Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Don't Abandon Ship

Adriane Heins has shared a post that caught my attention, because I have read of multiple people who contemplate or have forsaken assembling with fellow Christians.  Here is the body of the post:
If you are one of the multitude that calls yourself “Christian” but believes that attending the services of God is not necessary, that it’s optional, that’s its only for those who want to go to church or like church or get something out of church; if you’re one of the multitude that thinks church is nice for women and children, for youth groups and potlucks, but not for men or for those with common sense and American morals; if you’re one who thinks the Church is little more than a comfort center to give spiritual hugs, then the Church owes you a big apology.

The Church needs to heed the Word of the Lord spoken to the prophet Ezekiel: “If you do not warn the wicked in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his guilt, but his blood I will require from your hand” (Ez. 3:18).

So, as a servant of the Church of Christ, and in holy fear of the Lord, I hereby apologize to you who have been so misled.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that the Church allowed you to believe that attending the service of God in His House is optional; that going to church is not a matter of salvation but one of personal choice and preference.   I’m sorry the preachers of God have let you believe that you can love God, even please Him, and not gather to His Son.  I’m sorry the Church failed to impress upon you the words of Jesus, “Whoever does not gather to Me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).  I’m sorry that the Church has not paid as much attention to your salvation as she has to your sensitivities and personal tastes.

I’m sorry that the Church has let you believe that as long as you’re a good person, as long as you don’t intentionally hurt others or are otherwise uncouth, that you have nothing to fear from the Lord.

I’m sorry that those who are to preach the Word of the Lord seem to have failed to preach the whole council of God that not only says, “God loves you,” but also says, “The Lord rebuke you,” and “Come unto me.”  I’m sorry that we have let you believe that you can gather to Christ in your heart, even though that is not written anywhere in the Scriptures that we are supposed to be preaching.  I’m sorry that the Church has let you believe that your faith is nothing but a spiritual matter; that it means little else than how you feel about God and yourself.

Repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:14).  Turn from the path that leads to death and follow Christ into eternal life. Be gathered to Christ, holding fast to the promise of God in Christ that for His sake you are reconciled to God.  Do not turn a deaf ear to the Lord but hear the Word of the Lord.

The Son of God suffered and died and was buried that you would be reconciled to God.  God is not at enmity with you.  He does not hate you.   He does not want you to be separated from Him.

He sent His Son to redeem you, to buy you back from sin and death.  Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, has purchased you with His precious blood and with His holy and innocent suffering and death.  He has purchased you that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.  He has earned eternal life for you.

Gather, therefore, at the House of the Lord for He gathers those whom He has chosen, gathering them out of the world that they would not be destroyed with the world.  For the Christ will appear again, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb. 9:20).
My final thoughts
The gathering of believers is not an option that can be added or removed.  The local assembly is difficult work with a high cost of maintenance—and I do not refer to the structure in which the group meets.  Every person that attends will sin, especially against you.  Feelings will be hurt.  Factions will form.  The answer is not to abandon ship but to understand that I am as much a part of the problem as “those people” are.  We should follow Peter's admonition:
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  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 4:7-11)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Repeating History?

Thom Rainer has written an article included in the April 2014 edition of The American Church Magazine entitled “14 Predictions for American Churches for 2014.”  Here are those predictions:
  1. Increased church acquisitions – small churches seeking to be acquired by larger.
  2. Downsizing of denominational structures.
  3. Decline in conversion growth.
  4. More mega-churches.
  5. Greater number of churches moving to a unified worship style – fewer offering two service styles (i.e., one traditional and one contemporary).
  6. Increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership.
  7. Increased challenges for congregations to build and acquire land due to restrictive governmental policies.
  8. More large churches will function like mini-denominations.
  9. New worship centers will be built smaller.
  10. Increased emphasis on small groups.
  11. Longer pastoral tenure.
  12. Local churches increasing their roles as ministry training leaders.
  13. Church movement to the community.
  14. More multiple teaching/preaching pastors.
Upon reviewing the list, I summarize it like this: American Evangelicalism is jettisoning the Church Growth model in order to embrace a pre-medievel (ca. sixth century) model.  Instead of Rome, Carthage, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople as the centers of Christianity, we will have East Texas, Georgia, Southern California, Southern Florida, and Suburban Chicago.  Effort will be made in each of these new “bishoprics” to “reach across the aisle” within their regions and attempt to bring unity to the American church.  Conclaves of sorts will be developed with recommendations for church governance and practice.  These recommendations will be enforced in strict measure that attendance and unity may continue.  Eventually, one center will assert its prominence or preëminence (or both) as the only rightful seat of authority.  You can guess the outcome.  And what will get left out of all this?  Right doctrine.

Feel free to disagree with this assessment, but I am still left wondering why the American church wants to revisit this trajectory.  After battling the heretics and schisms for the first few centuries, the Church thought it had matters in hand, then it started to believe in itself rather than its Creator, and set itself as head rather than looking to its true Head.  History repeats itself, and it can certainly do so with a different look and feel.  I enjoy reviewing the historical church to see how things worked, where we might be off course, and where we are improved.  Paul’s first epistle to Corinth was a litany of issues and errors that needed correction, not a commendation for their ingenuity.  Use mistakes of the past as examples to be avoided, not emulated.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Does the Resurrection Mean for Me Today?

Yesterday morning, we heard a message from Greg Forseen, our church administrator, on reasons to believe the testimony of the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection as related in the Gospels.  He presented good, useful information to help each Christian in giving a defense.  I decided to go one step further and asked myself the question: What does the resurrection mean for today?  Sure, something happened two millenia ago, but what are the ramifications that make this event important in the twenty-first century?  I give some thoughts below from passages in canonical order.

Complete Work for Sin
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.  (Rom 4:23-25)

All that was required to atone for all sin for all time was compressed into a few hours one afternoon outside Jerusalem as Jesus hung on a cross displaced from both heaven and earth.  He bore the full weight of sin’s guilt: he became sin (2 Cor 5:21).  The resurrection was testimony that the complete satisfaction for Adam and his posterity had been wrought.  We who believe are justified in Christ Jesus.  We can say, then, that while the cross dealt with the need for precious blood to ransom us (1 Pet 1:19), the fullness of the work is everything occurring from the crucifixion through the resurrection.

Fundamental to Belief
But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  (Rom 10:6-10)

If Jesus did not rise from the dead there is nothing to believe, but if Jesus rose from the dead, and I do not believe, there is no true faith.  What I have is a sentimental ascent to an ideal but nothing in which trust is placed.  Without belief in a resurrection, no amount of altruism or philanthropy can suffice to overcome the spiritual deadness within.  Only trust in a risen Savior can do that.

Promises Validated
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (1 Cor 15:3-5)

As God revealed himself through time, he was constantly pointing to the seed who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15).  That one was referenced as being the Lord’s anointed one who would ultimately reconcile Israel to God and God to Israel.  There was never a question of a promised one and the ultimate goal: what the Jews misunderstood was how that would be effected.  Isaiah was clear that a suffering servant would bear the punishment for mankind’s transgressions and iniquities (Isa 53:5-6).  The nation misconstrued this servant passage to be about them,* but this was never the case.  As Jesus points out to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus, the Scripture are about him (Luke 24:27).  All the promises pointing to his sacrifice and rising are fulfilled, so that we can rest assured of those foretelling his return.

Fundamental to the Gospel
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  (1 Cor 15:12-19)

When we share the good news of Jesus’ redeeming work for our sin, part of the message must be the resurrection.  As noted before, that was the seal of approval from almighty God that the work was complete.  We Christians rest on that fact.  The gospel message is not just for today however.  This is a promise that extends beyond the grave.  The promise of reconciliation and restoration was not just to be considered in a political sense.  The havoc death and the grave had wreaked will ultimately be fully restored in a new creation.  What we have in Christ is the beginning of that new creation (2 Cor 5:17), which will be completed when the new heavens and earth replace the old.  We live in expectancy of that future as whole creatures bearing new bodies—corporeal in some sense, yet different beyond description (1 Cor 15:35-49)

Living Hope
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Pet 1:3-5)

We have a living hope for the future because we have one who has conquered death.  What the Lord Jesus gained in his redemption will be revealed to us on the last day—an inheritance without measure or end.  What that inheritance entails is beyond our ken, I suppose, though was can be certain it will involve the presence of our Lord Jesus and the fulness of what was promised when we believed (Eph 1:3-14).

Access to God
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.  (1 Pet 3:21-22)

Through the resurrection, we have access to God.  We make our appeal to Him because Jesus has achieved access for us by removing the veil separating us from God and making himself the way (Heb 10:19-22).  Where there had once been a barrier, there is no an invitation to come before the throne.

Does the resurrection matter to us today?  It certainly does.  Without our Lord rising again we would have uncertainty both in this life and the life to come.  Because he is risen, we can have full assurance of faith.

* Scripture is never to be personalized this way.  God’s word is a testimony of his interaction with man looking to the redeeming work in Christ.  When we make the Bible about us, we miss the point.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Let's Not Miss the Point

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  Why are we in danger every hour?  I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!  What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?  If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”  Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning.  For some have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame.  (1 Cor 15:29-34)

This morning at Bible study, we were looking at this paragraph and discussing how portions of this passage have been misinterpreted, misused, and misapplied.

Baptizing for the dead.  The most plausible explanation of this practice seems to be that those under the tutelage of a believer in Corinth who had not yet been baptized, might do so out of respect for the disciple-maker if he or she suddenly died.  This makes sense in view of how the believers were honoring their teachers, even being baptized in their names (1 Cor 1:11-15).  As a descriptive text, one cannot condone the Latter-Day Saint (LDS or Mormon) prescriptive use.  Paul uses the doctrinal error in their baptismal practice to demonstrate the logical inconsistency of such a practice if there is no resurrection.

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.  This quotation summarizes the Epicurean philosophy which sought pleasure in this life as its goal. Opposed to popular belief, Epicurus did not condone wonton living.  He wrote:
When we say…that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice or willful misrepresentation.  By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.*
Epicureanism rejected immortality and taught that even the soul, though immaterial, also died at the end of this life.  Paul’s use of the quote should have had a dramatic effect on the believers in Corinth.  The logical comparison to their resurrection-less doctrine was this common pagan philosophy that had the same view of life’s goal and end.

Bad company ruins good morals.  An often misused passage to keep children in line, this is actually from the play Thais by the dramatist Menander, addressing the affects of a bad philosophy or worldview on one’s conduct (i.e., your thoughts govern your beliefs which govern your actions).  For Christians bad doctrine leads away from a proper relation to Almighty God, rather than leading others to Him.  As Psalm 1 points out, we are not to take counsel or example from those who openly dishonor the Lord, but we are to turn to His word instead.†

Both the doctrine and practice of the believers in Corinth was sinful, but they were still believers, beloved of God for Christ’s sake.  For that reason, Paul admonished the church to wake up as there were within the assembly who were not properly instructed in the ways of the Lord.

Shame on them for being lax, and shame on us when we do the same today.

* Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus,” contained in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book X.
† For current examples of those in Christendom leading some away, I recommend the Random Apostasies and Heresies series put out by Glenn Chatfield.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Stage Are You At?

Pat Archbold posted The Seven Stages of Heresy at National Catholic Register.  Here is his list:
Stage 1.
Immoral practice is clearly condemned and anathematized.  The eternal salvation of souls is at stake.  Some people still do it, but they are understood to be sinners and sometimes socially ostracized.
Stage 2.
Immoral practice is still clearly condemned but nobody really talks about it.  More people do it, but not considered ideal.
Stage 3.
Immoral practice is formally condemned, but such condemnation is rarely taught.  Many more people do it, it is just the way life is sometimes.
Stage 4.
Immoral practice is still formally condemned, but most clergy look the other way and some even encourage it.  Most people do it, what is the big deal?
Stage 5.
Immoral practice is still formally condemned, but we must find a way to act pastorally toward all those who engage in practice.  Church is seen to be unnecessarily hurting those with its outdated intolerance.  To be more pastoral, we encourage more of the immoral practice because our growth has taught us that people’s feelings are more important than their souls.
Stage 6.
Immoral practice is still immoral, but those charged with the care of souls and safeguarding the truth say things like “that ship has sailed” or “not that important” or “not relevant” or “we are not obsessed with such matters” or “we need to encounter people where they are” or ultimately “the sensus fidelium has spoken.”  Those who don’t do it are considered obsessed wild-eyed intolerant freaks who are ultimately harming the Church’s outreach.
Stage 7.
Immoral practice is still immoral and Church still formally condemns it, but the ubiquitous immoral practice has spawned worse ones, so we now have bigger fish to fry.  Congratulations!  You have a full-blown heresy!!
This is rather accurate.  So ask yourselves: where is my local assembly on the list for such-and-such topic?  Do your spiritual leaders agree with that assessment?  Heresy is like cancer in growing more and more serious as people treat symptoms until the disease has grown to the point of needing drastic measures, if any at all.  Some groups are already dead.  They just have not stopped moving around yet.

My wish is that all were at Stage 1, but I know better.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christ, the Fairest of the Fair, Bore the Fullness of Humiliation and Suffering

Let us compare with Scripture the rest of His dispensation.  Whatever that poor despised body may be, because it was an object of touch and sight, it shall be my Christ, be He inglorious, be He ignoble, be He dishonored.  For such was it announced that He should be, both in bodily condition and aspect.  Isaiah comes to our help again:
We have announced (His way) before Him.  He is like a servant, like a root in a dry ground.  He has no form nor comeliness.  We saw Him, and He had neither form nor beauty; but His form was despised, marred above all men.*
Similarly the Father addressed the Son just before:
Inasmuch as many will be astonished at You, so also will Your beauty be without glory from men.†
For although, in David’s words, “He is fairer than the children of men,”‡ yet it is in that figurative state of spiritual grace, when He is girded with the sword of the Spirit, which is truly His form, and beauty, and glory.  According to the same prophet, however, He is in bodily condition “a very worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and an outcast of the people.”§

But no internal quality of such a kind does He announce as belonging to Him.  In Him dwelt the fullness of the Spirit, therefore I acknowledge Him to be “the rod of the stem of Jesse.”  His blooming flower shall be my Christ, upon whom has rested, according to Isaiah,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of piety, and of the fear of the Lord.‖
Now to no man, except Christ, would the diversity of spiritual proofs suitably apply.  He is indeed like a flower for the Spirit’s grace, reckoned indeed of the stem of Jesse, but thence to derive His descent through Mary.  Now I purposely demand of you, whether you grant to Him the destination of all this humiliation, and suffering, and tranquility, from which He will be the Christ of Isaiah,—a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, who was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and who, like a lamb before the shearer, opened not His mouth; who did not struggle nor cry, nor was His voice heard in the street who broke not the bruised reed—that is, the shattered faith of the Jews—nor quenched the smoking flax—that is, the freshly-kindled ardor of the Gentiles.  He can be none other than the Man who was foretold.

Tertullian, Against Marcion, III.17

* Isaiah 53:1-2
† Isaiah 52:14
‡ Psalm 45:2
§ Psalm 22:6
‖ Isaiah 11:1-2

Friday, April 18, 2014

Christ Is Risen!

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

John Chrysostom, Easter Sermon (circa 400 AD)

God, the Son, Comes as Servant to Suffer for Sin

Surely he has borne our griefs
        and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
        smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
        and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
        we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
        the iniquity of us all.  (Isa 53:4-6)

Thus then, too, though demonstrated as God, He does not refuse the conditions proper to Him as man, since He hungers and toils and thirsts in weariness, and flees in fear, and prays in trouble.  And He who as God has a sleepless nature, slumbers on a pillow.  And He who for this end came into the world, begs off from the cup of suffering.  And in an agony He sweats blood, and is strengthened by an angel, who Himself strengthens those who believe on Him, and taught men to despise death by His work.  And He who knew what manner of man Judas was, is betrayed by Judas.  And He, who formerly was honored by him as God, is contemned by Caiaphas.  And He is set at naught by Herod, who is Himself to judge the whole earth.  And He is scourged by Pilate, who took upon Himself our infirmities.  And by the soldiers He is mocked, at whose behest stand thousands of thousands and myriads of myriads of angels and archangels.  And He who fixed the heavens like a vault is fastened to the cross by the Jews.  And He who is inseparable from the Father cries to the Father, and commends to Him His spirit; and bowing His head, He gives up the ghost, who said, “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again.”  And because He was not overmastered by death, as being Himself Life, He said this: “I lay it down of myself.”  And He who gives life bountifully to all, has His side pierced with a spear.  And He who raises the dead is wrapped in linen and laid in a sepulcher, and on the third day He is raised again by the Father, though Himself the Resurrection and the Life.  For all these things has He finished for us, who for our sakes was made as we are.  For “Himself has borne our infirmities, and carried our diseases; and for our sakes He was afflicted,” as Isaiah the prophet has said.

This is He who was hymned by the angels, and seen by the shepherds, and waited for by Simeon, and witnessed to by Anna.  This is He who was inquired after by the wise men, and indicated by the star.  He who was engaged in His Father’s house, and pointed to by John, and witnessed to by the Father from above in the voice, “This is my beloved Son; hear Him.”  He is crowned victor against the devil.  This is Jesus of Nazareth, who was invited to the marriage-feast in Cana, and turned the water into wine, and rebuked the sea when agitated by the violence of the winds, and walked on the deep as on dry land, and caused the blind man from birth to see, and raised Lazarus to life after he had been dead four days, and did many mighty works, and forgave sins, and conferred power on the disciples, and had blood and water flowing from His sacred side when pierced with the spear.  For His sake the sun is darkened, the day has no light, the rocks are shattered, the veil is rent, the foundations of the earth are shaken, the graves are opened, and the dead are raised, and the rulers are ashamed when they see the Director of the universe upon the cross closing His eye and giving up the ghost.  Creation saw, and was troubled; and, unable to bear the sight of His exceeding glory, shrouded itself in darkness.  This (is He who) breathes upon the disciples, and gives them the Spirit, and comes in among them when the doors are shut, and is taken up by a cloud into the heavens while the disciples gaze at Him, and is set down on the right hand of the Father, and comes again as the Judge of the living and the dead.  This is the God who for our sakes became man, to whom also the Father has put all things in subjection.  To Him be the glory and the power, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church both now and ever, and even for evermore.  Amen.

Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of One Noetus

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love As I Have Loved You

Today, I learned for the first time why the day before Good Friday is called “Maundy Thursday.”  The term comes from the Latin Dies Mandati or Day of Commandment, referring to the new commandment given by Christ in the Upper Room
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  (John 13:34)
and then later
Do this in remembrance of me.  (Luke 22:19)
In giving the first command, our Lord Jesus wanted to elaborate on a love the disciples had scene and experienced over the past years, but the depths of which they had not possibly fathomed.  Even the eleven (Judas had left) do not understand fully what Jesus’ love entails—not now anyway.  That love will be manifest by the one with whom they are eating. Jesus will give himself over to his enemies, then endure injustice and an ignoble death.  That is the magnitude of his love.  And we are to love in that way?  Not by our own reason or strength, we cannot.  It is only be God’s empowerment through the Holy Spirit that we can conceive of such love, much less demonstrate it.

But that leads us to the second.  We take the bread and wine.  We remember
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Jesus has accomplished all that was necessary to cover sin and for love to flow from the Father through us.  We have the promise that God’s love will be perfected in us as he abides in us (1 Jo 4:12).  Our love may be imperfect or halting now, and even require confession when we sin against one another, but it has a divine source and a divine purpose.

We love as Christ loved us, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, so that those to whom it is expressed might know the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Faith Is a Gift of God

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.… And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  (1 Thess 1:2-3; 2:13)

Could there be a fuller or more evident proof that the faith of the believers is a gift of God, than these thanks given to God precisely because they who heard the word of God in man’s preaching did not disbelieve in it as coming from man’s mouth, but believed in God speaking through men and producing in their hearts this very faith?

Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations I.23

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Abandoned by God and Man

O Lord, God of my salvation;
        I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
        incline your ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
        and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
        I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
        like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
        for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
        in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
        and you overwhelm me with all your waves.  Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;
        you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
        my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
        I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
        Do the departed rise up to praise you?  Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
        or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
        or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O Lord, cry to you;
        in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
        Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
        I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
        your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
        they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
        my companions have become darkness.  (Psalm 88:1-18)

These words, expressed by the sons of Korah, reveal the desperation and emotional agony of one has been completely abandoned.  He cries out to the Lord for some measure of relief and understanding, yet even there the psalmist feels hopelessness—that God Himself has turned his back.  But even in this there is a glimmer of understanding that the end will come, and God will deliver him.

Then I considered this in light of the cross.  We can see much the same being worked in the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world, as he was abandoned by his disciples and his Father, and gave himself to mockers, torturers, and finally to executioners.  All this for me and you.

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Even the Tabernacle Rubrics Pointed to and Are Fulfilled in Christ

Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.  For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”  And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship.  Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  (Heb 9:18-22)

He showed the old to be without question the type of the new.  So if even in the type the lawgiver took blood, mixed it with water, and sprinkled the covenant itself, the people and the tabernacle, and those defiled actually received purification from being sprinkled, what grounds for surprise are there if we find this happening also in the realization of the type? Now he was obliged also to cite the Mosaic testimony indicating this clearly,
This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.
Since the divine nature is immortal, through the blood of the victims he realized the type of death and confirmed the covenant.  Since God the Word became man and took a mortal body, there was no longer need of brute beasts as offerings.  Instead he confirmed the new covenant with his own blood, the type corresponding to the shadow, and the reality to the body.  The water was a type of baptism, the blood of brute beasts the saving blood, the heat of hyssop the grace of the divine Spirit, the scarlet wool the new garment, the piece of cedar (being a wood that does not rot) the impassible divinity, the ashes of a heifer the suffering of humanity.

Theodoret of Cyrus, “The Epistle to the Hebrews”

Monday, April 7, 2014

Intelligent Worship Satisfies the Soul

Readers may have noticed that my last post on liturgy was quoted from a Lutheran source.  Recently, I purchased two used books dealing with Christian liturgy, because I have noticed a lack of depth in the range of expression within the context of informal worship.  Some questions I intend to answer: Are all the elements expressed through informal worship designed for the interaction of God and his people?  Is our Lord the focal point?  What emphases of formal liturgy can assist the informal liturgy?  Wise and godly men initially constructed liturgies using God’s word as the basis for worship.  We would do well to consider following that same intent in our day.  Choice nuggets will be posted as I go along, including the following:
The simpler and the clearer the liturgical structure and the higher the intelligence and spiritual abilities of the worshipers, the more fully will devotional satisfaction and benefit be realized.… The more complicated and mystical the liturgy and the less developed the worshipers, the less likely are the latter to participate actively or to receive actually the blessings inherent in their services.
Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 43

Friday, April 4, 2014

What Characterizes Your Worship?

A remarkable feature of early Christian worship is its high degree of unity.  Notwithstanding fluidity of form in different places, there was substantial agreement in the essentials.  Services of the same kind were held everywhere.… With all its freshness and spontaneity, the public worship of the early church was characterized by dignity, simplicity, and restrained fervor.  Neither persecution nor the lack of institutional strength gave it a gloomy countenance.  Rather its forms were pervaded by  a spirit of peace, consolation, joy and thanksgiving.  Grave and moderate, the early church also possessed a richness and warmth not found in later Puritanism.  A common spirit determined what should be done and what should not be done.  The authority of leaders, and their agreement upon essential principles, undoubtedly account for liturgical unity as well as the larger unity of the church which confessed “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5).

Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 38-39

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shame on Us for Devaluing Shame

Matthew Cochran has written a good post on the devaluation of shame in our culture with its negative effects in our views on chastity and marriage.  Here is one snippet to whet your appetite:
Men and women are increasingly becoming sexually barbaric. Monogamous marriage having decades ago given way to successive polygamy (or, as it is less accurately known, serial monogamy), successive polygamy is quickly giving way to simple hook-ups—spontaneous sexual encounters with no spoken expectations of continuity. In other words, like a typical squirrel, smelling good and looking good during mating season is pretty much all there is to it for many young men and women. Though this is erroneously considered by many to be liberating, it has a remarkable tendency to inadvertently sound very unpleasant even as it is being extolled. This atrophy of chastity, though bad in and of itself, is accompanied by other types of harm: disease, depression, deliberate barrenness, children deprived of a stable home, and the murder of the inconveniently conceived. These changes in cultural attitudes toward children are particularly barbaric, for children represent the continuity of civilization.
He ends with a call to once again cultivate this good gift of God to society.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pray for Those of Whom Christ Gave Himself As a Ransom—All

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  (1 Tim 2:1-6)

The apostle commands—rather, the Lord speaking through the apostle commands through him—that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.  All priests and all faithful adhere unanimously to this norm of supplication in their devotions.  There is no part of the world in which Christian peoples do not offer up these prayers.  The Church, then, pleads before God everywhere, not only for the saints and those regenerated in Christ, but also for infidels and all enemies of the cross of Christ, for all worshipers of idols, for all who persecute Christ in His members, for the Jews whose blindness does not see the light of the gospel, for heretics and schismatics who are alien to the unity of faith and charity.

But what does she beg for them if not that they leave their errors and be converted to God, that they accept the faith, accept charity, that they be freed from the shadows of ignorance and come to the knowledge of the truth?…  While thanking Him for those who are saved, we should hopefully pray that the same divine grace may deliver from the power of darkness those who are still without light and conduct them into the kingdom of God before they depart this life.

Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations 1.12