Friday, December 6, 2013

In Defense of the Faith

Psalm 48 is a beautiful meditation on Mount Zion: the place where God has chosen to place his name and to gather and contend for his people.  The sons of Korah use this backdrop to emphasize the response of a grateful people.
We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
        in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God,
        so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
        Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
        because of your judgments!  (Psalm 48:9-11)
The Lord’s steadfast love and mercies have continued unabated for his people: they are knew every morning (Lam 3:23).  Indeed they are as eternal as God himself, knowing no beginning or end, so that before he laid the foundations of the world, the Lord Almighty created all things and acted in Adam’s rebellion not as a backup plan, but according to all his nature.  This he continued to do to a stiff-necked and rebellious people for his name’s sake in that promises were made to Abraham concerning a land, seed, and blessing.  The Lord’s faithfulness to act has caused his name and praise to reach beyond the borders of Israel.  He has acted in righteousness and is worthy to be praised for maintaining his cause.

Christians can relate immediately to this scenario for his or her own life.  As one once dead in sin and separate from the promises, he can look back on the mercies demonstrated during a life of rebellion until holding fast to the word of life.  Then after finding the life of faith is fraught with enemies on every side, he seeks refuge in the shelter of the Most High, who alone is our refuge and fortress (Psa 91:1-2).

The final section of Psalm 48 would do a child of Israel proud:
Walk about Zion, go around her,
        number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
        go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
        that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
        He will guide us forever.  (Psalm 48:12-14)
We can understand how the Jews would look to the strong, seemingly impregnable presence of Mount Zion as a source of exaltation.  The psalmist is drawing attention to those things that are set to guard the temple of God and his worshipers: towers, ramparts, and citadels.  Though not necessary for worship or governance, these fortifications aided the Levitical defense of the Lord and his things (Num 1:50-53), and they speak of what others had established for future service and protection.

Christians are able to use the same language.  Though there is no visible structure protecting the Church and her doctrine, we have centuries of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers” who have labored, many under dire circumstances, to correctly convey the scriptures.  As the faithful struggled to present sound doctrine against heresy and periods of persecution, one generation built upon the preceding.  They examined God's word to understand better his revelation.  When something heretofore undiscovered was brought to light, teachers would verify against previous orthodox teaching to ensure soundness.  Heterodoxy infiltrated when this check was not in place, future generations were required to quell the advance.  This body of historic, orthodox teaching is our tower, rampart, and citadel.  By remaining firm on scripture as faithfully taught, we can see the enemy approaching to sound the alarm, make the way of the false teacher more difficult in their uphill battles, and stand unconquerable in spiritual battle.

Ambrose of Milan tied the work of the local pastor in the defense of the faith to the work performed by the Levites:
You, then, are chosen out of the whole number of the children of Israel, regarded as the firstfruits of the sacred offerings, set over the tabernacle so as to keep guard in the camp of holiness and faith, to which if a stranger approach, he shall surely die.  You are placed there to watch over the ark of the covenant.  All do not see the depths of the mysteries, for they are hidden from the Levites, lest they should see who ought not to see, and they who cannot serve should take it up.  Moses, indeed, saw the circumcision of the Spirit, but veiled it, so as to give circumcision only in an outward sign.  He saw the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  He saw the sufferings of the Lord, but he veiled the unleavened bread of truth in the material unleavened bread, he veiled the sufferings of the Lord in the sacrifice of a lamb or a calf.  Good Levites have ever preserved the mystery entrusted to them under the protection of their own faith, and yet do you think little of what is entrusted to you?  First, you shall see the deep things of God, which needs wisdom.  Next, you must keep watch for the people; this requires justice.  You must defend the camp and guard the tabernacle, which needs fortitude.  You must show yourself self-controlled and sober, and this needs temperance.
On the Duties of the Clergy, I.50.260

This work is still needed today as men and women seek after unseen truths or innovative tactics to make a name for themselves in the name of furthering the church in the world.  God does not need our unseen and innovative to further the church.  He needs those who will defend and confess what has already been given through his word and expounded by faithful forbears.

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