Tuesday, February 26, 2013

To What Then Shall I Liken Our Present Condition?

Basil of Caesarea asked the title's question in a.d. 374 amidst theological battle, defending the doctrine of the Holy Spirit's person and nature as true God.  He described the struggle as similar to naval warfare amongst those who are more intent on promoting themselves than the cause for which they are united.  One cannot help but feel that the 21st-century church is falling victim to a similar malady as the Day of the Lord draws ever closer.

Turn now I beg you from this figurative description to the unhappy reality.  Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array?  But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion.  But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches?  In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down.  We attack one another.  We are overthrown by one another.  If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side.  If an enemy combatant is stricken and falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down.  There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another.  And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks?   Some have gone to the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their allies, some from the blundering of their own officers.  We see, as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith.  And then the disturbances wrought by the princes of the world have caused the downfall of the people with a violence unmatched by that of hurricane or whirlwind.  The luminaries of the world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have been driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and disheartening has settled on the Churches.  The terror of universal ruin is already imminent, and yet their mutual rivalry is so unbounded as to blunt all sense of danger.  Individual hatred is of more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare of mankind.

So all men alike, each as best he can, lift the hand of murder against one another.  Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in that of defect.  On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism.  Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.  Plain speaking is fatal to friendship, and disagreement in opinion all the ground that is wanted for a quarrel.  No oaths of confederacy are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness in error.  Every one is a theologian though he have his soul branded with more spots than can be counted.  The result is that innovators find a plentiful supply of men ripe for faction, while self-appointed scions of the house of place-hunters reject the government of the Holy Spirit and divide the chief dignities of the Churches.  The institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force himself into high office.  The result of this lust for ordering is that our people are in a state of wild confusion for lack of being ordered; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give orders to other people, as it is to obey anyone else.

Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 30.77

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Heretics Tamper with Scriptures; Orthodox Testify for Them

When men feel confident in following their own understanding of scripture, bad things happen.  Attempting to find new insights or meanings in the text, they pour over passages searching for relevance or notoriety in their sphere of influence.  Coupled with this is a culture desiring to demonstrate its breadth of inclusivity by allowing any and all to voice their insights.  Listeners and readers of the material, no longer satisfied with the truth plainly taught, What had been considered a hallmark of ignorance becomes commonplace and is celebrated as the acme of intelligent thought, misusing scripture by selectively ignoring sections or deconstructing, then reworking, the whole.  What may have once been attempted by those of the basest sort is the product of church leaders and academicians. Is this condition unique to the past 200 years?  Sadly, no.  Tertullian combated the same issues centuries ago.

  •         Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing.  On those whose purpose it was to teach differently, lay the necessity of differently arranging the instruments of doctrine.  They could not possibly have effected their diversity of teaching in any other way than by having a difference in the means whereby they taught.  As in their case, corruption in doctrine could not possibly have succeeded without a corruption also of its instruments, so to ourselves also integrity of doctrine could not have accrued, without integrity in those means by which doctrine is managed.
  •         One man perverts the Scriptures with his hand, another their meaning by his exposition.  For although Valentinus seems to use the entire volume, he has none the less laid violent hands on the truth only with a more cunning mind and skill than Marcion.  Marcion expressly and openly used the knife, not the pen, since he made such an excision of the Scriptures as suited his own subject-matter.  Valentinus, however, abstained from such excision, because he did not invent Scriptures to square with his own subject-matter, but adapted his matter to the Scriptures; and yet he took away more, and added more, by removing the proper meaning of every particular word, and adding fantastic arrangements of things which have no real existence.
Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, 38

As then, and perhaps more so, the truth of God's Word needs those who remain faithful, as men continue to accumulate teachers to satisfy itching ears.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Do We Trust God's Word?

There is no question that the church needs renewal.  From our discussion, the question is whether or not the church can trust the word to renew the church.  No doubt we have lost confidence in the word. But does such a loss say much about the word or instead more about us?  God’s word kills and makes alive.  Can we allow it to be so proclaimed that it would quicken us? … And we need pastors who will preach and teach the full counsel of God, law and gospel, and the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, for the all too many who do not know the truth.

Mark Mattes, "Catholic and Evangelical, but not Roman or American," Logia, Vol. 21-1, 28

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Be Passionate, but not Angry

To follow up on my last post on boasting of the Lord, I share the following on the proper attitude in proclaiming Christ.

Such is the boldness of speech of a man bearing the Cross.  Let us then also imitate this: though it be not a time of war, yet it is always the time for boldness of speech.  For, "I will also speak," says one, "of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame."*  If we chance to be among heathens, let us thus stop their mouths without wrath, without harshness.  For if we do it with wrath, it no longer seems to be the boldness (of one who is confident of his cause,) but passion: but if with gentleness, this is boldness indeed. For in one and the same thing success and failure cannot possibly go together.  The boldness is a success: the anger is a failure.  Therefore, if we are to have boldness, we must be clean from wrath that none may impute our words to that.  No matter how just your words may be, when you speak with anger, you ruin all: no matter how boldly you speak, how fairly reprove, or what not.  See Stephen, how free from passion as he discourses to them!  For he did not abuse them: he did but remind them of the words of the Prophets.  For, to show you that it was not anger, at the very moment he was suffering evil at their hands, he prayed, saying, "Do not hold this sin against them."†  So far was he from speaking these words in anger; no, he spake in grief and sorrow for their sakes.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Acts 7

* Psalm 119:46
† Acts 7:60

Friday, February 15, 2013

Can't Help But Boast

For the Spirit of the Lord fills the world,* and “where shall I go from your spirit? or where shall I flee from your presence?”†  And, in the words of the Prophet, “For I am with you, says the Lord … and my spirit remains among you.”‡  But what nature is it proper to assign to Him who is omnipresent, and exists together with God?  The nature which is all-embracing, or one which is confined to particular places, like that which our argument shows the nature of angels to be?  No one would say so.  Shall we not then highly exalt Him who is in His nature divine, in His greatness infinite, in His operations powerful, in the blessings He confers, good?  Shall we not give Him glory?  And I understand glory to mean nothing else than the enumeration of the wonders which are His own.  It follows then that either we are forbidden by our antagonists even to mention the good things which flow to us from Him, or on the other hand that the mere recapitulation of His attributes is the fullest possible attribution of glory.  For not even in the case of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Only begotten Son, are we capable of giving Them glory otherwise than by recounting, to the extent of our powers, all the wonders that belong to Them.

Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 23.54

*  Wisdom 1:7
†  Psalm 39:7
‡  Haggai 2:4-5

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What to Do for Lent

Lent is a time traditionally for giving up something (or some things) as a spiritual discipline of afflicting oneself in acknowledgement of our lingering sin nature.  Many people simply give up red meat on Friday and eat fish, but can you really call that fasting?  To me that is a treat because of fish specials at restaurants. (Sweet!)  You can see that fasting at this time of year is given as much credence as a typical New Year's resolution.

Matt Glaz took a humorous approach to matter by writing a song "I'm Giving Up Church for Lent."

In similar fashion, I have decided to give up sinning for Lent.  That seems to be an eminently practical thing to do as it meets all the requirements for the season—except that as soon as I say that I quit sinning, I have sinned (see 1 John 1:8).  Better by far to do as the Lord spoke through the prophet Joel, not just for Lent but continually:

"Yet even now," declares the Lord,
        "return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
        and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Return to the Lord, your God,
        for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
        and he relents over disaster.  (Joel 2:12-13)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Keeping the Lord's Supper Should Be Our Delight

And we have, in the first place, the clear text in the very words of Christ: "Do this in remembrance of Me."  These are bidding and commanding words by which all who would be Christians are enjoined to partake of this Sacrament.  Therefore, whoever would be a disciple of Christ, with whom He here speaks, must also consider and observe this, not from compulsion, as being forced by men, but in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to please Him.

. . .

In the second place, there is besides this command also a promise, as we heard above, which ought most strongly to incite and encourage us.  For here stand the kind and precious words: "This is My body, given for you.  This is My blood, shed for you, for the remission of sins."  These words, I have said, are not preached to wood and stone, but to me and you; else He might just as well be silent and not institute a Sacrament.  Therefore consider, and put yourself into this you, that He may not speak to you in vain.

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with the greatest kindness, as when He says in Matthew 11:28: "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  Now it is surely a sin and a shame that He so cordially and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, and we act so distantly with regard to it, and permit so long a time to pass [without partaking] that we grow quite cold and hardened, so that we have no inclination or love for it.  We must never regard the Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved.  Why, then, is it that we act as if it were a poison, the eating of which would bring death?

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Sacrament of the Altar, 45, 64-68

Thursday, February 7, 2013

These Shoes Were Made for Walking

Courtesy of The Sacred Sandwich
For the secular contest men are trained and prepared, and reckon it a great glory of their honor if it should happen to them to be crowned in the sight of the people, and in the presence of the emperor.  Behold a lofty and great contest, glorious also with the reward of a heavenly crown, inasmuch as God looks upon us as we struggle, and, extending His view over those whom He has condescended to make His sons, He enjoys the spectacle of our contest.  God looks upon us in the warfare, and fighting in the encounter of faith; His angels look on us, and Christ looks on us.  How great is the dignity, and how great the happiness of the glory, to engage in the presence of God, and to be crowned, with Christ for a judge!  Let us be armed, beloved brethren, with our whole strength, and let us be prepared for the struggle with an uncorrupted mind, with a sound faith, with a devoted courage.

Cyprian, To the People of Thibaris, Exhorting to Martyrdom, Epistle 55.8

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Redirecting Feminine Ire

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  (Ephesians 5:25)

Men's Network has a short post on how to stop your wife from nagging—listen to her.  It's common sense stuff, really.  Here are the money points:
Listening involves a few easy steps:

1.  Look at her.  Maintain eye contact.  Let nothing distract you.  I repeat: let nothing distract you.
2.  Do not judge, dismiss, belittle.  Let her speak and finish what she has to say.
3.  Restate what she says or asks.  Be clear on what is being said or requested.
4.  Follow through with what you said you would do.
Many men will look at this and walk off in a huff like Naaman, when Elisha told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:11-12).  He was willing to do something great for healing, but not what required humility.  Thankfully, his servants recognized this and convinced him to submit in this matter (2 Kings 5:13).

My opening verse is one example that Paul gives of what it means to submit to one another.  Men submit to their wives by setting aside self-gratifying or self-promoting solutions so that her emotional and spiritual needs are met.   It's a tough job, but the Lord has equipped men for that task, whether or not they realize it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Abba, Father Now; Continuous Hymn of Triumph at the End

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

But we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God; which also the apostle terms “an earnest,” that is, a part of the honor which has been promised us by God, where he says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “In which ye also, having heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, believing in which we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.”  This earnest, therefore, thus dwelling in us, renders us spiritual even now, and the mortal is swallowed up by immortality.  “For you,” he declares, “are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.”  This, however does not take place by a casting away of the flesh, but by the impartation of the Spirit.  For those to whom he was writing were not without flesh, but they were those who had received the Spirit of God, “by which we cry, Abba, Father.”  If therefore, at the present time, having the earnest, we do cry, “Abba, Father,” what shall it be when, on rising again, we behold Him face to face; when all the members shall burst out into a continuous hymn of triumph, glorifying Him who raised them from the dead, and gave the gift of eternal life?  For if the earnest, gathering man into itself, does even now cause him to cry, “Abba, Father,” what shall the complete grace of the Spirit effect, which shall be given to men by God?  It will render us like unto Him, and accomplish the will of the Father; for it shall make man after the image and likeness of God.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.8.1-2

Friday, February 1, 2013

Suffering for Christ Has Its Reward

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  (Romans 8:16-17)

Here again he shows us that our sufferings are less than their rewards.  Now, since it is through the flesh that we suffer with Christ—for it is the property of the flesh to be worn by sufferings—to the same flesh belongs the recompense which is promised for suffering with Christ.  Accordingly, when he is going to assign afflictions to the flesh as its especial liability—according to the statement he had already made—he says, “When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest;” then, in order to make the soul a fellow-sufferer with the body, he adds, “We were troubled on every side; without were fightings,” which of course warred down the flesh, “within were fears,” which afflicted the soul.  Although, therefore, the outward man decays—not in the sense of missing the resurrection, but of enduring tribulation—it will be understood from this scripture that it is not exposed to its suffering without the inward man.  Both therefore, will be glorified together, even as they have suffered together.  In parallel with their participation in troubles, must necessarily run their association also in rewards.

Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, XL