Friday, September 15, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (Mt 18:31–34)

Do you see the master’s mercy? Do you see the servant’s cruelty? Listen, all who do these things for money: one should not act like this because it is sin. Much worse to act like this for money. How then does he plead? “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” But he did not regard even the words by which he had been saved (for he himself on saying this was delivered from the ten thousand talents). And he did not recognize so much as the harbor by which he escaped shipwreck. Even the gesture of supplication did not remind him of his master’s kindness, but he put away from his mind all these things—covetousness and cruelty and revenge—and was more fierce than any wild beast, seizing his fellow servant by the throat.

What are you doing, O man? Do you not see that you are making such a demand upon yourself? You are deceiving yourself. You are thrusting a sword into yourself, revoking both the sentence and the gift. But none of these things did he consider, neither did he remember his own case, neither did he yield at all, though the entreaty was not on the same order. For the one besought for ten thousand talents, the other for a hundred denarii; the one his fellow-servant, the other his lord. The one received entire forgiveness, the other asked for delay, and not so much as this did he give him, for “he cast him into prison.” Not even to men is this well-pleasing, much less to God. They therefore who did not owe, partook of the grief.

What then did their master say? “O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you petitioned me; should you not also have had compassion, even as I had pity on you?” See again the master’s gentleness. He pleads with him, and excuses himself, being on the point of revoking his gift; or rather, it was not he that revoked it, but the one who had received it. For even if the thing does seem difficult to you, yet you should have looked to the gain, which has been, which is to be. Even if the injunction be galling, you ought to consider the reward; neither that he has grieved you, but that you have provoked God, whom by mere prayer you have reconciled. But if even so it be a galling thing to you to become friends with him who has grieved you, to fall into hell is far more grievous. And if you had set this against that, then you would have known that to forgive is a much lighter thing. And furthermore, when he owed ten thousand talents, he called him not wicked, neither reproached him, but showed mercy on him; when he had become harsh to his fellow servant, then he says, “O you wicked servant.”

Let us hearken, the covetous, for even to us is the word spoken. Let us hearken also, the merciless, and the cruel, for not to others are we cruel, but to ourselves. When then you are minded to be revengeful, consider that against yourself are you revengeful, not against another; that you are binding up your own sins, not your neighbors. For as to you, whatever you may do to this man, you do as a man and in the present life, but God not so, but more mightily will He take vengeance on you, and with the vengeance hereafter.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 61.4

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Building a Heritage

Psalm 127 is interesting because, on a surface reading, it is divided evenly between two separate themes. The first section addresses the building of houses and cities.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep. (Ps 127:1–2)
The second addresses the blessing of children.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Ps 127:3–5)
At least this is the typical division of the psalm with the intent to bolster arguments for either building projects or large families. However, this misses the overall thrust—building a lasting heritage through the Lord’s enablement.

Solomon begins this psalm with an allusion from the building trades (possibly during the temple construction), wherein all the planning and craftsmanship come to naught if God is not the impetus. Without Him, every effort to establish a dwelling or fortified community will collapse regardless of the effort put forth to ensure longevity: it cannot hope to endure. With this basis, he turns to his main thrust: in the same manner that the Lord is necessary for building structures to create community, He is a vital ingredient for raising children.

Parents want their children to do well in justice, mercy, and walking before God when they are sent into the world to make their own way, therefore fathers and mothers, and grandparents secondarily, instill their experience and His Word into following generations. Children are arrows sent into the world: their effectiveness depends on how they are formed, notched, and aimed. Every step of the process has as a final goal to hit the mark, whether an animal for food or an adversary in war.

In order to build the next generation, we have the responsibility to provide for the family, to be engaged in productive work so that the family might have both food and shelter. While much (or most) of American society sees this as drudgery or a necessary evil, the Christian understands that work provides for a heritage. Solomon made this plain.
Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ec 5:18–20)
Work is a God-given gift bestowed at Creation (Ge 2:15) later made laborious because of Adam’s sin (Ge 3:17). As a result of its source, work retains the intrinsic quality of goodness, so that the final product or service becomes a reward for a job well done, especially so when the product or service might be exchanged or bartered to increase wealth in order to properly provide and leave an inheritance (Pr 13:22).

A heritage is received and sustained when the family is built on Scripture, raising children to fear Him, and putting one’s hand to the plow, distaff, workbench, keyboard, lesson plan, etc. fulfilling your vocation as spouse, parent, neighbor, or citizen. This is especially true when we consider that the most long-lasting inheritance is a spiritual one. Material goods and wealth will rust or rot despite our best efforts, but the spiritual component will abide long after our children’s children no longer walk this earth. It behooves us to remember that our family and possessions are gifts from the Lord. Let us build our heritage with Christ as the foundation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Léonard Gaultier (c.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Himself and set him in their midst. He then said, “Amen, I tell you that unless you change and become as little children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven. But whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:1–4)

The Lord teaches that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we revert to the nature of children, that is, we must recall into the simplicity of children the vices of the body and mind. He has called children all who believe through the faith of listening. For children follow their father, love their mother, do not know how to wish ill on their neighbor, show no concern for wealth, are not proud, do not hate, do not lie, believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth. And when we assume this habit and will in all the emotions, we are shown the passageway to the heavens. We must therefore return to the simplicity of children, because with it we shall embrace the beauty of the Lord's humility.

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew

Just as this child whose example I show you does not persist in anger, does not long remember injury suffered, is not enamored inordinately by the sight of a beautiful woman, does not think one thing and say another, so you too, unless you have similar innocence and purity of mind, will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or it might be taken in another way: “Whoever therefore humiliates himself like this child is greater in the kingdom of heaven,” so as to imply that anyone who imitates Me and humiliates himself following My example, so that he abases himself as much as I abased Myself in accepting the form of a servant, will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Man Up! by Jeffrey Hemmer – Book Review

Hemmer, Jeffrey.  Man Up!: A Quest for Masculinity.  St. Louis, MO.  Concordia Publishing House, 2017.  224 pp.

Let me begin by saying that I want books that address manhood to succeed—I really do. My hopes are too often dashed by authors who do not understand biblical manhood, give advice based on cultural norms, or address personality caricatures and clichés. Thankfully, Pastor Jeff Hemmer avoids these pitfalls in a marvelous attempt to spur men to be genuinely masculine, rather than effeminate or hyper-macho—both being aberrations of the standard laid out from the sixth day of creation: provide, protect, and procreate.

Part 1 of the book addresses who and what man is in relation to God and woman, including his roles and responsibilities. This may seem elementary, but I was surprised by the amount of information found there from which I had never received instruction: a case in point is the meaning of malakoi (μαλακοὶ) in 1 Corinthians 6:9. There the word is translated in the NKJV as a sodomite, but Hemmer tells us the better translation is effeminate, or in other words, the opposite of masculine. He then addresses the work accomplished by Christ’s incarnation and death to deal with sin and Satan.

Part 2, then, seeks to define what God reclaimed for man by examining who Jesus was as the sole model of godly masculinity and God as the sole perfect Father. With these Hemmer effectively demonstrates what we are to be as husbands and fathers acknowledging both our shortcomings and His provision. He ends with suggestions for ordering our walk:
  • Pray (and sing) like a man
  • Love like a man
  • Give like a man
  • Fight like a man
  • Grow as a man
These cover the last two chapters and provide several practical ideas for properly ordering our lives.

I can say without reservation that this is the best work I have read on this subject. Buy and read this book.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, remember me, and visit me, and vindicate me before them that persecute me. Do not bear long with them; know how I have met with reproach for Your sake, from those who nullify Your words. Consume them, and Your word shall be to me for the joy and gladness of my heart. For Your name has been called upon me, O Lord Almighty. I have not sat in the assembly of them as they mocked, but I feared because of Your power. I sat alone, for I was filled with bitterness.Why do those that grieve me prevail against me? My wound is severe; when shall I be healed? It has indeed become to me as deceitful water that has no faithfulness. (Jer 15:15–18)

The wonderful apostles who were insulted many times for the truth say, "I am content with weaknesses, with insults and hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ." [2Co 12:10] I know that the basis of hardships is Christ when I am insulted only for nothing other than for Christ, when I am in hardships, when I am abused if I know that the cause of abuse is none other than that I am a champion for truth and am an ambassador for the Scriptures so that everything happens according to the Word of God. For this I am blasphemed. And thus let all of us, as far as our ability allows, strive for the prophetic life, for the apostolic life, not avoiding what is troublesome. For if the athlete avoids what is troublesome about the contest, the sweetness of the crown will never be his.

Origen, Homily on Jeremiah

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Judgment and Loss

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Co 3:9–17)

Everything I have heard or read on this passage until now looked at this passage as directly applicable to the individual. In other words, every bit of what you or I do in the Kingdom of God will be judged by fire, so we better be doing the best job we can with the best tools and materials we have in order to continue to build God’s house.  If not, we will lose the reward we could have had because the cheap attempts will be burned up. This tactic is familiar in many Christian circles. The idea is to goad the believer into trying harder to be a better Christian through non-stop evangelism and good works. The effects may last anywhere from nightfall to sometime the next day, but eventually, failure is certain. True, the Christian is able to perform these tasks, however, inevitably such browbeating leaves the believer with a nagging uncertainty that enough has been accomplished because the prescribed application is wrong.

Context, Context, Context
Let me ask this question: what is the context of chapter 3? What has been the thrust of the apostle Paul’s opening remarks? There is division in the church (1 Co 1:11). And how does he respond?
  • I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. (1 Co 1:14)
  • And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Co 2:1–2)
  • And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (1 Co 3:1)
  • Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Co 4:1)
  • For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Co 4:17)
Read the first four chapters, and the common theme becomes clear. Paul is addressing those who are building Christ’s church with apostolic or apostolic-designate authority. Within the immediate context of chapter three, then, the building is being accomplished by one ordained to the task, not the average Christian in Corinth. The master builder is being judged according to how he conducts himself in the duties of his office. The faithful worker uses the precious, enduring materials of Scripture rightly divided as well as sacraments rightly administered, while the unfaithful build with the common and temporary measures brought in for pragmatic or promotional reasons.

What about Me?
Is there a personal application for this section of Paul’s epistle? Yes, but it is secondary in nature. The common (or lay) believer does not have the burden of responsibility that comes with an ecclesial office, but there is a responsibility to walk in a manner that reflects the gospel as Paul mentions in his epistle to Ephesus:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,… [but now] we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1–2, 10)

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1–3)
Because we have been brought from darkness to light, from death to life, we conduct ourselves to one another’s good that all may be lifted up. We show ourselves to unbelievers in a manner that they might see our good works and want an answer for the hope within us.

What of the Judgment?
What do we say of the final judgment for believers? What will that be like? Again we draw from Paul as he wrote in his second epistle to Corinth:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Co 5:9–10)
We will each receive what he or she has done in the body but not in a way that should instill fear or regret if we hold fast. The author of Psalm 99 exhorts all the people to praise the Lord together. We are reminded that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel all called on His name and were heard, yet they were fallible men able to commit grievous sins. Of what does the psalmist remind us?
O Lord our God, You listened to them;
O God, You were very merciful to them,
while avenging all their ways of living. (Ps 99:8 LXX)
God dealt with the sin in a merciful, yet just, manner. There was nothing for these saints of old to fear after death. Neither should we be concerned. Did these men lose a reward? Yes, in a temporal way, but they still rested on His promise to receive the faithful. If we worry that not enough has been done, perhaps our emphasis is in the wrong place. Each believer is called to be a good steward in his or her vocation or station in life. Do what has been given you to do, not be worried about what you cannot do.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are You Losing It?

For years I (and many others) have noted that churchgoers no longer consider the lyrics they are singing. This comedy sketch from Cedarville Comedy is obtuse, but it demonstrates the current focus to lose oneself in the worship experience.

One might retort that this is too ridiculous to be believed. To that, I would ask the same to consider the enterprising musicians who manufactured a song (found here) intentionally taking the tag lines and popular styles of leading worship bands to construct a parody song that sounds as good (or better) than the actual groups being parodied.

If your Sunday morning resembles the above, you may need to reconsider if that church is worshiping in spirit and in truth. Better to remember the words of John Chrysostom who warned:
Since this sort of pleasure is natural to our soul, and lest the demons introduce licentious songs and upset everything, God erected the barrier of the psalms, so that they should be a matter of both pleasure and profit. For from strange songs, harm and destruction enter in along with many a dread thing, since what is wanton and contrary to the law in these songs settles in the various parts of the soul, rendering it weak and soft. But from the spiritual psalms can come considerable pleasure, much that is useful, much that is holy, and the foundation of all philosophy, as these texts cleanse the soul and the Holy Spirit flies swiftly to the soul who sings such songs. (On Psalm XLI)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Ro 11:33–36)

Whence this outburst of feeling? Surely from the recollection of the Scriptures, which he had been previously turning over, as well as from his contemplation of the mysteries which he had been setting forth above, in relation to the faith of Christ coming from the law.… The truth is, the Creator’s resources and riches, which once had been hidden, were now disclosed. For so had He promised: “I will give to them treasures which have been hidden, and which men have not seen will I open to them.” [Is 45:3] Hence, then, came the exclamation, “O the depth of the riches and the wisdom of God!” For His treasures were now opening out. This is the purport of what Isaiah said, and of (the apostle’s own) subsequent quotation of the self-same passage, of the prophet: “Who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been His counselor? Who has first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?”

Tertullian, Against Marcion V.14

God knew from the beginning what man’s behavior and works would be like, in that the human race could not be saved only by the severity of his justice nor could it reach perfection only by his mercy. So at a particular time he decreed what should be preached, whereas before that time he allowed each person to decide for himself, because righteousness was recognized under the guidance of nature. And because the authority of natural righteousness was weakened by the habit of sin, the law was given so that the human race would be held back by the fear engendered by the revealed law. But because they did not restrain themselves and were counted guilty under the law, mercy was proclaimed, which would save those who took refuge in it but would blind those who rejected it for a time. During that time this mercy would invite the Gentiles, who earlier on had not wanted to follow the law given to Moses, to share in the promise, so that the Jews might become jealous of their salvation and because of that jealousy turn again to the source of the root, which is the Savior. This is “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,” who by his many-sided providence has won both Jews and Gentiles to eternal life.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The World Hated Me First

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, and so the world hates you. (John 15:18–19)

Last month  I wrote a post on the conflict of postmodern thought with natural law. As I have thought more about the subject in light of current events (Alt-Right vs. Antifa, tearing down monuments, college students demanding the cancellation of invited speakers or the removal of faculty, etc.) While the outbreaks do not appear to be the voice of a national majority, the groups are finding a local or regional voice, specific to their situations. While these outbreaks are localized, they are united in mindset—take every measure to promote, establish, and maintain the groups beliefs. Rejecting any modicum of civility, they manifest them themselves in competing factions of pagan tribalism. Intent on promoting their respective goals, the groups create syncretistic bonds long enough to win the engagement and continue tribal pursuits, often times turning on former allies.

While the politicians and media attempt to dissect the rancor from a worldly perspective, we who follow the Bible understand the issue: they have wholeheartedly rejected our God and His Christ. Mind you, the outrage against our Lord is not some mild indifference, rather the rancor is manifest in wholesale attacks on Christians by making inroads in legislation, then using the judicial system to force the outliers into conformity. It is here that we might ask the same questions put forth by Arnobius of Sicca (ad c. 255–330) in his work Against the Pagans (II.1–2):
If you think it no dishonor to answer when asked a question, explain to us and say what is the cause, what the reason, that you pursue Christ with so bitter hostility? or what offenses you remember which He did, that at the mention of His name you are roused to bursts of mad and savage fury?
In other words, what did Jesus ever do to you to cause such a response? Arnobius offered some possible objections:
  • Did He ever, in claiming for Himself power as king, fill the whole world with bands of the fiercest soldiers?
  • Did He destroy nations at peace, putting an end to some, and compelling others to submit to His yoke and serve Him?
  • Did He ever, excited by grasping avarice, claim as His own by right all that wealth to have abundance of which men strive eagerly?
  • Did He ever, transported with lustful passions, break down by force the barriers of purity, or stealthily lie in wait for other men’s wives?
  • Did He ever, puffed up with haughty arrogance, inflict at random injuries and insults, without any distinction of persons?
What was the great wickedness that Christ had foisted on the world? He extended “the light of life to all” and showed to them “things concerning salvation, that He prepared for you a path to heaven, and the immortality for which you long.” The horror of it all, that Christ should freely offer Himself as the way to the Father. But the issue was the exclusivity of His claim.

The Roman empire had built within it a polytheistic worship system that the citizenry felt needed to be maintained. In like manner, postmodernism asserts that any norm is acceptable if the society, culture, or tribe in which one identifies accepts that norm as its own for a common good. With a multiplicity of worship practices, the empire needed to ensure the diversity of gods and worship practices. In similar fashion, the U.S. is being required to maintain the same level of diversity to accommodate the new tribalism. The exclusivity of the cross is offensive to those wishing to honor the gods sexual perversion, abortion, racism, etc.

Arnobius went on to ask if Christ should be denounced because He was the rightful One to whom homage was given:
Is He then denounced as the destroyer of religion and promoter of impiety, who brought true religion into the world, who opened the gates of piety to men blind and verily living in impiety, and pointed out to whom they should bow themselves? Or is there any truer religion—one more serviceable, powerful, and right—than to have learned to know the supreme God, to know how to pray to God Supreme, who alone is the source and fountain of all good, the creator, founder, and framer of all that endures, by whom all things on earth and all in heaven are quickened, and filled with the stir of life, and without whom there would assuredly be nothing to bear any name, and have any substance?
The short answer was: of course not. Who else would be worthy since He made known the way to the one, true God? And yet there is the problem. The world does not know, nor wants to know, the One who laid down His life that they might live, because it means they were wrong. What seemed to be the normal course of things was actually the way of death and destruction, but through the Lord Jesus, there is life.

The world will continue to hate Christ and His church because we are a constant reminder that there is One who convicts of sin, righteous, and judgment; and there is coming a day when all will be judged, both good and bad. Let us hold fast in the face of a culture desiring to quell the message of the cross.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Apse mosaic, Santa Prudenziana, Rome, c. 415

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness; for My salvation is about to come, and My mercy shall be revealed.… And I will give it to the strangers that attach themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be to Him servants and handmaids; and as for all that keep My Sabbaths, from profaning them, and that take hold of My covenant, I will bring them to My holy mountain, and gladden them in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations,” says the Lord that gathers the dispersed of Israel; “for I will gather to him a congregation.” (Is 56:1, 6–8)

Heresies and schisms spring from the source of evils, and, therefore, whoever comes to unity returns from vice to nature; for just as it is natural for many to become one, so is it a vice to avoid the sweetness of brotherly love. Let us, then, with our whole hearts lifted up in joy that Christ has restored His friendship in a single Church the people who had perished from love of strife. In this Church, the harmony of love will again receive them. Of this Church, the prophet foretold, saying: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” And again, he said: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many people shall come and say: ‘Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob.’” [Is 2:2–3] Now the mountain is Christ, and the house of the God of Jacob is His one Church, toward which the concourse of nations and assembly of peoples is moving by this pronouncement.

Leander of Seville, Sermon on the Triumph of the Church

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Are You a Heretic?

American Christians have a mixed relationship with creeds ranging from “Creeds are on equal standing with Scripture” to “No creed but Scripture.” Regardless of where one stands on this spectrum, there is an acknowledgment that creeds formed in the early centuries of the church are important. As heresy entered, statements were formed that documented what the Church believed, taught, and confessed. Because they correctly summarized Scripture, they are now considered standards upon which modern belief is built and, therefore, useful for study. However, too often the average Christian, whether pastor or layman, believes this knowledge is suitable only as an historical curio or point of academic discussion, but not useful for common life and practice. As a result, both pedagogue and pupil can mistakenly cling to heresy. To demonstrate the propensity to error, we will look at the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (or Nicene) Creed. Drafted at the First Council of Nicea (325) and later amended at the First Council of Constantinople (381), this creed has three major parts, coïnciding with the three Persons of the Trinity.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only‐begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
As a centuries old statement of faith, this creed has stood the test of time. In my circles of Christian fellowship, someone would read through this and say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I believe,” without another thought. Probably you would as well. In fact, I would say that every person and organization identifying as an evangelical would affirm this creed while in actuality they do not believe it completely.

At this point you are probably reviewing the creed to see if something jumps out where you might be off base. God, the Father, created all things? Check. Jesus is of same essence as the Father? Check. Born of the Virgin Mary? Check. You get the picture—all well and good. Now move down to the third section.  Same essence glory as the Father and Son. Check. Source of Church unity through all ages. Check. Baptism remits sin. Wait. Baptism remits sin? Yes, the Nicene Creed affirms that baptism remits or cancels sin.

Conspiracy theorists will want to opine that the church was in such disarray that the council representatives did not know what they were doing, or possibly Rome had already corrupted the fourth-century church into accepting what every good Christian knows to be unbiblical doctrine. Church history tells us differently as demonstrated by two examples preceding the councils by 200 years.
Epistle of Barnabas XI
Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross. Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves.… This means, that we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho XIV
By reason, therefore, of this laver of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure.
Should some assert that these are merely examples of doctrine gone awry, they will be faced with some insurmountable obstacles:
  1. The above quotes were written within 50–100 years of the martyrdoms of both Peter and Paul. Had these post-apostolic writings been aberrations, others would have arisen to correct them. We have no such correction.
  2. Scripture teaches that baptism saves us, being the physical instrument bringing us from death to new life through faith (Rom 6:3–6; Col 2:11–14).
Not until the sixteenth century was the place of baptism questioned. Why do we now insist that it must be no more than an outward symbol of an inward reality? While the symbolism is valid, such bare adherence strips the Word of God of its power and authority. A picture may paint a thousand words, but it has no eternal consequence.

So, the Original Question Remains
Are you a heretic? Perhaps the word heretic is too strong for someone who does not see baptism for what it is. Fine. I can soften the question: are you heterodox? Still too harsh? Let me ask this: are you simply ignorant of the facts? Whichever is accurate, you are left with a decision. Do you stand with theologians and teachers, whether popular or obscure, whose erudite scholarship is deemed of greater import than the “uninformed” patristic writers; or do you hold fast to the apostles and prophets who handed this doctrine to faithful confessors who likewise taught other faithful men and so on.

I say it is better to believe on Him Who is able to deliver what He has promised in the manner He promised.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Baptism Is an Act of God

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:4–6)

The rite of baptism, when it finally occurs, is not a mere seal set on the initiate as a sign of the successful performance of a series of penitential acts for purification, as Basil summarized the baptism of Moses, nor is it an external washing for forgiveness of sins as with John the Baptist, but it is rather a divine act involving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.*

John the Baptist, than whom there is no greater among them that are born of woman [cf. Matt. 11:11], likewise bears witness in the words: He must increase, but I must decrease [John 3:30]; and again: I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance, but he baptizes you in the Holy Spirit and fire [Matt. 3:11], and so in many other places. The Holy Spirit is as far superior to water as he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit obviously is to him who baptizes in water. And this is true also of the baptism itself. [Basil, Concerning Baptism 1.2.4]

Baptism is an act of God the Holy Spirit in the believer.

Timothy P. McConnell, Illumination in Basil of Caesarea’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

* McConnell is trying to harmonize the biblical divine work being accomplished at baptism with personal belief displayed through Basil’s requirement of catechism and moral transformation prior to baptism.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Ro 10:9–10)

There is need of both, of faith true and firm, and of confession made with confidence so that the heart may be adorned with the certitude of faith, and the tongue made resplendent by fearless proclamation of the truth.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Romans

Paul in Berea
 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
    Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Ro 10:14–15)
It is necessary first to believe, then to call. But it is impossible to believe if one does not have the benefit of the teaching, and this could not happen with no preachers, and ordination in turn is responsible for them. After citing these points in this manner by way of Jews’ defense, he uses them to add to the accusation against them; the last one, that relating to the sending of the preachers, he put first to show that it was forecast from the beginning. It was, in fact, logical to give it pride of place ahead of the others: the first need is for the preachers to be ordained,then the preaching, then the listening to the preachers, and at that point the coming of faith. Accordingly, he adduces the prophecy of Isaiah…; the Lord, remember, bade the apostles say on entering a house, “Peace be to this house” [Lk 10:5]: they indicated the divine reconciliation, and brought the good news of the enjoyment of good things.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Romans

Friday, August 4, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

You that thirst, go to the water,
    and all that have no money, go and buy;
and eat and drink wine and milk
    without money or price.
Why do you value at the price of money,
    and give your labor for that which will not satisfy?
Hearken to Me, and you shall eat of all that is good,
    and your soul shall feast itself on good things.
Listen with your ears, and follow My ways;
    obey Me, and your soul shall live in prosperity;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    the sure mercies of David.
Behold, I have made him a testimony among the Gentiles,
    a prince and commander to the Gentiles.
Nations which know you not shall call upon you,
    and peoples which are not acquainted with you shall flee to you for refuge,
for the sake of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel;
    for He has glorified you. (Is 55:1-5)

How can they purchase, yet receive gifts without paying? Well, because we accept the payment in faith from Christ, and we pay for none of these things with short-term or perishable goods. For it says, “I said to my Lord, ‘You are my Lord since you have no need of goods from me’”* By way of gifts and honor to Christ we offer to Christ the confession of faith in Him. So without money and payment comes this drink and bountiful gift of spiritual charisms. For what could we offer and what price could we pay for such a drink? For those drinking the living water are those enriched with grace through the Holy Spirit through participation in Him and purchasing this through faith, since they are sharers of the wine and suet, that is, of the holy body and the blood of Christ.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaiah

* Psalm 16:2

Monday, July 31, 2017

Holy, Yet Sinner

And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, “You and your sons and your father's house shall bear the sins of the holy things, and you and your sons shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.” (Nu 18:1)

It is worth asking how some are called holy and yet there is a written account of their sins. You see, contrary to how some think, it is not the case that as soon as one becomes holy he can no longer sin and must always be thought to be without sin. If saints do not sin, then it would not have been written: “You will bear the sins of the saints.” If a saint could be without sin, the Lord would not, through the prophet Ezekiel, tell the angels whom He was sending to punish sinners: “Begin with My saints”(Ez 9:6). If the saints are without sin, why do these very same fall victim to the punishments of sins first? If the saints could be without sin, then Scripture would never say that “the man who is just in the beginning of his speech is his own accuser”(Pr 18:17).

Origen, Homilies on Numbers 10.3

Friday, July 28, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eigth Sunday after Pentecost

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Mt 13:44–52)

If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, that is, in this world (for “the field is the world”); but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and parables. Hence His human nature could not be understood, prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ. And therefore it was said to Daniel the prophet: “Shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of consummation, until many learn, and knowledge be completed. For at that time, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things.” But Jeremiah also says, “In the last days they shall understand these things.” For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is to men enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. And for this reason, indeed, when at this present time the law is read to the Jews, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature; but when it is read by the Christians, it is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God and declaring His dispensations with regard to man, and forming the kingdom of Christ beforehand, and preaching by anticipation the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the man who loves God shall arrive at such excellency as even to see God, and hear His word, and from the hearing of His discourse be glorified to such an extent, that others cannot behold the glory of his countenance, as was said by Daniel: “Those who do understand, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever.” Thus, then, I have shown it to be, if any one read the Scriptures. For thus it was that the Lord discoursed with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead, proving to them from the Scriptures themselves “that Christ must suffer, and enter into His glory, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout all the world.” And the disciple will be perfected, and like the householder, “who brings forth from his treasure things new and old.”

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV.26.1

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We Can't, Therefore We Pray

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
    Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
    My King and my God,
    For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
    In the morning I will direct it to You,
    And I will look up. (Ps 5:1–3)

For this we must know, that all our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone. For we are far too feeble to cope with the devil and all his power and adherents that set themselves against us, and they might easily crush us under their feet. Therefore we must consider and take up those weapons with which Christians must be armed in order to stand against the devil. For what do you think has hitherto accomplished such great things, has checked or quelled the counsels, purposes, murder, and riot of our enemies, whereby the devil thought to crush us, together with the Gospel, except that the prayer of a few godly men intervened like a wall of iron on our side? They should else have witnessed a far different tragedy, namely, how the devil would have destroyed all Germany in its own blood. But now they may confidently deride it and make a mock of it; however, we shall nevertheless be a match both for themselves and the devil by prayer alone, if we only persevere diligently and not become slack. For whenever a godly Christian prays: Dear Father, let Thy will be done, God speaks from on high and says: Yes, dear child, it shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.

Large Catechism III.30–32

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