Sunday, December 25, 2016

Salvation Has Come

Psalm 98 (LXX)
Sing a new song to the Lord
    for He did wondrous things;
His right hand and His holy arm
    saved peoples for Him.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
    He revealed His righteousness in the sight of the Gentiles.
He remembered his mercy to Jacob
    And His truth to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth saw the salvation of our God.

Shout aloud to God, all the earth;
    Sing and greatly rejoice, and sing psalms;
Sing to the Lord on a lyre,
    On a lyre and the voice of a psalm;
With trumpets of metal and the sound of a trumpet of horn,
    Shout aloud before the Lord our King.

Let the sea be shaken and its fullness,
    The world and those who dwell in it.
The rivers shall clap their hands together;
    The mountains shall greatly rejoice;
For He comes to judge the earth;
He shall judge the world in righteousness,
    And the peoples with uprightness.

This psalm is beautiful, telling of God’s mighty hand and powerful working to bring salvation, but one is left wondering of when it speaks.  Is this celebrating the Red Sea crossing? or perhaps Gideon’s victory over Midian? or maybe Sennacherib’s defeat before Hezekiah?  Perchance it may be a general song of victory to be sung whenever the Lord saves His people.  Whatever occasion initially prompted the psalm, it always looked forward to God gaining the victory on behalf of His people.

“Nativity” by Peter Paul Rubens
While feats of provision, strength, and warfare generally garner a joyous response, perhaps none was more grand.  Consider the responses early in Jesus’ life from the heavenly host (Lu 2:13–14), shepherds (Lu 2:17–20), the priest Simeon (Lu 2:28–32), the prophetess Anna (Lu 2:38), and wise men (Mt 2:10–11).  Jews, Gentiles, and the heavenly host joined in praise over the birth of this Child.  Though counter-intuitive, the promised salvation (Mt 1:21; Lu 2:11) initiated when the Son of God emptied Himself, took the form of a bond-servant, and came in the likeness of men (Phil 2:7) would far outweigh any military or political campaign.  This combat would end in utter defeat for sin, death, and the devil; and with every foe vanquished, He will reign with righteousness and His kingdom enjoying perfect peace and rest.

You have made known to us, O Lord, Your salvation, causing to spring up for us the plant of peace, and we shall no longer wander in error.  You have made known to us, O Lord, that You have not unto the end overlooked Your servants; neither have You, O beneficent One, forgotten entirely the works of Your hands.

For out of Your compassion for our low estate You have shed forth upon us abundantly that goodness of Yours which is inexhaustible, and with Your very nature cognate, having redeemed us by Your only begotten Son, who is unchangeably like to You, and of one substance with You; judging it unworthy of Your majesty and goodness to entrust to a servant the work of saving and benefiting Your servants, or to cause that those who had offended should be reconciled by a minister.  But by means of that light, which is of one substance with You, You have given light to those that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, in order that in Your light they might see the light of knowledge; and it has seemed good to You, by means of our Lord and Creator, to fashion us again unto immortality; and You have graciously given unto us a return to Paradise by means of Him who separated us from the joys of Paradise; and by means of Him who has power to forgive sins You have blotted out the handwriting which was against us.

Lastly, by means of Him who is a partaker of Your throne and who cannot be separated from Your divine nature, You have given unto us the gift of reconciliation and access unto You with confidence in order that, by the Lord who recognizes the sovereign authority of none, by the true and omnipotent God, the subscribed sanction, as it were, of so many and such great blessings might constitute the justifying gifts of grace to be certain and indubitable rights to those who have obtained mercy.  And this very thing the prophet before had announced in the words: No ambassador, nor angel, but the Lord Himself saved them; because He loved them, and spared them, and He took them up, and exalted them.… Hence, for the future, a joyous festival is established for us of the race of Adam, because the first Creator of Adam of His own free-will has become the Second Adam.  And the brightness of the Lord our God has come down to sojourn with us, so that we see God face to face, and are saved.

Methodius, Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna 8

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christ Is Born, Glorify Him

“Annunciation to the Shepherds” by Berchem
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  (Lu 2:10-14)
Christ is born, glorify Him.  Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him.  Christ on earth; be exalted.  Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth.  Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.  Christ of a Virgin ... Who does not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who does not glorify Him That is the Last?  Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar.  The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge.  Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.  The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front.  The shadows flee away, the Truth comes in upon them.  Melchizedek is concluded.  He that was without Mother becomes without Father (without Mother of His former state, without Father of His second).   The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled.  Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him.  O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father.

Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Theophany 1–2

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sanitizing False Doctrine

Back in November, Bob Hiller wrote a piece at The Jagged Word entitled “Airbrushing Beth Moore” in which he discusses the advertising ploy of creating a sanitized persona in order to sell products.  This is a common way to move product by creating a false notion that by following through with her (or any person’s) materials, the reader will soon resemble the false impression displayed on the product.  The idea of self-improvement strokes egos: I can do it because the author says I can.  Hiller rightfully questions this tactic by noting that everyone involved in the production of the material is a sinner.  The impression floated to entice the buyer—physically, psychologically, and spiritually—is nonexistent.  I agree with Hiller’s assessment, but another aspect to this needs to be mentioned.  False doctrine is being airbrushed.

On the local church level, when someone wishes to make a mark on a social issue or just target a niche market, he or she will investigate the need, formulate a message around that need, and construct a presentation.  In order to be effective, something new needs to be stated and properly packaged.  Novelty attracts.  Crowds form and embolden new, novel doctrine, and the cycle continues.  Publishers do similarly.  To promote and sell materials for authors, they allow (and even encourage) questionable doctrine in their publications.  Poor, bad, and destructive doctrine is disseminated in order to stimulate discussion of the ideas and author notoriety.  Colleges and seminaries are not immune as professors attempt to make a name for themselves.  While all this provocation sells more units to the public and puts people in the pews, it also can have a deleterious effect on Christ’s Church.  Ideas have consequences.  Whatever the initial intent for the novel teaching, the end cannot be measured in the level of appeal but in faithfulness to the Savior and what He taught us.

What are we seeing from current teachers and preachers?  Mysticism is especially popular.  Everybody is suddenly being spoken to directly by the Holy Spirit (or unholy spirit) to say and do spiritual things that are otherwise nonsensical or even unbiblical.  Parishioners are encouraged to seek God (or god) within themselves to better understand the truth.

The Bible is neglected or demeaned.  Paraphrased versions of the Bible are used more than a solid translation.  Music no longer teaches truth, but an experience.  Teachers are asking their listeners to think less in objective truths and more in subjective, relational patterns.  Doctrine is taught in broad, sweeping terms having various meanings depending on the hearer.

What is the effect?  Denominational bodies and local churches see the tide of popularity and begin to wonder if all this hoopla might be the answer to their problems.  Christian conferences assemble speakers that stir the emotions but teach nothing that lasts.  Instead of evaluating the doctrine and practice against the Word of God, these organization take a pragmatic approach hoping for something to stick.  It never does, so the cycle continues for the next thing.

There is an old, familiar saying that if something is new, it is probably wrong.  This is never more true than when applied to the holy things of God.  Let’s sanitize the right things.  Keep doctrine and practice true and pure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Unwanted Offer, Unwelcome Source

The country of Judah was in a dismal state.  Ahaz had taken the throne and was leading the nation into great wickedness, even offering his own son to be burned (2 Ki 16:2–4).  During his reign, Israel and Syria had joined forces and conspired to overthrow Jerusalem and place it under Syrian control.  As would be expected, Ahaz, with all Judah, feared the coming armies.  Before the attack could be mounted, Isaiah went to Ahaz with a message of hope and peace: nothing would come of this.  On top of this good news was a warning call: If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all (Isa 7:9).  The only certainty of a firm foundation was in national repentance.

To sweeten the deal, God gave Ahaz the opportunity to name any sign as surety that the promise would be fulfilled:
Ask a sign of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
The offer was remarkable.  Whatever Ahaz could conceive was his to ask.  His response?
I will not ask, and I will not put the Lᴏʀᴅ to the test.
This sounds rather pious, making Ahaz appear to suddenly humble himself before the Lord, however, such is not the case for two reasons.  First, Ahaz was apostate.  He had nothing but contempt for the God of Abraham and Moses, as evidenced by his worship practices.  An offer from YHWH would be admitting he had been entirely wrong—not a pleasant place to find oneself.  Second, Isaiah’s response exposed the king’s attitude:
Hear then, O house of David!  Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?
Isaiah levels his aim at the entire nation of Judah. It has been bad enough that people are wearied by the pretense of being faithful.  How do they think it possible to pull the same stunt on God Himself?  Also, notice the change in language: from “Lᴏʀᴅ your God” in the offer to “my God” in the rebuke.  The prophet communicated further that the True Ruler over Judah was giving a sign, whether or not Ahaz liked it.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Besides the amazing birth, Isaiah makes known that, unlike the nation, this child will know the difference between good and evil and will choose appropriately in the face of impending disaster and see a beginning of normalcy from the destruction.  As for the united Syrian-Israeli invasion:
For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.  The Lᴏʀᴅ will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!
Within a short time the feared invasion would come and many be carried away (2 Chr 28:5–8).  Ahaz and Judah deserved everything that came, but it did not serve His purposes to deal with Israel.  Something far worse was promised—an Assyrian invasion.  God sent His prophet with an unwanted promise to an ungrateful king and people, yet within the act we see divine grace and mercy.  The Lord condemned Judah’s wickedness, but He also promised to restore after the impending invasion and gave fair warning of future events.  In doing so, Judah was given every opportunity to see the faithfulness of their Deliverer with a view to repent and wholly turn to Him.

Some centuries later, God repeated the process with a twist.  The people had largely neglected the Lord and His Word.  The rulers of the people cared more for their system of governance and piety than had been divinely delivered and expected.  He sent a prophet but one more than a prophet, a son but one more than a son.  He sent Himself.  The Word of God came to His people to declare a message of great tidings to all people.  Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom and called for repentance, warning of the destruction that would meet them.  He came to His own, and they did not receive Him.  Indeed, the leadership sought to destroy Him.  Within this atmosphere of hostility, He continued the mission on which He was sent for the benefit of mankind.  A greater danger is yet coming, the final judgment and eternal damnation.

The offer is still unwanted and the source unwelcome, yet we continue sharing the need for repentance from sin and the glorious gospel found in our Lord and Savior.  May we continue faithful to the task.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should

The next time you want to tweak your worship service, consider some input from godly men of the Reformation.  Give greatest thought and care to ensure what you add or change does not actually distract or detract from the Gospel.

When there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference.

But as regards genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference, we believe, teach, and confess that such ceremonies, in and of themselves, are no worship of God, nor any part of it, but must be properly distinguished from such as are, as it is written: “In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9).

Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority (in matters truly adiaphora) to change, to diminish, and to increase them, without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and appropriate way, whenever it is considered most profitable, most beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, and the edification of the Church.  Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in faith in such external adiaphora, Paul teaches (Rom. 14) and proves it by his example (Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:19).

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X.7–9

Friday, December 16, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.  (Heb 1:1-4)

Gerrit van Honthorst, “Adoration of the Shepherds”
Truly, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”  This at least the blessed Paul intimates here also, in the very beginning of his Epistle to the Hebrews.  For since as it was likely that afflicted, worn out by evils, and judging things from that perspective, [the recipients] would think themselves worse off than all other men,—he shows here that they had rather been made partakers of greater, even very exceeding, grace; arousing the hearer at the very opening of his discourse.… And the expression, “In times past,” and this, “In the end of the days,” shadows forth some other meaning:—that when a long time had intervened, when we were on the edge of punishment, when the Gifts had failed, when there was no expectation of deliverance, when we were expecting to have less than all—then we have had more.

John Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews 1

Jan Brueghel the Younger, “Creation of Adam”
In this way the divine apostle in several terms brought out the reality of the begetting, the oneness in being, and the shared eternity of the Father and the Son.  Since the divinity transcends all understanding, and it is impossible to bring out in one single image the mystery of the true doctrine of God, the preachers of the truth are obliged to do so by many.… Blessed Paul called Him “Son” to show Him to be different from the Father in regard to personhood; he spoke of Him as “creator of the ages” to bring out in these ways His eternity and called Him also “brightness of glory” to indicate by this His shared eternity and the sameness of being, the brightness being of the nature of the fire.  He added that He is “stamp of His nature” to bring out both things at the same time, that He subsists of Himself and that He reveals in Himself the paternal characteristics.  He adds also something else: “upholding all things by the word of His power.”  He not only made everything but also directs and guides it.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of Hebrews 1

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hope in Hopelessness

There are seasons of life when we feel hopeless.  Loss of health, home, income, or family can come in pounding waves or together in a tsunami leaving our lives in desolation.  When these times come a natural reaction is to lay blame on the doctor, teacher, employer, family member, friend, and especially God.  While there are circumstances working beyond our control that work against us, sometimes we are to blame and must bear the consequences of our own sin.  During those low points, we also seek for antidotes to relieve the stress and pain.  Any glimmer of hope will do.  Some even seek out God, who providentially guides it all, to ask
Why, O Lᴏʀᴅ, do you stand far away?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?  (Psa 10:1)

How long, O Lᴏʀᴅ?  Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?  (Psa 13:1)
Or to cry out
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    forsake me not when my strength is spent.  (Psa 71:9)
As difficult as this is on an individual level, what happens when calamity strikes a nation or people group?  And worse yet, what if they willingly brought it on themselves?  A review of history shows that the fall of a nation usually comes from within.  Policies and practices necessary to maintain good order are neglected or abandoned for the sake of pragmatism, preference, or expediency.

Judah and Israel were both in a state of spiritual decay when Isaiah exercised his prophetic ministry, delivering a torrent of divine condemnation beginning with Jerusalem.  His earliest assignment after receiving the call to preach was of a forthcoming Assyrian invasion resulting in the destruction of Israel, though Judah would be preserved.  To the reader after the fact, this would not appear to be a hopeless situation, but in the denouncement to King Ahaz, the Lord had already made clear that they were on an identical path as their northern brethren and the surrounding nations that would receive due judgment.  Though the present brought uncertain conditions, the future discipline of a holy God was fixed.  They were in a hopeless position as much as a frog in gradually heated water.

In the face of doom, a ray of hope shines however.  As a promise of the Lord’s covenant with King David, Isaiah foretells of a king who would reign seemingly forever (Isa 9:6-7)—the ultimate golden age—describing it in terms of utter justice, righteousness, and peace as no other has accomplished or could better (Isa 11:3-10).  This could only be because of who this person is and of what stuff he is derived.  The prophet gives that:
And the Spirit of the Lᴏʀᴅ shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lᴏʀᴅ.  (Isa 11:2)
Here we see a complete package in this seven-fold description of the Spirit, and only God is sufficient as the source and enabling.  In this prophetic section, then, we see the fullness of the Godhead in action as Eusebius of Caesarea wrote:
For in these things the whole fullness of deity of the only-begotten God is signified, concerning whom the Evangelists say: “from His fullness we have all received,” and the apostle: “For in Him all the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell bodily.” … In Him the Spirit of God dwelt, and it is concerning Him that that the apostle said: “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” … One is not to understand these many spirits as entities separate from one another.  Rather just as we understand the same word of God to be “light” and “life and resurrection” and a myriad of other things according to one’s reflection on Him, so also we should understand … all these titles as referring to the one and the same Word who proceeds from God and rested on Him who descended from the root of Jesse and from David according to the flesh.  (Commentary on Isaiah 11)
What then is our hope in times of hopelessness?  It is better to ask who—our Lord Jesus.  We do not yet see the consummation of Isaiah’s vision.  The world, the flesh, and the devil still are at work.  The outward man still is dying.  Sin still works in our members.  Yet in spite of this, Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness.  He hears our cause and will judge rightly.  He binds up the broken-hearted, brings peace, and gives rest.

Hold fast to the promise: Surely, I am coming quickly (Rev 22:20).  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  (2 Thess 2:16-17)

See how by the method of prayer he stirs up their mind, giving them the unspeakable care of God for pledges and signs.  “Comfort your heart,” he says, “in every good work and word,” that is, through every good work and word.  For this is the comfort of Christians, to do something good and pleasing to God.  See how he brings down their spirit.  “Which gave us comfort,” he says, “and good hope through grace.”  At the same time he makes them also full of good hopes with respect to future things.  For if He has given so many things by grace, much more things future.  I indeed, he says, have spoken, but the whole is of God.  “Establish”; confirm you, that you be not shaken, nor turned aside.  For this is both His work and ours, so that it is in the way both of doctrines, and of actions.  For this is comfort, to be established.  For when anyone is not turned aside, he bears all things, whatever may happen to him, with much long-suffering; whereas if his mind be shaken, he will no longer perform any good or noble action, but like one whose hands are paralyzed, so also his soul is shaken, when it is not fully persuaded that it is advancing to some good end.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Thessalonians

Thursday, December 1, 2016

What Does American Evangelicalism Believe?

The title is not a trick question.  What do evangelicals believe?  Can we nail this down?  Some might point to the multi-volume The Fundamentals edited by A. C. Dixon and later by R. A. Torrey.  The 90 essays contained therein provide a thorough understanding of Scripture in early twentieth-century evangelicalism, but can we consider the work to be accurate today?  What about a pared-down list similar to those found on websites or the following list of essentials by Matt Slick at CARM:
  1. Deity of Christ
  2. Salvation by Grace
  3. Resurrection of Christ
  4. The Gospel
  5. Monotheism
  1. Jesus is the only way to salvation
  2. Jesus’ Virgin Birth
  3. Doctrine of the Trinity
With these essentials in hand, are we any closer to determining what American evangelicals actually believe?  I have often quipped that the belief system of any local assembly can be reduced to a mathematical function: f(x) = x + 1.  In other words, for any number (x) of congregants, there is x+1 number of belief systems or opinions.  And if they actually compare notes with one another, the number grows exponentially: f(x) = (x+1)y where y is the number of interactions.  Overt facetiousness aside, how accurate is this?

With the prevalence of postmodern thought in Christianity, personal belief systems have increasingly become the norm.  In October of this year, I referenced a recent article illustrating heretical beliefs held by self-professed evangelicals.  Believers have taken a pragmatic approach to doctrine that resonates with their current situation.  Individualized Christianity runs rampant.

Church leadership is not without fault.  In March of this year, in an examination of evangelical response to the presidential election, Marsha West of Berean Research summarized a series she wrote in 2011 with the following:
Several years ago I penned a piece that I hoped would help explain the downgrade in the Church. I thought supermarket shopping would be a clever way to paint a word picture. In my piece I pointed out that there’s a “diabolically inspired supermarket of truth and error in the postmodern Church.” So take a stroll with me, once again, up and down the aisles as we shop for the ingredients to make Syncretism Stew….
Aisle 1-Mysticism Madness;
Aisle 2-Charismatic Confusion;
Aisle 3-Pentecostal Pandemonium;
Aisle 4-Enlightened Emergents;
Aisle 5-Purpose-driven Pragmatism;
Aisle 6-Secular Strategies…to suck in seekers;
Aisle 7-Twelve-steps…to “group think”
Aisle 8-Preposterous Pop Psychology
Aisle 9-Discernment Disintegration
Aisle 10-Predatory Pastors.
On and on it goes.
And I added this reminder:
The Body of Christ trusts its Shepherds to feed them healthy nutritious foods, yet many of them are literally starving their sheep to death! A diet of “Bible Light” does not nourish the soul – it causes spiritual malnutrition! A shepherd’s job is to lead the flock in Christian life and faith. (Source)†
One byproduct of this shift has been an adherence to other or additional sacraments.  Within Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic systems, there are seven well-documented sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, ordination, and matrimony).  Evangelicalism is known for two ordinances (baptism, the Eucharist), but in practice this has changed.  American Evangelicalism also has what have effectively become seven sacraments: praise & worship, decision, self-help, service, quiet time, small groups, and clean living.  Matthew Garnett at In Layman’s Terms introduced these some time back and rebroadcast them on his podcast of October 16 this year.  In a nutshell, Garnett helps us realize that though some of these things are not bad, they have become the metric by which spirituality is measured: if you are not actively involved in all these things to an arbitrary satisfactory degree, then you must not be spiritual.  You may not even be a Christian.  The only solution is a Protestant purgatory wherein well-meaning pastors and parishioners pound you with the Law into you fall in line with the group standard.  The result is that you become twice a son of the devil as they, shipwreck your faith, or cope by inventing your own spirituality—all commonplace occurrences.

Whatever initiated the maelstrom, it has continued largely unabated, dragging whomever comes close into the abyss.  There are multitudinous metaphors to help us understand that there is something solid on which we can depend—foundation, rock, anchor, tower, bulwark to name a few—promised by the only One with power and authority to save and keep—I Am, Ancient of Days, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He Who promised is faithful.  What the Bible says, believe, teach, and do.

I cannot tell you how many times pastors and teachers have altered Bible quotations and definitions of Greek and Hebrew terms to fit their theology.  I cannot tell you how many times believers are confronted with Scripture and say they do not care.  Just stop.  Stop being relevant.  Stop being nuanced.  The solution is obvious yet must be constantly repeated.  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, neither nonchalantly nor with glitz, glamor, and funk.  Pray for daily bread and daily forgiveness, not seed offerings and audacious faith.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not the pastor’s vision and 10-year plan.  Make disciples by baptizing and teaching, not by bait and switch.

Maybe rightly dividing the Word of God and preaching Christ and Him crucified are out of vogue, but there is no other solution to our need.  It is the one given to us.  Teach and learn the creeds.  Teach and learn a catechism.‡  Stop sipping at the shallow rivulet of new and trendy, but instead imbibe at the deep waters of what has been tested and tried that we might run the race and finish the course, looking to the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

*  I am uncomfortable with the primary/secondary designations he gives.  They can be misconstrued, and the latter three can be subsumed in the former.  However, he carefully defines his use of the terms.

†  I recommend reading that series: “Purpose Driven dismantling of Christianity” (part 1, part 2, part 3).

‡  I did not specify which catechism because of the diversity of my readership, but I gladly recommend both Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms.  You also would do well with the Heidelberg Catechism.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Lord Needs Bulldozers

“St John the Baptist Preaching to the Masses in the Wilderness,” Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Brethren, the time has come, once again, for the Church and her preachers to take heart and play the part of men in the face of the world’s whirling winds.  We will need the steadfastness of John.  Congregations need pastors who will dare to preach to them, not merely opine.  Pastors who, like John, will look their people in the eyes and tell them the truth about sin, faith, death, sex, marriage, faithfulness, virtue, and truth; who will call sin “sin,” and point sinners to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away their sins; the Lamb hidden for them to eat in the bread and the chalice.  We need the ministry of John, that the Church dare to stand apart from the world for the sake of the world; to look, speak, and act differently from every other place in the world for the sake of engaging the world with a Gospel not of this world.  We all need Pastor John’s preaching in our lives, to bulldoze our idols and make plain to us our priorities.  To call us out into the wilderness to repent and believe our Baptism.  To give us a joy for which we will gladly lose our heads.

Joshua Hayes, Gottensdienst 24.4

Monday, November 21, 2016

How Gnostic Are You?

Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom & God’s Wife
Relatively recently, I came upon a post written in 2010 by Robin Phillips that struck me in it’s declaration of the obvious.  Entitled “8 Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed,” the author works through the following:
  1. Christianity isn’t a Religion, it’s a Relationship
  2. Salvation Means Going to Heaven When You Die
  3. The Material World isn’t Important
  4. Institutional Religion is Bad
  5. It isn’t Going to Last Forever
  6. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this World
  7. Knowledge saves
  8. God Doesn’t Work Through Means
Be careful not to read into his opinions what is not there.  For instance, at least half of my readers will bristle at the first point: the dichotomy of religion and relationship has become a sacred cow in evangelical circles.  The author is not saying there is no individual aspect of Christianity, rather he is pointing out that evangelicals are, in effect, denying the corporate aspect from beginning to end.  Take worship as an example.  In too many congregations, though believers meet together in the same building at the same time, the entire worship experience is geared to allow individuals to be engaged in whatever way they choose and to take away from the teaching their own conclusions.

The same group that dislikes the first point will also dislike the last, but they do not realize that actually agree that God works through means.  How is that?  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).  That’s right.  The means of grace every Christian acknowledges is God’s Word—the Bible.  That is the means by which faith and grace was delivered to you that you might believed.

Give some serious consideration to the Phillips’ points and compare them against what you and your local assembly teaches and practices.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.”  (2 Chr 7:12)

In addition to these things, [Moses] also appointed a place in which alone it should be lawful to them to sacrifice to God.  And all this was arranged with this view, that when the fitting time should come, and they should learn by means of the Prophet that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, they might see Him who should teach them that the place chosen of God, in which it was suitable that victims should be offered to God, is his Wisdom.

Pseudo-Clementine, Recognitions 1.37

And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, “You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.”  (2 Chr 7:17-18)

For Holy Scripture supports the freedom of the will where it says: “Keep your heart with all diligence.”  But the Apostle indicates its weakness by saying “The Lord keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  David asserts the power of free will, where he says “I have inclined my heart to do Your righteous acts,” but the same man in like manner teaches us its weakness, by praying and saying, “Incline my heart unto Your testimonies and not to covetousness.”  Solomon also: “The Lord incline our hearts unto Himself that we may walk in all His ways and keep His commandments, and ordinances and judgments.”

John Cassian, Conference 13.10.1

Thursday, November 17, 2016

An Unexpected Gift

Have you ever received a gift that caused you to stop and think about the giver.  These vary in shape, size, and worth.  A familiar form comes at the naming of a child, wherein parents consider several options that are important to them as a way of bequeathing something special to the child.  For, instance, my first and middle names came through my parents’ maternal great-grandfathers’ middle names.  I consider that a cherished heirloom and blessing.  There are other gifts that come as a mixed blessing or even a burden.  At the time, we may question the purpose of the gift or the motive of the giver, but we accept it grudgingly and discover later that the gift was far more precious and appropriate than first expected.

The people of God had been rocked with multiple instances of rebellion against God’s order:
  • Aaron and Miriam sought share in the prophetic office with Moses. (Num 12)
  • Ten spies gave a bad report of the Land of Promise, so the people chose not to enter. (Num 13)
  • When God told the people that generation would not see the Land, they attempted to enter anyway. (Num 14)
  • Korah, Dathan, and On sought to share in the leadership of Israel. (Num 16:1–40)
  • Each of these ended with God’s righteous discipline against the instigators, after which the people grumbled again resulting in more discipline. (Num 16:41–49)
Finally, the Lord set up a sign whereby all would know which house would serve Him in the priestly ministry: Aaron’s rod budded.  By this time everybody had learned their lessons—so much so that the people were afraid of YHWH’s presence among them:
So the children of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Surely we die, we perish, we all perish!  Whoever even comes near the tabernacle of the Lᴏʀᴅ must die.  Shall we all utterly die?” (Num 17:12–13)
To quell the people’s fear, Aaron and his sons were given a divine gift of greatest import:
Then the Lᴏʀᴅ said to Aaron: “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear the iniquity related to the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity associated with your priesthood.… Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar and behind the veil; and you shall serve.  I give your priesthood to you as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Num 18:1, 7)
Stop and soak that in.  Aaron’s tribe alone carried the burden of iniquity for the sanctuary and the priesthood.  No other person need fear for their safety because they will not come into the Lord’s presence.  However, this does place on the shoulders of Aaron’s tribe the sole ability to come before the Lord, so that they were the sole mediators representing men to God.  They alone could touch the holy things, offer the appointed sacrifices, and pronounce a declaration of cleanness or absolution of guilt.  You can see, then, that both great responsibility and authority come together in this gift.

When Jesus came into this world and completed the work given Him by the Father to do, He fulfilled all that was limited in the Aaronic priesthood and sacrifices—their scope and nature—by virtue of His all-sufficient atoning death.  What Aaron and his sons could never complete in their service of bearing iniquity, our Lord Jesus took upon Himself as the ultimate High Priest.  This work was the Father’s gift of service delivered to and gladly received by the Son in the eternal counsels of the Godhead.  Jesus continues His High Priestly work ever interceding before the Father on our behalf (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25).

Believers now are a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:4–5, 9–10), having been adopted as sons and coheirs, and are in right standing to come before God presenting spiritual sacrifices.  In the same way as the old priesthood, we now are called to intercede on behalf of our brethren.  Within the framework of the Aaronic priesthood, most of the offerings allowed a portion for the priest to eat.  Whether someone came because of guilt from a sin or trespass, or from gratitude for what the Lord had done for him, the priest received nourishment through the work of intercession.  In like manner, Christians now are nourished within their worship, whether through confession and absolution of sin or feeding on the body and blood of Jesus as true food and true drink (John 6:53–58).

Besides the corporate aspect, we also find it individually as believers share in one another’s burdens (Gal 6:1–2).  We pray for each one before the Lord for His loving-kindness and righteous dealings.  If there is sin, seek repentance and confession that forgiveness and reconciliation might be given.  If there is a burden to bear, bear it as well.  If a burden is released, enter into their joy.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).

We can see, then, that the work of believers to intercede on behalf of one another is not grievous but a great endowment from a most generous Benefactor.  As a priesthood, we are privileged to have access before the throne of grace, both corporately and individually, to “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16) for our mutual nourishment that the whole body might be built up in Him.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Neglected Half of the Great Commission

Rembrandt, “Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch”
[T]he obligation to preach the Gospel also includes the duty and the goal to baptize.  Although conversion comes about through the preaching of God’s Word, it is anchored and made visibly manifest in Baptism.  From Scripture, we also know that Baptism is the means whereby one is added to the communion of believers (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 18:8).  In view of the fact that the great Commission speaks so clearly of preaching coupled with Baptism (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16), it seems odd that so little attention is given the Sacrament of Baptism in missiological literature.  One notices primarily a minimalist version that focuses on witness, isolated from Baptism.  Peter Brunner’s insights on Baptism seem instructive:
The Gospel seeks the faith of the hearers.  Once it comes to faith, then baptism follows by necessity.  Therefore the Great Commission embraces immediately also baptism.  It cannot come to a faith in the Gospel through the Holy Spirit, that does not desire and lead to baptism.  The place where baptism takes place is where church has come about. 
Klaus Detlev Schulz, Mission from the Cross, 191

Friday, November 11, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We are going with you also.”  They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.”  And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  (John 21:1-6)

Our Lord Jesus Christ once more gladdens His disciples with the enjoyment of the sight of Himself, Whom they so greatly longed to see, and entrusts unto them a third visit, in addition to the other two, in order that He might confirm their minds, and render them unchangeably steadfast in faith towards Him.  For how after they had seen Him not once, but now for the third time, could they fail to have their minds released from all wavering in the faith, and to become faithful instructors of the rest of mankind in the doctrines of the religion of Christ?  Peter then goes forth with the others fishing.  For when he was bound on this errand they hurried with him, and doubtless our Savior Christ is here seen working for their good.… In order, then, that He might convince them by a palpable sign that every Word that He had spoken would surely come to pass, and that His promise would result in complete fulfillment, He draws a convincing proof from the trade at which they were at work.  For the blessed disciples were practicing their art, and were fishing, but yet they had caught nothing, though they had toiled all the night.  And when it was already early morning, and the dawn was beginning to break, and the sun’s rays to appear, Jesus stood on the beach.  And they did not know that it was Jesus.  And when He questioned them whether they had any fish fit for the table in their nets, they said they had taken nothing at all.  Then He bids them cast down the net on the right side of the boat. And they, although all the night they had spent their toil in vain, replied: “At Your word we will cast down the net.”  And when this was done, the weight of the fish that were caught overpowered the strength of the fishermen who were hauling it up.

Such is the narrative of the inspired Evangelist.  As we have just observed, the Savior, by the actual performance of a palpable miracle, satisfied the holy disciples that they were destined to be, as He had said, fishers of men.  Come, then, let us convert, so far as in us lies, that which was fulfilled in type into the truth of which it is symbolic; and let us bear witness to the truth of the Savior’s Words, and, according to our ability, unfolding the meaning of everything that took place, let us put before those who may light on these pages what may serve in some measure, I think, to start a spiritual train of thought.… I think, then, that the fact of the disciples fishing all the night, and taking nothing, but spending their labor in vain, signifies that no one, as we shall find, or very few, would be wholly won over by the teaching of the first instructors of old, and caught into their net to do God’s pleasure in all things.  We may regard what is very small in amount as equivalent to nothing, especially when it is taken out of a great multitude.  And, surely, we must regard the number of mankind scattered throughout the whole world as exceedingly great.  What hindrance, then, or obstacle was there in the way which rendered the labor of the pioneers of the faith fruitless?  And why did their preaching fail to bear fruit?  There was still night and darkness, and a kind of mental mist and devilish deceit brooding over the eyes of the mind, not allowing men to perceive the true light of God.… The inspired disciples, then, without hesitation, obeyed the bidding of our Savior, and let down the net.  And the meaning of this is, that they did not seize for themselves the grace of apostleship, but at His bidding went forth to capture the souls of men.  “Go therefore,” He said, “and make disciples of all the nations.”  The disciples themselves say, that at the Word of Christ they let down the net.  For they fish for men only by the Savior’s Words and, commandments in the Gospels.  And great was the multitude of fish within the net, so that the disciples were no longer able to haul it up.  For they who have been caught, and believed, are innumerable, and the marvel thereof seems in truth to surpass, and be out of all proportion to the strength of the holy Apostles.  For it is the working of Christ, Who gathers by His own power the multitude of the saved into the Church on earth, as into the net of the Apostles.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, XII

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Addressing the Symptom or the Source?

Recently, I have been pondering the common usage of “broken” and “brokenness.”  I looked for a dictionary definition on-line and found several definitions:
  • infringed or violated
  • interrupted, disrupted, or disconnected
  • weakened in strength, spirit, etc.
  • tamed, trained, or reduced to submission
  • (of a relationship) split apart; not intact
  • (of a family) disunited or divided by the prolonged or permanent absence of a parent
  • not smooth; rough or irregular
  • ruined; bankrupt
We know the effects are common to the human condition and empathize with those currently enduring them.  Life is difficult and messy.  Desiring to convey understanding and compassion, we use such language to describe stress and hardship in ourselves and others.  As Christians, we know the real problem: all creation is ruined because of sin.  However, a question remains.  In our efforts to address and ease human suffering, do we go too far in softening our language to ease that pain?

One does not need to go far in Christian circles before encountering therapeutic language in response to the pervasiveness of brokenness.  Evangelism has become communicating the aforementioned empathy.  Songs relate how Jesus can fix the hurts and burdens.  Radio stations bill themselves as positive and encouraging.  Pastors preach a relationship with Jesus.  The problem is not the language.  We are called to compassion.  We can walk through Scripture identifying the passages that are the basis for these actions.  Indeed, we should teach and practice the care due to the downtrodden, discouraged, etc.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Decades ago, mainline denominations shifted from preaching God’s Word in truth to appeasing hearers in order to address societal ills.  In an effort to create a level social strata, immediate conditions were salved, even improved, with the desire that those receiving help would then attend church services and be grafted in the to local flock.  As time progressed, those ills became more varied and debauched as culture shifted in nature from communal to personal: “What I need (or think I need) must be honored or met.”  With this shift, the centrality of what kept the denominations grounded has been replaced with affirmations of the individual and personal choice.

Sadly, sections of conservative denominations and independent churches that watched the decline of mainline denominations has begun sinking into the same morass.  Those groups lacking a formal confessional foundation appear to be particularly susceptible to the downward slide, but they are certainly not alone.  Congregations are seeking to be relevant to the culture for the same reasons that mainline denominations tried—expecting different results.  Instead of focusing on collective ills, the congregations have focused on the personal, offering multiple ways to connect with the local assembly.

We are called to help, but there is a serious flaw in the way the above has been practiced: the root cause is minimized.  Dealing with the symptoms, scant attention is given to the source issue of sin.  Considered the new hymnody of western evangelicalism, Praise & Worship (or contemporary Christian) music gives itself over to personal feelings and experience.  Consider the following first verses from two songs written 150 years apart:

Hallelujah! What a Savior You’re Beautiful
Phil­ip P. Bliss Phil Wickham
Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
|   I see Your face in every sunrise
|   The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
|   The world awakens in the light of the day
|   I look up to the sky and say
|   You're beautiful

The differences between them are ever so subtle—not.  While both claim to glory in the Son, the emphases cannot be further apart: the former in a savior, the second in what exactly?  To be fair, both speak of the need for the cross, though in quite different terms:

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
|   I see You there hanging on a tree
|   You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
|   Now You are sitting on Your heavenly throne
|   Soon we will be coming home
|   You're beautiful

The former explicitly conveys our desperate condition and need for rescue, while the latter speaks of a sacrificial act and a reunion, both of which I should appreciation, but what they entail is never given.  We are left with a selfless, humanitarian act, but to what end?  In the final analysis, we can appreciate the effort, but why does it matter ultimately?

This is one example among many methods of communication that can be given.  When presenting the Gospel, we have an obligation to make known the whole truth.  While experiences and outcomes are nice to understand, we should not end there.  Comfort and healing of soul does not come from the outward application of biblical principles.  That comes from believing on God’s promises in Christ Jesus.  In trusting the finality of a full atonement, we rest in the work completely accomplished for each of us.  He died for me, therefore all He gives is mine as well.

Many will say that because we believed once in the the saving work of Christ, we are free to pursue the upward life by through our efforts if we but have enough faith.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While freed from the law of sin and death, believers carry within them the old man that must be put to death daily.  Only by daily reliance on Christ, on the sure Word of God delivered to us, can the walk of faith be taken much less finished.  The endless appeal to relationships and emotions will produce growth that will wither and die, either through lack of depth or the heat of outward pressure.  Rather than settle for the “feels,” long for and cling to the pure milk of the Word by which you grow and might be part of a crop that produces thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Trying Too Hard?

Miguel Ruiz has posted a nice piece entitled “10 Signs a Church May Be Trying Too Hard to Be Hipster.”  Those ten points are:
  1. Trendy names.
  2. No visible leadership over 40.
  3. God is apparently doing everything (and endorses every leadership decision).
  4. Overactive social media presence.
  5. It sounds just like the radio.  Really, JUST like it.
  6. Everything is really, really, ridiculously real.
  7. Everything is super casual.
  8. Endless cycles of catchphrases, buzzwords, and clichés.
  9. They are unlike any other church in your area.
  10. Their leaders are more spiritual than yours.
The post was written from a confessional Lutheran perspective, but the points made are relevant across denominations.  American Christianity needs to get over its fascination with all things trendy.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Tuesday Night Activities

Over at The Federalist, Cheryl Magness has offered some tips on what to do tomorrow night instead of watching the election returns:
  1. Have Some Friends Over and Sing Together
  2. Read the Constitution
  3. Make It Movie Night
  4. Have a Game Night
  5. Invite Your Neighbors Over for a Potluck
  6. Restore Your Soul
  7. Do Something Kind for Someone
  8. Teach Your Kids American Classics8. Teach Your Kids American Classics
  9. Read Your Bible
  10. Pray
She gets no argument from me.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

The Church Fathers, 11th century

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  (Rom 12:1)

Paul pleads with them through the mercy of God, by which the human race is saved…. This is a warning that they should remember that they have received God’s mercy and that they should take care to worship the one who gave it to them.  God’s will is our sanctification, for bodies subject to sin are considered not to be alive but dead, since they have no hope of obtaining the promise of eternal life.  It is for this purpose that we are cleansed from our sins by God’s gift, that henceforth we should lead a pure life and stir up the love of God in us, not making his work of grace of no effect.  For the ancients killed sacrifices which were offered in order to signify that men were subjected to death because of sin.  But now, since by the gift of God men have been purified and set free from the second death, they must offer a living sacrifice as a sign of eternal life.  For now it is no longer the case that bodies are sacrificed for bodies, but instead of bodies it is the sins of the body which must be put to death.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles

Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good.  (Rom 12:9)

I think that any love without God is artificial and not genuine.  For God, the Creator of the soul, filled it with the feeling of love, along with the other virtues, so that it might love God and the things which God wants.  But if the soul loves something other than God and what God wants, this love is said to be artificial and invented.  And if someone loves his neighbor but does not warn him when he sees him going astray or correct him, such is only a pretense of love.

Perhaps it seems odd to find hatred listed among the virtues, but it is put here of necessity by the apostle.  Nobody doubts that the soul has feelings of hatred in it; however, it is praiseworthy to hate evil and to hate sin.  For unless a person hates evil he cannot love, nor can he retain the virtues.

Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Reforming Modern Worship

Jonathan Aigner has written a good piece: “95 Theses for the Modern Church’s Door.”  As the title suggests, he mimics Martin Luther’s theses as debate points to address the abuses brought into the Church through modern worship.  These points are not for the faint of heart.  I found the following points particularly scathing but accurate:
  1. Just as pornography creates attraction through empty promises of fulfillment, so does commercial worship, especially through the music of the worship industry.
  2. The fulfillment is never found in the art itself, but in the truth the art represents.
  3. Such pornographic worship is fundamentally idolatry.
  4. Worship that seeks personal fulfillment, release, or refreshment is a masturbatory act.
Yes, he went there—and rightfully so.

Read the points Aigner makes, and as you do, consider not how megachurches compare but how your own local assembly compares.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

David bringing the ark into Jerusalem
 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.  And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.… And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”  So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David.  But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.  And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.  And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.”  So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.  (2 Sam 6:5-12)

Today, without any covering, and with unveiled face, we see, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, and the majesty of the divine ark itself.  Today, the most holy assembly, bearing upon its shoulders the heavenly joy that was for generations expected, imparts it to the race of man.  “Old things are passed away”—things new burst forth into flowers, and such as fade not away.  No longer does the stern decree of the law bear sway, but the grace of the Lord reigns, drawing all men to itself by saving long-suffering.  No second time is an Uzzah invisibly punished, for daring to touch what may not be touched; for God Himself invites, and who will stand hesitating with fear?  He says: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden.”  Who, then, will not run to Him?  Let no Jew contradict the truth, looking at the type which went before the house of Obed-edom.  The Lord has “manifestly come to His own.”  And sitting on a living and not inanimate ark, as upon the mercy-seat, He comes forth in solemn procession upon the earth.

Methodius, Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna, 1

And David danced before the Lᴏʀᴅ with all his might.  And David was wearing a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lᴏʀᴅ with shouting and with the sound of the horn.  (2 Sam 6:14-15)

Today, holy David rejoices with great joy, being by babes despoiled of his lyre, with whom also, in spirit, leading the dance, and rejoicing together, as of old, before the ark of God, he mingles musical harmony, and sweetly lisps out in stammering voice, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ.”  Of whom shall we inquire?  Tell us, O prophet, who is this that comes in the name of the Lord?  He will say it is not my part today to teach you, for He has consecrated the school to infants, who has out of the mouth of babes and sucklings perfected praise to destroy the enemy and the avenger, in order that by the miracle of these the hearts of the fathers might be turned to the children, and the disobedient unto the wisdom of the just.

Methodius, Oration on the Psalms 2

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Better? You’re Actually Worse!

One of the harshest methods to deliver condemnation is to place the guilty party in an equal relationship—even a familial relationship—with others deemed worse by that guilty party.  Through the prophet Ezekiel, God roundly condemns Judah for its sins.
Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: “Like mother, like daughter!”  You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.  Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters.  (Ez 16:44-46)
What a scathing rebuke!  Judah, which prided itself on being the more faithful of God’s elect when the kingdom was divided, referred to as the offspring of pagan Canaanites with siblings of religiously, ethnically syncretic Samaria and proud, self-centered Sodom.  Such a comparison would have raised hackles on the self-righteous spiritual leaders.  One could almost hear voices responding in retaliation, “How dare we be put in league with those vermin.  We do not enter into their vile practices.”  True, they may not have performed the same actions, but the Lord had some devastating news for them.
You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.  As I live, says the Lord God, neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done.… Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done.  (Ez 16:47-48, 51)
Judah, who thought itself so good and honored for continuing as an elect people, was assured recompense for their covenant-breaking ways.  They who had the Law and the Prophets depraved themselves to an extent that made Samaria’s and Sodom’s grievous sins look like they had merely been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  Despite the nation’s erring ways, God would show Himself faithful and gracious by committing to restore His people.  Those who had once spurned His commands and promises would enter into an eternal covenant established in the atoning work of the Almighty and no one else (Ez 16:60, 63).

Beyond the wonderful news to His ancient people, God also promises something new to Samaria and Sodom: these nations would have a new relationship with regards to the covenant.  Instead of running together with Judah into escapades of tomfoolery or depravity as siblings are wont, these two will be daughters receiving instruction and nurture in accord with godly practice (Ez 16:61).  No longer rushing into sin, they will remember their shame and in gratitude build up each other in righteousness because of what great things the Lord has done.  Jew and Gentile alike will be united into one family of God, receiving His righteousness so freely poured out in lavish grace.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Asaph and Election 2016

 I do not often post something political, but as I was reading Psalm 73, I could not but help seeing parallels to the current election cycle.  Many are swayed by the carefully crafted rhetoric, while others are emboldened to continue in their ways.  We should be as Asaph who looks at his situation objectively and spiritually:
Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  (Ps 73:1-3)
Notice that Asaph starts with God’s goodness to those living by faith, but he recognizes his temptation to follow after the arrogant and wicked because of what they had and were able to accomplish.  In order to set matters in perspective, he lays out who and what the wicked are about.
For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.  (Ps 73:4-12)
Do these words remind you of anyone running for public office?  Regardless of political party or leaning, narratives will be written to disguise or excuse wickedness for the sake of a greater good.  Brethren, we can be, and should be, politically engaged, but we need to go into any election remembering that the rhetoric is designed to influence us in specific areas of life.  Be mindful so that you will not stumble and slip.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ezekiel 13 for the 21st Century

Steven Furtick
The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to me:  “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ!’  Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!  Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel.  You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lᴏʀᴅ.  They have seen false visions and lying divinations.
Brian Houston
They say, ‘Declares the Lᴏʀᴅ,’ when the Lᴏʀᴅ has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.  Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lᴏʀᴅ,’ although I have not spoken?”

Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ God.  My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations.  They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ God.  Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall!
Andy Stanley
There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out.  And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’  Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end.  And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare.  When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord.  Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ God.

Beth Moore
And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts.  Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls!
Ann Voskamp
Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive?  You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.
Jennie Allen
Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds.  Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ.  Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination.  I will deliver my people out of your hand.  And you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Unworthy Worthiness

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  (1 Cor 11:27-28)

I have known many Christians who have refrained from the Lord’s Supper because they felt they were not in the right place relationally with the Lord to partake.  If pressed for a reason, they would give vague answers about some recent sin (though it was confessed) or a general malaise about their spiritual condition (not sufficiently attentive to the disciplines, for instance).  In a word, they felt unworthy before the Lord and did not want to eat and drink judgment on themselves.

While such thinking has good intentions, taken to its logical conclusion, nobody should participate, because none are worthy.  Every believer works through the ebb and flow of the old nature as it works in us.  The apostle Paul did not recount the conflict between the law of God and law of sin (Rom 7:21-23) because he was the ultimate overcomer—just the opposite.  The fight is real for all who are alive to God.  And we fail.  If we are all unworthy, how can we come to the meal, which must be eaten worthily?

Look at the situation in Corinth when the epistle was written.  As the body of Christ assembled together, there was division, hunger, drunkenness, and general chaos.  They considered themselves worthy to come together.  The consequence of this attitude was that each person and group served himself rather than allowing the Lord to serve them through His gifts.  Paul pointed out that their attitude garnered God’s judgment and discipline.  The solution came in understanding through examination that they were unworthy in themselves but were made worthy solely by righteousness freely imputed to us through our Lord Jesus.  He has called us into His body to His glory: we add nothing.

Such a paradox—only the unworthy are worthy—but that is the way of our great God, who chooses the foolish, weak, and lowly things of this world
so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God.  And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  (1 Cor 1:29-31)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt 28:18-20)

Sending of the Twelve by Duccio
Christ Jesus our Lord (may He bear with me a moment in thus expressing myself!), whosoever He is, of what God soever He is the Son, of what substance soever He is man and God, of what faith soever He is the teacher, of what reward soever He is the Promiser, did, while He lived on earth, Himself declare what He was, what He had been, what the Father’s will was which He was administering, what the duty of man was which He was prescribing.  And this declaration He made, either openly to the people, or privately to His disciples, of whom He had chosen the twelve chief ones to be at His side, and whom He destined to be the teachers of the nations.  Accordingly, after one of these had been struck off, He commanded the eleven others, on His departure to the Father, to “go and teach all nations, who were to be baptized into the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Ghost.”  Immediately, therefore, so did the apostles, whom this designation indicates as “the sent.” … And after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea, and founding churches, they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations.  They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches.  Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches.  Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification.  Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, founded by the apostles, from which they all spring.  In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in unbroken unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality,—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.

Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics XX