Thursday, January 30, 2014

That We Might Know Christ

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  (2 Tim 3:14-15)

The mind must grasp these truths and must understand their meaning and their relation to one another.  But if it stops there, it is not yet a knowledge that makes one wise to salvation.  In spiritual matters the enlightening or instructing of the intellect is not the end aimed at, but only a means to an end.  The end aimed at must always be the renewal of the heart.  The heart must be reached through the understanding.  To know about Christ is not life eternal.  I must know about Him before I can know Him.  But I might know all about Him, be perfectly clear as to His person and His work, and stop there without ever knowing Him as heart only can know heart, as my personal Savior, my Lord and God.

George H. Gerberding

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Defending Christ by Nicholas L. Thomas – Book Review

I purchased Defending Christ by Nicholas L. Thomas in an effort to further research on Arnobius of Sicca.  While this work did not aid toward the specifics of my research, the author did a good job in presenting five early Latin apologists in their defense of Christianity.  The author compares and contrasts styles of argumentation in chronological order* to show how authors may have borrowed from one another or addressed similar issues.

I found the lack of direct scriptural citation to be interesting.  Each was more intent on presenting the Christian position in general terms assuming the specific propositions from which they are derived are true.  Instead, each apologist brings his argument to the cause to lay out the reasonableness of the Christian position, the unfairness of attacks against believers, and the folly of continued pagan worship.

Thomas does a good job of interconnecting the thought processes between these men and bringing out individual rhetorical styles.  Minucius Felix is noted for his elegance and Tertullian for prowess in building a legal case.  Lactantius, the last of the men chronologically, set out to draw from and improve upon the argumentation of the North African writers who preceded him, as noted in Divine Institutes.
Although Tertullian fully pleaded the same cause in that treatise which is entitled the Apology, yet, inasmuch as it is one thing to answer accusers, which consists in defense or denial only, and another thing to instruct, which we do, in which the substance of the whole system must be contained, I have not shrunk from this labor, that I might complete the subject, which Cyprian did not fully carry out in that discourse in which he endeavors to refute Demetrianus (as he himself says) railing at and clamoring against the truth.… For, since he was contending against a man who was ignorant of the truth, he ought for a while to have laid aside divine readings, and to have formed from the beginning this man as one who was altogether ignorant, and to have shown to him by degrees the beginnings of light, that he might not be dazzled, the whole of its brightness being presented to him. (5.4.1)
I was disappointed that the section covering Arnobius did not dwell more on his arguments, dwelling on his relation to the others.  This is understandable since the apologist is a professional rhetorician, not a theologian, something his errant scriptural support demonstrates.  Instead he plays to his strengths and argues against the pagans with an offensive polemic akin to Martin Luther’s denunciations of foolhardy doctrine and practice.†

All in all, I appreciate this book explaining the united effort given to the defense of Christ while undergoing Roman persecution.  It is my hope that this will assist believers in learning of the early apologists and how they built upon their predecessors to logically address cultural, if not legal, opposition to the gospel.

*  Exact chronology is impossible, especially in the case of Minucius Felix, however the relative placement of the original works assists in understanding the relationship of ideas.
†  And who doesn’t like a good smack down where it is richly deserved?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fully God, Fully Man, Fully Savior

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  (Heb 2:14-15)

The power of God was displayed in Him, from the works which He performed; the frailty of the man, from the passion which He endured: on what account He undertook it I will mention a little later.  In the meantime, we learn from the predictions of the prophets that He was both God and man—composed of both natures.  Isaiah testifies that He was God in these words: “Egypt is wearied, and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sabaeans, men of stature, shall come over unto you, and shall be your servants: and they shall walk behind you; in chains they shall fall down to you, and shall make supplication to you, Since God is in you, and there is no other God besides you.  For you are God, and we knew you not, the God of Israel, the Savior.  They shall all be confounded and ashamed who oppose you, and shall fall into confusion.”  In like manner the prophet Jeremiah thus speaks: “This is our God, and there shall none other be compared unto Him.  He has found out all the way of knowledge, and has given it unto Jacob His servant, and to Israel His beloved.  Afterward He was seen upon earth, and dwelt among men.”

David also, in the forty-fourth Psalm: “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom.  You have loved righteousness, and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness.”  By which word he also shows His name, since (as I have shown above) He was called Christ from His anointing.  Then, that He was also man, Jeremiah teaches, saying: “And He is a man, and who has known Him?”  Also Isaiah: “And God shall send to them a man, who shall save them, shall save them by judging.”  But Moses also, in Numbers, thus speaks: “There shall arise a star out of Jacob, and a man shall spring forth from Israel.”

Lactantius, Divine Institutes 4.13.1-2

Friday, January 24, 2014

Law Gives a Glimpse of Duty; Gospel Gives Fullness of Done

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  (Heb 2:1-4)

The ministry of angels was involved in the first giving of the Law, whereas in this case the Lord in person was first to propose the saving teaching, and those who were in receipt of the apostolic grace welcomed it.  While the Law gives us a glimpse of what has to be done, the Lord's teaching is the source of eternal salvation.

Now, since Moses also employed wonder-working, it was necessary for [the author] to show the superiority of grace in this respect, too.  In this case, it was not only the Lord who worked wonders but also his divine disciples and their successors.  He also showed the New Covenant to be resplendent with spiritual gifts: of old the inspired authors alone shared in the spiritual bounty, whereas now all the believers enjoy this grace.

While he said this to encourage them to give heed to the divine teaching more zealously, he brought out the difference between the former and the latter under guise of exhortation.  It was very wise of him to say God witnesses to the message through miracles.  The demonstration is beyond question, and the reliability of the witness indisputable.

Theodoret of Cyrus, “The Epistle to the Hebrews”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Have Phillips, Craig, and Dean Turned Trinitarian?

On January 10, or shortly thereafter, I briefly read a post by Matt Privett at The Mattrix that the members of the singing group Phillips, Craig, and Dean had signed a statement rejecting modalism (Sabellianism).*  Attached to the post is an image of the signed statement affirming the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) statement of faith.  This seemed rather odd, since the members of the trio are active pastors of Oneness Pentecostal (UPCI) congregations and have been involved with actively teaching the modalism heresy.  I also wondered why they chose the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) to affirm rather than another faith statement.

Here is the BFM summary section on God:
II. God
There is one and only one living and true God.  He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe.  God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections.  God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.  To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience.  The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.
The section goes on to clarify the roles of the individual roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all with scriptural attestation.

Everybody holding to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as handed down through creeds and confessions could affirm this.  The problem is that so could a modalist.  This can be accomplished by adjusting the definition of the word triune from “three persons in one God” to “three manifestations in one God.”  Heretics, cults, and sects constantly use this maneuver to fool both their adherents and critics.  I do not want to fault the SBC for this: a great deal of effort went into its preparation.  They attempted to use a familiar Trinitarian term to develop this section, but in making the language accessible to their denomination, the crafters did not make this robust enough to prevent being coöpted.

If the members of Phillips, Craig, and Dean are seriously denying their previous involvement with modalism, I recommend they confess the Athanasian Creed.  After that happens, we can talk.  Until then, I remain skeptical.

*  Modalism denies the historic, catholic teaching that there are three co-equal and eternal persons in the Godhead.  Instead they affirm there is only one God, but that he manifests himself as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit as he sees fit.  This was originally propagated by Sabellius, a third century theologian, thus the attachment of his name.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Sinner's Condemnation Is Just

[S]in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because wall sinned…  (Rom 5:12)

But why do we speak of Jerusalem, since, indeed, the fashion of the whole world must also pass away, when the time of its disappearance has come, in order that the fruit indeed may be gathered into the granary, but the chaff, left behind, may be consumed by fire?  “For the day of the Lord comes as a burning furnace, and all sinners shall be stubble, they who do evil things, and the day shall burn them up.”*  Now, who this Lord is that brings such a day about, John the Baptist points out, when he says of Christ, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, having his fan in his hand to cleanse his floor; and he will gather his fruit into the granary, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”†  For he who makes the chaff and he who makes the wheat are not different persons, but one and the same, who judges them, that is, separates them.  But the wheat and the chaff, being inanimate and irrational, have been made such by nature.  But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself, that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.  Wherefore also he shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts; as says the prophet, “Man, being in honor, did not understand: he was assimilated to senseless beasts, and made like them.”‡

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.4.3

*  Malachi 4:1
†  Matthew 3:11, etc.
‡  Psalm 49:12

Friday, January 17, 2014

Taking You to the Cleaners

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (Ezek 36:25-27)

Israel had sinned greatly, defiling all the Lord had given them, and for this they were judged by being scattered to the nations.  But the Lord was concerned for his reputation.  The fact that Israel was dispossessed spoke volumes to the nations.  God chose to right the situation.  To an outside observer, the fact of God's working would be an indication that the nation of Israel had learned its lesson and was coming home as a son who had once again earned his place, yet the Lord plainly says this is not the case.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.  (Ezek 36:22-23)
Nothing the people offered could prompt God to act.  They were bereft of sufficient moral character to earn his attention.  Only an intrinsic attribute of divine character would spur the Almighty to right the situation, and his name would once again be glorified.  Therefore, the promise is made to  draw the people from the nations where they reside and perform a cleansing action only the Lord can achieve.  The heart, stony and lifeless as it is, would be replaced with one of flesh—a heart beating with new life.  Instead of operating with a spirit dead in all respects because of sin, we receive the Holy Spirit, so that we might live rightly according to God’s word.

This passage is special, not just because the Lord promised this wonderful renewal and rebirth for the future, but we see it come to light when reiterated by Jesus to Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).  The promise is once again extended, but this time with an expectation of accomplishment.  We can afford some leniency in Nicodemus’ confusion.  Mankind was corrupt and the Law was iron-clad in its requirement, yet the promise of permanent cleansing remained.  How could God bring about such a marvelous transformation?  Nicodemus did not realize the fulfillment of the cleansing work will be accomplished by the person with whom he is speaking.  Neither would we.  The Lord Jesus was yet to go to the cross and make final payment for sin on the cross.  It is that one work that secured for all time the obligation due from Adam to his creator.

At Pentecost, the house of Israel began believing Jesus was their Messiah, receiving the cleansing that could never be accomplished through the continual sacrifice of bulls and goats, but which could only be wrought by God himself as the Holy Spirit took residence in each one.  They were baptized into Christ, buried with him, walking in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4) and “saved by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) having nothing in themselves.  The same is true for today.  The promise is still in effect.  Believers are cleansed and can stand before a holy God without spot or blemish.

What if we do not feel clean or walk perfectly in all God’s ways.  Has the effect worn off?  We do not consider our opinion of inadequacy to determine standing or acceptability.  Sin still remains in this world, and we succumb to it in various ways.  For that we confess transgressions and receive His absolution (1 John 1:9).  Sin will be extinguished on the last day.  We look forward to it.  Then the ultimate promise and ability of our faithfulness will be realized.  Until then we hearken to the words of grace: Christ died, arose, and returns again for me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

God's Word: A Hammer Working Repentance

This, then, is the thunderbolt of God by which He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints, and permits no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair.  This is the hammer, as Jeremiah 23:29 says: “Is not my word like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”  This is not active contrition or manufactured repentance, but passive contrition, true sorrow of heart, suffering, and the sensation of death.

This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance.  Here man must hear such a sentence as this: “You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion].  You all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may.  Here no one is godly, etc.”

But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: “Repent and believe the Gospel,” i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe my promise.

Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 3, 2-4

Monday, January 13, 2014

Worship: Where the Trinity Is Confessed in Word and Song

But in the church I only know of one image, that is the image of the unseen God, of which God has said: “Let us make man in our image and our likeness;” that image of which it is written, that Christ is the brightness of his glory and the image of his person.  In that image I perceive the Father, as the Lord Jesus himself has said: “He that sees me sees the Father.”  For this image is not separated from the Father, which indeed has taught me the unity of the Trinity, saying: “I and my Father are one,” and again: “All things that the Father has are mine.”  Also of the Holy Spirit, saying that the Spirit is Christ’s, and has received of Christ, as it is written: “He shall receive of mine, and shall declare it unto you.”

They declare also that the people have been led astray by the strains of my hymns.  I certainly do not deny it.  That is a lofty strain, and there is nothing more powerful than it.  For what has more power than the confession of the Trinity which is daily celebrated by the mouth of the whole people?  All eagerly vie one with the other in confessing the faith, and know how to praise in verse the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So they all have become teachers, who scarcely could be disciples.

Ambrose, On the Giving Up of the Basilicas 32, 34

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

God Became Man to Procure Our Salvation, Not the Other Way Around

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  (Heb 1:3)

Having thus discoursed about the divine nature, he moves to human matters to bring out the mystery of the divine plan….  He is the Son of the Father, who is one with the begetter, the creator and governor of all things, who reveals in himself the Father, and who by becoming man procured our salvation.  Though most high he humbled himself, and though God, he became man.  It was not that being humble he exalted himself, or being man he was made God.  Rather on the one hand, as God he was always Lord of all, and on the other, as man he took to himself glory he had as God.  He actually said as much in the sacred Gospels, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”*  He asked not to receive what he did not have, but for what he had to be revealed.

Theodoret of Cyrus, “The Epistle to the Hebrews”

*  John 17:5

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Worship Music: Pleasing Me or the Lord?

Over the years, the music genre of Praise and Worship (P&W) has been castigated in terms like “Ear Candy” and “Ear Porn.”  The former are songs that have a simplistic sweetness with little or no spiritual nutritional value.  In the realm of pop or other secular music, this is expected.  We each have songs, groups, genres, etc. that we enjoy listening to for no reason other than a personal appeal.  Seat me before a string quartet or chamber orchestra, and I will be elated, but the same effect can be had through bluegrass or a 1960’s-1970’s performer.  We all understand the appeal and how far it is meant to go.  It may or may not have a genuine message, but we don't care because the tune and rhythm has an appeal.  So why are they in worship sets on Sunday morning?

Here is a good example of “Ear Candy.”  The beat and tune are catchy, but notice there is nothing in the song except a nebulous concept of love that is neither defined nor directed.  It is only felt.
One Thing Remains
Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me (3x)

On and one and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death and in life I'm confident and
covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid there's nothing that can
separate my heart from your great love
Notice also that we have no indication to whom this is directed.  All these allusions have been used in love songs for wives and girlfriends.  I thing it is meant to be sung to God, but someone needs to explain why that might be true.  So why use it in Sunday worship?

The latter category of “Ear Porn” is more insidious in that it engenders passions of personal desire and pleasure based on a romanticized or perverted conception of experience with Christ rather than genuine love.  Consider a song I mentioned in a post from July, 2011,
The More I Seek You
The more I seek you, the more I find you.
The more I find you, the more I love you.

I wanna sit at your feet,
Drink from the cup in your hand,
Lay back against you and breath, here your heart beat.
This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming.
This is not “Jesus, you are my savior” or even “Jesus, you are cool guy.”  It’s “Jesus, you are my lover.  Let’s sleep together.”  In an attempt to invoke a more meaningful relationship aspect missing from the Ear Candy, this goes off the rails by projecting an intense physical union with someone other than your spouse.  It objectifies the Lord Jesus in much the same way women are objectified in the sex trade.  Jesus becomes what I want him to be in order to make me feel good and can get through the hour or the night.  No commitment is made.

Music that honors Christ is thoughtful, edifying, and communal.  For example, the psalms tell of writer’s (or people’s) experiences but intend to point to the Lord as the source and goal of meaning in this life.  Whether wrought from personal or corporate events, the musical expression is intended for group participation: the entire company of God’s people is exhorted to join the proclamation of good doctrine concerning a good God and Savior.  That takes work but reaps rewards when accomplished.

I leave you with a good recent example mentioned by my friend, Glenn Chatfield, on his blog.  This is what should be promoted.
Behold the Lamb
Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us - and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Torn for you - eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you - drink and remember
He drained death's cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, - and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lord's Supper: Continual Assurance that Redemption Is Mine

The price of our redemption is the body of Christ which is given for us and his blood which is shed for us.  Among Christians no one doubts that by this giving of Christ's body and shedding of his blood the wrath of the Father has been satisfied and eternal redemption gained.  But the question is, to whom does this promise pertain and who are the receivers of this benefit of Christ?  To be sure, the teaching of the Gospel in general pronounces that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  But anxious and fearful minds, when they consider their sins, their unworthiness, their weaknesses, and their temptations, become so terrified and disturbed that dangerous doubts arise concerning the individual application, that is, whether I myself have with sufficient certainty grasped the benefits of Christ and so faithfully cling to them that my conscience can stand before the judgment of God.  For this reason Christ in his Supper willed to confirm and seal to his disciples the demonstration and application of the promise of the Gospel with a certain and firm guarantee, so that in the face of all temptations faith can stand strongly and firmly in the assurance that it is a participant in Christ and all his benefits unto salvation.

Martin Chemnitz, The Lord's Supper