Friday, September 27, 2013

Respect Your Leaders in the Faith

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thess 5:12-13)

See how well he is aware that unpleasant feelings arise?  He does not merely say "love," but "very highly," as children love their fathers.  For through them you were begotten by that eternal generation.  Through them you have obtained the kingdom.  Through their hands all things are done, through them the gates of heaven are opened to you.  Let no one raise divisions, let no one be contentious.  He who loves Christ, whatever the Priest may be, will love him, because through him he has obtained the awesome mysteries.  Tell me, if wishing to see a palace resplendent with much gold, and radiant with the brightness of precious stones, you could find him who had the key, and he being called upon immediately opened it, and admitted you, would you not prefer him above all men?  Would you not love him as dearly as your eyes?  Would you not kiss him?  This man has opened heaven to you, and you do not kiss him, nor pay him honor.  If you have a wife, do you not love him above all, who procured her for you?  So if you love Christ, if you love the kingdom of heaven, acknowledge through whom you obtained it.  On this account he says, for their work’s sake, be at peace with them.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Thessalonians, 11

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Hope So, Because I Know So

[God] saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

Thus we need the Spirit abundantly … again by grace and not by debt.  At the same time there is an incitement to humility, and a hope for the future.  For if when we were so abandoned, as to require to be born again, to be saved by grace, to have no good in us, if then He saved us, much more will He save us in the world to come.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Titus 5

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

There Is Conviction and Consolation in the Cross of Christ

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

Christ, in the last chapter of Luke 24:47, commands that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.  For the Gospel convicts all men that they are under sin, that they all are subject to eternal wrath and death, and offers, for Christ's sake, remission of sin and justification, which is received by faith.  The preaching of repentance, which accuses us, terrifies consciences with true and grave terrors.  For the preaching of repentance, or this declaration of the Gospel: Amend your lives! Repent! when it truly penetrates the heart, terrifies the conscience, and is no jest, but a great terror, in which the conscience feels its misery and sin, and the wrath of God.  In these, hearts ought again to receive consolation.  This happens if they believe the promise of Christ, that for His sake we have remission of sins.  This faith, encouraging and consoling in these fears, receives remission of sins, justifies, and gives life.  For this consolation is a new and spiritual life [a new birth and a new life].

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV(II): Of Justification, 61

Monday, September 23, 2013

We Have Hope Because God So Greatly Loved

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ  (1 Thess 5:9)

Thus God has not inclined to this, that He might destroy us, but that He might save us.  And how is it manifest that this is His will?  He has given His own Son for us.  So does He desire that we should be saved, that He has given His Son, and not merely given, but given Him to death.  From these considerations hope is produced.  For do not despair of yourself, O man, in going to God, who has not spared even His Son for you.  Faint not at present evils.  He who gave His Only-Begotten, that He might save you and deliver you from hell, what will He spare henceforth for your salvation?  So that you ought to hope for all things kind.  For neither should we fear, if we were going to a judge who was about to judge us, and who had shown so much love for us, as to have sacrificed his son.  Let us hope therefore for kind and great things, for we have received the principal thing.  Let us believe, for we have seen an example.  Let us love, for it is the extreme of madness for one not to love who has been so treated.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Thessalonians 9

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Back from Vacation

You probably wondered why I had not been submitting posts this past week: my wife and I were in Branson, MO with two other couples on a vacation.  We are back, so my output should increase abundantly.  Here are two photos from the trip.
Looking toward Table Rock Lake from our balcony

Blue Heron at Dogwood Canyon

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pursuing the Wrong Things

Larry Peters has written a post entitled Trying to be something you are not... that strikes at a great problem—not being what God placed you into the world to be as his people.  Here are snippets directed first at men:
It seems to me that we live in a time when being something you are not is epidemic.  Men act like children or adolescents in our modern world.  They eschew responsibility and seem addicted to the past pursuits of their pubescent lives—thinking that drinking craft beer, wearing brand name clothing, buying top brands of latest technology, and dominating World of Warcraft or some other video game is the same triumph as loving a wife, parenting a children, going to work everyday, caring for the home, protecting the family, and being the spiritual leader of that family.
Then to women:
Women act as if not needing anyone is the greatest achievement of all.  The modern day ideal is the self-sufficient woman who has career first, maybe a kid (with the help of a sperm donor but not a man), economic success, freedom to live as she chooses, and who makes all her own decisions.
And finally to the church:
The Church fears that being the Church is either out of style, irrelevant, or not fun and so the Church acts like she is not the Church.  She eschews the things of God to be prophets of pleasure and self-fulfillment, she teaches self-help instead of the Word of God, and she worships at the same god of happiness as the folks around her.
Read the whole thing to your benefit.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Prayer Is the Light of the Soul

There is nothing more worthwhile than to pray to God and to converse with him, for prayer unites us with God as his companions.  As our bodily eyes are illuminated by seeing the light, so in contemplating God our soul is illuminated by him.  Of course the prayer I have in mind is no matter of routine, it is deliberate and earnest.  It is not tied down to a fixed timetable; rather it is a state which endures by night and day.

Our soul should be directed in God, not merely when we suddenly think of prayer, but even when we are concerned with something else.  If we are looking after the poor, if we are busy in some other way, or if we are doing any type of good work, we should season our actions with the desire and the remembrance of God.  Through this salt of the love of God we can all become a sweet dish for the Lord.  If we are generous in giving time to prayer, we will experience its benefits throughout our life.

Prayer is the light of the soul, giving us true knowledge of God.  It is a link mediating between God and man.  By prayer the soul is borne up to heaven and in a marvelous way embraces the Lord.  This meeting is like that of an infant crying on its mother, and seeking the best of milk.  The soul longs for its own needs and what it receives is better than anything to be seen in the world.

Prayer is a precious way of communicating with God, it gladdens the soul and gives repose to its affections.  You should not think of prayer as being a matter of words.  It is a desire for God, an indescribable devotion, not of human origin, but the gift of God's grace.  As Saint Paul says: we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Anyone who receives from the Lord the gift of this type of prayer possesses a richness that is not to be taken from him, a heavenly food filling up the soul.  Once he has tasted this food, he is set alight by an eternal desire for the Lord, the fiercest of fires lighting up his soul.

To set about this prayer, paint the house of your soul with modesty and lowliness and make it splendid with the light of justice.  Adorn it with the beaten gold of good works and, for walls and stones, embellish it assiduously with faith and generosity.  Above all, place prayer on top of this house as its roof so that the complete building may be ready for the Lord.  Thus he will be received in a splendid royal house and by grace his image will already be settled in your soul.

John Chrysostom, Homily 6: On Prayer

Monday, September 9, 2013

Christ's Perfect Patience Extends Even to the Chief of Sinners

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  (1 Tim 1:16)

See how he further humbles and depreciates himself, by naming a fresh and less creditable reason.  For that he obtained mercy on account of his ignorance, does not so much imply that he who obtained mercy was a sinner, or under deep condemnation; but to say that he obtained mercy in order that no sinner hereafter might despair of finding mercy, but that each might feel sure of obtaining the like favor, this is an excess of humiliation, such that even in calling himself the chief of sinners, "a blasphemer and a persecutor, and one not worthy to be called an apostle," he had said nothing like it.  This will appear by an example.

Suppose a populous city, all whose inhabitants were wicked, some more so, and some less, but all deserving of condemnation; and let one among that multitude be more deserving of punishment than all the rest, and guilty of every kind of wickedness.  If it were declared that the king was willing to pardon all, it would not be so readily believed, as if they were to see this most wicked wretch actually pardoned.  There could then be no longer any doubt.  This is what Paul says, that God, willing to give men full assurance that He pardons all their transgressions, chose, as the object of His mercy, him who was more a sinner than any.  For when I obtained mercy, he argues, there could be no doubt of others: as familiarly speaking we might say, "If God pardons such a one, he will never punish anybody."  And thus he shows that he himself, though unworthy of pardon, for the sake of others’ salvation, first obtained that pardon.  Therefore, he says, since I am saved, let no one doubt of salvation.  And observe the humility of this blessed man.  He says not, "that in me he might display" His "patience," but "perfect patience;" as if he had said, "Greater patience He could not show in any case than in mine, nor find a sinner that so required all His pardon, all His patience; not a part only, like those who are only partially sinners, but 'all' His patience."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Righteousness of One by Jordan Cooper - Book Review

Available at Amazon
From the back cover:
Since the publication of E.P. Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977, Paul's soteriology has received extensive evaluation in light of second temple Judaism.  These works have focused on exegesis of the Pauline text and evaluating Sanders' proposal of covenantal nomism within the second temple Jewish literature.  There has been an unfortunate gap in this discussion: historical theology.  This work addresses the historical claims made by proponents of the New Perspective on Paul regarding Luther's theology and the early church.  In The Righteousness of One, Jordan Cooper demonstrates that the portrait of Luther given by many of the New Perspective writers is a caricature, read through the lens of both Protestant scholasticism and twentieth-century existentialist theology.  Luther's views are more nuanced and balanced than many Pauline interpreters are willing to admit.  In light of this reevaluation of Luther's own theology, early Patristic writings are evaluated in terms of similarity and disparity between Patristic Pauline interpretation and Lutheran Pauline interpretation, and thus it becomes apparent that there is continuity between the patristic tradition and Luther's reading of the Pauline text.  Rather than being driven purely by medieval debates about merit, Luther's reading of Paul is both exegetically sensitive and consistent with the broader catholic tradition.
My understanding of the New Perspective of Paul (NPP) cannot be considered anywhere near comprehensive.  What I have gleaned from that hermeneutic is derived mainly from critiques of Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright, plus my own reading of Dunn's commentary on Romans and Wright's The New Testament and the People of God.  The latter especially has an engaging writing style that allows him to handily communicate and apply NPP to the New Testament.

The outstanding question to be asked for any developing theory must be: Is it true?  Rather than using the time-tested method of comparing what is proposed with that which was handed down from previous generations to establish veracity, proponents of NPP have dismantled what had been commonly taught and built a completely new supporting framework in order to promulgate their teaching.  They assert that Martin Luther, being a victim of medieval theology and philosophy, misunderstood the apostle Paul concerning justification, so that those who followed built on a faulty platform.  Jordan Cooper undertakes the thesis that Luther was not mistaken about justification and righteousness, but actually followed in the steps of the Early Church Fathers.

Cooper builds his case by first articulating what Luther taught and believed about soteriology, especially as it is developed in his commentary on Galatians.  This helps to establish what came from the reformer rather than how he is portrayed amongst the NPP authors.  True, Luther did develop his thinking over time, yet we are able to get a firm grasp on his position.

Next, the author draws from four early sources—Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Diognetus, and Justin Martyr—which addressed the basis of salvation.  He wisely notes that these do not have a fully-developed soteriology, yet they are useful because of common elements across the works, demonstrating a developing teaching consistency in the Christian world.  These works are shown to contain the rudimentary elements upon which the Reformers built, with the conclusion that Luther was faithful in building on what the early church had believed and taught.

Cooper does a solid job of building his case for consistency from Paul to Luther using the post-apostolic fathers.  Being a revision of his master's thesis, I understand why he used only a limited number.  Perhaps there might be an enlarged edition of this work, drawing from more sources in the patristic era in order to further bolster the argument.  Still, I recommend the work for those wanting some background while dealing with the New Perspective.

Beyond Comprehension, yet Every Bit True

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  (1 Tim 1:15)

The favors of God so far exceed human hope and expectation, that often they are not believed.  For God has bestowed upon us such things as the mind of man never looked for, never thought of.  It is for this reason that the apostles spend much discourse in securing a belief of the gifts that are granted us of God.  For as men, upon receiving some great good, ask themselves if it is not a dream, as not believing it; so it is with respect to the gifts of God.  What then was it that was thought incredible?  That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor.  Upon this head accordingly Paul has discoursed at length in his epistle to the Romans, and here again at length.  "This saying is trustworthy," he says, "and deserving of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Proclaimers of Truth or Modifiers of Behavior?

On any given Sunday morning, a man stands before a group of people in order to share what he has studied recently.  Hours of preparation are now culminating in a delivery to attentive ears—hearts desiring the pure milk of the word, hopeful of what God will be saying through his servant.  For 30-45 minutes, the message continues in a crafted rhetoric with interspersed humor, anecdotes, and word pictures toward an over-arching point summarized in the conclusion.  At the end one may feel invigorated by being taken the the heights of glory or joys of victory.  Perhaps there is peace, knowing the comfort of certain promises.  Maybe there was condemnation for not doing enough with the resulting sense of challenge and determination for more and better.

And maybe, just maybe, you heard of Christ and him crucified.

This is not to depreciate what was undoubtedly great effort to create and deliver, nor can it be said that I have no appreciation for responsibilities within and without the local church and his family in particular that must be juggled in order to bring the message.  My concern is this: are you and I hearing the word of God being rightly expounded, or are we being manipulated in order to fulfill a need or adhere to the vision of the pastor or overseers.  In other words, did the man make Christ known, or did he try to manipulate his listeners with a view to a particular outcome?

Why raise the issue?
Many have taken mega-churches to task for their lack of biblical teaching during their main meetings.  Names like Elevation, Hillsong, Saddleback, Lakewood, and Willow Creek are regular fodder as messages from their pulpits are weighed and found wanting, they soften or eliminate what scripture specifically says concerning any number of topics.  Yet these high profile groups are but the tip of the iceberg.  Smaller assemblies regularly engage in similar tactics hoping to gain the same levels of success.  Instead of preaching the whole counsel of God, they work on key topical areas to move the flock in a particular direction.

Topical studies are useful and should be used to draw together scripture as a cohesive unit.  The messages with which I contend are those that apply psychological pressure, rather than sound exegesis, in order to manipulate the intended audience.  The pulpit turns from being a place from which flowed the promises of God to a platform for casting the leaders' joint vision for the future.  A series (or more) of meetings is used to adjust group thinking until all are on the same program.  You will be assimilated into the collective: resistance is futile.  Or those that resist are invited to leave.

Why would assembly leaders do this?
Multiple forces exert pressure on local gatherings.  Externally, there are laws of the land and shifting cultural norms that attempt to tear down the fabric of the gospel.  Internally, congregants see success of other groups or read of innovative ideas that might be implemented.  This is not to say only those enduring difficulties fall into the mentality of manipulation.  Assemblies that have remained faithful and grown through sound instruction and care may find themselves at a place where they feel a need to shift from "small thinking" to "large thinking"—church for 50 being different than church for 500 or 5,000.

What does scripture say?
Scripture does not have alternate organizational goals and models based on size.  Instead, there is a unity of purpose and duties regardless of attendance, location, or other factors.
  • •  The duty of the elder/overseer in the local assembly is to "shepherd the flock of God that is among you" (1 Pet 5:2) and manifests itself in varying ways: instructing (Tit 1:9), rebuking (Tit 1:9, 13), overseeing (1 Tim 5:17), etc.  
  • •  Faithful men are trained to carry on God's word (2 Tim 2:2).
  • •  Spiritual gifts are employed for mutual encouragement and edification (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28-30).
  • •  The goal of the church is always to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20).
When the assembly finds the size, location, etc. cumbersome, the answer is not to motivate people for a new program or project, but remain faithful to sound teaching and do what is required to maintain it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Suffering and the Good Life

I just watched this video and had to share.  Tullian Tchividjian addresses suffering in the American context using Martin Luther's distinctions of a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Becoming a Curse in Order to Bless

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.  (Gal 3:13-14)

A certain man was to be born of the offspring of Abraham.  I mean Christ, through whom the blessing was to come upon all nations.  Since Christ was to bless all nations, whom He found to be accursed, He Himself had to remove the curse from them.  But He could not remove it through the Law, because the curse is only increased by this.  So what did He do?  He attached Himself to those who were accursed, assuming their flesh and blood; and thus He interposed Himself as the Mediator between God and men.  He said: "Although I am flesh and blood and live among those who are accursed, nevertheless I am the blessed One through whom all men are to be blessed."  Thus He joined God and man in one Person.  And being joined with us who were accursed, He became a curse for us; and He concealed His blessing in our sin, death, and curse, which condemned and killed Him.  But because He was the Son of God, He could not be held by them.  He conquered them and triumphed over them. He took along with Him whatever clung to the flesh that He had assumed for our sake.  Therefore all who cling to this flesh are blessed and are delivered from the curse.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Lectures on Galatians 26:289–290.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Quiz

I found this quote on the internet and thought that this would be a good quiz question for the reading audience.

Read the quote and answer the two questions following.

1.  From what theological background is the person who made the statement?
        a)  Roman Catholic
        b)  Wesleyan
        c)  Friends (Quaker)
        d)  Lutheran
        e)  Reformed
        f)  Mennonite
        g)  Non-denominational Evangelical
        h)  Latter Day Saints (Mormon)
        i)  Eastern Orthodox
        j)  Baptist

2.  Is the statement correct?  Why or why not?

The correct answer for #1 is here and here.  Did you find it difficult because the answer could be "All of the above"?  That is not surprising.  I heard this quoted almost verbatim from a Non-denominational Evangelical as truth.

The correct answer to #2 is No.  God's word is the norm for our lives.  Most groups calling themselves Christians think that there is something beyond scripture—an immediate work of the Holy Spirit—that must constantly be leading, moving, or teaching in a discernible manner beyond what scripture tells us in order to be considered a spiritual person.  If that was true, wouldn't God have told us that would be the expectation?  Yet what we find is the constant referral to his revealed word.