Friday, August 31, 2012

Post Hoc, Ergo Poppycock

There is a logical fallacy known in Latin as post hoc, ergo propter hoc—literally translated "after this, therefore because of this."  It is joining two or more unrelated events and deducing that the outcome was a direct result of the predecessors, regardless of the improbability.  For example, my work load increased significantly as Tropical Storm Isaac has gained in intensity and proximity to our southern shores, therefore Isaac is to blame for all I need to produce.  In actuality, the increase is from the regular program cycle, not the weather.

This faulty reasoning is commonplace, especially among the superstitious, who are ever seeking omens and signs to determine future actions and decisions.  Arnobius of Sicca recounts that Roman pagan lore related one such occurrence in which the historians recorded that a pestilence of some kind had beset the people.  The had been seeking help from their gods when a ship arrived having a large serpent aboard which was able to escape from the ship and quickly hide itself from view.  Taking this as a good omen, the people undertook to build temples to Aesculapius and give sacrifices so that "the plague-stricken people grew strong and recovered, and the pestilence fled before the soundness of health which arose" (Case against the Pagans, 44).  One can identify with a grateful people who would seek to give credit to anything or anyone who might be deserving to stem the tide of disease.  The serpent's mode of transportation and combined size, speed, and guile were considered to be overwhelming evidence that this was a deity giving health to the people.

Can today's Christian, wishing to properly serve his or her God, be entrapped in a similar self-made conclusion?  This happens more often than we like to admit.  I have heard or read numerous accounts, even in my own assembly, of people searching for the Lord's direction concerning the future or some weighty issue and relating how God gave what amounted to be a special revelation—or an inkling of one—based on a verse out of context, followed by an unrelated encouraging word from a friend or pastor, and later being presented with an opportunity to help or serve in some area.  Suddenly, that person has purpose for starting a ministry or church based on some feeling of the Lord's leading.  The believer so intently wants to be led, that the idea is pursued without basis of fact.  Neither are whole assemblies and their leaders immune to this.

Excursus:  Someone might be wondering at this point, "Doesn't the Holy Spirit lead this way?  He did with the apostle Paul."  God had a specific purpose for his redemptive purposes in getting the gospel to the civilized world, and that was communicated by a clear word from the Lord himself, not an impression.  We cannot attribute circumstances of biblical saints to our lives without a clear "thus says the Lord."

How does one handle the believer or assembly who has gone chasing after an ill-advised outcome?  Arnobius unraveled the cause-and-effect conclusion by looking at the circumstances individually starting with the deity's serpentine characteristics.
That Aesculapius … is contained within the form and outline of a serpent, crawling along the earth … and that he may be able to go forward, he draws on the last part of his body by the efforts of the first. And as we read that he used food also, by which bodily existence is kept up, he has a large gullet, … a belly to receive it, and a place where he may digest the flesh which he has eaten and devoured, that blood may be given to his body, and his strength reinvigorated; he has also a draft, by which the filth is got rid of, freeing his body from a disagreeable burden. (VII.44-45)
And then,
if it crawled as a serpent, … if, being made of fleshly substance, it lay stretched out to a slippery length; if it had a head and tail, a back covered with scales, diversified by spots of various colors; if it had a mouth bristling with fangs, and ready to bite, what else can we say than that it was of earthly origin, although of immense and excessive size. (VII.46)
In essence, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.  Yet the true pagan believer was not be undone by such clear logic, thinking the god merely took the form of a serpent in order to work among the people.  Divine beings can suddenly and easily remove themselves from mortal eyes, which the serpent accomplished, thus adding to the evidence.
But if he was not a god, why, after he left the ship, and crawled to the island in the Tiber, did he immediately become invisible, and cease to be seen as before? (VII.46)
Arnobius did not dispute the disappearance but the means ascribed to the ability.  Surely, it was by some natural means amid the din from the serpent's discovery.
Can we, then, know whether there was there anything in the way under cover of which it hid itself, or some opening, or some caverns and vaults, caused by huge masses being heaped up irregularly, into which it hurried, evading the gaze of the beholders?  For what if it leaped across the river?  What if it swam across it?  What if it hid itself in the dense forests?* (VII.46)
Lastly, the people bring forth what was considered their most effective point: look at the results.
But if that snake was not a present deity why, after its arrival, was the violence of the plague overcome, and health restored to the Roman people? (VII.47)
This last point is the default of those who run out of arguments.  No amount of truth invalidates experience: it happened.  Even this is faulty, because their history clearly demonstrated that disease greatly affected them in later years, and no cure was found.  The people were relying on the memory of one particular occasion rather than looking at the faithfulness of the supposed god.  Their memories were specific, compartmentalized, and manipulated.

Notice that the solution is to objectively examine the circumstances according to a standard.  In the case of the pagan, this was to examine how the serpent's appearance related to natural laws and animal characteristics, and that the cessation of the plague was a natural reversal back to health. 

For the Christian, there must be an examination of the supposed leadings, events, circumstances, etc. against God's revealed word and his commands to us.  Again, this must be addressed objectively.  One cannot approach scripture with an attitude of "this is what I feel the Bible says."  The passages must be examined in context for their clear teaching to weigh against subjective indicators working within the individual or group.  For this to be most effective, the Bible must be taught regularly in a way that brings out what God intended to say through the author.

Will mistakes be made along the way?  Yes, but we are called to hold fast to the certainty of what has been faithfully delivered to us in holy writ.

* Some exaggeration is noted as Arnobius suggests leaping the river, but he does not want the purported size to be an impediment to his response.  He is choosing his battles to win the main point.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Give Them Christ, Not Relevance

Time and again, those churches who cling to their God and Bibles are encouraged to "get with the program" and be relevant to the culture in order to reach the unchurched.  While this sounds good, there are data that just the opposite is true.  Larry Peters has written a post comparing the culture mantra promoted by Barna with Mormon practice, and (lo and behold) the Mormons are growing at a faster rate than Christianity by breaking all the culture rules.

Why is this happening?  The answer should surprise no one.  People know that the world system is a wasteland, but yet they look to that very system or themselves for meaning in it.  What they find is more waste and corruption.  There is a desire to latch hold of what is real and solid, even if that reality is contrived.  Herein Mormon doctrine fills the longing.  From all appearances, this group solidly believes and teaches what is observable as natural law: community, protection, family, morals, and singleness of purpose.  This is what people desire but seek it in the wrong place.

If the church takes up the world, we simply offer one more fleeting experience that will fade away.  We should offer Christ and him crucified.  This is what will satisfy the longing heart.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notice the Difference?

I could not improve on this post from Scott Diekmann's blog, Stand Firm, so I copied it as is.

Tullian Tchividjian on Sanctification

Tullian Tchividjian is firing on all cylinders as he teaches on how we should be understanding God's word, how Jesus is the true center, and what it means for the believer.  Take the time to watch it; then watch it again.  Then share it with those who watch over your assembly and have them do the same.

Tullian Tchividjian - 20/20 Collegiate Conference 2012 - Session 3 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ancient Hymns for Home Worship

Last week I posted quotes by nineteenth-century theologian Edmond de Presenssé from his work Christian Life and Practice in the Early Church.  This is a good book, though I wish he gave more detail on how he formed his opinions on certain matters.  The following are ancient hymns from his chapter "Worship in the Home" (pp. 230-231).  Notice that though these are simple and brief, they communicate a profound understanding of the Lord and our response to him.

Morning Hymn
Day by day will I bless You,
And will praise Your name forever,
And from age to age.
Grant, O Lord, that we may be kept this day also without sin.
Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and
        Your name is to be praised and glorified forever.  Amen.

Evening Hymn
Blessed are You, O Lord: teach me Your judgments.
O Lord, You have been a refuge to us from generation to generation.
You, O Lord, have mercy upon us.
You have healed my soul [in] that I have sinned against You.
O Lord, to You I flee for refuge.
Teach me to do Your will,
Because You are my God;
Because You are the Fountain of life.
In Your light shall we see light.
Extend Your mercy to those who know You.  Amen.

Twilight Hymn
Calm light of the celestial glory,
O Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
We come to You now as the sun goes down,
And before the evening light
We seek You, Father, Son,
And Holy Spirit of God.
You are worthy to be forever praised by holy voices.
O Son of God, You give life to us,
And therefore does the world glorify You.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I have been quite busy from work.  That is why there has not been items of original thought or observations here.  As a result several things are rolling around in my head, but nothing is getting "on paper" (or in this case in cyberspace).  Here are some subjects I would like to address when time is available.
  1. You may have noticed that I have referenced several Lutheran (specifically LC-MS) authors of past and present.  All this reading has given me increased depth of understanding concerning scriptural principles and some reasons why Evangelicalism is thin, particularly in practice—something I have noticed for several years.
  2. There is another post based on Arnobius' Case Against the Pagans itching to be written on the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.
  3.  Now that I have finished Arnobius, there are other writings from the ancient church that could use attention: other North African theologians; canons of the Ecumenical Councils after Nicaea; canons of other lesser councils.
This seems like a short list.  There must be more that I am forgetting.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lord's Prayer: Perfect Model, Summary of the Whole Gospel

If prayer thus conceived is, as it were, the grand harmony of the Christian soul, the keynote of the religious life, it is no less necessary that it find utterance in distinct petitions.  The Lord's Prayer remains forever the one perfect model, the summary of the whole gospel.*  Hence the great theologians who have written on prayer have delighted to dwell upon this theme.

They regard it rather as an outline of what daily prayer should be, than as a sacred formulary to be repeated as if the words had in them some magic charm.  Undoubtedly, the prayer which addresses the Father in the very words of his own Son must be peculiarly dear to Him.  The Master, who foresaw all our human needs, gave us in the Lord's Prayer an example of the manner and spirit in which we might make known to God all the petitions arising out of the varied necessities of our lives.†

Edmond de Pressensé, Christian Life and Practice in the Early Church, 222.

* Tertullian – For it has embraced not only the special duties of prayer, be it veneration of God or petition for man, but almost every discourse of the Lord, every record of His Discipline; so that, in fact, in the Prayer is comprised an epitome of the whole GospelOn Prayer, 1

† Tertullian – In summaries of so few words, how many utterances of the prophets, the Gospels, the apostles—how many discourses, examples, parables of the Lord, are touched on!  How many duties are simultaneously discharged!  The honor of God in the “Father;” the testimony of faith in the “Name;” the offering of obedience in the “Will;” the commemoration of hope in the “Kingdom;” the petition for life in the “Bread;” the full acknowledgment of debts in the prayer for their “Forgiveness;” the anxious dread of temptation in the request for "Protection."  On Prayer, 9

Friday, August 24, 2012

Prayer Is Life with God

Prayer, according to Clement of Alexandria,* is in truth life with God.  When we only move our lips, or even without the lips our soul speaks silently to God, the inarticulate cry reaches His ear, for He knows from afar off the thought of the heart that is yearning after Him.

Edmond de Pressensé, Christian Life and Practice in the Early Church, 221.

* See Stromateis, VII.7

Thursday, August 23, 2012

200 Hundred Proof Grace

The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace—bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.… Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.

Robert F. Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sanctification: Living the Life

Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus' sake.  It is what happens when we are grasped by the fact that God alone justifies.  It is being made holy, and as such, it is not our work.  It is the work of the Spirit who is called Holy.  The fact that it is not our work puts the old Adam/Eve (our old self) to death and calls forth a new being in Christ.  It is being saved from the sickness unto death and being called to new life.

In German there is a nice play on words which is hard to reproduce in English.  Salvation is "Das Heil" which gives the sense both of being healed and of being saved.  Sanctification is "Die Heiligung" which would perhaps best be translated as "being salvationed."  Sanctification is "being salvationed," the new life arising from the catastrophe suffered by the old upon hearing that God alone saves.  It is the pure flower that blossoms in the desert, watered by the unconditional grace of God.

Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification.  It is not something added to justification.  It is not the final defense against a justification too liberally granted.  It is the justified life.  It is what happens when the old being comes up against the end of its self-justifying and self-gratifying ways, however pious.  It is life lived in anticipation of the resurrection.

Gerhard Førde

Monday, August 20, 2012

Music at the Mission

Yesterday morning I led the singing at Mission of Hope.  Since this was my first time doing so, I chose songs with which I was familiar and doctrinally solid.  In addition I decided to try for a mix of old and new.  The six songs for the meeting were:
  • ●  Crown Him with Many Crowns  (Matthew Bridges; George J. Elvey)
  • ●  Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise  (Walter C. Smith; John Roberts)
  • ●  Holy Lord  (Steve Bell)
  • ●  Agnus Dei  (Michael W. Smith)
  • ●  How Great Is Our God  (Chris Tomlin)
  • ●  'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus  (Louisa M. R. Stead; William J. Kirkpatrick)
Granted, the last song is a bit touchy-feely, but it speaks of the cleansing power of Jesus shed blood and walking in Him.  The others have a clear exaltation of God.

There might be a question of singing the first two songs having such doctrinal integrity at a mission, since the people attending have little understanding outside the simple gospel, and the basic emphasis is daily survival believing on Christ.  Those people still need to be taught: perhaps a phrase or idea will stick.  They sang with gusto, and the mission coördinator who attended that morning appreciated the selections.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Early Christianity Video Series

There are four of a five-part series of videos taught by Dr. Korey Maas entitled Early Christianity: From Embattled to Established which covers early church history.  Each is less than an hour long.  I recommend them as good introduction.
  1. Christianity's Early Expansion
  2. Christianity's Early Persecution
  3. Christianity's Early Defense
  4. Unavailable
  5. Christianity's Early Establishment

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Buried in Baptism, Resurrected to Life Eternal

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Col 3:1-4)

You became dead to the present life, being buried in baptism with Christ and receiving the hope of resurrection.  After all, with his rising we were raised.  But we do not see the outcome in reality.  The mystery of our resurrection is hidden in him.  When he comes a second time, therefore, then we shall attain resurrection and enjoy immortal life.… In hope we have the promises of the good things.  What is now unknown will then be revealed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Was Estranged Is Now Reconciled

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.  (Col 1:21-22)

From your own case give a thought to the common situation.  I mean, you were given up to wickedness and impiety and utterly deprived of the light of the knowledge of God, but you have become related to God.  It was not the Law who gave this gift to you; rather, Christ the Lord paid your debt so that you were thought worthy of the calling and rendered holy and free of very stain.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Colossians"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Heaven and Earth Are Joined in Christ

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Col 1:19-20)

He it was who brought about our reconciliation by undergoing saving passion, shedding the blood, and offering the sacrifice for us; and he joined heavenly things to earthly.  The choirs of angels, you see, had been alienated from us on account of the great wickedness.  For this reason at his birth they raised their voices and offered a hymn to God in the words, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men!"

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Colossians"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jesus' Place and Honor as Firstborn

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  (Col 1:15)

[Paul] touches also on the true doctrine about God.  He [Jesus] bears in visible form the stamp of the one who begot him.  This is what is said by the Lord to Philip, "The one who has me has also seen the Father."  Adam begot in his image, that is, in complete likeness to him.  Image, then, is indicative of oneness in being.  Whereas lifeless images do not have being of those whose images they are, the image that is living and is not susceptible of change has the same nature as the archetype.

Firstborn of all creation.  If only begotten, how firstborn?  If firstborn, how only-begotten?  Actually, he is called only-begotten in the divine Gospels.  So he is firstborn of all creation, not as though being connected with creation but as begotten before all creation.… This is especially true since the divine apostle called him not first-created but firstborn, that is, first.… This is also the way the divine apostle also called the Church the assembly of the firstborn saints—not that they all naturally issued first from their mothers' wombs, but that a greater honor is accorded the firstborn according to law, and so he indicated this honor by use of this name.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Colossians"

Friday, August 10, 2012

Early Church on Abortion

In a post concerning abortion, Charles Pope, Roman Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., has assembled a list of quotations showing that the destruction of unborn children was condemned by Christians from the beginning.  Here is the bulk of his list.

The Didache (“The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) ca 110 AD:  Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion. (2:2)… The Way of Death is filled with people who are … murderers of children and abortionists of God’s creatures. (5:1-2)

Letter of Barnabas (circa 125):  You shall not kill either the fetus by abortion or the new born

Athenagoras the Athenian (To Marcus Aurelius, ca 150 AD):  We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion…, [For we] regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care… (# 35).

Clement of Alexandria (circa 150 – 215 AD):  Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings.  Paedagogus, 2

Tertullian (circa 160-240 AD):  For us, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance.  To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one: you have the fruit already in the seed.  Apology 9:6

Tertullian (circa 160 – 240 AD):  [We] are not permitted, since murder has been prohibited to us once and for all, even to destroy … the fetus in the womb.  It makes no difference whether one destroys a life that has already been born or one that is in the process of birth. Apology (9:7-8)

Tertullian (circa 160-240 AD):  [John the Baptist and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and is known by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits.  De Aninta 26:4

Hippolytus (circa 170-236 AD):  Whence certain women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility and to gird themselves round, so as to expel what was conceived on account of their not wanting to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time.  Refutation of all Heresies 9:7

Minucius Felix (180 – 225 AD):  Some women take medicines to destroy the germ of future life in their own bodies.  They commit infanticide before they have given birth to the infant.  Octavius 30, 2

Basil the Great (330 – 379 AD):  The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder.  With us there is no nice inquiry as to its being formed or unformed.  In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die.  The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if we regard it as done with intent.  The punishment, however, of these women should not be for life, but for the term of ten years.  And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance.  Letter 188:2

Ambrose (339 to 397 AD):  The poor expose their children, the rich kill the fruit of their own bodies in the womb, lest their property be divided up, and they destroy their own children in the womb with murderous poisons. and before life has been passed on, it is annihilated.  Hexaemeron 5, 18, 58

John Chrysostom (circa 340 – 407 AD):  Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?  Where there are many efforts at abortion?  Where there is murder before the birth?  For you do not even let the harlot remain a mere harlot, but make her a murderer also.  You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather something even worse than murder.  For I have no real name to give it, since it does not destroy the thing born but prevents its being born.  Why then do you abuse the gift of God and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the place of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?  Homily 24 on Romans

Jerome (circa 342-420 AD):  I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the church, their mother…. Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception.  Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder.  Letter 22:13

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Worthiness Is Found in the Beloved

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:13-14)

By domain of darkness he referred to the influence of the devil, and he called Christ the Lord beloved Son to emphasize that he is loved not as creature and slave but as Son.  He is not in fact Son of love but beloved Son, that is, legitimate, like the name given also to Isaac, "Take your beloved son," meaning legitimate, esteemed by you above the others.  In short, having freed us from darkness, he judged us worthy of the kingdom of the Son.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Colossians" on Colossians 1:13-14

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Work God Requires Is Already Done

Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?"  Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."  (John 6:28-29)

The only work that will work is the work God does for us in Christ.  "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."  He it is—Jesus—he it is who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  As the manna came down from heaven and sustained the life of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, in an even greater way, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has come down from heaven as the Bread of Life who gives life—real life, new life, eternal life—to all who trust in him.

Trusting in Jesus to supply your greatest need, that is faith.  It is the work that gives up on one’s own works as the way to earn salvation.  Only Christ’s work on the cross does the job. He gives his flesh, he sheds his blood, for the life of the world.  This is the only thing that will take away your sin.

Charles Henrickson, "The Work That Is Not a Work."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

But Look at the Results

When questionable doctrines or practice is met with solid biblical objections, a common response goes something like:
When we were doing things the old-fashioned way, no real progress was being made.  We didn't relate to the community.  The preaching was boring and the music stale.  We wondered if God was working against us.

Now, after the change, look at the number in attendance, the programs, the Sunday School class sizes, the money coming in and being sent out to all the missionaries being supported.  Consider the successes in people's lives of those who have made professions of faith, been healed of afflictions, and assisted through bereavement or family strife.  If there is this much blessing, we must be fully in God's will.
This argument relies on cultural norms to be the measure of success.  The result is driving the means: if it works, it must be correct.  This is not the faith to which we have been called.  God's people are not called to be pragmatic, efficient, or relevant.  They are called to be faithful.

Christians are not the first group to use this rationalization for their worship activities.  Roman pagans, when confronted by Arnobius of Sicca, related how historians had recorded events in which
fears of impending dangers have been diverted, and the most troublesome enemies beaten, and the republic extended both by repeated joyous victories and by gaining possession of several provinces … [that] would not have happened if the gods despised sacrifices, games, and other acts of worship, and did not consider themselves honored by expiratory offerings.… And if those things become favorable which seemed fraught with terrors, it is clear that all these things are not done without the gods wishing them, and that it is vain, and shows utter ignorance, to blame us for giving them.
From Case against the Pagans VII.38

This indeed reaches the crux of things.  If what has been promoted and implemented works and is not being frowned upon by the one worshiped through some type of discipline, the objector has no argument and should just be quiet.  Some have been defensive in nature, while others have made a forceful attack.  A year ago, Steven Furtick of Elevation Church broadcast one example of a church leader using similar tactics against those pointing out his improper teaching and wrongful leadership.

Furtick's plan, along with others like him, is to lead the church into new directions of love and service without the hindrance of actually knowing the Bible.  Just recently, Tim Elmore of Northridge Church publicly stated that spiritual maturity comes from relying on less doctrine and doing more deeds.  The consequence of this movement is an elite group of powerful church leaders with monetary backing dispensing knowledge about scripture while telling the congregations what to think and do about Jesus.  Are we revisiting the Dark Ages?

How do we correct Christians intent on moving this direction?  Arnobius countered the pragmatist's argument by saying that those on both sides should lay aside fears and partiality and "examine whether these are gods whom you assert to be furious when offended, and to be rendered mild by sacrifices; or whether they are something far different, and should be separated from the notion of this name and power."  Otherwise stated, if you are worshiping and carrying on in such a way that demeans rather than exalts, is the "God" you claim to obey, really the true God?

I have stated before that we know how to worship based on what the Lord reveals of himself.  People have attempted to say that various ideas and techniques can be offered and inculcated as a regular part of the church, because they are nonessential (i.e., adiaphora).  In this very thing, reformer Matthias Flacius (1520-1575) sounded a warning against seemingly innocuous practices.
All ceremonies and church practices are in and of themselves as free as they will always be.  However, when coercion and the false illusion that they are the worship of God and must be observed, [and] renunciation of the faith, offense, or an opening for godless ways develops, and when, in whatever way it may happen, they do not build up but tear down the church of God and mock God, [then] they are in this way no longer adiophora.  All these evil parts are now among the present-day adiaphora so that those particular things are not adiaphora but precisely godless.
A General Rule Regarding Ceremonies

Results do not dictate the proper worship of God, even when there are good things occurring.  Arnobius never questioned the validity of what was written in the annals.  He took them as valid.  In the same way, miraculous or ordinary positive results do not dictate how the assembly comes together and operates.  Flacius did not condemn all nonessential practices, and neither should we.  God alone determines what properly glorifies and honors him and builds up the saints gathered together.  There is an inherent danger in introducing those things not expressly mentioned as good and proper, because the focus can so easily shift from God to the individual or the group.

Assembly practices should regularly be compared to scripture both before and after implementation.  What begins as willing humility under the easy yoke of Christ can be turned to a heavy burden as practices are used to measure commitment or maturity with the full weight of Law.  Or the reasonably articulated and well-meaning idea to begin a practice might actually do more harm than good by opening a door to unintended consequences.  Pride tells us neither scenario would happen in our church.  Reality says it absolutely will happen, because we still carry the sinful nature.

1 Peter 5:8
Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gifts of Belief and Suffering

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

He called both believing and struggling with distinction gifts of God, not to eliminate the freedom of their will, but to bring out that free will of itself, devoid of grace, can achieve no good work: there is need of both, our willingness and divine enabling.  In other words, the grace of the Spirit does not suffice for those lacking the will, nor in turn can willingness deprived of [grace] succeed in amassing the riches of virtue.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Philippians" on Philippians 1:29-30

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Like Father, Like Son

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.

You have been thought worthy of adoption, you call God Father; accordingly live up to the relationship.  Here he brought out the equality of the Father and the Son: bidding us to be imitators of God, he urged the same thing in reference to the Son as well.  And as he said of the Father that he has forgiven us, so too of Christ that he loved us and gave himself up for us.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Ephesians" on Ephesians 5:1-2

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Knowing Your Spiritual Gift

This past Saturday I attended a men's breakfast at which we were going to discuss the subject of spiritual gifts.  After eating we were asked to take an evaluation for helping determine our spiritual gift(s)—mostly for personal benefit.  My results were no surprise.  This one was based on the book Discover Your God-Given Gifts by Don and Katie Fortune. * Another I have tried in the past is Spiritual Gifts Inventory from Team Ministry.

Afterwards, I thought about the relative usefulness of such evaluations.  Consider that no mention is ever made in Scripture about how one knows what spiritual gift he or she has received.  Many Christians find this unnerving and fret over how to discover their spiritual gift and use it properly.  This is especially promoted in pietistic denominations where a high premium is placed on knowing God's will for life.  While learning the "correct" things through building a mystical relationship with God or Christ, he is expected to manifest works commensurate with the personal knowledge gained to gauge spiritual progress.

Scripture presents a different approach.  Consider the apostle Peter's instruction:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.  (1 Pet 4:10-11)
There is not one word about how the gift is received: just use your gift as the Lord supplies.  The other passages mentioning gifts and manifestations (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11-14) also exclude any how the gifts are gained except that the Holy Spirit gives them as he wills.  The intent of these passages is not to be overly concerned about searching for what that gift is, but that God has supplied gifts in each assembly for the common good: your gift is as valuable as anyone else.  The instruction is given for our encouragement to be an active part of Christ's body.

Where the above evaluations can help is making obvious what we and others already know about us.  A spiritual gift makes itself known in the natural course of growing in Christ and being obedient to him, as God's Word states in Proverbs 18:16
A man’s gift makes room for him
    and brings him before the great.
What one discovers through the reading, hearing, and study of the Bible is used by the Holy Spirit for everyday life in ways needful to the believer for use in the local assembly.  Many times the Christian will notice or question something indicating how the Spirit is working and gifting.  Certain works or ministries become second nature as that person continues in the faith.

Because gifts are divinely given, we should be far less concerned with having a proper knowledge of his spiritual gift and trying to do something for God in life, than being submissive to the Spirit working in and through us.  Do not be chasing after what you fear is lacking.  Use the gift sovereignly and specifically bestowed on you as Christ's blood-bought saint to the glory of God.

* See Heart to Heart International Ministries.