Friday, November 24, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Last Sunday of the Year

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. (Mt 25:31–32)

How can He be the Son of man when He is God and will come to judge all nations? He is the Son of man because He appeared on earth as a man and was persecuted as a man. Therefore this person who they said was a man will raise all nations from the dead and judge every person according to his works. Every race on earth will see Him, both those who rejected Him and those who despised Him as a man. They will see Him then, but not everyone in the same way: some will see Him in punishment and others in heavenly bliss. All nations will be gathered together by the angels from the foundation of the world, beginning first with Adam and Eve down to the last person on earth—whoever experienced human birth. “And He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He, our Lord, who knows our thoughts, who foresees all human works and knows how to judge righteously, will separate them according to the merits of each person, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Epiphanius the Latin, Interpretation of the Gospels 38

Friday, November 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Last Judgment, St Elias Church, Brampton, ON

“And it shall come to pass at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
And punish the men
Who are settled in complacency,
Who say in their heart,
‘The Lord will not do good,
Nor will He do evil.’
Therefore their goods shall become booty,
And their houses a desolation;
They shall build houses, but not inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.”

The great day of the Lord is near;
It is near and hastens quickly.
The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter;
There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of trumpet and alarm
Against the fortified cities
And against the high towers. (Zeph 1:12–16)

Let the insincere hear what is written, He that walks in simplicity walks surely (Prov 10:9). For indeed simplicity of conduct is an assurance of great security. Let them hear what is said by the mouth of the wise man, The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit (Sirach 1:5). Let them hear what is again affirmed by the witness of Scripture, His communing is with the simple (Prov 3:32). For God’s communing is His revealing of secrets to human minds by the illumination of His presence. He is therefore said to commune with the simple, because He illuminates with the ray of His visitation concerning supernal mysteries the minds of those whom no shade of duplicity obscures. But it is a special evil of the double-minded, that, while they deceive others by their crooked and double conduct, they glory as though they were surpassingly prudent beyond others; and, since they do not consider the strictness of retribution, they exult, miserable men that they are, in their own losses. But let them hear how the prophet Zephaniah holds out over them the power of divine rebuke, saying,
Behold the day of the Lord comes, great and horrible, the day of wrath, that day; a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of cloud and whirlwind, a day of trumpet and clangor, upon all fenced cities, and upon all lofty corners.
For what is expressed by fenced cities but minds suspected, and surrounded ever with a fallacious defense; minds which, as often as their fault is attacked, suffer not the darts of truth to reach them? And what is signified by lofty corners (a wall being always double in corners) but insincere hearts; which, while they shun the simplicity of truth, are in a manner doubled back upon themselves in the crookedness of duplicity, and, what is worse, from their very fault of insincerity lift themselves in their thoughts with the pride of prudence? Therefore the day of the Lord comes full of vengeance and rebuke upon fenced cities and upon lofty corners, because the wrath of the last judgment both destroys human hearts that have been closed by defenses against the truth, and unfolds such as have been folded up in duplicities. For then the fenced cities fall, because souls which God has not penetrated will be damned. Then the lofty corners tumble, because hearts which erect themselves in the prudence of insincerity are prostrated by the sentence of righteousness.

Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care 11

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Feast, Not Fast

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” (Mk 2:18)

Fasting in Scripture was required on the Day of Atonement (Lv 16:31-34) but was used during times of distress (2 Ch 20:3; Es 4:16), mourning (Zech 7:5), or repentance (Joel 2:15). By the time of Jesus, a regular routine was in place as manifest by the weekly fasting among the disciples of both John and the Pharisees.  This common practice, then, binds two groups of disciples together into an unlikely amalgam in order that they might ask Jesus why His disciples did not also fast.

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Mk 2:19–20)

Jesus’ answer to their query would have delivered both warm delight and biting chill. On the one hand, His statement is a reference to His office and work as their Messiah. Psalm 45 prophetically tells of the marriage between Messiah and His bride. By describing Himself as the bridegroom, He announces that He is the prophesied Anointed One. As a result, the only sensible thing for the friends to be doing is rejoicing with the Bridegroom. On the other hand, He foretells, in veiled terms, His departure from them. This was unexpected because the people had a myopic view of what Messiah would accomplish. These words are hints to what would befall Him at the hands of wicked men when nailed to the cross for the sin of the world.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” (Mk 2:21–22)

The visiting disciples needed to be educated of what Messiah’s ultimate purpose would be. Something glorious was impending, even already present. No longer would the high priest need to be replaced, because the great High Priest (He 4:14–16) would always live to make intercession for His people (He 7:25). No longer would there be a covenant with temporal measures, because the new covenant would be eternal in every aspect, changing even the heart and mind of each one who believes (He 8:10–12). No longer would a trek need to be made to an earthly sanctuary, because Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf (He 9:11–12). No longer would the blood of bulls and goats be required to cover sin, because the final sacrifice for all sin had been made (He 9:24–26).

The Lord gave to these visiting disciples not what they wanted, but what they needed. Both the repentant and self-righteous needed to know that their expectations and hopes were far less than what would come to fulfill the enormity and wonder of God’s redemption promised at the Fall. That group had yet to see the culmination of Good Friday through Easter, while we look back upon it, but the message is the same: Messiah has come to deliver the new covenant in His blood. Believe it. What else could His followers do but rejoice with Him?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Believers Need the Law

But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.

But as far as the old Adam is concerned, which still clings to them, he must be driven not only with the Law, but also with punishments; nevertheless he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law (1 Co 9:27; Ro 7:18–19).

So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotion of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God's Word and command, as it is written:
You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes…. Be careful to obey all these words that I command you,… [but] everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (De 12:8, 28, 32).
Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VI, 18–20

Friday, November 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

May all who seek You greatly rejoice and be glad in You;
And let those who love Your salvation always say,
“Let God be magnified!”

But I am poor and needy;
O God, help me!
You are my helper and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay. (Ps 70:4–5 LXX)

Believe Him who is man and God; believe, O man. Believe, O man, the living God, who suffered and is adored. Believe, slaves, Him who died; believe, all you of human kind, Him who alone is God of all men. Believe, and receive salvation as your reward. Seek God, and your soul shall live. He who seeks God is busying himself about his own salvation. Have you found God? Then you have life. Let us then seek, in order that we may live. The reward of seeking is life with God. “Let all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You; and let them say continually, God be magnified.”

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen X

“Fill with complete satisfaction,” David is saying, “those who love You so that they may celebrate in song Your kindnesses. I am bereft of such people’s righteousness and a victim of poverty I have no wealth of virtue. I have benefited from Your providence; come to my aid as quickly as possible, and do not put off my request.” It is in fact, not only David but also the whole choir of the saints who make this entreaty.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms

Friday, November 3, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to All Saints' Sunday

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Re 7:9–12)

Whatever this multitude might be, by expressing these names he indicates the universal church.… Through the naming of these seven virtues, we are exhorted to inquire after the reason why he named those things here in which God desires His Church to participate. It is for this reason that when these are given to God in praise, they might confess that they have received each of them from Him. For we ought not consider that God alone is capable of the virtues named here, but that He has found them worthy also to give to the faithful. We rejoice that the Church of Christ is allowed to participate in all of these good things: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. It does not mention omnipotence or majesty or eternity, for God alone always rightly possesses these things. But in these seven we recognize all those virtues that could be granted to the faithful from Him who gave them power to become the sons of God. And so, if we have acquired any of those good things, we shall know with certainty that we have them by the generosity of God.

Primasius of Hadrumetum, Commentary on the Apocalypse

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Put Away the Evil

In Deuteronomy 12 and 13, Moses elaborates on the first commandment by reminding the nation of Israel that worship would occur in prescribed place and manner before a prescribed Person. Any deviancy was considered evil (De 13:5, 11, 17) inviting condemnation and judgment enforced by the nation. In order to drive home the seriousness of the situation and the necessity to eradicate evil, three scenarios were presented as examples.
  • Prophet or seer arises (De 13:1–5)
  • Family member entices (De 13:6–11)
  • Lawless group seduces (De 13:12–18)
While the source of enticement varies, the situation remains basically the same: someone wants to worship other gods and lead others to do the same. The punishment is also the same—eradicate the evil by killing the instigator(s) and those who have been turned. Sadly, a punishment was not always meted out, so that those who led astray became stronger and more brazen in conduct until God enacted His own punishment through captivity at the hands of pagan nations. The children of Israel were God’s chosen, precious possession. Whoever came between the Lord and His people guaranteed their own destruction.

Is there a correlation to the Church today? Scripture does not condone the death penalty within the Church, but measures are to be taken when people try to turn believers to other gods. Now you might say, “Wait a minute. Are you saying that Muslims, Wiccans, and the like would try to infiltrate the local assembly and lead some to Allah, Gaya, or some other deity du jour?” No, I am saying that people will rise among the assemblies and lead some to a deity having many worthwhile qualities, even the name Jesus, having form but no substance—a phantasm. There have been many over the centuries who have tried peddling their own Jesus. Some have even gained a sizable following, and many are in operation today with gods that promise wealth, fulfillment, and purpose for a ministry donation to unlock or free whatever is currently binding your life. Or they promise power, authority, and wonderworking abilities if you only believe with enough faith. Whether huckster or false teacher, these individuals and groups are offering other gods.

We should stop at this point to acknowledge that a difference should be made between the one leading astray out of ignorance versus those out to deliberately swindle or manipulate. The former is like an unbroken equine, running freely and powerfully yet lacking purpose and direction. Such a one needs to be corraled and taught how to harness that energy for the best effect much as Apollos was taught the ways of God more accurately Aquila and Priscilla (Ac 18:26). The latter is self-serving hoping to gain authority by paying off the right people (Ac 8:18–19) or else come in as a savage wolf or perverse teacher (Ac 20:29–30). It is this person or group that St. Paul warned must be avoided:
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Ro 16:17–18)
So, too, did the Church Fathers who followed:
Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father.… Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks according to a strange [i.e., heretical] opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ].
Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians

Let no one, beloved brethren, make you to err from the ways of the Lord; let no one snatch you, Christians, from the Gospel of Christ; let no one take sons of the Church away from the Church; let them perish alone for themselves who have wished to perish; let them remain outside the Church alone who have departed from the Church; let them alone be without bishops who have rebelled against bishops; let them alone undergo the penalties of their conspiracies who formerly, according to your votes, and now according to God’s judgment, have deserved to undergo the sentence of their own conspiracy and malignity.
Cyprian, Epistle to the People Concerning Five Schismatic Presbyters
Why do we take such care to avoid heretics and schismatics? Why do we warn others to do the same in Christ’s Church? It is to demonstrate our faithfulness to the Lord and His ways in preserving the unity of the Church by holding fast to God’s Word. We do well to heed the explanation of Vincent of Lérins as he rightly applies Moses’ warning to the Church:
But someone will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics? A proper question, certainly, and one which ought to be very carefully and fully dealt with, but answered at the same time, not in reliance upon one’s own ability, but by the authority of the divine Law, and by appeal to the Church’s determination.

Let us listen, then, to Holy Moses, and let him teach us why learned men, and such as because of their knowledge are even called Prophets by the apostle, are sometimes permitted to put forth novel doctrines, which the Old Testament is wont, by way of allegory, to call “strange gods,” forasmuch as heretics pay the same sort of reverence to their notions that the Gentiles do to their gods.

Blessed Moses, then, writes thus in Deuteronomy: “If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams,” that is, one holding office as a Doctor in the Church, who is believed by his disciples or auditors to teach by revelation: well,—what follows? “and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke comes to pass,”—he is pointing to some eminent doctor, whose learning is such that his followers believe him not only to know things human, but, moreover, to foreknow things superhuman, such as, their disciples commonly boast, were Valentinus, Donatus, Photinus, Apollinaris, and the rest of that sort! What next? “And shall say to you, Let us go after other gods, whom you do not know, and serve them.” What are those other gods but strange errors which you do not know, that is, new and such as were never heard of before? “And let us serve them;” that is, “Let us believe them, follow them.” What last? “You shall not hearken to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams.” And why, I pray, does not God forbid to be taught what God forbids to be heard? “For the Lord, your God, tests you, to know whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—“That the Lord your God may test you;” he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom you believe to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom you have folded to your breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errors, which you can neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for thine old master.
The Commonitory X
God continues to test His people. Do we pass?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Another 95 Theses

Just in from Jonathan Aigner – 95 More for the Modern Church’s Door: Sparking a Reformation in the Entertainment Church.  As usual, he offers excellent thoughts on worship in the modern church.  Here are just a few (emphasis his):
31. Corporate worship that is either contemporary or traditional is toxic to the church.
32. All worship should be historic because it recalls the creative and redemptive acts of God.
33. All worship is contemporary, because we’re doing it now.
34. All worship should be future, because it foretells the coming victory when the curse will be broken and all will be set aright.
He offers a version of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief):
47. Bad worship begets bad theology. Bad theology begets a bloated, unhealthy church.
And for all those craving intimacy with God:
64. Worship that seeks God through word and sacrament is an act of intimacy.
As a warning, some of the points are PG in nature, but they are well worth reading.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Reformation Sunday

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Ro 3:21–26)

It is clear that the righteousness of God has now appeared apart from the law, but this means apart from the law of the sabbath, the circumcision, the new moon and revenge, not apart from the sacrament of God’s divinity, because the righteousness of God is all about God’s divinity. For when the law held them guilty, the righteousness of God forgave them and did so apart from the law so that until the law was brought to bear God forgave them their sin. And lest someone think that this was done against the law, Paul added that the righteousness of God had a witness in the Law and the Prophets, which means that the law itself had said that in the future someone would come who would save mankind. But it was not allowed for the law to forgive sin.

Therefore, what is called the righteousness of God appears to be mercy because it has its origin in the promise, and when God’s promise is fulfilled it is called “the righteousness of God.” For it is righteousness when what is promised has been delivered. And when God accepts those who flee to him for refuge, this is called righteousness, because wickedness would not accept such people.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles

Thursday, October 26, 2017


I have not offered up miscellanea for quite some time. Here are a few items for perusal.

G. Shane Morris tells us the problem with the Sinner’s Prayer.

Do you have a hankering to see signs and wonders? Michael Horton tells us where to find them. (Hint: it’s not in a so-called healing service.)

Pastor Larry Peters offers his opinion that nurseries and children’s church are not such a good idea.

Jonathan Aigner again warns of Hillsongization and the Insidious Nature of Commercial Worship Music.

And noting that birds of a feather fly together, be wary of “Bethelification.” Note the issues in this piece from

Think pop music and CCM are good for the church? Peter Leithart asks us to think again.

And on the topic of music in general, Casey Chalk makes a case for listening to classic music more often. (As an aside, his reasoning applies equally to classic literature.)

And finally, we have some all-too-true humor recently shared by Glenn Chatfield.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Th 1:5)

Thus, the obedient and responsive soul gives itself over to the virtuous life. This life is freedom itself, on the one hand, from the chains of this life, separating itself from the slavery of base and empty pursuits. On the other hand, this soul devotes itself to faith and the life of God alone, because it sees clearly that where there is faith, reverence, and a blameless life, there is present the power of Christ, there is flight from all evil and from death which robs us of life. For shameful things do not have in themselves sufficient power to compete with the power of the Lord. It is their nature to develop from disobedience to His commands. This was experienced in ancient times by the first man, but now it is experienced by all of us when we imitate Adam’s disobedience through stubborn choice. However, those who approach the Spirit with honest intent, unfeigned faith, and an undefiled conscience are cleansed by the Spirit according to the one who says, “for our gospel was not delivered to you in word only, but in power also; and in the Holy Spirit and in much fullness, as you know.”

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Christian Mode of Life

Friday, October 13, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Then the Lord of hosts shall do this
    to all the nations on this mountain.
They shall drink in gladness; they shall drink wine;
    they shall anoint themselves with ointment on this mountain.
Deliver all these things to the nations,
    for this is the counsel for all the nations.
Death prevailed and swallowed them,
    but again God wiped away every tear from every face;
He took away the disgrace of His people from all the earth;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Then it will be said in that day,
    “Behold, this is our God,
in whom we hoped and rejoiced exceedingly;
    and we shall be glad in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6–9)

The Ancient of Days, 14th-century fresco
Remember the vision of Daniel, and how he brings the judgment before us: “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool;… and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened,” clearly disclosing in the hearing of all, angels and men, things good and evil, things done openly and in secret, deeds, words, and thoughts all at once. What then must those men be who have lived wicked lives? Where then shall that soul hide which in the sight of all these spectators shall suddenly be revealed in its fullness of shame? With what kind of body shall it sustain those endless and unbearable pangs in the place of fire unquenched, and of the worm that perishes and never dies, and of depth of Hades, dark and horrible; bitter wailings, loud lamenting, weeping and gnashing of teeth and anguish without end? From all these woes there is no release after death; no device, no means of coming forth from the chastisement of pain.

We can escape now. While we can, let us lift ourselves from the fall: let us never despair of ourselves, if only we depart from evil. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. “O come, let us worship and fall down; let us weep before Him.” The Word Who invited us to repentance calls aloud, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is, then, a way of salvation, if we will. “Death in his might has swallowed up, but again the Lord hath wiped away tears from off all faces” of those who repent. The Lord is faithful in all His words. He does not lie when He says, “Though your sins be scarlet they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.” The great Physician of souls, Who is the ready liberator, not of you alone, but of all who are enslaved by sin, is ready to heal your sickness. From Him come the words, it was His sweet and saving lips that said, “Those who are whole do not need a physician but those who are sick.…I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” What excuse have you, what excuse has anyone, when He speaks this way? The Lord wishes to cleanse you from the trouble of your sickness and to show you light after darkness. The good Shepherd, Who left those who had not wandered away, is seeking after you. If you give yourself to Him He will not hold back. He, in His love, will not disdain even to carry you on His own shoulders, rejoicing that He has found His sheep which was lost. The Father stands and awaits your return from your wandering. Only come back, and while you are yet afar off, He will run and fall upon your neck, and, now that you are cleansed by repentance, will enwrap you in embraces of love. He will clothe with the chief robe the soul that has put off the old man with all his works; He will put a ring on hands that have washed off the blood of death, and will put shoes on feet that have turned from the evil way to the path of the Gospel of peace. He will announce the day of joy and gladness to them that are His own, both angels and men, and will celebrate your salvation far and wide. For “truly I say unto you,” says He, “there is joy in heaven before God over one sinner who repents.” If any of those who think they stand find fault because of your quick reception, the good Father will Himself make answer for you in the words, “It was fitting that we should make merry and be glad for this” my daughter “was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.”

Friday, October 6, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this vine
And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted,
And the branch that You made strong for Yourself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
Then we will not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved! (Ps 80:14–19)

Here he teaches the springing up of Christ the Lord: he begs that the vine be given care on account of the temple—clearly called Son of Man—to be assumed from it. This is the way the Lord also in the sacred Gospels, though being man and God at the same time, called himself Son of Man, bestowing the name from the visible nature. Consequently, the inspired Word teaches those taken captive to beseech the God of all to show some mercy to the vine on account of the saving root springing from it. The Lord, in fact, also calls himself this in the words, “I am the true vine, you the branches, and my Father is the farmer”: as man he is the vine, as God he is also the farmer, sowing good seed in his field. You see, though he sprang from this vine, which proved useless, bearing thorns instead of grapes for the farmer, he for his part became the true vine and put forth the biggest branches, the multitude of those who believed in him. The shadow from these truly covered the mountains, and the limbs the cedars. The vine for its part truly extended its branches to the sea, and its offshoots as far as the rivers. There is no place, no place under heaven, in which the divine vats from this vine are not established. For its sake they beg, in narrating all its manifold sufferings, that it too enjoy mercy.…

You do not renege on Your promises: once these firstfruits are received from us, the whole human race will recognize the true God and sing the praises of the lovingkindness demonstrated. In this manner the power of death will be overcome, and we shall gain eternal life, adoring You, God the Savior. So on account of all this and the salvation coming to all people through us, deliver us from this sadness and grant return: if You but appear, we shall gain salvation.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms

Friday, September 29, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Engraving of Ezekiel by Gustav Doré
“I shall judge you, O house of Israel, each one according to his way,” says the Lord. “Return and turn away from all your ungodliness, and it shall not be to you as a punishment for wrongdoing. Cast away from yourself all your ungodliness you commit against Me, and make a new heart and a new spirit for yourselves. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I do not will the death of the one who dies,” says the Lord God. (Ez 18:30–32 LXX)

To all sins, then, committed whether by flesh or spirit, whether by deed or will, the same God who has destined penalty by means of judgment, has withal engaged to grant pardon by means of repentance, saying to the people, “Repent, and I will save you.” And again, “I live, says the Lord, and I will (have) repentance rather than death.” Repentance, then, is “life,” since it is preferred to “death.” That repentance, O sinner, like myself (nay, rather, less than myself, for preëminence in sins I acknowledge to be mine), do you so hasten to, so embrace, as a shipwrecked man the protection of some plank. This will draw you forth when sunk in the waves of sins, and will bear you forward into the port of the divine clemency. Seize the opportunity of unexpected felicity: that you, who sometime were in God’s sight nothing but “a drop of a bucket,” and “dust of the threshing floor,” and “a potter’s vessel,” may thenceforward become that “tree which is sown beside the waters, is perennial in leaves, bears fruit at its own time,” and shall not see “fire,” nor “axe.” Having found “the truth,” repent of errors; repent of having loved what God does not loves: even we ourselves do not permit our slave-lads to not hate the things which are offensive to us; for the principle of voluntary obedience consists in similarity of minds.

To reckon up the good, of repentance, the subject matter is copious, and therefore should be committed to great eloquence. Let us, however, in proportion to our narrow abilities, inculcate one point,—that what God enjoins is good and best. I hold it audacity to dispute about the “good” of a divine precept; for, indeed, it is not the fact that it is good which binds us to obey, but the fact that God has enjoined it. To exact the rendering of obedience the majesty of divine power has the prior right; the authority of Him who commands is prior to the utility of him who serves. “Is it good to repent, or no?” Why do you ponder? God enjoins; nay, He not merely enjoins, but likewise exhorts. He invites by (offering) reward—salvation, to wit; even by an oath, saying “I live,” He desires that credence may be given Him. Oh blessed we, for whose sake God swears! Oh most miserable, if we believe not the Lord even when He swears! What, therefore, God so highly commends, what He even attests on oath, we are bound of course to approach, and to guard with the utmost seriousness; that, abiding permanently in the solemn pledge of divine grace, we may be able also to persevere in like manner in its fruit and its benefit.

Tertullian, On Repentance 4

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

We Glorify and Believe As We Are Baptized

We confess that the Lord’s teaching, which he gave to the disciples when he handed over to them the mystery of piety, is the foundation and root of the right and salutary faith, and we believe that nothing else is loftier or surer than that tradition. Now, the Lord’s teaching is this: Go, he says, teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the power which enlivens those who are born again from death to eternal life comes through the Holy Trinity to the faithful who are counted worthy of this grace. And likewise, the grace is incomplete if any single one of the names of the Holy Trinity is ever omitted in saving baptism. For the mystery of rebirth is not complete without the Father, in Son and Spirit alone. Nor, if the Son is passed over in silence, does complete life come through baptism in Father and Son. Nor is the grace of the resurrection brought to completion in Father and Son if the Spirit is set aside. For this reason, we place our entire hope and confidence for the salvation of our souls in the three hypostases recognized through these names. And we believe in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of life, and in the Only-begotten Son of the Father, who is the Author of life, just as the Apostle says, and in the Holy Spirit of God, about whom the Lord said that It is the Spirit that gives life.

And since, for us who have been redeemed from death, the grace of incorruptibility comes in saving baptism through faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as we have said), being led by these, we believe that nothing servile, created, or unworthy of the Father’s majesty is to be counted together with the Holy Trinity. For we have one life which comes to us through faith in the Holy Trinity. It takes its source from the God of the universe, proceeds through the Son, and is actualized in the Holy Spirit.

So then, having this assurance, we baptize as we have been commanded, we believe as we baptize, and we glorify as we believe, so that baptism, faith, and glorification resound in one voice in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Gregory of Nyssa

Friday, September 22, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Prophet Isaiah
Seek the Lord, and when you find Him,
    call upon Him when He draws near to you,
let the ungodly leave his ways,
    and the transgressor his counsels;
and let him return to the Lord, and he shall find mercy;
    for He shall abundantly pardon your sins.
“For My counsels are not as your counsels,
    nor are My ways as your ways,” says the Lord.
“But as the heaven is distant from the earth,
    so are My ways distant from your ways,
    and your thoughts from My mind.” (Is 55:6–9 LXX)

Seek Him while He can be found, while you are in the body and as long as an opportunity for repentance is provided, and seek Him not in any particular place but in faith. Just how God is to be sought we learn elsewhere.… “Taste of the Lord in goodness, and in simplicity of heart seek Him” [Wis. 1:1].… For it is not enough to seek the Lord and while there is a time of repentance to find Him and call on Him while He is near—unless the ungodly also leave their former ways and leave the old ways of thinking for the Lord.

Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah

“For my counsels” we read “are not as your counsels nor my ways as your ways; but far as is the Heaven from the earth, so far are my thoughts from your mind, and my counsels from your counsels.” Now if we admit to our favor household slaves when they have often offended against us, on their promising to become better, and place them again in their former portion, and sometimes even grant them greater freedom of speech than before; much more does God act thus. For if God had made us in order to punish us, you might well have despaired, and questioned the possibility of your own salvation. But if He created us for no reason than His own good will, and with a view to our enjoying everlasting blessings, and if He does and contrives everything for this end, from the first day until the present time, what is there which can ever cause you to doubt? Have we provoked Him severely, so as no other man ever did? this is just the reason why we ought especially to abstain from our present deeds and to repent for the past, and exhibit a great change. For the evils we have once perpetrated cannot provoke Him so much as our being unwilling to make any change in the future. For to sin may be a merely human failing, but to continue in the same sin ceases to be human, and becomes altogether devilish.

John Chrysostom, Letter to the Fallen Theodore

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.