Friday, June 30, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

Jerome, Commentary on Jeremiah

* Deuteronomy 18:21–22

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

By Feeling or Hearing?

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

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

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

John Chrysostom, Homily on John 26.2

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Pentecost

“Jeremiah” by Michelangelo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 20.5

Friday, June 16, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew 10.2

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Relying on Human Traditions

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

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

Augsberg Confession, Apology XV.3–9

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pull the Plug on CCM

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Poor to make Others Rich

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

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

Ambrose of Milan, On the Duties of the Clergy 2.4.14

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Holy Trinity Sunday

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

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

Pseudo-Ignatius, Epistle to the Philippians 2

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Pentecost Sunday

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

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

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

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

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 6:25–26