Friday, July 21, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” … Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Mt 13:24–30, 36–43)

Though we have already, in previous sections, according to our ability discussed these matters, none the less shall we now say what is in harmony with them, even if there is reasonable ground for another explanation. And consider now, if in addition to what we have already recounted, you can otherwise take the good seed to be the children of the kingdom, because whatsoever good things are sown in the human soul, these are the offspring of the kingdom of God and have been sown by God the Word who was in the beginning with God, so that wholesome words about anything are children of the kingdom. But while men are asleep who do not act according to the command of Jesus, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation,” the devil on the watch sows what are called tares over and among what are called by some natural conceptions, even the good seeds which are from the Word. And according to this the whole world might be called a field, and not the Church of God only, for in the whole world the Son of man sowed the good seed, but the wicked one tares, which, springing from wickedness, are children of the evil one. And at the end of things, which is called “the consummation of the age,” there will of necessity be a harvest, in order that the angels of God who have been appointed for this work may gather up the bad opinions that have grown upon the soul, and overturning them may give them over to fire which is said to burn, that they may be consumed. And so the angels and servants of the Word will gather from all the kingdom of Christ all things that cause a stumbling-block to souls and reasonings that create iniquity, which they will scatter and cast into the burning furnace of fire. Then those who become conscious that they have received the seeds of the evil one in themselves, because of their having been asleep, shall wail and, as it were, be angry against themselves; for this is the “gnashing of teeth.” Therefore, also, in the Psalms it is said, “They gnashed upon me with their teeth.” Then above all “shall the righteous shine,” no longer differently as at the first, but all “as one sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Then, as if to indicate that there was indeed a hidden meaning, perhaps, in all that is concerned with the explanation of the parable, perhaps most of all in the saying, “Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” the Savior adds, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear,” thereby teaching those who think that in the exposition, the parable has been set forth with such perfect clearness that it can be understood by the commoner, that even the things connected with the interpretation of the parable stand in need of explanation.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.2

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jealous for a Reason

Poussin, “Adoration of the Golden Calf”
For I am the Lord your God, a jealous God. (Ex 20:5 LXX)

Every married woman is either under her husband and subject to the rules of her husband, or she is a whore and uses her freedom to sin. The man who goes in to a prostitute knows that he has gone in to one who lies down and open for all; therefore he cannot become angry with the others. The man who practices a legitimate marriage does not permit his wife to sin but is full of jealousy to preserve the chastity of his marriage so that he can become a legitimate father. Thus every soul is either prostituted to demons and has many lovers to go in to it—sometimes the spirit of fornication, some times the spirit of greed, and after these come the spirit of pride and many others—but one spirit does not envy another nor is it moved to jealousy, but they invite each other to take turns. However, if that soul has been joined to a lawful Husband—that is, to Christ—even if it once was a sinner, He no longer suffers it to sin.

Origen, Homilies on Exodus VIII.5

Friday, July 14, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

You have visited the earth, and saturated it;
    You have abundantly enriched it.
The river of God is filled with water;
    You have prepared their food,
    for thus is the preparation of it.
Saturate her furrows,
    multiply her fruits;
the crop springing up
    shall rejoice in its drops.
You will bless the crown of the year because of Your goodness;
    and Your plains shall be filled with fatness.
The mountains of the wilderness shall be enriched;
    and the hills shall gird themselves with joy.
The rams of the flock are clothed with wool,
    and the valleys shall abound in grain;
    they shall cry aloud; yes, they shall sing hymns. (Ps 65:9–13 LXX)

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mt 13:3–9)

With the emergence of this bounty, the former wilderness will yield fruit in due season. The hills stained with the demons’ sacrifices will welcome those who sing to the Lord constantly and embrace the angelic way of life, and will become the center of admiration of all eyes. Now events bear out these words: we see everyone making their way to those occupying the pinnacles and practicing the exalted virtue. The prophet Ezekiel also called the rams of flocks powerful, but accused them of consuming the good pasture and trampling underfoot the rest, of drinking the pure water and stirring up the rest with their feet.* Here, on the other hand, he forecasts good things even for them: he says they will be clad and clothed; the nature of the clothing the divinely inspired Paul mentions, “All you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,”† he says. In other words, since Christ the Lord chose those who were originally fishermen, artisans, and people living in poverty, the grace of the Spirit prophecies the salvation of both rich and powerful. Hence, … not only the other sheep but also the very rams present themselves for the baptism of salvation. Those whose lot is poverty and who have chosen to practice piety will offer God their particular fruit, one thirtyfold, one sixtyfold, one a hundredfold. All the aforementioned will praise God with complete enthusiasm for bestowing upon human nature such a wonderful transformation.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 65.9

* Ezekiel 34:17–19
† Galatians 3:27

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What's Natural for You

I remember a product from my youth that ran commercials reminding us that “natural means what’s natural for you.” While the slogan might be useful to advertise a dietary supplement, social progressives are using the same philosophy to promote alternate lifestyles. Postmodern thought has so infiltrated humanity that we are now believing, practicing, and crusading for any number of social constructs having no objective basis but are deemed appropriate because individuals have decided they should be. In an increasing effort to eliminate differences and level societal patterns, an individual can have any belief system whatsoever. The current trend is the enablement and promotion of gender fluidity. No longer content to remain content with binary constructs, individuals are seeking to assign themselves other designations with which they have affinity. The only acceptable caveat, then, is that the belief cannot interfere with the collective belief system for that cultural group. While the intent to have a society and culture that allows individuality and equality seems laudable, attempts to deconstruct natural phenomena leads to chaos, not contentment.

The physical world functions steadily according to a definite set of parameters. Every person born into that world has preset DNA and chromosome characteristics inherited from a man and woman, again according to preexisting physical parameters and functions. In addition, each person learns to interact with like beings in relationships defined by type: family, gender, locale, etc. Eventually, we interact with objects and nonhuman beings so as to understand strengths, weaknesses, limits, and dangers for our general welfare and that of others. The one constant in these interactions is the nature of the world: everything operates according to its design and function. True, there is variety within design and function, however the physical limitations prevent us from operating outside those parameters. Knowledge and experience of these designs and functions allows individuals and societal groups to continue, grow, and aspire to workable goals.

When we attempt to change the operation of either design or function, we lose the ability to interact and function. Postmodernism makes such an attempt by espousing deconstruction of norms in order to allow societal shifts. Consider this portion of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass as Alice tries to understand Humpty Dumpty’s use of a word:

Humpty Dumpty and Alice
    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

This instructive interchange helps to illuminate the fundamental question: Is the standard derived from the established construct or societal, even personal, use? While deconstruction attempts to level the societal norms, the logical progression has been to elevate individual desires above the societal and force acceptance via the postmodern method, effectively deconstructing deconstructionism. As long as an overarching semblance of cohesion exists among individuals, society can continue, however, the inevitable result of this trend will be a chaotic amalgam akin to that described by Arnobius of Sicca (c. 255–330 AD):
All these various opinions cannot be true, but it is not possible to discover on which side is the error, so powerfully is each sustained by argument. And yet not only do these opinions differ from each other, but they are self-contradictory. Such would not be the case if human curiosity could attain to anything certain, or if after having, as it is believed, discovered anything certain, it could obtain universal assent to it. It is the height of presumption to pretend to possess any certainty or to aspire to it, since truth itself can be refuted, or that may be accepted as real, which has no existence, as in cases of mental hallucination. (Against the Pagans, II.57)
Twelve hundred years later, the Lutheran reformers would similarly point out the self-contradiction of the celibacy of priests being promulgated by the Church of Rome.
Therefore it is ridiculous for the adversaries to prate that marriage was commanded in the beginning, but is not now. This is the same as if they would say: Formerly, when men were born, they brought with them sex; now they do not. Formerly, when they were born, they brought with them natural right; now they do not. No craftsman could produce anything more crafty than these absurdities, which were devised to elude a right of nature. (Augsburg Confession, Apology XXIII.10)
Yet, this self-contradiction is the state of that collective mindset which currently seeks to redefine definitions and relationships solely from selfishness and pride. Once understood for mutual edification, intimate relational bonds have been sexualized and individualized, devaluing and destroying their natural place and function. Family units built on a natural attraction of man and woman with the desire for offspring has dissolved into any group that desires to be together—again ultimately for selfish ends. Children, once the natural desire and outcome of a committed man and woman, are prevented from occurring or killed, when deemed necessary, for the good of the adults. And while these fall within the realm of natural phenomena, adults and children now are eschewing established gender definitions to be known according to self-defined terms; or they are refusing their natural physiology by seeking out means to live as the opposite gender. This mindset has focused on what might feed the basest of personal desires without consequence, albeit in an increasingly bizarre manner. Whereas ancient or primitive cultures may have allowed concubines or polygamy to satisfy desire, the current impetus appears to be self-determination, even self-deification. In essence they are saying, “I am god of my body: nature be damned.”

Those seeking to fulfill their desires through unnatural means are doomed to failure. While the pleasure or satisfaction may last for a time, detrimental consequences are inevitable. Long-term participation in unnatural sexual activities has been directly linked to the increased transmission of specific bacteria and viruses. As the degree of deviancy increases, so does the severity of the health concern (HIV, Hepatitis, and a disproportionate increase in STD among same-sex couples); finally, attempts to change gender through pharmaceutical and surgical means carries both the short-term risk of these procedures, but also the unknown and unpredicted long-term effects. If this was not enough, the mindset that these unions are intended solely for personal pleasure brings with it the need to prevent the natural outcome of childbirth. Pregnancy prevention has been problematic as medical solutions have led to unexpected health concerns and complications when children were later desired. Coupled with this is the yet ongoing practice of aborting unwanted children. The result has been a gradual depopulation of American society. By giving way to our basest desires, we are slowly bringing about our demise.

So What Exactly Is Natural for You?

I have spoken of a natural order of things as made manifest by observable phenomena, inferences, and deduction; and this order, with its manifestations, is in accord with the opening chapters of Genesis. Therein, God is described as the Creator of an ordered and systematic world with caretakers given specific duties and mandates for that creation. And all of this He considered very good (Ge 1:31). Only after Adam rebelled do we see corruption enter in. Generation after generation pursued greater degrees of decadence and abomination in a continual cycle of self-destruction, yet God held His creation together as a continual witness that He was present (Ro 1:19–20).

Yet mankind distorted what was natural, seeking to chase after lust rather than the Creator. To this attitude Cyril of Jerusalem had poignant remarks:
There is nothing polluted in the human frame except a man defile this with fornication and adultery. He who formed Adam formed Eve also, and male and female were formed by God’s hands. None of the members of the body as formed from the beginning is polluted. Let the mouths of all heretics be stopped who slander their bodies, or rather Him who formed them. (Catechetical Lectures XII.26)
What our Lord had intended for our good, derived through natural means, was and is being subverted and polluted, yet it remains as a reminder that the vehicle which humanity is using to its own ruin still remains as a testament to His faithfulness. Teachers pollute and slander what our God gave us in these beautifully made bodies; yet, what is being demeaned, devalued, and deconstructed into a new reality is still the very thing our Lord uses to show Himself.

In our natural state, we were to take care of the world and be in communion with God. We failed, and continue to fail, miserably. Only by the work of Jesus, the Christ and Son of God, to pay for our sin and we might be made righteous. In one sense, things go on as they are with our sin working against us and God. Yet, in another sense, there is for those baptized into Christ, an anticipated new natural in the final resurrection with the new heavens and new earth.

Monday, July 10, 2017

We Should Love God

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1Jo 4:10)

For example, the love of God includes a consideration of God’s goodness and mercy, the remembrance of bodily and spiritual benefits, a consideration of the promises of the life to come, obedience due to God, etc. We should love God: (a) Because He is the greatest good. (b) Because He is the perfect [αὐτoτελές] good, the greatest beauty, the greatest treasure, the greatest wisdom. (c) Because He first loved us. (d) Because we become joined together with God through love. (e) Because the most direct road to a salutary and practical knowledge of God is love for Him. (f ) Because God alone can fulfill the desire of the soul. (g) Because God, loving and being loved, gives people blessedness. (h) Because God avows Himself to be our Bridegroom, etc.

Johann Gerhard, On the Law

Friday, July 7, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Mt 11:25–28)

Jesus praises and glorifies the Father, who had foreseen the entire trajectory of the Word first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Our Lord here gives thanks to his Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, for his mission in becoming incarnate in the form of a servant. He speaks about the Father's good pleasure now to hide this mystery about himself from Israel, which might be expected to be wise, and to reveal it to the Gentiles, who were until now without understanding. It is thereby demonstrated that God did not forget to fulfill his purpose, nor did Christ's coming fail in its appointed end. These things indeed have happened, God knowing them beforehand and having commanded beforehand the repentance of grace. The justice of God's good pleasure is here passed over in silence, but elsewhere it is clearly displayed. God's good will is not irrational. People do not fail to attain knowledge and wisdom about it for any reason other than their own deficiencies.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew

He employs the phrase “I confess you” in accordance with human custom. Instead of saying “I acknowledge you,” he brings in the phrase “I glorify you.”* For it is customary in the divinely inspired Scripture for the word confession to be taken in some such a sense. It is written, “Let the people give thanks,” Lord, “to Your great name, because it is formidable and holy.”† And again, “I will give thanks to You, Lord, with all my heart.”‡

But those who are perverted in mind say, “Look here, if He renders thanks to the Father, how then is He not less than the Father?” To this objection one who knows how to guard the doctrines of truth might say, “My good man, what prevents the consubstantial Son from accepting and praising his own Father, who through him saves what is under heaven? If you believe because of this confession that He is in a lesser position than the Father, look also at what comes next. Jesus acknowledges and calls His Father Lord of heaven and earth. For He confesses Him as ‘Lord of heaven and earth’ and at the same time He calls upon Him as ‘Father.’ But the Son of God who is ruler of all is in every way with Him the Lord and Master of all, not as one worse or differing in substance, but as God from God. He is crowned with equal renown, having substantially with Him equality in everything whatsoever.”

Cyril of Alexandria,  Fragment 145

*  Cyril indicates that exomologeisthai is here used not in its normal sense of “to confess, admit, acknowledge” but in the sense of “to glorify.”
†  Psalm 99:3
‡  Psalm 9:1 ; 111:1

Thursday, July 6, 2017

They Walk among Us

Five years ago I passed along a post from Bill Muehlenberg about modern Marcionism and its dangers to the Church. The dangers of Marcionite thinking is both dangerous and popular as noted in a current post wherein Carl Trueman warns against aspects of this heresy: unbalanced emphasis of God’s love, disregard for the Old Testament, and neglect of sound doctrine in music. He is on target here. Like its cousin heresy, Gnosticism, this ancient teaching is as difficult to kill as the mythological multi-headed Hydra: as soon as a head is cut off two more grow in its place. As a result, they both have lasted for centuries.

The appeal of Marcionism is its emphasis on newness. Allegedly, by loosing the bindings of past teaching and forms, a new, fresh approach is brought to the Church to invigorate stagnancy. However, the truth is that the traditions of our fathers are what secures the Church to the “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). To throw off supposed restraints leaves one adrift in a sea of opinion. Trueman’s concluding warning is apropos:
Think truncated thoughts about God and you'll get a truncated God; read an expurgated Bible and you get an expurgated theology; sing mindless, superficial rubbish instead of deep, truly emotional praise and you will eventually become what you sing.
Whichever head of Marcionism may be raised, the solution is the same: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2Th 2:15).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Elijah Prayed

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lᴏʀᴅ God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” … And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.” … Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And seven times he said, “Go again.” Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” So he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’” Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. (1Ki 17:1; 18:1, 41–45)

Elijah goes up to the top of Mount Carmel in order to ask for rain, even though he knows that Solomon had mentioned the rain in his prayer for the people* and the Lord had promised him that He would have given rain to those who prayed to Him inside the temple of Jerusalem. Therefore Elijah prayed, so that they might see the miracle, because many of them still had not realized that the famine that overwhelmed them had been sent by the Lord through Elijah, who had prayed to Him. In order that the word might confirm that Elijah had bound the heavens and now opened them, it was necessary that the people saw the prophet kneeling down in prayer, in the act of causing the rain to calm down through his prayer.

Ephrem the Syrian, On the First Book of Kings 18.42

* 1 Kings 8:35–36

Friday, June 30, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Rembrandt, “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem”
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! The Lᴏʀᴅ do so; the Lᴏʀᴅ perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring back the vessels of the Lᴏʀᴅ’s house and all who were carried away captive, from Babylon to this place. Nevertheless hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms—of war and disaster and pestilence. As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lᴏʀᴅ has truly sent.” (Je 28:5–9)

Jeremiah could have said to Hananiah, “You speak falsely, and you are deceiving the people. You are not a prophet but a  false prophet.” But if he had said that, the false prophet could have said the same things in return to Jeremiah. Therefore Jeremiah avoids causing insult and speaks to him as if he were a prophet. “Not only are you and I prophets,” he says, “but before us there were many other prophets, such as Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and others. They prophesied against many countries and against not small kingdoms but great ones, announcing to them war, adversity, and the deprivation of all things. there were others, of course, who promised peace and prosperity. But the truth of each message is confirmed not by the adulation that accompanies the lie but by the outcome of the events.” Thus, through the examples of others, Jeremiah speaks about himself and about Hananiah, asserting that the truthfulness of a prophet is shown when the final outcome of events has come to pass. The Lord also said this same thing through Moses: that a prophet is proven by the end result of his prophecy.*

Jerome, Commentary on Jeremiah

* Deuteronomy 18:21–22

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

By Feeling or Hearing?

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8)

Here is the conclusion of the whole matter. “If,” says He, “you know not how to explain the motion nor the path of this wind which you perceive by hearing and touch, why are you over-anxious about the working of the Divine Spirit, when you understand not that of the wind, though you hear its voice?” The expression, “blows where it wishes,” is also used to establish the power of the Comforter; for if none can hold the wind, but it moves where it wishes, much less will the laws of nature, or limits of bodily generation, or anything of the like kind, be able to restrain the operations of the Spirit.

That the expression, “you hear its voice,” is used respecting the wind, is clear from this circumstance; He would not, when conversing with an unbeliever and one unacquainted with the operation of the Spirit, have said, “You hear its voice.” As then the wind is not visible, although it utters a sound, so neither is the birth of that which is spiritual visible to our bodily eyes; yet the wind is a body, although a very subtle one; for whatever is the object of sense is body. If then you do not complain because you cannot see this body, and do not on this account disbelieve, why do you, when you hear of “the Spirit,” hesitate and demand such exact accounts, although you act not so in the case of a body?

John Chrysostom, Homily on John 26.2

Jesus uses the picture of wind to teach about the Holy Spirit. (In Greek, there is one word that is translated either “wind” or “spirit”.) You cannot see the wind. You see what the wind does to the leaves or the dust and your newly washed car. You can also feel the wind. But Jesus doesn’t mention feeling or seeing. Instead, He says, “You hear its sound.” You know the wind is blowing because you hear it. Jesus, remember, is teaching about the Holy Spirit. How do you know where the Holy Spirit is? How do we know if the Holy Spirit is at work? You hear His sound. The Holy Spirit is heard, not felt. The Holy Spirit doesn’t tickle us; He talks to us.

The presence of the Holy Spirit and the evidence of His work is not detected by feeling, but by hearing. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (see Ephesians 6:17). The Bible never commands us to feel the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to listen to the Word. The Scriptures are inspired by the Spirit, not our feelings (see 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–21).

Bryan Wolfmueller, Has American Christianity Failed?, p. 122–3

Friday, June 23, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Pentecost

“Jeremiah” by Michelangelo

You have deceived me, O Lord, and I have been deceived.
     You have been strong, and have prevailed.

I have become a  laughing stock,
    I am continually mocked every day.
For I will laugh with my bitter speech,
    I will call upon rebellion and misery;
for the word of the Lord has become a reproach to me
    and a mockery all my days.
Then I said, “I will by no means name the name of the Lord,
    and I will no longer speak in His name.”
But it was a burning fire
    flaming in my bones,
and I am utterly weakened on all sides,
    and cannot bear up.
For I have heard the reproach
    of many gathering round, saying,
“Conspire, and let us conspire together against him,
    even all his friends.
Watch his intentions,
    if perhaps he shall be deceived,
and we shall prevail against him,
    and we shall be avenged on him.” (Je 20:7–10 LXX)

Prophets are like healers of souls, and they are always occupied wherever there are those who need treatment. For, those who are well have no need of a physician; but those who are sick, but what healers suffer by unbridled sick people this also Prophets and teachers suffer from those who do not want to be treated. For thence they are hated, as are those who prescribe against the choice of the wishes of sick people, as are those who restrain those who want to live licentiously and to pursue pleasures in their diseases, who do not want to take what is appropriate for the diseases. Thus the unbridled people among sick people flee from healers, often after they have blasphemed and abused them and done every sort of thing which an enemy would do to an enemy. For they forget, when they look on the agony of his way of life, on the agony of the impact from the knife of surgeons, not on the objective beyond the pain, that healers come as friends, and they hate healers as fathers only of pains which bring to well-being those who are healed.

That people then was sick; there were all kinds of diseases among those who had the name of the people of God. God sent to them the prophets as healers. One of the healers was Jeremiah. He reproved the sinners since He wanted those who do evil to return, yet though needing to hear what was said they accused the prophet and they accused before judges similar to themselves. And always the prophet was judged by those who, with respect to his prophecy, had been cured but were not cured because of their own disobedience. It is due to them that he says,
And I said, “I will no longer speak nor name the name of the Lord.” But it happened as a burning fire flaming in my bones, and I am weakened on all sides, and I cannot bear it.
Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 14.1–2

 But the Lord was with me as a mighty man of war;
    therefore they persecuted me, but could not perceive anything against me.
They were greatly confounded, for they did not perceive their disgrace,
    which shall never be forgotten.
O Lord, You who tests the righteous,
    and who understands the mind and heart,
let me see Your vengeance upon them:
    for to You I have revealed my cause.
Sing to the Lord,
    sing praises to Him:
for He has rescued the soul of the poor
    from the hand of evildoers. (Je 20:11–13 LXX)

But Jeremiah said concerning those who conspired: And the Lord is with me truly as a mighty man of war. If we become the sort of persons we need to be and we receive for our sins that fire which comes just as it came to Jeremiah and to similar persons, the Lord becomes after these events with us truly a mighty man of war. And because of this they persecuted and could not comprehend, for the Lord was with the persecuted one, and the persecuted one could not be made subject to them. Perhaps then, as many things of Jeremiah refer to the Savior, can this not also be such? For You conspire and let us conspire against him, is said also regarding the Savior, and the Lord was with them truly as a mighty man of war. That is why they, the Jews, the ones who persecuted Him, persecuted, and could not comprehend; they were greatly confounded and did not comprehend their own dishonor. They who are dishonored in such a time do not speak of their sins, which down through the ages will not be forgotten, but they suppose that their transgressions will be forgotten in this age. But let us realize that down through the ages their transgressions will not be forgotten, and when we realize this, let us recall the statement, Do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, how much more will He not spare those who are contrary to the natural? [Ro 11:21–22]

Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 20.5

Friday, June 16, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Mt 9:35–38)

No instigator had stirred up the crowds. They were not harassed and helpless because of some mishap or disturbance. So why is Jesus so moved with compassion for these people? Clearly the Lord has pity on these people held in the sway of an unclean spirit and burdened by the law, because no shepherd was about to restore to them the guardianship of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of this gift was indeed potentially abundant but not yet harvested by anyone. The bounty of the Spirit overwhelms the multitude of those who take hold of it. For no matter how much it is gathered by everyone, it abounds in fruitfulness. And because it is good to have many people through whom he is served, he orders his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth as many laborers as possible into the harvest. He prays that God may bestow an abundance of reapers to take hold of what the gift of the Holy Spirit was preparing. Through prayer and exhortation, God pours out this gift upon us.

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew 10.2

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Relying on Human Traditions

For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Mt 24:28)
Although we supposed that the adversaries would defend human traditions on other grounds, yet we did not think that this would come to pass, namely, that they would condemn this article: that we do not merit the remission of sins or grace by the observance of human traditions. Since, therefore, this article has been condemned, we have an easy and plain case. The adversaries are now openly Judaizing, are openly suppressing the Gospel by the doctrines of demons. For Scripture calls traditions doctrines of demons, when it is taught that religious rites are serviceable to merit the remission of sins and grace. For they are then obscuring the Gospel, the benefit of Christ, and the righteousness of faith. The Gospel teaches that by faith we receive freely, for Christ's sake, the remission of sins and are reconciled to God. The adversaries, on the other hand, appoint another mediator, namely, these traditions. On account of these they wish to acquire remission of sins; on account of these they wish to appease God's wrath. But Christ clearly says, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt 15:9).

We have above discussed at length that men are justified by faith when they believe that they have a reconciled God, not because of our works, but gratuitously, for Christ's sake. It is certain that this is the doctrine of the Gospel, because Paul clearly teaches, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works” (Ep 2:8–9). Now these men say that men merit the remission of sins by these human observances. What else is this than to appoint another justifier, a mediator other than Christ? Paul says to the Galatians, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law” (Ga 5:4:); i.e., if you hold that by the observance of the Law you merit to be accounted righteous before God, Christ will profit you nothing; for what need of Christ have those who hold that they are righteous by their own observance of the Law? God has set forth Christ with the promise that on account of this Mediator, and not on account of our righteousness, He wishes to be propitious to us. But these men hold that God is reconciled and propitious because of the traditions, and not because of Christ. Therefore they take away from Christ the honor of Mediator.

Augsberg Confession, Apology XV.3–9

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pull the Plug on CCM

Taylor Huckabee has written an interesting piece at The Week entitled Who killed the contemporary Christian music industry? He examines the rise, crest, and decline of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) over the past decades. Having seen the reported phenomenon myself, I agree with his overall assessment of CCM as a waning presence within the music industry.

I found one point to be quite telling:
The CCM industry began relying on sure bets, and the surest bet of all was what's broadly known as “worship music” — songs people sing at church. Initially fueled by musicians like Chris Tomlin and Sonic Flood, worship has since become CCM’s primary export — a fact worship-focused bands like Hillsong United have leveraged into playing stadiums around the world.…

The industry has eased into making church music for churches, unable to recapture the ideas that made it such a prominent force in decades past.
And herein lies a major problem. In the attempt to play things safe, what Huckabee describes above as “church music for churches” is generally unfit for church use. CCM songs are little more than bubblegum pop rejections having melodies suitable only for solo voices, feel-good deities, and all the substance and benefit of cotton candy, while voicing a narcissistic, never-ending prayer cycle of “I’m going to…,” “I want to…,” “I will…,” etc. In country music parlance, it would be like getting a steady diet of beer and babes as in Gretchen Wilson’s “I’m Here for the Party” when needing a punch in the gut from something like George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” CCM has lost the grit, angst, and sorrow of sinful human lives that is so prevalent in the Psalms of David. Only in directly facing reality do we comprehend our true condition and need for a Savior.

CCM seeks only to sell product regardless of how lackluster the content may be. Strong measures are needed. You musicians, let that entire industry implode into its inevitable demise and write substantive, biblical lyrics to singable tunes. We will gladly take them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Poor to make Others Rich

So [Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” So she said, “As the Lᴏʀᴅ your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lᴏʀᴅ sends rain on the earth.’” (1 Ki 17:10–14)

Bread for food also failed Elijah, that holy man, had he sought for it; but it seemed not to fail him because he did not seek it. Thus by the daily service of the ravens bread was brought to him in the morning, meat in the evening. Was he any less blessed because he was poor to himself? Certainly not. No, he was the more blessed, for he was rich toward God. It is better to be rich for others than for oneself. He was so, for in the time of famine he asked a widow for food, intending to repay it, so that the bin of flour did not fail for three years and six months, and the oil jar sufficed and served the needy widow for her daily use all that time also.

Ambrose of Milan, On the Duties of the Clergy 2.4.14

While Elijah became poor to make the widow rich, Jesus became poor for the sake of many (2 Co 8:9).
Note for 1 Kings 17:10–11, Orthodox Study Bible

Friday, June 9, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Holy Trinity Sunday

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Mt 28:16–20)

There is then one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no other besides Him, the only true [God]. For “the Lord your God is one Lord.”* And again, “Has not one God created us? Have we not all one Father?”† And there is also one Son, God the Word. For “the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.”‡ And again, “One Lord Jesus Christ.”§ And in another place, “What is His name, or what His Son’s name, that we may know?”‖ And there is also one Paraclete. For “there is also one Spirit,”¶ since “we have been called in one hope of our calling.”** And again, “We have drunk of one Spirit,”†† with what follows. And it is manifest that all these gifts [possessed by believers] “works one and the self-same Spirit.”‡‡ There are not then either three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Paracletes, but one Father, and one Son, and one Paraclete. Therefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” not unto one having three names, nor into three who became incarnate, but into three possessed of equal honor.

Pseudo-Ignatius, Epistle to the Philippians 2

*  Deuteronomy 6:4
†  Malachi 2:10
‡  John 1:18
§  1 Corinthians 8:6
‖  Proverbs 30:4
¶  Ephesians 4:4
** 1 Corinthians 12:13
†† Ephesians 4:4
‡‡ 1 Corinthians 12:11

Friday, June 2, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Pentecost Sunday

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. Then the Lᴏʀᴅ came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.… Then Moses said to [Joshua], “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lᴏʀᴅ’s people were prophets and that the Lᴏʀᴅ would put His Spirit upon them!” (Nu 11:24–25, 29)

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Ac 2:1–4)

This Spirit descended upon the seventy Elders in the days of Moses. (Now let not the length of the discourse, beloved, produce weariness in you: but may He the very subject of our discourse grant strength to every one, both to us who speak, and to you who listen!) This Spirit, as I was saying, came down upon the seventy Elders in the time of Moses; and this I say to you, that I may now prove, that He knows all things, and works as He will. The seventy Elders were chosen; And the Lord came down in a cloud, and took of the Spirit that was upon Moses, and put it upon the seventy Elders; not that the Spirit was divided, but that His grace was distributed in proportion to the vessels, and the capacity of the recipients. Now there were present sixty and eight, and they prophesied; but Eldad and Medad were not present: therefore that it might be shewn that it was not Moses who bestowed the gift, but the Spirit who wrought, Eldad and Medad, who though called, had not as yet presented themselves, also prophesied.

Joshua the Son of Nun, the successor of Moses, was amazed; and came to him and said, “Have you heard that Eldad and Medad are prophesying? They were called, and they came not; my lord Moses, forbid them.” “I cannot forbid them,” he says, “for this grace is from Heaven; no, so far am I from forbidding them, that I myself am thankful for it. I think not, however, that you have said this in envy; are you jealous for my sake, because they prophesy, and you do not yet prophesy? Wait for the proper season; and oh that all the Lord’s people may be prophets, whenever the Lord shall give His Spirit upon them!” saying this also prophetically, whenever the Lord shall give; “For as yet then He has not given it; so thou hast it not yet.”—Did not Abraham have this then, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph? And they of old, did they not have it? No, but the words, “whenever the Lord shall give” evidently mean “give it upon all; as yet indeed the grace is partial, then it shall be given lavishly.” And he secretly alluded to what was to happen among us on the day of Pentecost; for He Himself came down among us.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 6:25–26

Friday, May 26, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday of Easter

From “Maestà” by Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (Jn 17:1–2)

But what is the meaning of “You have given Him power over all flesh”? I will ask the heretics, “When did He receive this power? Was it before He formed them, or after?” He himself says that it was after He had been crucified and had risen again. At least then He said, “All power is given unto Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”* What then? Did He not have authority over His own works? Did He make them and yet not have authority over them after having made them? Yet He is seen doing all in times of old, punishing some as sinners, (for it says, “Surely I will not hide from My servant Abraham, that which I am about to do”)† and honoring others as righteous. Is it that He the power at that time but now had lost it, but He would receive it again? What devil could assert this? But if His power was the same both then and now, (for, He says, “as the Father raises up the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whomever He will,”‡ what is the meaning of the words? He was about to send them to the Gentiles. In order therefore that they might not think that this was an innovation, because He had said, “I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,”§ He shows that this seems good to the Father also.… But what is “of all flesh”? For certainly not all believed. Yet, for His part, all believed. And if men gave no heed to His words, the fault was not in the teacher, but in those who did not receive them.

John Chrysostom Homilies on the Gospel of John 80.1–2

*  Matthew 28:18–19
†  Genesis 18:7 LXX
‡  John 5:21
§  Matthew 15:24

Friday, May 19, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday of Easter

If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:15–17)

He says: I will confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that you may always have Him with you to teach you the truth. He speaks of another Advocate, as of another instructor, a comforter. This is a doctrine for those in dire straits, because the Spirit, through His grace, will make the afflictions inflicted on them by people lighter. And, as a consolation, through His gifts, He will enable them to easily endure their afflictions. This is what actually happened. Indeed, the more His disciples feared death before, the more they rejoiced in tribulations after the descent of the Spirit. He calls Him “Spirit of truth” since He teaches nothing but the truth, nor can He ever change to the contrary in order to teach anything different from the truth. He says “another” in relation to Himself, for while He was among them, He certainly filled the same role for them. In addition they received from the Holy Spirit the confirmation of all those things that He had taught them when He was present. Thus our Lord said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in all Judea and among the Samaritans, and all nations.”

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on John

Monday, May 15, 2017

Profitable Posts

I have not posted miscellaneous links to worthwhile posts and articles for a spell. Here are a few that I have been saving.

Joe Willman reinforces the idea that songs effectively convey a message, whether truth or error, recommending the use of hymns in the home. (This is why I so strongly advocate the greatest discernment for music in corporate worship.)

In the same vein, Jeff Meyer offers his thoughts on who (and what) shapes our worship.

Concerning worship topics, Uri Brito has two posts. The first gives ideas for reintroducing the creeds to our worship where they are missing, and the second deals with the hard work of worship.

Jason Helopoulos, in an older piece recently sent to me, presents the rationale from a Reformed perspective for an element of corporate worship missing in most assemblies—a corporate confession of sin.

Michael Kruger offers a reminder and antidote for those occasions when someone says, “God told me…”

Finally, Michael Horton reminds us why we should pray for our city—and it has nothing to do with political ends.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:12–14)

Plainly now He, being Very God, says that He will accept exceeding readily the prayers of His own people, and will supply right gladly whatever things they desire to receive, meaning of course spiritual gifts and such as are worthy of heavenly generosity. And not as the agent of another’s benevolence, nor yet as promoting another’s kindness, does He say such things—but as, with the Father, having all things in His power; and as Himself being the One through Whom are all things, both from us to God, and to us from Him.… Notwithstanding, it is by the Father through the Son that all good things are accomplished for the worthy, and the distribution of the Divine gifts is made; through the Son, I say, not as accepted in the rank of a servant, as we have already explained, but as conceived to be Co-Giver and Co-Supplier, and moreover as being truly so. For the nature of the Godhead is one, and also is believed so to be. For although it is extended to Father and Son and to the Holy Spirit, yet it has no absolute and entire severance; I mean, into each of the Persons indicated. For we shall be orthodox in believing that the Son is naturally both of the Father and in the Father, and that the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, that is, the Holy Spirit, is both of and in the Father. So then, for as much as the Godhead of Their nature both is and is conceived of as One, Their gifts will be supplied to the worthy through the Son from the Father in the Spirit, and our offerings will be carried to God manifestly through the mediation of the Son: for no one comes unto the Father but through Him, as to be sure He also Himself fully confesses. So then the Son both has become and is the Door and the Way as well of our friendship as of our progress towards God the Father, and the Co-Giver as well as Distributor of His bounty, for as much as it proceeds from a single and common generosity. For one is the nature of the Godhead in the person and substance both of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And for as much as it was unwonted in a way with them of old time, and as yet foreign to their practice, to approach the Father through the Son, He teaches this also for our profit, and laying first in His own disciples a foundation as it were of the structure, He implants in them both faith in this and knowledge, and dispatches to ourselves instruction both how we are to pray and wherein lies our hope. For He promises that He will Himself give us what we ask in prayer—a proof of the Godhead in His nature, and of the royal authority inherent in Him.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 9.14.14

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fixing What's Broken

For awhile now, I have noticed the increase in the use of broken or brokenness in discussions on the condition of people’s health, families, relationships, etc. Even with the increased knowledge and insights of various scientific and humanitarian endeavors, the human condition continues on a continual path of disarray, deterioration, and destruction. In recent weeks I have heard a couple sermons rightly describing the multiple examples in John 11. Following the narrative, one is presented with several examples as experienced by those in Bethany—debilitating sickness, earnest longing, dwindling hope, followed by death, grief, lament, and finally resignation—all within the span of a week or so. Those examples and others like them throughout Scripture provide a rich resource from which to draw and describe sin’s devastating effects. That being stated, I have also noticed the increased trend to ignore the cause of brokenness. In other words, an otherwise well-crafted presentation pointing out our dysfunction and need for rescue never gets to the underlying cause.

Why would someone fail to mention the root cause of the problem? Is there no desire to effect real change? Is there no expectation that change can be effected? Perhaps the pastor is tempted to soften the immediacy and severity of the condition in order to appeal to a mixed group, thinking that believers do not need to be reminded of the cause, and believers will not accept the explanation. Or perhaps the pastor simply fears giving offense, which is so easily taken in this culture. Whatever the reason, the net result is that, in spite of any passionate offering of Jesus as Savior, the gospel, as defined in Scripture, is never actually given.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. (1Co 15:3–5)
Christ died for sin, so without conveying that part of the message, there is no gospel. While Jesus may be offered as a savior or the savior, in effect that Jesus merely saves from our circumstances and feelings, but not our sin. We are offered a good therapist, or a moral example to admire and emulate, not One who transfers from death to life and cleanses from all unrighteousness. In an attempt to be relevant, nothing of substance is offered. All are left to wallow in the mire of their sin.

Instead of a veiled or milquetoast presentation offered in a way that salves the conscience, better to be forthright and forceful to all concerning sin, righteousness, judgment, and abounding grace. Friedrich August Crämer, rightly understanding that the force of Law and Gospel is not to be softened or otherwise nuanced based on audience but delivered for full effect, said:
Preach the Word, which is the power of God! Picture in vivid colors the deep misery of sin, so that the hearers become alarmed at their sinful state. Then preach also the Gospel in all its sweetness, pointing the people to Christ crucified, so that they come to a living faith in their Savior.*
This he directed to believers that they be reminded of the depths of misery from sin and be spurred to share Christ as “givers who will not look on their contributions as great sacrifices, but who will thank God that they are considered worthy to help in the spread of the Gospel by which they have been saved.” Yes, all are to have their sin made apparent that repentance and refuge might be sought in Christ. May our pastors be so caring that the message goes forth boldly and clearly to deliver the cure.

*  Quoted in The Lutheran Pioneer, Vol. 31.8, August 1909.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Good Shepherd Lunette, Galla Placidia, Ravenna

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I shall not want. (Ps 23:1)

Having said in the psalm before this, “The needy eat and will be filled, and those who seek him out will praise the Lord,” and again, “All the prosperous of the earth ate and adored him,” here he suggests the the provider of such food and calls the feeder shepherd. This in fact is the name Christ the Lord gave himself: “I am the good shepherd, I know my own, and I am known by my own.”* It is also what he called himself through the prophet Ezekiel.† So here, too, all who enjoyed the saving food cry out, “The Lord shepherds me, and nothing will be wanting for me”: this shepherd regales those shepherded by him with enjoyment of good things of all kinds.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 23.1

* This reading comes from the Majority Text.
† Ezekiel 34:23.

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (Jn 10:7-10)

Them that have fled for refuge to His ruling care, and through patient endurance have mended their wayward ways, He calls “sheep,” and confesses Himself to be, to them that hear His voice and refuse to give heed to strange teaching, a “shepherd.” For “my sheep,” He says, “hear my voice.” To them that have now reached a higher stage and stand in need of righteous royalty, He is a King. And in that, through the straight way of His commandments, He leads men to good actions, and again because He safely shuts in all who through faith in Him betake themselves for shelter to the blessing of the higher wisdom, He is a Door.

So He says, “By me if any man enter in, he shall go in and out and shall find pasture.” Again, because to the faithful He is a defense strong, unshaken, and harder to break than any bulwark, He is a Rock. Among these titles, it is when He is styled Door, or Way, that the phrase “through Him” is very appropriate and plain. As, however, God and Son, He is glorified with and together with the Father, in that “at, the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Therefore we use both terms, expressing by the one His own proper dignity, and by the other His grace to us.

Basil of Ceasarea, On the Holy Spirit 7

Friday, April 28, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday of Easter

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Lk 24:25–27)

All things that are read from the Holy Scriptures in order to our instruction and salvation, it behooves us to hear with earnest heed. Yet most of all must those things be commended to our memory, which are of most force against heretics; whose insidious designs cease not to circumvent all that are weaker and more negligent. Remember that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both died for us, and rose again; died, to wit, for our offenses, rose again for our justification. Even as you have just heard concerning the two disciples whom He met with in the way, how “their eyes were restrained that they should not know Him:” and He found them despairing of the redemption that was in Christ, and deeming that now He had suffered and was dead as a man, not accounting that as Son of God He ever lives; and deeming too that He was so dead in the flesh as not to come to life again, but just as one of the prophets: as those of you who were attentive have just now heard their own words. Then “He opened to them the Scriptures, beginning at Moses,” and going through all the prophets, showing them that all He had suffered had been foretold, lest they should be more staggered if the Lord should rise again, and the more fail to believe Him, if these things had not been told before concerning Him. For the firmness of faith is in this, that all things which came to pass in Christ were foretold.… Whereby shall we believe, but by that whereby it was His will that even those who handled Him should be confirmed? For He opened to them the Scriptures and showed them that it was appropriate for Christ to suffer, and that all things should be fulfilled which were written of Him in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms. He embraced in His discourse the whole ancient text of the Scriptures. All that there is of those former Scriptures tells of Christ; but only if it find ears. He also “opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures.” From which we also must pray for this, that He would open our understanding.

Augustine, Homily on 1 John 2:12–17

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

From Which Well Are We Drinking?

Allen Cagle has posted a good piece, Should We Sing That Song? [HT: Glenn Chatfield], on gauging the appropriateness of a song for corporate worship. I have mentioned elements of the major points in the past, but I wish to consider “Association and History” (given little attention in the selection process) by using two songs that have recently become popular in corporate worship.

O Come to the Altar Resurrecting
Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

(Chorus x2)

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t He wonderful
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him
For He is Lord of all
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen

(Chorus x2)

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you've found
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now
The Savior knelt to wash our feet
Now at his feet we bow

The one who wore our sin and shame
Now robed in majesty
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see

(Chorus x2)
Your name, Your name is victory
All praise will rise to Christ our king

The fear that held us now gives way
To him who is our peace
His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me


(Bridge x3)
By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
Our God has robbed the grave

(Chorus x2)


The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

Setting aside the gratuitous repetition, what do we learn? In the left column we are presented a song asking if we are hurting, overwhelmed, or thirsting for satisfaction after bad decisions made in life. In other words, we are told that we need a good therapist. In order to be that therapist, Jesus shed blood and rose again, and when we feel bad for doing something wrong, there is a Father who wants to hug us and make us feel better. In other words, we are offered a warm, cozy feeling with the encouragement to offer worship and praise for feeling better. Oh, and we are asked to tell others they can feel better, too.

The right column the songwriter at least attempts to show a humbled, yet glorified Savior, but in questionable language. Jesus’ crown was rightly changed from thorns to glory, but He never washed our feet: The song is improperly placing us in the Upper Room account. Moving on, He indeed took our sin and shame and is now robed in majesty; however, the radiance of love is not in His exaltation, but rather His humiliation and the cross, even as the apostle Paul wrote:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Ro 5:8)
In addition, the bridge teaches a confusion of justification and sanctification by equating them in a gradual process akin to Eastern Orthodox theosis. Resurrection does not happen in stages: one is either alive or dead. Again from the apostle Paul:
And you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ep 2:1, 5)
Those in Christ are alive now, not being made alive. The process of spiritual enlivening is not prolonged or elongated, but an instantaneous and certain change from one state to another.

Songs communicate a message, and within the church the message must be true to Scripture. It is incumbent on the lyricist(s) to correctly convey what God reveals in His Word.

Why these two?

Some may wonder why I use these two songs in presenting my case. They come from the same source, Elevation Church, whose head pastor is Steven Furtick. That’s right, the Earl of Eisegesis himself is the teaching source for those writing this music. In fact, Furtick is listed on both songs as a lyricist. We can see how this is yet another example, along with Hillsong United, of bad lyrics derived from bad teaching, but dressed in catchy music and salted with enough correct wording to make it palatable.

The music and teaching of these havens of heterodoxy need to be avoided.  They make mockery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus and change the message of the cross in order to glorify the Christian—here by using the “rising from the ashes” phraseology like the mythical phoenix. No such thing is promised to the believer, but it fits the template of spiritual power and triumphalism being promoted by Steven Furtick and Brian Houston.

Christians are not the exalted ones. We are the despised and rejected, because our Lord was deemed so; and we are not greater than He.
Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
    We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Ps 44:22)
By singing music that comes from these sources, we are affirming a theology that is antithetical to all our Lord and Savior accomplished in Himself. These teachers and their followers present a distorted picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross for our behalf.

Lighten up, will you?

I am certain some will consider my comments to be overly harsh, especially for “Resurrecting,” since I already acknowledged some correct content. Had the songwriters used biblical concepts throughout, there would be no issue; but as certainly as someone would grow sick or die if drinking from a poisoned well, so would those suffer who imbibe at the fount of a corrupt teacher or network. Discernment is needed when choosing worship resources.

Brethren, too often we offer trifles by trying to enter where we do not belong, labor where we have no work, and exalt what is to remain abased. Instead of salving guilty consciences or engaging in self-glory, perhaps lyricists (and their consumers, the congregants) should keep their eyes on the One of whom all Scripture speaks and remember with David:
They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
    And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
    In Your light we see light. (Ps 36:8–9)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday of Easter

Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Christ Taking Leave of His Disciples
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace to you.” And having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:19–23)

As He gives the Spirit, Christ says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” even though only one who is by nature God has the power and authority to forgive sinners for their sins. After all, who could rightly grant pardon to others for their transgression of the divine law, except the one who gave that law? You may, if you wish, see the point of my statement from human affairs. Who has the authority to alter the decrees of earthly kings, and who tries to set aside the orders issued by decree and will of the rulers except someone who is invested with royal honor and glory? Only such a person cannot be accused of breaking the law. Wise is the saying, “Whoever says to the king, ‘You are a law-breaker,’ is insolent.”* In what way, then, and in what sense did the Savior clothe His disciples with an honor that belongs to the divine nature alone? The Word, who is in the Father, could not miss the mark of what is fitting; He was quite right to do this. He thought it was fitting that they who already had the divine and royal Spirit within them also have the authority to forgive and retain the sins of whomever they want, since the Holy Spirit dwelling in them forgives and retains sins according to His own will, even though the deed may be accomplished through human beings.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

*  Job 34:18

Friday, April 14, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Easter Sunday

But after the Sabbath, at the dawning toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, a great earthquake occurred; for an angel of the Lord, having come down out of heaven, came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards were shaken for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here! For He is risen, just as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord was lying.” (Mt 28:1–6)

Our Lord is one and the same Son of God and Son of man. According to both natures, divinity and flesh, He shows signs, now of His greatness, now of His humility. This is why in the present passage, though it is a man who was crucified, buried, and shut in the tomb, whom a stone holds back in opposition, nevertheless the things that are done outside show Him to be the Son of God: the sun takes flight, darkness falls, the earth quakes, the curtain is torn, the rocks split, the dead are raised, there are services of angels, which even from the beginning of His birth proved that He was God. … The guards are completely terrified with fear. They lie there stupefied like dead men, and yet the angels console not them but the women: “Do not be afraid.” Let them be afraid, he says. Panic persists in those in whom abides unbelief. But as for you, since you are seeking the crucified Jesus, hear this: He has been resurrected and has fulfilled His promises.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew