Luke 18:32)
Was crucified (Psalm 22:17; John 3:14)
Died (Daniel 9:26; Rom. 5:8)
And was buried (Isaiah 53:9; John 12:24)
Descended into hell (Psalm 16:10; Ephesians 4:9)
And on the third day (Hosea 6:2; Matthew 26:32; Acts 10:40-41)
He rose again from the dead (Isaiah 63:1; 2 Timothy 2:8)
Ascended into heaven (Psalm 68:19; Col. 2:15)
And sits at the right hand of the God the Father Almighty (Psalm 110:1; Mark 16:19)
From thence he will come (Isaiah 66:15; Acts 1:11)
To judge (Wisdom of Solomon 6:6; Acts 17:31)
The living and the dead (Daniel 12:2; 1 Cor. 15:51)
I believe in the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 12:10; John 15:26)
The holy (Psalm 45:14; Ephesians 5:26)
Catholic Church (Psalm 22:26; Matthew 16:18)
The communion of saints (Exodus 19:5; Ephesians 4:3)
The forgiveness of sins (Psalm 32:1; Acts 10:43)
The resurrection of the body (Isaiah 66:14; John 5:28)
And the life everlasting (Psalm 16:11; 1 Peter 1:4)
Amen! (Psalm 72:19; 2 Cor. 1:20)
If you have an issue using Wisdom of Solomon as a proof, remember that the Church into the Reformation recognized that the Apocrypha was not scripture but good material worthy to be studied.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Worship Innovations

The desire to add new features to worship is nothing new.  Over the decades and centuries, worshipers have tweaked their practices hoping to gain benefit or avoid retribution from God (or gods), with the result that these incremental changes eventually became standard practice and spiritual reasons were built around the practices to rationalize their continued use.  Consider this old account, which I have paraphrased and removed the particular item in question in order to understand the argument:
We have now to say a few words about [this] and [that] used in your religious acts.  With respect to [the former] which you use, we wonder where or when you became acquainted with and understand its application, so that you have good reason to think that it is either worthy or agreeable to be used.  For it is almost a novelty.  And there is no endless number of years since it began to be known in these parts, and won its way into the holy places.  Neither in the heroic ages, as it is believed and declared, was [it] known as is proved by the fathers in whose books no mention is found.  Nor are the superstitious acquainted with its fame and renown as the rites of the chapels prove.  Nor was it used by anyone in offering sacrifice during the early, flourishing years.  Nor did those who were skillful in devising innovations consider either its existence or growth, as the sacred steadfastness of performing the customary and usual sacrifices shows.

So where did its use begin to be adopted?  Or what desire of novelty assailed the historic tradition, so that the thing which was not needed for so long took a prominent place?  For if the performance of a religious service without [it] is imperfect, and if a quantity of it is necessary to make the heavens gentle and favorable to mankind, the ancient worshipers fell into sin.  Indeed, their whole life was full of guilt, for they carelessly neglected to offer that which was most fitting.  But if in earliest times neither worshiper nor recipient sought for this, it is proof that today the same is offered uselessly and in vain.  Though antiquity did not believe it necessary, modern times desire such without any reason.
Examining the Questions Raised
Where and when did the practice originate?  If a practice can be found defined in a sacred document expressing the desire and instructions of a deity, there should be no question for use.  If not, then the question needs to be asked: why are we doing this?  Did the innovation stem from a better understanding of the requirement(s)?  Was a heretofore unknown document or communication made to the worshiping community requesting or demanding the addition?

What is the historical precedent?  When not found there, there should be suitable historical use context.  What demonstrates that, though the first document no longer remains, there is ample attestation of other writers and practitioners for inclusion.  Has the practice been previously examined and handed down as right and good?

Who sinned—the ancients for their failure to do right or the moderns for their vain novelty?  If neither the original requirement nor the historical witness is available, one must assume that either the inclusion or exclusion of the addition is a sinful act.  Were the first worshipers lax in giving proper divine deference in their gatherings?  Or was the novelty added relatively recently of well-meaning human insight and invention—initiating the inclusion as a method for enriching some aspect of the devotional experience, but wronging the object of worship with the contrivance?

The paraphrase above is from chapter 26 of The Case Against the Pagans, VII by Arnobius of Sicca written 1700 years ago but could have been written yesterday for any number of innovations being promulgated on members by preachers in the guise of drawing numbers or preaching self-help tips rather than the gospel.  We expect innovations from pagans, who make it up as they go in order to bend and shape with culture.  Should the church be doing the same?  What grievous element was introduced originally to elicit the questions?  Incense.  In the aggregate of worship practices a seemingly trifling matter, but how many like practices can be allowed to invade without diverting from the main focus?  Precious few.

We have the God's own revelation of who he is and what he requires of those who are called unto himself.  We have 2000 years of testimony concerning the rightful (and wrongful) understanding and implementation of doctrine and practice.  We are to test what Charles Finney once referred to as "new measures" but are now called "reaching the unchurched," "engaging in conversation," or some other catchphrase.  They are wanting.  The mission of Christ's church remains: make disciples by baptizing and teaching as we go about our lives.  As well we regularly engage in proper worship, remembering that God first gives to us as unworthy recipients of forgiveness through Jesus' death on the cross, resting in the promise of Jesus' actual presence with his gathered people, taking in his life-giving word,  and responding in adoration for so great salvation.

Maybe its time for "spring cleaning" in each assembly of God's people in order to get rid of the clutter.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Proper Place of Commentaries

Phillip J. Long is beginning a blog series of Top Commentaries for New Testament Studies.  Reading his introductory post, I was pleased by his early statements:
First and foremost, a commentary ought never take the place of reading the text of the Bible.  Study should begin by reading the passage to be studied several times through, in context, with a pencil in hand.  Make your own observations before opening a commentary.
 I have heard this taught many times, and yet, so often in the past my first reaction was to open commentaries first.  Not until years later did I realize that most everything the Holy Spirit is saying in a passage through the writer is quite understandable just by reading through and meditating on the passage in context.  How much context?  Enough to know the flow of logic: this could be one chapter, a block of chapters, or the whole book.  Removing the passage from context leads to poor doctrine and ultimately to full-blown heresy.  Notice the recommendation is not directed to preachers and teachers.  No, this is pertinent for anyone wants to understand his Bible.

Should commentaries be used?  Certainly, but in their place: in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Prov 11:14).  And do not think that only the latest commentaries are those only worthwhile.  They reference and build off centuries of scholarship for a reason.  There are many websites that contain the historical works (CCEL, for example).  For more contemporary work, check out something like, which has solid studies by book or topic.  Above all, have someone older and wiser in the faith that you can go to with ideas and questions.  If you are the older and wiser, talk with your peers.  Check and recheck your findings.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  (2 Tim 2:15)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Living with Fallout from Speaking the Truth

“You’re Too Negative”
How many times have you heard that one?  I get it all the time.
So begins Bill Muehlenberg's post on bearing the brunt of reactions for telling the truth.  I have gotten the same, even from friends and family.  When you disagree with someone, a certain amount of tension occurs.  This is inevitable and good.  The proper response is to work through it.  Sadly, the mode du jour is to converse without expecting resolution—agreeing to disagree agreeably—and without making objective, transcendent truth claims.  Only opinions and knowledge based on life experience are used as verbal lubricant with the net effect that all parties maintain their views and part amicably.  I liken this to kissing my wife with a mask on.  Why bother?  Yet this has become the expectation in both secular and sacred culture.

The post ends with this:
I think Spurgeon had it right when he said, “This shall be an infallible test to you concerning anyone’s ministry.  If it is man-praising, and man-honouring, it is not of God.”  If that means we will be seen as negative and harsh to some people, well, tough beans.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Eloquence in the Pulpit

[Eloquent preachers] are praised because the common people admire them when they hear them tell stories and examples and play with words and allegories.  But no one is judged eloquent on the article of justification, nor do people like to hear him or praise him.  Take this as a sure sign that the common people sleep and cough when we preach the article of justification but prick up their ears at stories.

Martin Luther, Weimar Tischreden (St. Louis), 22, 640, No. 19

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

United in One New Man

That he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

He put to death the enmity by the cross, offering the flawless sacrifice.  He reconciled both, that is, those from the Gentiles and those from the Jews, in one body offered for all, so that they might form one body.  He called all believers one man since while Christ the Lord is the single head of all, those granted salvation fill the role of the body.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Ephesians" on Ephesians 2:15-16

Monday, May 21, 2012

Made Alive With Christ

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

But though our condition was so bad, the Lord God in the depths of his goodness made us sharers in the immortal life of our Lord—the meaning of made us alive together with Christ.  Since he is risen, we also hope to rise, as through him our condition has been set to rights.  Then he brings out more clearly the greatness of the gift: you were called not on account of the excellence of your life but on account of the love of the one who saved you.

Since he is risen, we rise in hope, and since he is seated with the Father, we also participate in the honor; it is our head that is seated with him, our first-fruits who reigns with him, since He is clothed in our nature.  Here and now the greatness of the good things hoped for, while completely hidden from the nonbelievers, the faithful at any rate gaze upon as in a mirror and in shadow, walking through faith and not in appearance.  But then they will see face to face; then both faithful and nonbelievers will see the nature taken from us adored by all creation, and the saints reigning with him.  "If we died, we shall also live with Him," Scripture says, remember, "if we endure, we shall also reign with Him."

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Ephesians" on Ephesians 2:4-7

Friday, May 18, 2012

Call Sin What It Is

This blindness concerning sin is the chief cause of the almost universal rejection of the Gospel in our time.  People who fail to recognize the horrible nature of sin decline to accept the sacrificial death of the Son of God for the reconciliation and redemption of this world of sinners.  They consider His death completely unnecessary and, therefore, regard the story of the Gospel as a miserable fable.

It is, therefore, one of the most important requirements of a true, Gospel-oriented pastor that he know how to explain to his listeners the true nature of sin in terms that are loud and clear as they are terrible, drastic, and relevant.  For without a real knowledge of what an awful thing sin is, a person cannot understand and accept the Gospel.  As long as he is not alarmed that sin is his greatest enemy and the most awful horror living in him, he will not come to Christ.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 362

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Boast Only in the Cross of Christ

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

I pray to have a high esteem only of the saving cross.  On account of it the whole of life is pointless to me, even like a dead body.  It is not only dead to me but I to it, awaiting eternal life as I am.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Galatians" on Galatians 6:14

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Seek First the Kingdom of God: Life Lesson from Solomon

I am reading through Ecclesiastes, and a thought came to me that this book is an expanded discourse on a portion of the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus tells the people not to seek after the treasures of this world, because that treasure will not last and the effort leads you away from the Giver of all good things.  You serve the wrong master.  No longer are you trusting that the Almighty God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills to meet your need.  You worry about the lack and not remember what has been received, looking instead to make plans and expend effort improving your lot in life.  Jesus' solution for that problem is:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matt 6:33)
Solomon, the wealthiest and most powerful man on earth, pursued all he could and wrote from experience on the vanity of chasing after what the Lord would warn against on that mountainside centuries later—wealth, goods, wisdom, and many other things that are considered important by the world and our flesh—in order to achieve happiness and contentment.  Solomon's advice is:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.  Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.  For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.  (Eccl 5:18-20)
Notice the central theme of the two passages: God will give the desire of your heart if you stop chasing the wind and rest in His goodness.  Wealth and possessions are not the problem, the love of money is.  This malady is not restricted to an economic stratum.  Whatever one's income, there is a temptation to be more intent on gaining just a bit more in ignorance that the blessing of the Lord makes rich (Prov 10:22) and great gain comes from godliness with contentment (1 Tim 6:6).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Splendor of the Trinity

I received a comment last week concerning my post on God's essence and being which pointed to a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that dealt with the subject.  Part of the reading was a wonderful quote from the Cappadocian father Gregory Nazianzen.  The commenter was kind enough to pass along the reference, and I share a more full version than given in the catechism.
Besides all this and before all, keep I pray you the good deposit, by which I live and work, and which I desire to have as the companion of my departure; with which I endure all that is so distressful, and despise all delights; the confession of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.  This I commit unto you today; with this I will baptize you and make you grow.  This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the One Godhead and Power, found in the Three in Unity, and comprising the Three separately, not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of Three Infinite Ones, Each God when considered in Himself; as the Father so the Son, as the Son so the Holy Ghost; the Three One God when contemplated together; Each God because Consubstantial; One God because of the Monarchia.  No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One.  When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me.  I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest.  When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light.
Oration 40.41*

* Translated by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow.  From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7.  Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace.  (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.  Found at

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beware of Placing Affinity Above Truth

Really?  Really?  You were enjoying all the freedoms, but when some people from your past showed up, you caved and played the hypocrite.  And others are taking your example to do the same.  Why didn't you stand on what God himself made plain to you?

That's what I envision what Paul would have said to Peter had the confrontation in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14)  happened today.  Peter knew better.  He had been used by God to declare the gospel to a Gentile family in their home—formerly considered an unclean act (Acts 10:18)—and beheld the same bestowal of the Holy Spirit without the requirement of circumcision or work of the Law.  Now in Antioch and hobnobbing with the local Gentile population, he suddenly becomes sheepish and uncomfortable at the visitation of Christian Jews from Jerusalem, sent by James, an elder in the church.  His isolationism is noticed by the other Jewish brethren in Antioch, who follow his lead, with the result that Gentiles are beginning to wonder if they need to be following the Law.

If I wanted to put the most positive spin on the scenario, it appears that Peter was afraid of being a stumbling block to kinsmen who, though believing in Jesus as the Messiah, may not yet be so open to the abundant freedom found in Christ.  In an effort to be gracious to one group, he led even more into hypocrisy and error.  What really bothers me is that I have done the same type of thing.

How often have you and I not wanted to offend a weaker Christian and let the truth slide for the sake of unity, local social mores, or prospective witnessing through the relationship?  If we are honest, it happens.  We forget that the most loving thing to do is be honest and forthright without being arrogant or belligerent.  That is where we are to start.  People respect honest communication more than agreement.  Penn Jillette, famous magician and atheist, has stated on YouTube (see embedded video below) that he has more respect for Christians who are fundamentalist, rather than liberal, because the former are speaking from an objective position, while the latter deal in subjectivity and are ultimately condescending.

Christians tend to avoid confrontation either because they believe it is more loving to let things slide or consider disagreements to be a sign of disunity.  If something is wrong, it is wrong.  Say so, preferably in a kind way but harshly when needed.  Do not soften the blow of error.  It is natural, because we do not wish to admit the problem, though we know full well it exists even in us.  For instance, sin gets spoken of as a character flaw requiring personal introspection and behavior modification.  No savior is required here.  The proposed cure is a Jesus who is buddy, lover, therapist, or all three, having the goal of curing me of my character flaws and unmet desires.  How much better to open the scriptures and see what is said in context to address an issue.

We need to continue hearing and reading the living word of God, acquiescing to the Holy Spirit as he works in us, equipping us to live in truth and love.  Disagreements over practice will arise: these we handle graciously so that the weaker Christian might be strengthened and understand fully.  However, let us be wise in these matters and not discard the truth for the sake of maintaining a relationship.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preachers, Weigh Your Words

This quote is directed to future pastors but is equally applicable for teachers or anyone who proclaims or explains God's word to a group.

Every time a pastor is preparing to write a sermon that he will deliver from his pulpit, he should approach his task with fear and trembling, that is, with the reverent concern that he would preach nothing contrary to the Word of God.  He must examine everything he has written down most carefully to see whether it is in harmony with the Word of God and the experience of Christians.  Every time he should weigh everything that he is to speak in public, using the holy scales of the temple to weigh the true gold content, as it were.  He should see whether it agrees with the writings of the apostles and prophets.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,
(trans. Christian C. Tiews; St Louis: Concordia, 2010), 328

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Essence and Being

I have recently finished reading Evangelicals and Nicene Faith: Reclaiming the Apostolic Witness, edited by Timothy George.* This book and some things I have been hearing in podcasts have gotten me thinking on the the Trinity as a concept.  As much as anyone, I have had trouble trying to get my brain wrapped around a God that is one yet three.  How does one explain the Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, in correct terms without falling of the rails into tri-theism on one side and modalism on the other.  There must be a constant tension that holds to what is conceptualized in the diagram at right.

One pretty good explanation I have heard points out that there are three persons with one being.  One problem that arises with this explanation stems from misconstruing the concept of being.  When we think of a human being, we conceive of one independent person.  In reality, being is not the individual but the class that defines characteristics of an essence that defines what a life form is.  For a being to be human, it must be bipedal, upright, reasoning, communicative, and many other attributes distinguishing men and women from other animal or plant life.  Person subdivides this class and tells us which particular being is described or discussed sufficiently to demonstrate uniqueness.

This is not without its problems.  When we think of three of any being group (human, bovine, canine, feline, etc.), we are still stuck because though the three operate with the same attributes, they are independent of each other.  God is not this way.  Each person in the godhead acts in perfect accord in an incomprehensible interdependence and interrelation.  The closest human example possible would be for a person to be cloned into three, all having the same characteristics, knowledge, and outside influences, so that one might expect react in the same ways to like experiences.  Even here there are insurmountable difficulties, as the experiment presupposes a purely mechanical or animalistic response to stimuli, denying the spiritual component.  Even if cloning of the physical body was possible, how could the spirit be perfectly replicated in another?

God is spirit by nature: it is his essence (John 4:24).  We do not operate on this level and cannot fully understand how three spiritual persons can be of the same essence, yet this is what we learn when bringing together the evidence in divine revelation.  When taken to its logical conclusion, we should marvel that one person of that spiritual being took on a nature foreign to himself, so that the two natures are not confused in any way, but each are kept perfectly in their fullness and for eternity.

* Most of the essays were well done, especially so the first three, which gave the historical background of the Nicene Creed.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

One Gospel, All of Grace

As Paul wrote to the believers in Galatia of his work in the gospel, he wanted to impress that the message he and Barnabas preached from Antioch was the same as that preached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  He retells an occasion (Gal 2:1-10) when the Lord had revealed that he, Barnabas, and Titus should make the trip to Jerusalem and meet with the church leaders explaining the work among the Gentiles.

This act would benefit both the church in Antioch and Jerusalem.  Paul and Barnabas could tell firsthand how the gospel was being delivered and what was being required of the Gentiles concerning the Law.  The Jerusalem leaders could readily give their acknowledgment for the work and fruit of the labor.  Titus was the example of how a Greek could receive and abide in salvation wholly of grace, apart from circumcision or other works of Law.  Even when false brethren had made their way into the church seeking to require adherence to Moses, Paul and Barnabas stood firm.

They met quietly with James, Peter, and John who noticed immediately the grace going forth from Paul's teaching and sealed the fellowship.  The work being accomplished was validated. Both churches had clear mandates concerning the gospel, and this meeting acknowledged the ministries as being undertaken by co-laborers in different fields of service.

I do not see this passage as a blueprint for how to resolve conflict between Christians.  There is no hint animosity on either side.  Tension might be expected on a human level from Jerusalem: it was the "mother church," some of the original apostles were still in the city, and Jesus' half-brother was an elder.  On the other hand, Antioch was a growing work with the giftedness of Paul and his companions.  This was where things were happening.  Yet there is neither jealousy nor fear circulating between the two churches.  They affirmed the same gospel was going forth from both locations to the glory of God.  His people were of one mind.  Only those of the evil one had wrongly crept in and sowed discord.  Rather this passage is a testament of the gospel of grace manifesting that
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:4-6).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Believers Receive Blessings from All Three Persons of Godhead

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

It was not by way of division that he expressed it this way, nor did he apportion some things to Christ, some to the Father, and some to the Holy Spirit.  Frequently, in fact, he spoke of love in connection with the Spirit, fellowship with the Son, and grace with the God and Father.  Thus also in the first letter he spoke of operation in connection with the Father, and shortly spoke of operation in connection with the Father, and shortly after spoke of it in connection with the Son.  Now, he also cited the order of persons in a different fashion, not to overturn the order cited by the Lord but to bring out that the order of the names does not indicate diversity of nature or power or difference in status.  Let us also pray to be accorded the apostolic blessing and attain the promised goods, thanks to the grace and lovingkindness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the all-holy Spirit be glory and magnificence, now and forever, for ages and ages.  Amen.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Second Letter to the Corinthians" on 2 Corinthians 13:14