Friday, May 22, 2015

A Declaration of Faith

There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son.  There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal.  And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all.  There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged.  Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything super-induced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced.  And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever.

A Declaration of Faith, Gregory Thaumaturgus

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

We Brought It Onto Ourselves

Many have commented on the recent survey from Pew Research Center on the dramatic rise of the religious group that are “Unaffiliated” or “None.”  I full understand the concern for this shift.  One Facebook acquaintance lamented that a major reason for people leaving is because God handed them a bad break in life, and they failed to remember that God always works good to His own (Rom 8:28).  The truth of that promise is eternal, so what is the problem?

For decades the three major denominational wings cited in the study (Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic) have worked to be as inclusive as possible while acknowledging some identifying distinctive.  Entrance into these groups became increasingly easy as the identifying marks of what constituted Christianity were watered down or set aside so as not to impede free access.  Doctrinal statements were relegated to antiquity or the curio cabinet as relics of history, while by-laws were interpreted individually or changed in accord with the whim of societal norms.  The only draw was an increasing appeal to social conscience toward those outside or amusements for those within.  What enduring appeal remained constant came from the family bond from one generation to the next, though this waned with increased mobility.  They became groups having no other purpose of gathering except for a generally comfortable acceptance of one another while sharing the same building and governance.  We should not be surprised by the exodus.

Having been part of the Evangelical community for most of my life, I can see the downward trend.  We have largely moved away from preaching Law and Gospel in view of a thrice-holy God.  While faithful men continue to preach Christ and Him crucified, an increasing number are delivering up a God who desires to salve consciences and ease life’s turmoils.  He is painted as a deity who will do anything and everything for you.  Not only do preachers continually promote this combination demi-god/BFF, but all avenues of media are involved.  Whether print, audio, or video, Evangelicals (some in name only) are in high gear promoting the deity that will deliver the goods.  You might say we are being played as welfare recipients waiting for our weekly allowance with preachers and denominational headquarters reaping the rewards.*  The previously mentioned acquaintance should not have been surprised by those who thought they got a raw deal.  With so little substance being delivered, why would they stay?

Is a trend reversal possible?  Can pastors begin leading their congregations in the paths of righteousness once again?  Indeed, but it requires a shift from cultural Christianity to one biblically based, though this would be akin to a tugboat with multiple fully-loaded barges performing a U-turn.  Some will leave because of the reclaimed apostolic witness, but better the offense be from the Gospel rather than over a church program or social justice promotion.  Some may even think turning attention to the whole counsel of God will be boring, but Scripture rightly proclaimed and manifested in baptism and the Lord’s Supper is anything but.  Better to suffer for righteousness’ sake and doing good wherein is blessing (1 Pet 3:14, 17).

* I am painting with a broad brush, but in a discussion of trends that happens.  Our own pastor has thus far stayed clear of the trending currents and not been swept away, but no man is without his weakness (see Acts 20:28-30).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where Does God Reveal Himself?

Have you noticed that there is no end of nonsensical teaching coming from men and women who should know better?  I speak of seminary-trained individuals who have been instructed in all things biblical, yet jettison sound exegesis in order to promote their whims and passions.

This item came from the fertile field of Blackaby Ministries International (BMI).  (By fertile, I mean overgrown with weeds.)  In the devotion for May 14th:
“So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10 NKJV)

The servant carries out the master’s will. The servant doesn’t tell the master what to do. The servant does not choose which tasks to perform for the master, nor does the servant suggest days or times when it would be convenient to serve the master. The servant’s function is to follow instructions. The master, on the other hand, gives directions. The master does not tell the servant to develop a vision that will guide the master. The master is the one with the vision; the servant’s task is to help fulfill the master’s purposes.
I agree with the comments to this point.  The attitude of the servant is foremost in the verse selected.  The servant always puts the master’s will first.  In the next paragraph, matters begin to go offtrack:
We are the servants; God is the Master. We tend to try to reverse this! God’s revelation of Himself, His purposes, and His ways depends directly upon our obedience.
No.  God has revealed Himself in spite of our obedience.  He condescended and enabled to allow sinful men to transmit His holy and eternal Word.  Had He not done so, Scripture would not have been given or written down.  Continuing the paragraph:
He may not reveal today His intentions for the next five years, but He will tell us what our next step should be. As we respond to God’s revelation, He will accomplish what He desires, and He will be the One who receives the glory.
Here we see the underlying assumption of the devotion: God continues to reveal Himself and His will through our experiences.  This assumption is problematic since there is neither direct instruction nor from the Lord nor apostolic practice indicating that He works in this manner.  Many will appeal to the Holy Spirit’s leading in the following passages:
  • Acts 8:29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”
  • Acts 10:19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.
  • Acts 11:12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.
  • Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
  • Acts 16:6-7 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
  • Acts 20:22-23 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
  • Acts 21:4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
  • Acts 21:11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
The above interactions are too often deemed mystical in nature and typical for every Christian.  Such is not the case.  As to normalcy, notice that the instances were to direct the course of an apostle or was accomplishing an apostolic task.  In the latter case, Philip was not sent to proclaim the gospel to an African people, but instead was sent to an individual who would carry the gospel to his people.

Concerning mysticism, there is no reason to believe that strictly supernatural means were used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the task.  In the selection of Matthias, an appeal was made to the Lord for His direction when the lot was cast, trusting the Lord for making a selection, relying on the truth of Proverbs 16:33:
  • Acts 1:24-26 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Nor does an occasion of the Spirit speaking indicate that only the third Person of the Trinity was communicating the words. Late in his ministry, the apostle Paul :
  • Acts 28:25-27 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
    “‘Go to this people, and say,
    “You will indeed hear but never understand,
        and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
    For this people's heart has grown dull,
        and with their ears they can barely hear,
        and their eyes they have closed;
    lest they should see with their eyes
        and hear with their ears
    and understand with their heart
        and turn, and I would heal them.’”
Notice that the quoted passage is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, but in Isaiah 6:9-10 to YHWH. Is this a mistake by Paul in speaking or Luke in writing? No, rather the Holy Spirit’s work in the delivery of Scripture is in the inspiration regardless of where and when that occurs. During Isaiah’s vision, the entirety of the Godhead was involved in delivering the message. We can then conclude that the Spirit’s speech, as recorded in the book of Acts, was the revelation of God and intended to be Scripture. If so, the communication was intended for canonical use and would not be ongoing phenomena.

The BMI devotion continues with:
Our fulfillment comes from serving our master.

The world will encourage you to strive for positions of authority and power. God wants you to take the role of a servant. As God’s servant you should have no other agenda than to be obedient to whatever He tells you. God does not need you to dream great dreams for your life, your family, your business, or your church. He simply asks for obedience. He has plans that would dwarf yours in comparison (Eph. 3:20).
Our fulfillment comes in Christ.  While we have good works prepared for us to perform and walk in, we do so not in order to be fulfilled, but because we have been fulfilled.  Christ has qualified us to share in the inheritance (Col 1:12) and has made us complete in Christ and empowered us to fulfill the law of Christ (Ro 13:10; Ga 5:13-14; 6:2).

There are some who wish to take our eyes of the Bible wherein God has revealed both Himself and His will.  It is from there that our Lord has chosen to make Himself known, and that is the most certain place to understand His designs.  If we walk in such a way as to place talismans and diving rods in order to discern the move of the Spirit, we miss the freedom we have to live life in obedience to Christ in the fullness of what He has so freely and abundantly given.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pray for the Persecutors Too

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.”  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.  (John 15:18-21)

O greatest, O Supreme Creator of things invisible!  O You who are Yourself unseen, and who are incomprehensible!  You are worthy, You art truly worthy—if only mortal tongue may speak of You—that all breathing and intelligent nature should never cease to feel and to return thanks; that it should throughout the whole of life fall on bended knee, and offer supplication with never-ceasing prayers.  For You are the first cause; in You created things exist, and You are the space in which rest the foundations of all things, whatever they be.  You are infinite, unbegotten, immortal, enduring forever, God alone, whom no bodily shape may represent, no outline delineate; of virtues inexpressible, of greatness indefinable; unrestricted as to locality, movement, and condition, concerning whom nothing can be clearly expressed by the significance of man’s words.  That You may be understood, we must be silent; and that erring conjecture may track You through the shady cloud, no word must be uttered.  Grant pardon, O King Supreme, to those who persecute Your servants; and in virtue of Your kind nature, forgive those who fly from the worship of Your name and the observance of Your religion.

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.31